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Center of mind, center of plate

By Martha Mintz

Joey, Katie, Ted and Anthony Serbinski. (Journal photo by Martha Mintz.)
Joey, Katie, Ted and Anthony Serbinski. (Journal photo by Martha Mintz.)

Every day around 5 p.m., Katie Serbinski performs the well-practiced and intricate dance that is making dinner while juggling two children under the age of 2.

The petite brunette waltzes around her Birmingham, Michigan, home’s bright, cheery kitchen like a dancer twirling across a ballroom floor: step, one-two, pick up fussing baby, Anthony; step, one-two, stir the ground beef sizzling away on the stovetop; step, one-two intercept toddler, Joey, from grabbing another snack from the treat drawer before dinner…and the dance familiar to so many moms goes on.

The food and nutrition blogger does add one extra step: photographing the meal before it transitions from expansive marble-topped kitchen island to dining room table, much to her hungry family’s dismay on occasion.

Though no doubt challenging, this routine is one Serbinski thoroughly enjoys performing each day because food, and more specifically nutrition, is the axis on which Serbinski’s life twirls. Food is what she studied in college, her job, nourishment for her family and the centerpiece of memories both old and in the making. In short, food is her passion. And when it comes to proteins, beef finds its way to the center of the plate for this expert-on-good-eating’s family more often than not.

“When I think about our celebrations throughout the years-Christmas, birthdays, Father’s Day-beef has always been the dish of choice because beef is the king of taste,” Serbinski says, the corners of her mouth turning ever upward as she recalls the rich smells, sights and savored tastes of prime rib and ribeye steaks woven throughout her happy family moments.

It’s also an everyday staple. “Again, it’s the king of tastes, so hopefully beef will give my children-who are in that picky eating stage of life-the extra push to try their food that evening. I also know that in terms of nutrients, my growing children need the zinc, protein and iron provided by beef for their bodies and developing brains. As a registered dietitian, that’s top of mind for me.”

Food for thought

Food is top of mind not only for Serbinski and other moms, but also for just about everyone these days. What should I eat? How much should I eat? What should my kids be eating? Should I buy foods that are processed or whole; conventionally raised, organic or natural; locally sourced or most affordable?

The answers to those questions are often sought out online, where wondering minds might stumble across Serbinski’s blog, Mom to Mom Nutrition, on her Facebook news feed or on Pinterest, Instagram or Yummly. Every week Serbinski’s followers are treated to nutritionist- and mom-approved recipes and tips and articles ranging from nutritional advice to her decisions in the grocery store (“Homemade Isn’t Always Healthiest”) to dealing with the toughest-to-please diners, her children.

Prior to acquiring the title “Mom,” Serbinski earned a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Michigan State University and went on to complete her training as a registered dietician and earn a master’s degree in public health and nutrition from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. During a stint in California for her husband’s job, Serbinski worked as a nutritionist with the California Beef Council and eventually the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Her time with these groups added another layer to her knowledge of food-how it’s produced and the challenges faced by the beef industry.

“Food for me was always about nutrition and if it tasted good, not whether it was organically, naturally or conventionally grown,” she says. “I came to realize there’s a lot of concern your everyday consumer has about where their food comes from and how it was produced.”

Through her work, Serbinski was able to visit multiple ranches, feedlots and processing facilities to see firsthand the grand journey beef took from pasture-such as those on the Lewis Ranch in Missouri-to her dining room table. What she saw only served to strengthen her already held belief that she could safely and in good conscience continue to keep beef at the center of her family’s plate.

“I saw that farmers and ranchers were families just like mine. Their jobs were just different, not 9 to 5. I saw the pride and dedication these people had and understood they were feeding not only my family, but their own, too,” she says. “This made me trust the processes they have in place to keep those animals healthy and the reasons they’re doing the things they do. I wish every consumer had the opportunity to see that and be able to trust in their food.”

Feedlots were just as eye opening for the trained nutritionist and dietitian.

“I was shocked on my first feedyard visit to find out the larger feedlots have a nutritionist on staff and the cattle’s food isn’t just a pile of whatever they want to eat, but a mix created very specifically based on their needs. These people went to school to learn how to feed cattle not only more efficiently, but in a way that ensures their care and well-being. As a nutritionist, that was an ‘Aha!’ moment for me,” Serbinski says.

Food bridge

When Serbinski and her husband, Ted, moved back to Michigan and started their family, Serbinski saw an opportunity. “I always knew at some point I wanted to be in business for myself,” she says. “I wanted to be able to work from home and still utilize my skills as a registered dietician. It just made sense to start my blog, Mom to Mom Nutrition.”

Serbinski just as easily could have called her business Rancher to Feeder to Processor to Mom to Mom Nutrition, as her expertise has spread far beyond just the nutrient makeup of what’s on the plate. Which is a good thing, considering where today’s consumers are seeking out their information. “People aren’t asking the farmer or rancher about how food is produced; they’re asking their blogger, doctor or dietitian. Having the latest knowledge myself and being well educated on beef production helps me dispel some of the myths that are out there. I want to be a credible source of information for consumers and ranchers,” she says.

While her blog serves as her main platform, Serbinski works with commodity groups including the Michigan Beef Industry Commission, United Dairy Industry of Michigan and the Michigan Ag Council as an expert spokesman and consultant for engaging communities in healthy and nutritious lifestyles. She participates in panels, conducts cooking demonstrations and can even be caught on the news now and then talking food.

As Serbinski plates Greek sirloin steaks-properly rested after its quick trip to her patio grill-and cool, refreshing lemon orzo salad for her family, she is confident they’re in for a nutritious, delicious and responsibly raised treat. She knows she can recommend this dish to her readers and field almost any question they may throw her way from the nutrients it holds to how it came to their plate. As she did when she addressed production in a recent article, “Why I Don’t Purposely Buy Organic”:

“I purchase food with three things in mind: nutrition, taste and cost. It might seem naïve that there’s no mention of environment, animal welfare or sustainability in my purchasing equation. But that’s because I firmly believe the majority of farmers producing our food, whether it’s produced conventional or organic, are doing what they can to ensure they are using less resources (pesticides, fertilizer, water) and are treating their animals with care and well being. Why? Because producing food is their livelihood! And more often than not they went to school to learn how to do their jobs better, more safely and more efficiently than previous generations.”

As 2-year-old Joey happily smothers his steak in his favorite condiment, barbeque sauce, Serbinski explains, “I want to be a connection for the farmer and rancher and the consumer because I’ve seen both sides and work with both sides on a regular basis. I’d like to help bridge that relationship between farm and fork.”

Serbinski philosophizes that food is very personal these days. It falls neatly into place with politics and religion. “Everybody is so heated in the discussion right now,” she says.

Unfortunately, not everyone in the discussion has Serbinski’s scientific credentials or real-life beef production experiences, resulting in some negative pushback for the industry. But the families who have dedicated generations-worth of work and knowledge to bringing beef to tables of families such as Serbinski’s-the Lewis family, Joplin Regional Stockyards, Chappell Feedlot and Palmer’s Food Services-can rest assured beef will continue to be king for Serbinski. It’s a center-of-the-plate dish she’ll share regularly and confidently with her family and the families of her readers.