Nutrition Experts Podcast Episode 54 Are You Energized by What You Are Doing with Allison Schaaf, MS, RDN


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Second only to a sharp chef’s knife, Allison’s meal-planning chops have become an indispensable tool for those looking to liberate themselves from boring meals, frozen pizzas, expensive and low-quality restaurant food, and lackluster health.
For six years and counting, Allison has made her way into the hearts and kitchens of home cooks all over the globe. Prep Dish was created after a decade as a personal chef and gourmet chef at a high-end spas because she knew there was more efficient, cost-effective, and sanity-saving to put healthy, crowd-pleasing meals on the table.

Mathea Ford [00:00:28] Hi there! It’s Mathea. Welcome back to the Nutrition Experts Podcast. The podcast featuring nutrition experts who are leading the way using food starts today right now with our next guest. It’s great to have Allison Schaaf on the show today. Allison welcome to Nutrition Experts.

Allison Schaaf [00:00:44] Hi! Thank you so much for having me.

Mathea Ford [00:00:46] I’m excited to have you on the show and share your expertise with my tribe. I am so interested in your business that you have now but I want to start with letting you tell the listeners a little more about you and kind of how you got to where you are.

Allison Schaaf [00:01:00] It sounds like you’re going back really far but I’ll kind of bring it up to date pretty quickly so back in high school I have an interest in cooking and my Home Ec instructor got me a job as a personal chef which inspired me to go to culinary school. But in doing so, I always really felt like if I was going to be cooking to me it made sense that the food that I was putting in my body should also be healthy and nourishing. So, I wanted to pair my culinary skills with a Nutrition degree. So I went to grad school for nutrition and became a Registered Dietitian. After that I pretty quickly moved to Austin, Texas and started a business as a personal chef kind of going back to what I knew from high school and still have that business to this day. But while I was doing that work I also got inspired to create a meal planning website called PrepDish. So, that’s the very brief synopsis.

Mathea Ford [00:01:56] So, your business PrepDish is an online business and it helps people with meal planning. What made you decide to start doing that in addition to being a personal chef?

Allison Schaaf [00:02:07] You know I loved the personal chef work. It was great to have the one on one contact with people. You know part of me, I’ve always been an entrepreneur I’ve always been entrepreneurial and in doing that work I could also see that I didn’t think that was going to be my long term role. Like I knew I wanted a family someday and I’m like I just don’t know that I’m going in and cooking for people and only you know it’s great that I could help you know like the dozens of clients that I had. But I wasn’t reaching you know a large number. And so I really got interested in doing something online because I thought “gosh! This will be a really cool way to one work from anywhere. And 2: reach you know thousands of people instead of you know a handful each week.” So, you know that’s that’s what I set out to do.

Mathea Ford [00:02:52] So, can you go into for us a little bit because it reminded me when you mentioned personal chef. What’s it like to be a personal chef? What’s that do? What do you do?

Allison Schaaf [00:03:02] It was a really cool job. I still actually some of the clients I have today are still some that I was cooking for back like almost 10 years ago when I started. But the way I have it set up is you know I go into people’s homes once a week and prep their meals for the week and leave instructions for them on how they finish off that foods so I’ll go into their kitchen and cook say you know a chicken dish some salmon and veggies and then maybe like you know a frittata for breakfast and then leave it all in containers and label it and then they have their food for the week which was awesome. You know I worked with some really nice people. You really get to know the dietitian you want to see people. I think a lot of dietitians enjoy being on the preventative side of things and with the personal chef work I really got to see that. You know I got to help people sometimes it wasn’t always just preventative but you know really get to help people hands on day to day, year after year improve their health through food. I wasn’t just saying “Okay eat this way!” and then send them home and never know if they eat that way or not. I was literally making the food for that and so you could see the impact you know that that was having on them which was really cool to have that you know full circle while like they started this way and now you know this is impact it’s made so that it’s really cool to be able to see the results of your work.

Mathea Ford [00:04:24] That sounds so fun. Like I mean if you really like cooking that would be fun.

Allison Schaaf [00:04:29] And I did and especially and I always say I did work in some kitchens and some health spas but working in these and a lot of my clients have really nice kitchens and it was just me so I wasn’t and I you know hot sweaty kitchen with a bunch of rough chefs which is how kitchens can be. But now it is just me and like one of my clients her house like overlooks the lake in Austin and it’s just it was always a beautiful kitchen and me like preparing the foods is a very calm and relaxing atmosphere and yeah I just really enjoyed it while I was doing it.

Mathea Ford [00:05:04] That’s an interesting thing that I’ve never talked to anybody about some and I’m glad you’re telling our audience a little bit about it just because it’s another thing that a dietitian can do and like you said implement and see changes. With the PrepDish program, do you do all the meal planning or do you have a team that you work with?

Allison Schaaf [00:05:23] So, in the beginning I did it all which was kind of nice because I was doing I was still working as a personal chef as I was building up the meal plans which was nice because when I was cooking for my clients, I’d basically just write down the recipes I was using and there would be my meal plans and I would test out the recipes and I knew if you know five out of five clients enjoyed my eggplant lasagna and it was a winner. So, I kind of had a nice set of taste testers built in that I was getting paid to cook for. So, in the beginning that worked pretty nicely. Now, that was over five years ago. Since then I’ve had to give up cooking for clients so I could focus more on PrepDish day to day I built a team. So. That started out with customer service but now I have a meal plan editor. I have recipe developer, photographer, still have customer service, a project manager. So, yeah I have a whole little mini team of people that make sure you know PrepDish functions for week to week which is awesome.

Mathea Ford [00:06:24] Yeah. So, you mentioned what positions. Are any of those positions dietitians? Are they you mentioned photography and recipe meal plan editor that type of stuff?

Allison Schaaf [00:06:34] Now, my meal plan editor is a dietitian. My recipe developer is a dietitian and she does photos as well. And then I have someone else that I guess she’s still kind of like a recipe editor. She runs our nutrition facts for us and she’s also a dietitian. She started out as an intern with me and now is a dietitian and she’s just stayed on doing small tasks week to week. So, yeah I guess right now there’s three of them that are dietitians.

Mathea Ford [00:07:01] Do you have… How does your program work? I mean do they come up with new recipes every week? Do you do some seasonal stuff or?

Allison Schaaf [00:07:09] Each week we have three different styles of plans that we put out. We have a gluten free plan, a paleo plan and a keto plan which is newer for us and the recipes, we have new recipes every month but so say like a meal plan in May this year. Next year some of the recipes will be the same and then some of them won’t be. So, we switch out some of the recipes but not all of them. But week to week, we don’t really repeat many recipes. The year to year there will be some repeats and that’s based solely on customer feedback. We send out surveys and if everyone loves this dish then it’s not going anywhere because you know it doesn’t. It’s not so bad to repeat a dish you know twice a year or something like that but there’s a dish that only half the people liked then we take that off replace it with something else and we’re always just having new recipes depending on kind of the trends and you know what people are asking for and so we kind of try and keep it updated that way too and definitely seasonal like you say like we always look at the fruits and veggies that are in season and you know in the summer we’ll have grilling recipes and salads whereas in the winter it’s definitely more like soups and stews and crockpot meals in the fall when it’s like back to school times.

Mathea Ford [00:08:26] So, do you have an international audience or as most people in the US?

Allison Schaaf [00:08:31] Most are in the US but we definitely have U.S. and Canada and then you know I know we have had some people from Australia. We usually encourage them to sign up for our yearly plan because then they have access to the archives so because their seasons are switched, what is our winter they could access our summer plans. We do have some people in Europe as well. We don’t have the conversions ready for them like the cups and measurements and all of that but usually they’re able to do okay. And then it’s interesting that a lot of the international people we have are like Americans that end up like living in China. And so that’s really interesting to hear from those folks that are you know using our plans in another country so the most of the ingredients they can find but they always struggle with a few things.

Mathea Ford [00:09:21] Yeah I get asked that a lot with my Renal Diet Menu plans is for the conversions like you mentioned but I could see where living in another country, having the ability to kind of have new recipes that are close to what you’re used to at home would be fun. Okay. So, tell me a little bit… We’re talking a little bit about business more than about the meal planning. But tell me what’s different now versus when you started the business besides hiring a staff?

Allison Schaaf [00:09:49] I mean that’s most of it right is you know when you go from you doing everything to being able to really kind of feel like you’re doing just what your strengths are is huge. In [00:10:00]use [0.0s] is also different because I’m able to work on things that are I want to use the word fun. But you know in the beginning years doing what you have to do to get the product out but then now we’re to a point where it’s like we’re ahead of schedule and you know you can really play around with things a little more whereas in the beginning you’re just like hustling and doing everything you can to get a product out week to week.

Mathea Ford [00:10:21] So, thinking about being an entrepreneur, as a dietitian you mentioned that you’re doing kind of the things that you enjoy doing. How hard was it to let go? Because you start out you do everything, this is your baby, you’re taking care of it even though it’s hard it’s still yours and you’re making sure the quality is great and everything. So, how do you let go of those things? How hard is that to let go and what did you do?

Allison Schaaf [00:10:48] You know depends on what I’m letting go of some of it’s really easy for me to let go of because it’s obvious it’s not where I should be like customer service was really easy for me to let go of because you know if you have a lot of customers you’re going to have people e-mailing in with maybe a complaint, they’re asking for a refund. And that’s a small percentage of them but it’s it’s really hard for me to take those kind of emails day to day because PrepDish is like a baby to me and I can take it very personally you know when I’m having to like respond to emails like that. So, that was definitely something good to get off of my hands. The recipe development that took a little while actually it was a coach that I worked with and she was she said “look! You can’t be doing the recipes and trying to build a business at some point you’ve got to hand that off.” And you know it took at least six months from when she told me that before I was really ready to do that because it was something you know when I still make the recipes I still review them before they go into the meal plans but they’re not all my recipes anymore and that was hard in the beginning to let go of.

Mathea Ford [00:11:52] What is the best part of owning your own business?

Allison Schaaf [00:11:57] I would say that for me it’s the flexibility. I love to travel. I like to be in control of my schedule. So, that is one of the best things. A surprising best thing about owning my own business is in the beginning I actually didn’t think I wanted to build a team. I thought I kind of wanted to work on my own and I will say now I feel like one of the best things is building a team because when you have people to support you and to which is really cool to I get to have a job I love but then I also get to provide jobs for all these other it’s mainly women but women and men that also love their jobs. So, it’s really cool that we all get to be in this thing together where we’re helping people and feeling good about it. You know we have a team call each week and we start off the call by sharing a happy customer wins. So, you know something that our customers have said that they’re really pleased with. And then we each personally share something we’re excited about for the week. So, just really cool to be able to provide jobs for the team and to have their support.

Mathea Ford [00:13:02] So, when you think about dietitians in general, I know a lot of dietitians when you get out of school you think about having to go work at a hospital. I’m going to go work at an outpatient clinic. Why do you think more dietitians don’t see entrepreneurship as an initial option or way to be a dietitian?

Allison Schaaf [00:13:21] Yeah I think sometimes they just haven’t seen that model. You know you go to school and even when I was in school I was told you really need to do so many years of clinical so that you have the experience before you go and do anything else. And I… For a few days probably thought about that but I just I never I always knew I didn’t want to do clinical so it didn’t take me long to think about that and be like “well, they can say that but I just it’s not my strength. So, I knew that’s not where I wanted to be.” But I think it’s hard when that’s what you see modeled and you kind of feel like there’s just one path. So, I think you know one of the keys is really to look. Look out there and see what others are doing so that you can be inspired.

Mathea Ford [00:14:02] You’ve mentioned like your strengths are doing things that are in your strengths. How did you kind of figure that out what those things are?

Allison Schaaf [00:14:08] I mean one things that I look forward to doing. Things that I you know as an entrepreneur if you wake up and don’t work no one is going to say “Get to work!” So, I need something that like I’m jumping out of bed at 6:00 am excited to go and those things become pretty apparent you know? The things you’re putting off there’s a reason you’re putting them off. Either they’re scary which then you shouldn’t be putting them off but it could just be that it’s not like really your strength and then you know you just kind of can tell when you know when you start looking through what you’re doing. I’m pretty good at evaluating all my task and being like why am I doing this because someone else could definitely do it better or I just get really bored doing this I shouldn’t be doing it. Yeah. But it’s definitely something to look at and be aware of and just realize. I think actually what it really comes down to is like are you being energized by what you’re doing? Or are you dreading it? And there were times during my dietetic internship, there were certain rotations where I kind of dreaded it. I hate to say that but you know that’s why it’s important to try a bunch of different things and see what are those things that I really look forward to doing versus what are the things that I’m dreading.

Mathea Ford [00:15:16] So, what do you think are some pitfalls if you were advising a dietitian who’s thinking about starting their own business? What are some pitfalls you’ve seen that maybe you could comment on?

Allison Schaaf [00:15:27] You know I think sometimes people it’s easy to think that you need to be to a certain level before you jump in and try something and something I’ve learned is like the faster you can just try something, it’s almost like fail faster. Try it really fast just to see how it goes. And what I always like to do is you think through to the worst case scenario and it’s usually not so bad. So, don’t don’t think that you need to like wait three years before you try something you know. Sometimes you do need to I guess prepare a little bit but I think especially as dietitians because I can fall into this trap too. Dietitians like to be overly prepared and sometimes it’s like he’s been all this time preparing and it would have been better off just like doing the thing and trying it out.

Mathea Ford [00:16:14] Yeah! I was talking to my daughter the other day and she’s in that you know middle school junior high age and they’re having a talent show. And I was like “you performed in the talent shows and in fifth and sixth grade why do you all of a sudden not want to do it?” And she’s like “well, I’m really worried about what other people are going to say” and I’m like “What’s the worst that can happen?Are they going to say that you don’t sing very well? Well, they’re not your friends” you know but it is that as we get older it’s interesting that we become worried about things outside of that instead of taking that moment saying what’s the worst that can happen like you mentioned. What’s the worst that can happen? You know if I do some ads and they don’t work well maybe I spent some money but maybe I spent the money that I plan on testing and I know more information now you know that type of thing. So.

Allison Schaaf [00:17:04] There’s so much that you do have to keep in mind no one even knows. No one don’t know that you did that except for you stuff.

Mathea Ford [00:17:13] That’s absolutely true. So, can you talk a little bit about how you built your team? How you found these people and are they all local to you or are they remote?

Allison Schaaf [00:17:23] So, right now everybody is remote. I don’t have anyone local to me. In the past I have had people that are local. But you know it’s an online business and we do we do make sure to have a regular touch point every week and phone calls and all that I follow a model called Traction which is really helpful. And in terms of finding them you know it’s something through the years I feel like I’m constantly improving and I get better with every hire. One thing that I use is really a personality quiz but it’s kind of like a work style quiz similar to Myers Briggs but it’s called Culture Index and it is a short quiz but it’ll basically tell someone’s work style. And to me that’s been really revealing and knowing who I need. Even before I go to post position, I’ll know a specific culture index type that I need to hire for and that has been a game changer in terms of my team. And it really up leveled my team to the next level when I started using that system. Another secret weapon I have when it comes to hiring is my husband. So, you know after maybe even while we’re dating I realized he is much better at the interview process. He has his own company. He’s not really. He does have an official role at PrepDish but when I get to the final stages of interviews I will have him do my interviews for me because he has the patience to really go through step by step. And he does a process called Topgrading where you really hammer in you know what are the… If this person is going to be a good fit or not. So, I put him in charge of doing some of those interviews for me just to really make sure I’m getting again that goes back to the strengths and weaknesses. I know that interviewing candidates is not my strength and it’s his and because he’s my husband, he’s hopefully to jump in and help me out with that piece of it.

Mathea Ford [00:19:12] You said you use a process, a model called Traction. What’s that?

Allison Schaaf [00:19:17] So, in Traction is having… It’s kind of like a way of setting goals as a team and also having like a regular rhythm where you get together so we set a three year plan and then we build off of that. So, from there we have one year goals and then quarterly goals that we’re working towards all the time. And then once a week we have a call and we’ll check in on our status of those quarterly goals. And so that’s just a good way to have accountability all around for everyone on the team to make sure that the most important things that need to be getting done are getting done because it’s easy to say like “oh! I want to get you know all these things done this year” but then get caught up in the day to day and not have those things actually happen. So, it’s a model that really allows you to make sure the the rocks is what they call them. But make sure those rocks are getting done. There’s important things going on that are going to move your business forward.

Mathea Ford [00:20:10] Any dos and don’ts for hiring that you’re thinking about? Like you mentioned the… Do you have people take the Culture Index before you do the interviews?

Allison Schaaf [00:20:19] Yeah. Before I even so say we get customer service, if we get three hundred applicants I will only look at the applicants that are a Culture Index fit. So, that helps me wipe it out like from 300 to maybe 20 there even a fit so that it’s really my first step in narrowing down the candidates. I start with that.

Mathea Ford [00:20:40] So, is that like a website? Is it free for them to take the Culture Index on?

Allison Schaaf [00:20:44] It’s free for them. I pay a fee to have access to that. I have a consultant that I work with and and he’s been really helpful too because I can kind of use him as a as a sounding board when I’m hiring. And that’s another thing that I’ve had to figure out and I think I’m still figuring out is making sure that I have resources. So, when you work on your own it’s easy to just get caught up doing everything by yourself and I’ve really worked to try and have resources and mentors and people I can tap into to get help with things like hiring or certain decisions that maybe I need a sounding board for.

Mathea Ford [00:21:19] When I want to do something and I ask somebody out about it and they’re like there’s an app for that. And I realize that I was thinking in my little frame of mind of what I’m just used to and having those outside coaches or mentors or other people they have that completely different perspective. They may know something that works different than what you’re used to. So.

Allison Schaaf [00:21:40] Yeah, I get that outside input it’s always helpful.

Mathea Ford [00:21:44] A hundred percent agree. Thinking about the audience mostly dietitians. How would you encourage them to use the information that we talked about in their day to day life whether it’s thinking about starting a new business or it’s just even being entrepreneurial in their own job?

Allison Schaaf [00:22:03] Yeah. I know. I think that’s and I think that’s a really good point. Is that you can be entrepreneurial and not have your own business. No matter what your position is there’s always ways or you know most employees are going to appreciate you kind of like thinking outside of the box and coming up with new ideas. And I think a lot of it’s to realize like technology is changing, the world is changing and no matter what your role is as a dietitian there’s ways that you can kind of improve on what you’re doing and improve how you’re working with others and just kind of like thinking outside of the box on how you can best do that. And you know it’s everything like the atmosphere is changing so much and that’s when I have interns that’s what I always encourage them to do is like if you have an interest in something then don’t hesitate to explore that even if it is with another employer because you know some of our best opportunity it is you really have to create for yourself.

Mathea Ford [00:22:59] Yes! So, this was awesome. I always ask my guests that’s my last question the hardest question of all. What is your favorite food? Because I love talking about food.

Allison Schaaf [00:23:11] Gosh! I mean chocolate.

Mathea Ford [00:23:15] Yes! What kind of chocolate?

Allison Schaaf [00:23:16] Dark chocolate. I really. Right now my favorite is Hu like H-U and they have a dark chocolate sea salt and I think like cashew butter something.

Mathea Ford [00:23:29] That sounds good! So good. How has? I know you mentioned before you we were talking before the podcast you mentioned you’re a new mom. So, how is that kind of changed your workflow or anything or how you do things? Have you found that…? Have you overcame that challenge if there is one in your business?

Allison Schaaf [00:23:52] Yeah! I mean I don’t know that I would say I’ve overcome it just yet. I think honestly I think it’s probably you know I’m a mom now I think it’s changed my role for the rest of my life right? Like I no longer can say PrepDish. Wake up and say PrepDish is my top priority every day I wake up and I say “look I have a top priority. And then in comes PrepDish you know after that it is a game changer. But you know just finding the support, being open and honest in conversations with my husband who’s also an entrepreneur. So, you know we have to figure out both of us like how to handle the workload and you know having some help at home to help in his care and then you know just trying again not being afraid to try things out. So, you know I’ve tried working four days a week and spending one day with him and you know it’s just I think constantly experimentation to see what’s going to work best with my schedule and how I want to spend time with him. I will say one thing that’s really cool is my PrepDish team up until I had I was the only one that wasn’t a mom. And so now we’re all moms and that’s something that’s always been built into basically our company values is family first and said something as a team we all know is like we all are committed to PrepDish. But at the end of the day if something comes up with a with one of our children we all know that that’s first. And so I think that’s kind of cool that because it’s my company I was able to have family be one of the values and that’s something that we all kind of respect about each other so I never feel worried that if I have to say “oh you know I’ve been sick today I have to take the day off. No one’s going to be mad about that” and I wouldn’t be mad if they had to do the same.

Mathea Ford [00:25:30] Well, Allison thank you so much for being on the podcast today. It was a pleasure to have you on the show. I know my listeners have learned a lot about entrepreneurship, business a little bit about your meal planning business. So, if listeners want to connect with you what’s the best way to do that?

Allison Schaaf [00:25:45] So, I’m at PrepDish on social media so Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest all those places and then also if they want to try the meal plans, I have a two week free trial and it’s if they just go to I have that setup for them there.

Mathea Ford [00:26:04] Awesome! Well, guys this has been another great episode of the Nutrition Experts Podcast. The podcast that is all about learning more so you can do more with nutrition in your life. Thanks.

Mathea Ford [00:26:15] Hey there this is Mathea. I’m back at the end of the show to share with you that the show is going on hiatus and I won’t be producing any new episodes for a while. I’m not exactly sure how long but as of right now this is going to be the last episode I loved talking to Allison and I loved talking to all the dietitians and other practitioners over the last year. This is episode 54 so it will be a little bit over a year that I’ve done this and I have enjoyed every minute of it and I’ve loved getting to know all the dietitians. But right now it’s getting ready to be summer so we’re going on a break. And I look forward to picking back up at some point in the near future with the podcast and continuing to bring you interviews with awesome nutrition experts who love to share their stories and inspire you. So, thanks for all of your support and I look forward to talking to you again soon. Thanks.

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