The Healing Power of Food – Interview with Chef Leopoldo Gonzalez

Chef Leopoldo Gonzalez has been working in the kitchen at Greenhouse for more than two decades, first when it was Greenhouse Spa and continuously since its evolution into Greenhouse Treatment Center. During his time with Greenhouse, he has worked with registered dieticians and learned through time and practice not only how to create healthy meals that promote wellness but also how to please the variety of needs and tastes of the clients in residence.

Here are just a few of the things that Chef Gonzalez brings to the Greenhouse experience for clients every day.

Nutrition First

When creating a meal plan for Greenhouse each week, Chef Gonzalez strives for balance. Says Chef Gonzalez, “I take into consideration the ratio of complex carbohydrates, fat, and protein. We try to provide a calorie count of 1,800 calories per day with 50 percent coming from complex carbohydrates, 30 percent coming from healthy fats, and 20 percent of the calories coming from protein.”

In order to ensure that clients get a range of vitamins and nutrients, Chef Gonzalez works hard to reach his ratio and calorie count goals by providing a wide variety of meal options. Says Chef Gonzalez: “We try to include many different types of food to reach those numbers at the end of the day. We have so many options.”

It Starts with Detox

Not everyone who comes to Greenhouse goes through an intense detoxification period during the first days and weeks of treatment, but for those who do and for those who have an adjustment period with new medications that makes it difficult to eat, Chef Gonzalez is prepared to help with a meal plan designed to make them as comfortable as possible.

Says Chef Gonzalez: “We help them to avoid heavy meals and recommend that they avoid spicy foods. Usually, we give them light soups or broths with crackers, applesauce – a bland diet that includes bread, rice, toast. It will be very, very mild.”

Catering to Clients

For those who are not accustomed to eating healthfully and for those with a very specific set of tastes, food allergies, or preferred styles of eating, Chef Gonzalez patiently takes the time to help everyone get what they need at the table. Starting at intake, there is a focus on making sure that clients are getting what they need and want at meals.

Says Chef Gonzalez, “Food allergies are pretty common, so we can accommodate these types of request. We can also provide vegetarian meals. Clients have a dietary consult with the medical department, which gets turned in to the kitchen so we know ahead of time which clients could potentially be requesting special meals. So once this happens, I come out and talk to the client to get some information regarding personal preferences. Based on that information, I can make suggestions that they might really enjoy and try to create a well-rounded meal for them.”

For clients who do not discuss meal preferences in advance, they always have the option to discuss the issue later.

Says Chef Gonzalez, “When I get requests for special meals or special foods, usually I come out and talk to the client and take notes. All they have to do is let me know. It is a process that is different for everyone. Eventually, I invite them to try different things we offer, and in the end, they are often eating regularly.”

The Healing Power of Food

In his time at Greenhouse, Chef Gonzalez has personally witnessed how eating healthfully as part of a comprehensive treatment program can help clients to stabilize in recovery. For some, that transformation is visible.

Says Chef Gonzalez: “It depends on how long the patient has been in addiction. Sometimes, the client has not been eating properly or not eating at all, so it is very visible. Not everybody comes into treatment in bad shape, but the ones who have been addicted for a very long period of time to whatever substance they are facing the problem with, it is very clear that they have deteriorated physically.”

Over the years, many clients have reached out to him to thank him for the meals he prepares for them and tell him about the positive impact the nutritional changes have had on their lives. In other cases, they do not need to say anything at all – he can see the changes for himself.

Says Chef Gonzalez: “Sometimes, I will see a new client come into the room, and several days later, I can see the change in the client. I can see that they are engaging in treatment and it shows. It’s not just because of the food, but the food helps them to regain their physical strength. It makes me happy when I see a client who comes in and first needs a wheelchair to get around and after several days, that client is walking around.”

Going Home with Good Habits

For clients who complete treatment at Greenhouse and want to bring home the positive nutritional habits they have developed during rehab, Chef Gonzalez has a number of tips to help them get started. He recommends that, upon returning home, clients:

  • Choose lean meats, fresh vegetables, and whole grains as much as possible.
  • Include all the food groups in their meal planning.
  • Try new foods as much as possible, especially new vegetables.
  • Avoid eating out as much as possible, but if necessary, make wise choices and avoid fast food.
  • Be patient and remember that eating healthfully is a process.
  • Be persistent in positive eating habits, and stay committed to incorporating healthy foods into daily meal plans.

The positive nutrition that begins in recovery is an important piece in the detox and treatment process that can support and inform a healthy lifestyle for years to come. Chef Gonzalez works hard to ensure that clients not only have the nutritional support they need during treatment but also the tools needed to maintain those healthful choices throughout their life in recovery.

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