Nancy Adler has always been influenced by the people in her life. Now she's having an influence on other people's lives.
The 51-year-old Egg Harbor Township woman learned about food from her mom. A former hairdresser, Adler got interested in that profession thanks to her father, who was a barber.
She began learning about healthy eating thanks to her husband, a competitive weight lifter. She spun that interest into a new career. Now a certified nutritionist, Adler is helping her clients eat right and lose weight.
"With him being in the fitness field, I knew about good nutrition," she said. "I'd read that 85 percent of people who lose weight put it back on, so I tried to get my customers (in the hair salon) and employees to eat better. This wasn't about changing careers, but that's what happened."
Adler became a nutritionist about 14 years ago. Now she works at the job full-time and has published her own book of healthy recipes.
While Adler's interest in nutrition started less than two decades ago, good, fresh food has always been a touchstone in her life.
Growing up in Ventnor, the oldest daughter of Anthony and Rosalie Giardina remembers her mother rarely served her family processed food.
"My mom was a great cook," Adler recalled. "Everything was homemade. There was no boxed food, everything was made from scratch - the sauce to the pasta, all the desserts - so it was healthy in that respect. It was always balanced, and she made sure we took our vitamins."
Adler was one of the couple's four children, but it always seemed like there were more kids than that in the family's home, located a block from the beach and boardwalk.
"We were the house all the kids came over to. My mom always had some great food there. We had a big front porch and everyone sat around it. It was the hot spot to be - a lot of family, a lot of friends, a lot of noise. We were the loudest house on the block."
Growing up in such a house, Adler couldn't help but learn her way around the kitchen.
"She taught me how to cook, but we never sat down and said 'How do you cook that?' or, 'How much of that ingredient do you put in?.' We'd smell what she was cooking and go in and watch her. No one was really, 'Let's see what you are doing next.'"
Adler went to Holy Spirit High School and Atlantic Cape Community College. When it came time to choose a career, Adler picked hairdressing.
"There's no doubt I followed in my father's footsteps," she said.
Adler's husband, Franz, is supervisor for the Margate City Public Works department. The couple met while he was working as a disc jockey at the Surfside Club in Margate.
A former competitive power lifter when she met him, Franz Adler returned to the sport after the couple's marriage in 1994.
He now helps train other lifters, and the couple has converted their garage into a gym.
Standing 6 feet, 8 inches tall, Franz Adler never had to worry about his weight. But his wife found herself wanting to look better and get into better shape.
"For me, it started because I just wanted to eat differently. I wanted to get more fit and conditioned. I wanted to improve how I looked," Nancy Adler said.
Even then, Adler ate a healthy diet and didn't overeat.
"We never ate fast food. We would eat pasta and white (wheat) products. I basically ate three meals a day and we never ate sweets or sugar," she said.
But once she got serious about nutrition, Adler made sure her diet consisted of whole grains, vegetables and fruit and a daily protein shake.
Her interest in eating right and health led her to get certification as a nutritionist and as a fitness trainer and sports conditioning specialist.
She began working with clients in her hair salon, but soon her client base expanded enough for her to launch a full-time practice instructing people on nutrition and health.
"I started out with just one client, but it got so big, I decided to take a chance," she said.
Adler now has her own line of nutrition bars and shakes. She - with the help of her sister, Carolyn Petruzzi, of the Dorothy section of Weymouth Township - published a cookbook, "Nancy's Recipes for Life," which sold out its first printing.
Linda Shim, of Northfield, has been a client of Adler's for three years. She came to Adler for help shedding some stubborn baby weight.
"I'm a pharmacist, so I thought I knew how to eat right, apparently I didn't," Shim said. She's owned Adler's cookbook since 2010 and is a fan, particularly of her quinoa lasagna.
"I use the book a lot, I love it. I've made quiet a few things in it," she said. The recipes are also a hit with her family, which enjoys the dishes because although low-fat, they are well-seasoned, Shim said.
And while Adler is now committed to healthy eating, some habits die hard - such as a love of pizza.
"If I'm going to cheat, it going to be pizza. If I eat it twice a year, that's a lot, but I love it," she said.
Contact Steven V. Cronin:
with Sweet Peppers
•1 1/2 pound chicken pieces, skin removed
•1/4 teaspoon salt
•1/4 teaspoon pepper
•Organic cooking spray
•1 clove garlic, chopped
•1 fresh lemon, sliced
•1 tomato, chopped
•1/4 cup onion, chopped
•1/4 cup fresh parsley
•1 tablespoon fresh oregano
• 1/4 cup dry white wine
• 3/4 cup low sodium chicken broth
• 1 medium sweet green
•pepper, cut into strips
•1 medium sweet red pepper , cut into strips
Sprinkle salt and pepper on chicken. Lightly coat a nonstick skillet with the cooking spray. Cook chicken over medium heat until light brown (about 15 minutes) turning once. Reduce heat.
Sprinkle garlic, lemon, half a tomato, onion, parsley and oregano over chicken pieces in skillet. Add wine and broth. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add remaining tomato and sweet peppers. Cover and continue to simmer for 7 to 10 more minutes or until chicken is tender and cooked through.