My Atlanta: Carolyn O’Neil

Writer, registered dietician and former CNN food and travel reporter lists her favorite Southern foods as well as places to eat and shop in Atlanta.

When it comes to nutrition, Carolyn O’Neil is at the top of the food chain. The award-winning food writer got her start at CNN, where she reported on food and travel for nearly 20 years. These days, she writes a weekly column for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, contributes to WebMD, has a recurring spot on The Food Network and is the author of Southern Living’s new cookbook, “The Slim Down South Cookbook: Eating Well and Living Healthy in the Land of Biscuits and Bacon.”

Carolyn O’Neil (©Spark St. Jude)
Eating healthy as easy as the word "SLIM"

What is your best advice for eating healthy?

All you have to do is know four things and they’re as easy to remember as the letters in the word SLIM. Savor the South: Enjoy the fresh bounty of our farms including peaches, pecans, beans and greens. Linger Longer: Take your sweet time with meals to truly feel satisfied. Indulge a Little: Splurge in moderation on your favorites whether it’s chocolate, cheese or a cocktail. Make It Happen: Use grit to lace up those running shoes and grace to say ‘No Thank You’ when enthusiastic hosts offer you seconds.

What are some favorite recipes in your cookbook?

Grilled shrimp salad with fresh peaches, pecans and blue cheese; pulled pork tacos with avocado peach salsa; skillet-fried chicken with grilled okra and tomatoes; and mini berry cobblers with fresh mint.

Where do you like to eat out?

I love dining out in places where you just feel the staff is glad you’re there. Hospitality makes the food taste so much better. Local favorites with great food and great people include Anis, Bistro Niko and Pricci in Buckhead; Haven and Valenza in Brookhaven; and JCT Kitchen and Abattoir in West Midtown. When I want something incredibly fresh, healthy and tasty, I head to Souper Jenny’s in Buckhead.

What is your fondest Atlanta memory?

Well, besides the times I was in Piedmont Hospital to have my son and my daughter—my fondest memory of Atlanta has to be the day I was hired to work at CNN in 1982 and stood on the front veranda of 1050 Techwood Drive and knew I was invited to be part of something big about to happen.

What Atlanta landmark could you not live without?

I love driving along West Paces Ferry Road and Habersham past the beautiful and often historic homes.

What is Atlanta’s best-kept secret?

That behind just about every house, mansion or bungalow, there’s a backyard where friends gather to enjoy an outdoor meal. Oh, there might be a hammock. There will definitely be cold drinks and big platters of gorgeous food.

Carolyn O'Neil’s Perfect Day

9 am: Walking in Chastain Park

A great way to start the day is with an energizing walk and run combo along the three-mile trail that loops around Chastain Park in Buckhead. I do it for vanity and sanity! The physical activity helps keeps me fit and the solitude helps me think of creative ideas for nutrition writing and recipes. Atlanta’s parks, including Piedmont Park (404-875-7275, in Midtown, are great for getting some exercise any time of year.

Noon: Shopping, Shopping and More Shopping

Shopping for new fashions is so much fun in Atlanta. The city’s well-curated boutiques and bustling shopping centers are stocked with the latest styles and friendly staff to help you find just the right thing to wear to a backyard barbecue or black-tie event. I like the bright colors and shiny accessories at C. Wonder (404-816-3847, in Lenox Square (404-233-6767, and Lilly Pulitzer (404-467-9484, in Phipps Plaza (404-261-7910,

6 pm: Of Course, the Food

Dining out is my absolute favorite thing to do in Atlanta. There are so many great places to eat—from cozy bistros to big, fancy steak houses. I really like the menus at restaurants specializing in contemporary Southern dishes with a mission to serve locally sourced, farm-to-table ingredients. Two of my favorites are Gunshow (404-380-1886, and JCT Kitchen (404-355-2252,