Adventures in Cooking: A Dietitian’s Discoveries in the Kitchen

Y’all, I’m not a cooking dietitian.

Whew! Glad that’s off my chest.

Really, though. There are MANY dietitians who are great and cooking and passionate about cooking. In fact, a love of cooking is often cited as an attraction to entering the field of dietetics and nutrition. However, cooking has never been my strong suit or something I really enjoyed very much. I always fumbled a bit when patients and clients asked me for cooking tips because I had none.

Recently, however, I have made a point of learning more about how to cook. In addition to my inability to advise others, I am motivated by my own lack of interest and inspiration in the few meals I am capable of preparing for myself. I want to eat veggies in some for other than raw or steamed (because those are the easiest ways to avoid cooking). I want to eat new and different things. I want to create and I want to learn!

I’ve begun my adventure of discovery with meal prep. This way, I only cook once at the beginning of the week, and I usually don’t have to cook again until the next week. (I have yet to overcome my lack of desire to actually cook frequently.) In just a few weeks of consistently doing meal prep, there are a few lessons I’ve learned that have really opened doors for me!

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  1. I’m not the first person to try (or struggle!) with meal prep!

It seems obvious, I know; but to be honest, I felt sort of alone and anomalous among dietitians as someone who would rather hand over the knife and spatula than wield them herself. Simple internet searches, though, revealed so many resources from dietitians who LOVE meal prep and are totally willing to share their favorite tips and tricks! It also helps to remember that what I do doesn’t have to match anyone else – I can use the hacks I find most useful.

  1. A new recipe is only new once.

I find myself intimidated by new recipes. It only just dawned on me recently that a recipe is the hardest to make the first time. The initial making of a recipe takes F O R E V E R and it’s uncomfortable because I don’t really have the flow of the thing. I’ve realized, though, that all subsequent preparations of that same recipe are much easier. This “First Time Challenge” is why I…

  1. Pair one new recipe with one familiar recipe.

It’s much easier to [relatively] efficiently cook my lunch and dinner entrées for the week at the same time if I am comfortable with at least one of the two recipes. This way, I can build my recipe repertoire but cut down on the amount of intimidation and overwhelm I feel about doing my meal prep.

  1. Make YUMMY foods!

Duh. Why wouldn’t you?! Well, I didn’t. I made a whole week’s worth of salad-in-a-jar that I wasn’t even excited about at the outset. I was impressed by the nutrition in the recipe, it called for ingredients with which I was very familiar, and it seemed like something I ‘should’ like, so I made it even though I didn’t really want it. And you know what? I didn’t really care for it. It’s pretty disheartening to put in the time to do meal prep and not even like the results. I’ve since found more salad-in-a-jar recipes that seem more challenging but that actually sound good to me, so I’m going to be trying those instead!

  1. Convenience can be well worth the cost.

I had a thought at first that I wasn’t doing meal prep “right” unless I made everything from scratch. It seemed like the most foodie/cooking-dietitian way to do it. Maybe someday I will do everything from scratch, but it isn’t likely. For me, it’s worth it to use a pre-made pie crust for quiche, or to use frozen chopped spinach instead of buying fresh and chopping and cooking it myself.

  1. Lastly…

I’ve learned that my week is SO much easier when I don’t have to worry every night about what lunch will be the next day (or, let’s be honest, every morning when I’m getting ready for work). I’m learning as I go, and the most important part is that I’m DOING it and setting myself up for a nutritious week!

Have you learned any tips, tricks, or hacks for meal prep? Please share them along with your favorite make-ahead meals in the comments!

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“The Real Skinny: Appetite for Health’s 101 Fat Habits & Slim Solutions” by Julie Upton & Katherine Brooking

The Real Skinny cover

This review was originally published on Nutrition411.com.

About the Book

Penned by Appetite for Health’s founders and dietitian bloggers, The Real Skinny: Appetite for Health’s 101 Fat Habits & Slim Solutions provides practical tips and explanations to combat common nutrition roadblocks and misconceptions. From a collection of information about quantities of ingredients are needed for various prepared volumes, to a list of treats that yield 80-120 calories, the focus of this book is to provide suggestions for small changes that can be easily incorporated for big long-term results.

Backed by research, Julie Upton, MS, RD, CSSD, and Katherine Brooking, MS, RD, exhibit their experience in providing easily-applicable tricks to make positive changes for good nutrition and physical activity an integral part of anyone’s lifestyle. To that end, the book includes nutritious recipes for all meals to help those who are faced with the seemingly ever-present question, “What should I cook?”

Dietitian’s Review
The Real Skinny is a valuable book in that it teaches about the “doing” side of nutrition instead of just the “knowing” side. As a dietitian, I regularly talk with patients who say, “I know what I need to do, I just don’t do it.” This book is packed with handy suggestions to integrate good nutrition and physical activity into daily life. Rather than providing a diet with rules and labels of “good” and “bad,” lifestyle guidelines are the key component of The Real Skinny: Appetite for Health’s 101 Fat Habits & Slim Solutions , which are categorized into different chapters making it easy for readers to find those particular habits with which they struggle, and the “slim solution” that immediately follows. The book is a quick and easy read with a tone that encourages and motivates the reader.

Then & Now: What It Means to be an Athlete

Then & NowAs I basked in the afterglow of a recent workout, I found myself reflecting on why exercise matters to me and what it really means to me.

I love to feel like an athlete. Several words help illustrate what my perception of an athlete:

Strong

Capable

Determined

Hardworking

Sweaty!

The more I thought about it, the realization dawned on me that I have always sought these feelings through exercise. As a tri-sport athlete in a small-town high school (I participated in volleyball, basketball, and track & field annually), I got my fill of feeling like an athlete through sports. As an adult, I have much less directed or structured athletic endeavors.

From the time I was in high school sports to adulthood, my drivers to reach that feeling of athleticism have changed substantially.

 

Competition with Others vs. Competition with Myself

In high school sports, being an athlete was very much geared toward being a better athlete than my competitors from other schools. I needed to be more than another person – more strong, more capable, just more. Now, I don’t much care where anyone else’s fitness skills are in relation to mine; if I can compete with myself and improve myself and my own fitness compared to where I was yesterday or last week or last year, I’m winning!

 

Stats vs. Health

In order to determine which of two people the better athlete is, sports statistics are used: race times, distances thrown, shots scored, wins/losses, etc. These days, I’m only comparing my statistics to my prior statistics. For me, fitness indicators include running pace, frequency of exercising, and pounds on the bench press bar. A few other numbers have been thrown into the mix, too – mainly, blood labs such as cholesterol and blood sugar that let us know if our bodies are healthy on the inside.

 

What I Can’t Do vs. What I Can Do

In competing with other athletes, it is important to find deficits and correct them to become a better contender. This results in more of a focus on can’t rather than can. For example, “I can’t consistently shoot free throws,” or “I can’t swim as fast as my competitor,” or “I can’t hit through that blocker.” When I compete only with myself, I get to focus on what I can do. Lately, my list includes, “I can run faster than before” and “I can lift more weight than last month” and “I can hold downward dog without wondering when the yoga instructor will let us change positions.” (That last one is a pretty fantastic accomplishment for me!)

 

Don’t get me wrong – sports are great! This simply reflects how my perspective on athleticism has changed over time

Whatever your reasons may be for seeking your version of athleticism, know that those are great and keep fueling that spark!

Why It’s Impossible to Fail at Making Healthy Changes

Why It's Impossible to Fail at Making Healthy ChangesFear of failure. We’ve all been there. We’ve all balked at intimidating undertakings because we’re concerned about failing.

What about making lifestyle changes to improve health?

Fear of failure is frequently cited as a reason for avoiding making changes. Those changes seem overwhelming and people claim to be concerned that they will not succeed.

 

Let me pose a hypothetical question: What if, instead of fear of failing, the real fear is that of finding greatness?

That probably sounds bit (or a lot) crazy, so let me explain.

As I said before, health-related lifestyle changes can seem extremely daunting. Most people are pretty comfortable in their current lives: eating in a comfortable way, exercising at a comfortable frequency and intensity. For some, that may mean giving limited thought or attention to food or exercise at all. Others may feel comfortable focusing greatly on their eating or exercise habits. No matter where a person is in their health journey, additional changes can feel like a step into the realm of discomfort.

Implementing positive changes is often challenging…at first. It is hard to limit the number of times eating out each week. It is hard to learn to cook more nutritious food. It is hard to wake up early to go to the gym, or take the dog for an extra-long walk in the evening when you’re used to spending that time on other activities. Those changes alter our routines and make us think more about what we’re doing.

Here is where I argue the fear of greatness comes in.

If making a positive change sounds uncomfortable now, the thought of being great at that change might sound like the discomfort will be prolonged – maybe forever. The thought of dining at restaurants fewer times per week for a member of a family that loves to go out to eat might seem like a plan that is bound to fail eventually, because greatness would result in a direct effect on that family time. For someone who likes to stay up later in the evenings, the thought of being great at exercising early in the morning before work might seem like more than they feel they can handle. My point is that the fear of greatness is related to reluctance to feel the initial discomfort over an extended time period.

Here’s the thing: It will get easier. It always does. It takes 21 days to make or break a habit. After those 21 days of implementing a change, it won’t necessarily be easy, but it will be easier (“-er” means more!). The discomfort won’t last forever. Not only will the new, healthy behavior become habit, a person’s life overall will likely change to accommodate their new changes. Maybe the person whose family goes out to eat frequently will start hosting healthy family dinners. Maybe the person who struggles to wake up early to exercise will begin falling asleep earlier (and sleep better, as a result of their increased physical activity), ultimately feeling more well-rested.

And what if the healthy changes don’t become part of the lifestyle? What if, after a few weeks, or longer, those changes just don’t work out?

That still is not failure. The positive effects of those changes exist. The time spent making those changes is time that less healthy behaviors were not taking place. That leads me to my second radical statement: You cannot fail at making healthy changes.

Choose Your Own Holiday Health Adventure

Happy Holidays, ScintillaLife readers and followers!

The holiday season can be a trap for unhealthy decisions, between the get-togethers with lots of food, high-calorie treats, and seasonal foods, plus being extra busy with less time to work out and bad weather discouraging going outside.

The good news is, you don’t have to succumb to the siren song of the season! Check out this “Choose Your Own Holiday Adventure” to learn how you can wrangle the power of tips and tricks to help you participate while making smart choices, set yourself up for success, and change your mindset.

Each situation is called an Opportunity – it is a chance to make a decision that will contribute to your health during the holidays (and throughout the year!). Keep track of your answers and find the scores at the end of this post.

Opportunity 1

The holiday season is coming up! Last year, you gained a few pounds during the holidays, and now you’ve realized you never lost the extra weight. You decide to set a goal for yourself. Which do you choose?

A. Challenge yourself to match the weight you gained last year, and even gain a pound or two more.

B. Challenge yourself to lose all the weight you gained last year before January 1 – then you’ll be in shape to go to the gym for your Resolution!

C. Challenge yourself to maintain your weight for now, then focus on losing weight after the holidays are over.

 

Opportunity 2

You want to get a jump on wrapping gifts for your kids, so you stay up after they go to sleep and watch a movie on TV while you wrap. Once the gifts are wrapped, the movie is still on for two hours! What do you decide to do?

A. Go to bed – you’ll feel better if you get enough rest.

B. Watch the movie for one more hour, even though you know you’ll be groggy tomorrow.

C. Stay up and watch the movie – you can catch up on sleep during the weekend.

 

Opportunity 3

You want to have some friends over to spend time together between all the rush and fuss of the holidays. Which type of get-together will you host?

A. A potluck dinner where everyone brings their specialty dish

B. Game night with a few snacks served

C. A cookie exchange

 

Opportunity 4

The annual company holiday party is tonight, and the company always make sure to serve great food! What do you do to prepare for the food you know you’ll eat?

A. Skip breakfast and have a light lunch to save calories for the party.

B. Don’t eat throughout the day so you can eat as much of the party food as possible.

C. Eat meals and snacks as you normally would.

 

Opportunity 5

After mingling at the company party, you find yourself feeling full, but there are still foods you haven’t tried yet. What do you do?

A. Make a small plate to take home – you can try some of these items tomorrow.

B. Set out to eat at least one of everything you haven’t yet tasted before you leave.

C. Pick out the things you haven’t tried that look most appetizing and just have a small sample.

 

Opportunity 6

You’re out running errands before heading home to make and decorate your favorite holiday cookies with your family. A display with bags of red and green M&Ms catches your eye just as you’re jonesing for a sweet treat. What do you decide to do?

A. Buy a bag and treat yourself to a few handfuls before leaving the parking lot – that sugar craving was really nagging you!

B. Buy a bag and eat a few M&Ms while you drive – you would be a Grinch if you didn’t eat the festive candy!

C. Pass up the M&Ms – you can get regular M&Ms anytime; besides, you’re about to make and eat yummy cookies!

 

Opportunity 7

The whole family is together for a holiday dinner, and Great Aunt Gertrude made her famous roast goose. Since it is one of your all-time favorite food that you only get to eat once a year, what will you do?

A. Savor it and use the Fork Trick – set down your fork between each bite to take the time to really enjoy the goose.

B. Eat as fast as possible so you can get seconds before your cousin takes the last piece, like he always does.

C. Skip side dishes and eat a bigger serving of goose – why eat other foods when you’re really in it for the bird?

 

Opportunity 8

Your spouse sends you to the grocery store with a list. The two of you have talked about trying to eat healthier during the holidays. You notice items on the list such as cream cheese, milk, canned veggies, and rib eye steaks. What do you do?

A. Throw out the list and instead take home lots of fresh veggies, dried beans, and rice.

B. Stick to the list, but choose healthier versions of each item (neufatchel cheese, 1% milk, reduced-sodium veggies, and sirloin steaks).

C. Follow the list. Your spouse probably has a plan.

 

Opportunity 9

You get stuck at work and only have 15 minutes to exercise when you get home before heading to a New Year’s party. You had planned to work out for a whole hour, but since you can’t, what will you do instead?

A. Skip it – it’s not enough time to really make a difference anyway.

B. Remind yourself to make a New Year’s Resolution to start working out tomorrow, then leave for the party.

C. Exercise for the 15 minutes and plan to sneak in some extra standing and walking around the party instead of sitting down.

 

Answers

  1. A – 0, B – 1, C – 2

  2. A – 2, B – 1, C – 0

  3. A – 0, B – 2, C – 1

  4. A – 1, B – 0, C – 2

  5. A – 2, B – 0, C – 1

  6. A – 0, B – 1, C – 2

  7. A – 2, B – 0, C – 1

  8. A – 1, B – 2, C – 0

  9. A – 0, B – 1, C – 2

 

Scores

11-18 points: You’re making healthy decisions most of the time!

4-12 points: You’re on the right track!

0-3 points: Practice recognizing opportunities to improve your health!

 

Please share your favorite healthy holiday tips below and whether you learned any tips from taking the quiz! Download my Healthy Holiday Toolkit for helpful reminders of tips and tricks to steer you through the season!