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!

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.

Shattering the Illusion: There is No Magic Nutrition Wand

Shattering the Illusion: There is No Magic Nutrition Wand

Shattering the Illusion: There is No Magic Nutrition WandThere is no magic nutrition wand. And no, I’m not hiding one in my desk drawer while telling you this. Good nutrition is a lifestyle, not a rule book. It’s a moving target for every person since every day is not the same and there are constantly new foods and new choices. No single food will make or break your health, eaten in moderation. As a mentor dietitian once told me, “I never give my patients meal plans because I want to teach them how to eat, not what to eat.”

I come from a background philosophy that every food fits a healthy lifestyle. There are parameters, though. Portion size is one of those. A person can’t gorge them self on less nutritious foods daily and expect to be healthy. A few chips with a sandwich at lunch, though, or a small bowl of ice cream once in a while are fine. As long as you don’t have nutrition-related health problems or metabolic disorders, there is not necessarily any need to strictly prohibit any particular food. But you still have to be mindful of what else you eat and how much you eat.

The question “Can I eat __________?” will often be met with, “That depends.” It depends on several factors: what else you eat and how much as previously mentioned, but also how often you eat that food, how much exercise you do, the health risks you may have, and what you’re trying to achieve, among others.

Nutrition is simultaneously unclear since it is not black-and-white, while also being much simpler than how it is generally perceived. A varied diet of foods from each food group is a great general rule of thumb, and figuring out the details is where things get a bit trickier. That’s what I am here for, to help give you the tools to navigate the choices available in world full of food. So even though there is no magic nutrition wand I can share with you and I won’t tell you what you can and can’t eat, conscious decisions about food choices can lead to a healthier, more nutritious lifestyle.