Confession time: as Festival Foods dietitians, we don’t always eat as well as we should. Contrary to popular belief, registered dietitians are real people with the same healthy eating challenges as everyone else. The main reason many of us went into the food and nutrition business is to help others with the struggles we have encountered, and still encounter, on a regular basis. Do we practice what we preach? We definitely try, but our diets are not perfect. Some days we could do better. Eating well is a journey; there is no end game. It’s something we have to focus on every single day. Some days are harder than others, and all of us have those days where it’s more difficult to eat healthy. We are here to tell you that we have those hard days like everyone else. Here is what each of us struggle with in our personal eating habits.
I have a serious sweet tooth. Given the choice between French fries and cake, I will choose cake every time. I love anything sweet: cake, cookies, chocolate, ice cream, pudding and pie. Since I’m not willing to give up dessert, it typically replaces other foods that provide important nutrients (like protein and fiber), which is not a good trade off. Instead of giving up sweets cold turkey (which I knew would result in me craving them even more and then making poor choices), I have made sure to only eat sweets after having a nutrition packed meal. Other options are healthy desserts like this one or this one. That has automatically made my serving sizes smaller, since I’m not as hungry. It’s also allowed me to still enjoy sweets.
I prefer to graze rather than eat meals. I don’t know what it is, but I really like to snack. The problem is, when I snack most of the day, I don’t eat nutritious meals that fill me up for more than an hour or two. For me, snacking is a way for me to multitask, so I don’t have to take time away from working at my computer to eat a full meal. It also gives me an excuse to eat more often, which is fine if I am actually hungry (not always the case, if we are being honest here). I have been trying to bring in more leftovers for lunch that are more of a meal. I have found that when I eat a real meal, I stay full and energized most of the afternoon, likely making me more productive in the long run. Healthy snacks like this one and this one definitely help too!
I like to socially drink. We all know that alcoholic beverages can add up quickly in the calorie department. My natural instinct has been to cut out food calories in order to enjoy alcohol calories without going overboard (makes sense — calories in, calories out), but that has gotten me in trouble too many times. Instead, I have made a commitment to eat before or during social events where drinking — especially my favorite craft beer! — will be involved. When I’m not as hungry, I drink less and feel better. I’ve also found that focusing on sipping s-l-o-w-l-y and mixing in glasses of water helps immensely.
I love going out to eat. Don’t get me wrong — I enjoy cooking at home for family and friends and love spending time in the kitchen. But, there’s just something about the event of eating at a restaurant that is so satisfying. Maybe because it usually means something is being celebrated. Maybe it’s because it means an opportunity to explore a new place and a new menu. Or, maybe because it means I’m spending quality time with people I love. Whatever the reason, I jump at the chance to go out for food. Since restaurant foods (and drinks) are typically higher in calories, fat, salt and sugar, I make sure to pay attention to portion sizes. Ordering water instead of soda, wine or beer is also a great way to enjoy my favorite foods without filling up on calories from my beverage. Most importantly, saving my restaurant trips for special occasions allows me to fully indulge once in a while, and I get the chance to really savor the flavors of my favorite dishes.
I don’t always eat enough veggies. I wish my plate at every meal was half veggies. It’s a great way to incorporate more vitamins, minerals and fiber into your diet, while cutting down on calories. (Plus, it’s super exciting when I can make this happen!) Although I am a dietitian, I hate to say it, but my plate does not always look this way. Since I’m not a huge fan of chopping veggies, I have found that keeping frozen steam bag vegetables or bagged salads on hand helps to ensure that I can quickly get veggies on the table. Buying produce that's pre-chopped or adding fresh spinach to breakfast smoothies are also ways I’ve found to knock out my excuses for not getting enough vegetables.
I forget to plan snacks. I spend the majority of my day at work. Of course, I’m always ready with lunch plans, and I love daydreaming about dinner. But what about those cravings that strike mid-morning or mid-afternoon? (Yikes!) After realizing that it’s not fun to go an entire morning with a growling stomach, I’ve made a point to stock up on healthy snacks on Sunday night — nuts, Greek yogurt, KIND Snacks bars, fresh fruit and whole grain crackers — that I can keep at work for weekday snacking. This way, I don’t have to remember to pack snacks every single day. Keeping a variety of pre-portioned snacks at work eliminates trips to the vending machine or break room for leftover desserts. Plus, I have enough energy and fuel to make it to the gym after work (score!).
I’m a creature of habit. I’ve been known to go on “food jags” where I eat the same meal for days, and even months, on end. For example, I ate peanut butter toast every day for breakfast during high school. In college, it was a rarity to find me without a chicken salad and Diet Dr. Pepper packed for lunch. And most recently, I’ve had a long streak of egg-based meals. Yes, all of these foods can fit into a healthy, balanced diet, but I also know it’s important to eat a variety of foods. Varying the foods we eat can help ensure we are getting a balance of all the nutrients that different foods have to offer. Although it’s often a lot easier and quicker to reach for the same foods, I’ve made a goal to break my habit by brainstorming new meal and snack ideas each week and aiming to not eat the same meal two days in a row.
I have a major salt tooth. Sweets and treats are fine and dandy, but I’d much rather indulge in something salty. In fact, some of my favorite foods like pickles, olives, popcorn, roasted nuts and chips are heavily salted. Even though I know the impact sodium can have on heart health, I can (and often do) overindulge in these high sodium foods. To help be more mindful of the amount of salty snacks I eat, I try to measure out a serving size prior to sitting down to munch on it. Also, if I’m going to snack on something salty, I try to balance it with something naturally low in sodium, like a fruit or vegetable.
I struggle to get enough calcium. I’ve never been a milk drinker or a cheese lover. In fact, I used to have to be bribed to drink even a small glass of milk. It may have had something to do with me not being a true Wisconsinite. Just kidding. It likely had more to do with me being severely dairy intolerant, which I am. Now more than ever, I struggle with getting enough calcium even though I know how vital it is for maintaining bone health. I strive to include a non-dairy source of calcium in each of my meals. But, there’s only so much cooked spinach and sardines a girl can handle.