The Way We Eat

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Seeing as how food shows are at the top of the list in popularity, it looks like we love watching people cook food and better yet, watching them cook food competitively -- even if we don’t like to cook ourselves! Considering how food has become major entertainment, food and what we do with it must just be plain interesting. 
Beyond tv personalities, I love to see what’s in people’s grocery carts. I love to know what everyday people are eating and how they structure their food intake across the day. I love to know what they cook and how they feel about it. Food is just fascinating to me in this way and apparently others, too, based on books like Everything I Ate: A Year in the Life of My Mouth  (I loved this 365-day picture-based book) and online magazine departments like TheKitchn’s “The Way We Eat.” *
From a nutrition, lifestyle, relationship and idea perspective, there is much to learn from seeing what food means to people and cultures, how we do it and how it fits into our lives. For that reason, this Wellness Wednesday is a takeoff on TheKitchn’s “The Way We Eat” and spotlights Whitney Gould-Cookson, a dietitian from Northern Light Mayo Hospital.
Even if we don’t think the food we eat is very interesting, we are all interesting in how we go about eating. One of the obvious ways Whitney is interesting is because she’s a dietitian. How does a real person who is also a dietitian eat? Sparkling clean? Do they feel pressure to eat sparkling clean? If they were asked a bunch of questions about how they eat, what they think about eating and then what they ate for one work week day and one weekend day, could we trust them to be honest with all that pressure on them?
I have no doubt in my mind we are getting the real deal with Whitney. She is a real person who thinks about and values food in her own way which is reflected in her choices. See for yourself. As for me, after reading Whitney’s The Way I Eat, I had the immediate urge to do three things: Google Picky Bars, pick up some Everything Bagel Seasoning and cook up a batch of Blueberry Oatmeal Cups.
Prepare to get hungry. Here's the interview followed by a special recipe!

“The Way We Eat*”

Whitney Gould-Cookson & Maryn
Clinical Dietitian, Northern Light Mayo Hospital
Who eats with you at home?
My husband and 17-month-old daughter, Maryn, plus our dog who is always on floor- and high-chair clean-up duty

Any food restrictions?

How would you describe your mode of eating and food philosophy?
Honestly, I keep it simple. I eat the foods I enjoy. I focus (or try to) on balance, meaning veggies and/or fruit at most times of eating, mostly whole grains, healthy fats and protein. Staying hydrated is key for me and I can always tell when I am slacking. I do not restrict myself. If I want dessert, I’ll go for it, knowing it is not something I have every day. I am cautious of added sugars (sneaky, sneaky) and check ingredient lists but do not make myself crazy over it. I appreciate and look for local foods when possible. If I am hungry, I eat, though I generally try not to get to that point of hangry, because that is never good for the people around me!

What are your favorite foods?
Roasted veggies, pizza, raspberries, chocolate, peanut butter, fish tacos

Do you have any food weirdnesses? (Strange things you like or grew up with)
Applesauce on cereal?

Are you embarrassed by any foods you eat?
I don’t think so!

Do you feel responsible for eating nutritiously in public and in general since you are a dietitian?
This is complicated…In a sense, yes. While I feel like I generally do not make food judgements (or try very hard not to), I do feel like people assume I do. When in the café line I often hear comments like “oh of course I’m ahead of the dietitian and buying dessert” or “don’t look!” I often feel like I am making a conscious effort to eat the donut hole or candy when offered to make a point that it is okay! I do not want people to feel judged for what they eat, ever or by anyone.

While I do feel added pressure at times, I just practice what I preach which is: all foods fit, aim for a fruit or veggie at most meals and focus on variety!

Many of us have a complicated relationship with food. Any observations about our human relationship with food in general, in addition to thoughts about how we might come to an easier place with it?
This is a tough one…we must eat, so naturally we all have a certain relationship with food. Our childhood, environment, peers, budget, education, health--it all impacts our relationship with food whether we want it to or think it does or not.

I think where it gets complicated for most people is having this idea that foods are good or bad. I like to think of there being foods to eat more often and foods to eat less often. Unfortunately, when people eat so-called “bad food,” they then place themselves in a bad category or having been bad for eating that food. Unknowingly that can spiral into a negative relationship with food. At the same time, if all you eat are the “good foods,” that can also become problematic and result in limiting your food choices. If we could more often set aside those labels, I believe food relationships could be healed.

Tell how about how you approach quantity. Being a dietitian, do you measure your food? How do you decide how much you are going to eat?
I do not measure my food. I think I have established an understanding of how much satisfies me. I am more than okay with taking a second helping if I’m not satisfied (I do try to go for the veggies first) and I am totally fine with sliding food I did not eat into a container for the next day if I am done and still have food on my plate. I’m currently also a nursing mom and that feeling of being a bottom-less pit has yet to go away, even after 17 months. I typically eat every 2-3 hours.

And now, how does food play into your day? Do you have a particular schedule or routine?
Food is a big part of my day. I typically have two breakfasts, lunch, a snack and then dinner. A piece or two of chocolate is usually in there, too. (A Dove square or mini peanut butter cup are my current go-tos.)

Most weeks we get groceries once per week though we sometimes skip a week and work with what we have (having a child has drastically cut back on the after-work quick stops to get ingredients to make dinner for that night). We typically plan 3-4 dinner meals per week; the other nights we will have leftovers, take-out or eat with family.

Work weeks go more smoothly when I do some sort of food prep. Food prep could be an egg bake (eggs, splash of milk, roasted veggies, maybe some cheese), oatmeal muffins of some sort, energy balls, salad, or something that can be made and popped into the oven for nights we know we will be short on time. Our daughter eats mainly what we eat, it doesn’t go over well if we have something more interesting on our plates and who wants to make or has time to make separate meals anyway!?

What is your typical breakfast?
Some sort of whole grain bread (1-2 slices), English muffin or half a Bagel Central bagel with 1-2 eggs (over-easy or scrambled with leftover veggies) with avocado, tomato, nutritional yeast and everything bagel seasoning. Or I might have oatmeal or oatmeal muffin or a smoothie. If I’m short on time, cereal with frozen fruit. If I don’t have anything prepped and am headed out the door for my hour-long commute (currently 2 days a week) I will do toast with peanut butter or avocado.

I typically will have a two-part breakfast; one between 6-8am depending on my schedule that day and then another a couple hours later. Depending on how I am feeling it could look more like a snack or it could basically be another meal.

What is your typical lunch?
Usually leftovers, sometimes a salad or sandwich. Once or twice a week it will be hospital café food or take-out (Harvest Moon or Spruce Mill Farm).

What is your typical dinner?
It varies. Usually protein, a grain and veggies. Some go-to meals are tacos, quesadillas, meatloaf, turkey burgers, chicken with roasted sweet potato and broccoli.

What are your typical snacks?
Apple with peanut butter, trail mix, Picky Bars, yogurt (full fat) with peanut butter and frozen berries, cottage cheese with pears, string cheese and dried apricots, cashews or roasted peanuts.  

What is your typical dessert?
When I have it, ice cream or cookies (usually homemade from my mother-in-law).

Take us through one of your workdays last week...when you ate, what you ate, what in your life/schedule factored into when and what you ate. Include rough quantities.

Wednesday 3/3 -- a work-from-home day
  • 6:30 am: 16 oz water (always start my day with glass of water. I have at least 4 – 5 10 oz glasses of water throughout the day)
  • 7 am: frosted mini wheats with skim milk (about 1 cup)
  • 7:30 am: 12 oz coffee (half decaf, splash of half and half, 1 scoop collagen powder)
  • 9 am: ½ everything bagel with butter (yes, always real butter), 1/3 avocado, 3 slices tomato, 1 over-easy egg sprinkled with nutritional yeast and homemade everything bagel seasoning
  • 11:30 am: handful of mini peanut butter sandwich crackers, 2 slices of left-over Mason’s pizza (mushroom and spinach and bacon)
  • 1:30 pm: 14-16 oz smoothie—2-3 oz full fat plain Greek yogurt, 1-2 Tbsp peanut butter, 1 tsp chia seeds, at least half cup frozen fruit and kale mix, soy milk (maybe ½ cup)
  • 3 pm: 4 graham cracker squares with peanut butter and an apple
  • 4 pm: ran 4 miles
  • 5 pm: tortilla chips and homemade salsa
  • 6 pm: small serving plate Shepard’s Pie (local beef, corn, homemade mashed potatoes, parm cheese), 2 cups green salad (mixed greens, cucumber, carrots) with Italian dressing, 6 oz white wine
  • 730 pm: 1 Dove dark chocolate square and a small piece of the heel of banana bread
Take us through one of the weekend days this past week. Include rough quantities.
Saturday 3/6
  • 6:30 am: 16 oz water
  • 7:45 am: 2 pieces French toast (one of Maryn’s favorites) with butter and maple syrup, 2 scrambled eggs with nutritional yeast and everything bagel seasoning, coffee.
  • 10:30 am: 2 oatmeal muffins (made that morning), more water
  • 1045-1245 ish: 6-mile walk around Eagle Lake
  • 1 pm: water and Picky Bar
  • 130 pm: 1 16 oz Bar Harbor Real Ale, ¾ of a fig, prosciutto and gorgonzola pizza, bites of Maryn’s mac n cheese, 3 fries
  • 6:15 pm: 1 whole grain English muffin with butter, avocado and everything bagel seasoning, 16 oz smoothie made with frozen berries and kale mix, mango, skim milk, spoonful peanut butter, 2 oz full fat plain Greek yogurt
  • 730 pm: 2 Dove dark chocolate squares, 16 oz water
  • Notes about the week: Shepard’s pie was prepped and made the previous weekend (along with another one that went in the freezer). We did not get groceries this week so that mostly impacted the fresh produce, hence the smoothies made with frozen fruit. Half of the muffins made on Saturday were popped into the freezer.
A couple of follow-up water questions since water has an important place in your day and is a hot topic

You drink a very specific amount of water over the course of the day. What benefits do you get from drinking this amount of water and what happens if you don’t?
Personally, I can feel the difference when I do not keep up on my water. I might have chapped lips or dry mouth, feel a bit light-headed on standing or notice my pee is a bit too dark for me. (I tend to sweat a good amount when I exercise, too, which plays a role.) While I’d like to say that I am full of energy and ready to roll when I am hydrated, that’s not always the case. But hydration is key to our survival: our body is made up of water (body weight is 50 to 65% water, on average, which is about 8-12 gallons!). All of our cells need water, all of those tissues need hydration (eyes, nose, mouth etc.), it benefits our digestive tract and helps us balance electrolytes, to name a few.

Bottom line, when I miss my morning water, I feel like I am constantly playing catch up with water all day. It’s not so hard to stay on top of it when I’m not already behind and a little dehydrated.

Do you have any concerns about people being over-zealous in their water consumption?
I do realize that everybody is different and thrives on varying amounts of water. Climate, exercise, fiber intake, and pregnancy/breastfeeding all impact our needs. Some people are indeed over-zealous with water consumption. Luckily our kidneys do a good job of getting rid of the excess for us. However, it can happen that we get to a point where the kidneys cannot eliminate enough and then we get into trouble when our sodium level is too low.

In general, a good rule of thumb is to check out your urine. It tends to be darker in the morning and we like to see it lighten up throughout the day. Know that those thirsty warning signs mean you are likely dehydrated already, so keeping up on it is important. But keep in mind the foods you eat contain water too!

*”The Way We Eat” is a Northern Light take-off on a monthly feature of the same name in The Kitchn, an online food magazine.

Whitney’s Blueberry Oatmeal Cups
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
4 cups oatmeal
1.5 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt (optional)
2 1/3 cups unsweetened almond milk (or any milk—I’ve also used whole milk and plain soy)
¼ cup brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 cup blueberries (or any)
½ cup sliced almonds (optional)
Mix all to combine. Let soak for about an hour (however, when short on time they come out fine without soaking).
Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 min until a toothpick comes out with a few crumbs
Makes at least 12 muffins depending how full you make them!