Second to my love of travel is my love of food.
When I can immerse myself in another culture by enjoying their traditional foods, I feel connected to them.
Growing up in Trinidad and Tobago (“Trinbago”), my journey with food has been diverse by default. With English, French and Spanish colonial influences, as well as food practices from Africa, the East Indies, China and now Venezuela, Trinbago food is a true melting pot.
However, most of my formal nutrition education focused on the food pyramid and now the USDA MyPlate guide, concepts that don’t align with many traditional foods.
While MyPlate demonstrates that a balanced plate should have half non-starchy vegetables, one quarter protein, and one quarter grain, traditional one-pot dishes combine these food groups into a meal that cannot be divided into distinctive servings in a dish.
For example, it is not practical to serve pelau, a one-pot Caribbean dish made with caramelized chicken, parboiled rice, pigeon peas, and a variety of vegetables and seasonings, within the MyPlate template.
As a dietitian and food lover, I was confused and frustrated when trying to create culturally competent healthy meals.
I began to wonder, “Are these traditional foods truly healthy if they don’t fit the MyPlate mold, or is the accepted Western understanding of healthy and balanced meals lacking in cultural competence?”
It wasn’t until the last few years that I was able to develop a healthy eating concept that embraces the nuances of cultural foods and inclusion.
I will take you with me on parts of that journey and show you what I learned.
Bridging the gap between nutritional science and traditional cooking
Although I didn’t know what to call it then, my interest in nutrition started at 7 years after my mother’s stroke, as she was motivated to use food as medicine to improve her quality of life.
However, it wasn’t until my role as a dietary technician that I discovered my passion for teaching people the role nutrition plays in managing their medical conditions.
In Trinidad and Tobago, these customer education sessions focused on healthier ways to enjoy cultural foods, such as choosing high-fiber dhalpuri roti, a traditional flatbread, over its high-fat counterpart. , the paratha roti.
When I interned in the United States, I had observed that both dietitians and their clients struggled to discuss appropriate food substitutes that respected the client’s food culture. This disconnect could hamper the client’s compliance with their nutrition plan and overall success.
Determined to close this gap, I work to diversify nutrition education so that people can achieve better health outcomes without having to abandon their food cultures
My Daily Approach to Nutrition: Struggles and Triumphs
I approach nutrition in my daily life with flexibility.
At a minimum, most of my meals are balanced and include a grain, protein, and vegetables or fruits. I include local or regional foods, and I enjoy the treats!
Fortunately, there are many traditional, healthy foods that make meal planning easy, such as sauteed spinach with taro root and stewed fish.
Regarding one-pot dishes like oil, a delicious dish made with breadfruit, spinach, carrots, and salty meat like pork tails, my focus shifts to portion control, adding high-fiber side dishes and mindful eating techniques like paying. pay attention to my signs of fullness.
My weekly kitchen schedule
As someone with thyroid nodules, I often experience fluctuations in my energy levels, which can negatively affect my ability to prepare food.
So I cook 2-3 times a week, making enough for 1-2 days at a time. On Fridays I order, on Saturdays I usually cook bean soup and on Mondays as leftovers from Sunday lunch.
This is where incorporating minimally processed foods is key to making meal preparation easier and more convenient.
Sometimes I buy pre-cut vegetables at the grocery store, although I prefer to buy fresh produce at the farmers market. Freezing batches of seasoned meat, fish, and minced vegetables saves time preparing meals, as does including low-sodium canned goods like tuna.
To further support my thyroid health, I have reduced my intake of highly processed convenience foods and redirected my attention to whole foods.
This meant making my baked goods from scratch at home with unbleached whole wheat flour for most of 2020 and opting not to buy frozen waffles and pancakes.
It also meant increasing prebiotic and probiotic foods like yogurt and having small amounts of fiber at any given time to support digestion, which can be affected by thyroid disorders.
What are the most common misconceptions about dietitians?
A stereotype about dietitians is that we all eat the same way.
For example, most people do not expect a dietitian to eat doubles (a curried fried chickpea sandwich from Trinidad and Tobago) and might regard anyone doing so as a bad example or eating “unhealthy” foods.
However, doubles are one of my all-time favorites. I enjoy every bite!
If I had a dollar for every dietitian stereotype, I’d be ready for life. Let’s just dissipate a few:
Dietitians are not the food police. In fact, many dietitians are flexible with your own eating habits and may encourage you to do the same. We are not here to yell at you for second help.
Dietitians also enjoy desserts. Whether it’s an original recipe or a low-fat variant, desserts are also on a dietitian’s menu. (“Can I have another piece of cake please?”)
Dietitians add value to your health beyond weight loss. Dietitians are often consulted for weight loss, but they can also teach you how to use nutrition to support your medical condition or overall health goals, with or without focusing on your weight.
Current trends in dietetics
Of course, dietitians are not all the same. We offer a wealth of perspectives and approaches to nutritional therapy. While some swear by calorie counting, others take an anti-diet route and teach their clients about food freedom and intuitive eating.
There is currently a shift in the world of dietetics towards the Health in All Sizes (HAES) approach, which is promoted by the Association for Size Diversity and Health.
HAES recognizes that health is multifaceted and that regardless of your body weight, you deserve to receive the nutritionally and medically appropriate expertise tailored to your needs.
If you are interested in seeing a dietitian or nutritionist, it is advisable to research the experts in your area thoroughly to determine if you are a good candidate.
My Favorite Foods and Favorite Meals, Snacks, and Recipes
During the time that I was studying a master’s degree in the United States, I cured the nostalgia with traditional foods.
Callaloo (pureed spinach, okra, pumpkin, and green seasonings) along with oven-roasted baked chicken and macaroni pie is my comfort food.
If I need a quick meal for dinner or breakfast, my routine includes whole grain bread, scrambled eggs or sausage, sauteed vegetables like broccoli or bok choy, and / or fruit.
Other foods I enjoy are the pelau mentioned above, oil, and roti with chicken curry.
While I love fruit as a snack, I also love a trail mix, dark or milk chocolate, apple slices with peanut butter, and yogurt.
Every now and then I buy local treats like tamarind ball (a sweet and spicy treat made from tamarind), kurma (a crunchy flour-based snack with ginger), and benne ball (made from sesame seeds and molasses).
Also, I make fresh juices and smoothies at home to enjoy as morning drinks.
My favorite juice
Here’s my basic fresh juice recipe (for one):
1 small gala apple
1 medium carrot
3 stalks of celery
1 small beet
1/4 inch (0.5 cm) ginger
1 medium cucumber
Squeeze, pour and enjoy.
Encourage healthy eating with a young child
My 3 year old loves to cook (any excuse to play with water, actually) and – bonus! – Having a conversation with him about food is quite easy.
He joins us in the kitchen and likes to chop food, add items to the juicer, stir the pot, and serve the food. He is also quite adept at breaking eggs – no shells!
Using a divided plate with pictures of food groups (much like this one) was his first introduction to food portions and the concept of a balanced plate.
Getting him to choose the fruit, vegetable, grain, and protein he wanted gave him autonomy and kept him engaged in his food.
Other creative approaches we have taken include creating fruit and vegetable stamps for our arts and crafts sessions at home, as well as introducing our young child to the variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables in Trinidad and Tobago.
Their snacks include yogurt, fresh fruit, cookies, potato chips, chocolate, and the occasional juice.
The realistic side of healthy eatingDietitians are human too.
However, misconceptions about my profession, as well as healthy eating, lead to scrutiny from family members if I eat anything other than fruits or vegetables, or if my weight increases a bit.
This is hilarious, but it also indicates the mountain of angst caused by diet culture that dietitians and nutritionists must address.
In fact, I sometimes enjoy eating just for pleasure and have learned to separate my morality and self-esteem from food. Therefore, as without guilt.This does not mean that I overeat empty calorie foods, but rather that I have found my sweet spot where I enjoy what I eat while achieving my health goals, and I do so without being obsessed with food.
But let me be clear: healthy eating does not have a special aspect. It is not a black and white concept, especially when considering cultural foods.
Although the traditional one pot dishes from Trinidad and Tobago are not reflected in the USDA MyPlate or conventional Western notions of balanced meals, they are nutrient dense, delicious and ideal for a healthy diet.
However, healthy eating should be based on your own tastes and dietary preferences.