By KASSIE MASSIE, RDN, LDN
The Qualla Boundary is celebrating Nutrition Month! This March, the Cherokee Indian Hospital, in conjunction with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is emphasizing “Personalizing Your Plate”. This approach to eating recognizes that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to health.
Cherokee tribal ancestors had a history of living well. Eating organically was not one of many options. It was the only option. Cherokee people ate what they planted and hunted. The concept of food processing and chemical preservatives did not come along until much later. And hunting and farming was labor intensive, meaning that they didn’t go to the gym for exercise, their workout came from daily chores. A healthy diet, in conjunction with exercise, kept our great grandfathers and grandmothers strong and fit.
Healthy, nutritional eating on the Boundary is much more challenging today. With the invention of commercial canned and packaged foods, chemical additives, processed sugars, and fast foods, the Cherokee people find it more challenging to eat “healthy”. For many, poor choices in eating, along with sedentary lifestyles have resulted in unhealthy bodies and higher incidents of disease.
Eating with good nutrition in mind will help us return to a healthier way of living; one our ancestors would be proud of.
Here are some ways that tribal and community members may “personalize your plate” …
Mix it up. Eating a variety of nutritious foods daily will ensure our diet is balanced and full of the nutrients our bodies need. Choose foods from all the food groups at our meals and mix and match to suit our individual tastes! Let the food groups of MyPlate serve as a guide for meals but let the foods within the groups reflect our personal eating style. Water should also be considered an important part of our daily intake. If you’re someone who struggles to meet that water goal, being intentional can make all the difference. Try keeping a reusable water bottle on hand throughout the day or getting an accountability partner at work to check in with. 64oz each day is a good goal to start with!
Have you noticed the new nutrition facts label? Many food manufacturers were required to update the nutrition label last year. If you aren’t too savvy when it comes to reading labels, now might be a good time to brush up (and there is always Google)! Another key component to nutritious eating is eating mindfully. Eating without distraction gives us more satisfaction with food and allows us to enjoy the food and people with us. Taking time to slow down and enjoy our food can improve our digestion and can also help us make healthier choices as we pay attention to how our bodies feel!
Meal Planning. Being intentional about what we plan to eat is another way we can “personalize our plate”! Start with a grocery list when shopping- this will not only help focus your attention on healthy food picks but may also save money! Choosing healthful recipes to make throughout the week can be a great motivator to eating foods that we enjoy, as well as ones that help our bodies feel their best. When dining out, be menu-savvy. When eating away from home, like at work or school or when traveling, plan ahead. This will help you to make better choices and will prevent you from scrambling to make last minute decisions.
Cooking and Preparation. Learn skills to create tasty meals for yourself, friends, and family! Keeping healthy ingredients on hand can keep you prepared and motivated to cook. Use proper home food safety to ensure that your cooking is safe and sanitary. Whenever able, share a meal with friends and family. This can make trying new foods and flavors an exciting experience for all. Reducing food waste is another consideration in preparing your own food. Cook meals in bulk for leftovers or in smaller portions to avoid throwing it away.
Consult an RDN. When in doubt, ask a local Registered Dietitian Nutritionist about ideas and tricks to “personalize your plate”. Individualizing eating habits can take preparation and thought, so if you need help be sure to reach out!
If you would like to set up a meeting with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, contact your primary care team for a referral within the primary care clinic (828-497-9163). You can expect to have an RDN meet with you to discuss your health goals and assess your current dietary intake. After this, the RDN will guide you through goal setting and follow up to help you make the changes best for your health. Nutrition here is personalized and achievable for all!
Kassie Massey is a pediatric dietitian at the Cherokee Indian Hospital.