What does a dietitian eat, really? What can you always find in their pantries? And what’s totally banned? We got nosy and asked a leading Kiwi dietitian to let us take a peep into her kitchen.
Lily Henderson is a NZ Registered Dietitian, and is currently the Nutrition and Development Kitchen Manager for My Food Bag – so, if you have a question about what we should be eating and why, she’s your go-to.
In her own home over summer, Lily – who is the mother of two young children – says she’s all about quick and fresh meals that include plenty of veges and and easy-to-cook proteins.
“I take advantage of what’s cheap, abundant and at the peak of nutrition,” she says. “So, tomatoes, corn, green beans, capsicum, courgette, and fresh herbs feature heavily in my summer meals and are on repeat.”
Lily says she rarely uses the oven and summer – more often using the stove top or BBQ to quickly grill foods.
“I am loving quick to cook proteins like prawns, fish, and tofu in tacos or in a stir-fry,” she says. “I love a big hearty salad and this summer I’ve been experimenting with adding seasonal fruits like watermelon, grilled peaches and even blueberries.
“To me a summer salad shouldn’t require too much thought. It’s about combining seasonal produce, grains, and a source of protein with a dressing to tie it all together. My favourite go-to dressing is olive oil, cider vinegar, dijon mustard, maple syrup with chopped fresh herbs which makes every mouthful delicious.”
But there’s one food that this dietitian will never be without and that you’ll always find in her pantry.
“There’s a running joke in our house around how much peanut butter I go through in a week, so you’ll ALWAYS find a jar in my pantry,” she says.
“I’m one of those controversial people who bats for team smooth and team crunchy. I just love it drizzled over yoghurt, spread on an apple as a snack or even dolloped into a stir-fry for a satay taste. The bonus is that it adds heart-healthy fats, fibre and protein to any snack or meal.”
While there is a food you’ll always find in her pantry, Lily says she’s not overly strict about keeping anything in particular out.
“I prefer not to call out foods as being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and I don’t forbid any foods from my pantry,” she says. :All foods can have a place in our diet – even foods that don’t provide us with any valuable nutrition. It’s the context and the way these foods are eaten that’s most important. We can get hung up about certain foods or nutrients but try to think bigger picture about your diet across the week, month and year as this is way more important than any single food or meal.”
If you’re reading this because, well, it’s January, and you’re trying to start 2024 off on the right foot, health-wise (maybe it’s a resolution?), then Lily has plenty of recommendations. The first, is to give yourself some grace, and not be too hard on yourself.
“January is a great time to have a wellbeing reset,” she says. “It can be really tempting to go ‘all in’ to a new eating approach or exercise regime, but we can often go too extreme with this, rely on willpower and then end up giving up after a few weeks feeling like we’ve failed. Sound familiar?”
“Instead, set the bar low and scale up as you have the time and energy to do so. Consistent, healthier habits will have a much greater impact on your health and wellbeing in the long-term than a burst of a few intense weeks. The trick is to think about what you can achieve on your worst days. These are the days where you have back-to-back meetings and very little headspace to make decisions.”
On those days, Lily says not to be too hard on yourself – these days are part of being a human! But, rather than throwing the whole day in the bin (yip, those days when you think, weeeeell, I’ve already eaten badly, I might as well have a whole packet of Tim Tams for dessert), there are little, teeny things you can do on those off days, to keep on track!
“A tiny habit could be serving up dinner meals with half a plate of veggies, having a giant glass of water before your morning coffee, or using a meal kit service like Fresh Start by My Food Bag to help plan out your meals for the week so you feel organised,” says Lily.
“Finally, try not to compare yourself to others. Health is a personal journey and what works for one person may not work for you. If you can consistently commit to a few healthier habits in 2024 that make you feel amazing, this is a great foundation to build from.”