Food Preferences

I’ve been pondering food preferences. I prefer ice in my water. I hate sweetened tea. I love hot coffee, like iced coffee with milk, and cannot stand room temperature coffee.

The origin of some of my preferences is clear. My dislike for sweetened tea began when I was three or four. My grandmother wouldn’t let me have a glass of sweet tea until I’d had one without sugar. At some point, the sweetened tea began to taste overwhelmingly sweet and I no longer preferred it. But I can’t explain my coffee preferences or why I like blanched broccoli better than raw broccoli (even in salad).

While my tastes lean toward specific preparations of a wide variety of foods, others only like a narrow variety of flavors or textures. Some preferences may be learned. Others stem from visceral response. Still others may be attached to memories that aren’t specifically food related.

Then there are preferences related to biology. Some foods can activate the mesolimbic reward system in a manner similar to alcohol and frequently abused drugs. For instance, studies have shown that consuming fat and sugar produces an increase in the synthesis and secretion of opioids and dopamine within the central reward system. No wonder it’s so hard to get kids to stop eating sugary treats.

Obviously, it’s preferable for food to be pleasing to our senses. But if that leads to habitually unhealthy food choices, perhaps pleasure shouldn’t be the primary goal of an eating plan. And while most of us might argue it’s not, we tend to choose each individual meal within our plan based on what we find appetizing that day.

The key is how often what we find appetizing in the moment is at odds with our overarching health plan. For some people, the two will almost always be in sync. For me, the problem area doesn’t fall so much in planned meals. I love fresh vegetables, meat, poultry, and fish fixed millions of different ways. And I love playing with flavors.

My problem area is quick grab meals and snacks. I am more likely to want to reach for chips, crackers, or chocolate than raw carrots as a snack. As long as that’s rare, it’s no big deal. When it’s daily, it’s not healthy.

There are many ways for me to manage my choices. And because I love to sink my teeth into a fresh tomato or juicy peach, it doesn’t take too much planning. But watching my grandchildren, I wonder whether that management will be more difficult for them. Their preferences are being set with a less robust variety of fresh, unprocessed food and many more packaged products.

I think we’ve already answered that question with the increase in childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes. And yet, I’m not sure we’ve spent much time researching the issue from a parenting for healthy eating perspective. Which brings me to the reason I’m pondering food preferences.

There seems to be a huge opportunity for learning and teaching. I love a good opportunity!

Thankfulness and Gratitude

Hopefully, some of us are focusing on thankfulness and gratitude this week. Most every conversation I’ve overheard has been food related. Don’t get me wrong, I love talking about food. But I don’t really need a holiday to make that happen.

The Thanksgiving holiday is a great time to take a moment to notice how I feel about what I have. And not just how I feel about what I have, but what I’ve learned and experienced, and who I’ve known.

This became clear to me last night when I read an article celebrating a journalist with whom I worked 33 years ago. I was immediately transported back to how it felt to be surrounded by a quirky cast of larger-than-life storytellers.

It felt great. I hated my ad sales job, but I loved hanging in the newsroom listening to the banter. It took the distance of time to separate how I felt about the job from how I feel about the people. And recognizing that the feelings are the thing that stuck is instructive.

Without photos, I remember one pair of pants, one skirt, and one shirt I owned. I remember the house I lived in, but not my bedspread or where each picture hung. The things that stand out are people and events.

I don’t mean big events like trips. I mean things like a catfish in the bathtub, burning the furniture to stay warm, standing at a window at work watching cars slowly slide in the snow, learning to waterski with the kids, hugging my favorite customers, happy hour with friends.

Looking back, I appreciate each of those things in a different way than I did at the time. And I clearly recognize that what I possessed at any given moment has faded into the background.

As I practice gratitude this week, I’m using this insight to target people, events, and feelings rather than possessions. I will acknowledge my gratitude for the ease of having a car to drive to work, the feeling of security provided by food in the refrigerator, the warmth of a hug from the grandkids, the joy of watching them learn self-control, and the beauty of the sun through the palm trees.

I don’t know whether this shift in focus will change my experience of thankfulness and gratitude, but it feels like the right thing to do. If I’m given insight and don’t use it, I feel like I’m disrespecting something larger than myself.

Wishing you and your family the chance to make memories that help you feel safe, secure, peaceful, content, loved, and amused this holiday!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Dairy-Free Thanksgiving

I’m preparing for my first dairy-free Thanksgiving. That means no panna cotta with sweet potato topping, no milk-based gravies or sauces, and nothing enhanced with cheese unless I use a non-dairy milk alternative.

I’m accustomed to substitutions. Creating gluten-free recipes has been great preparation. But this fall has not yielded much time for experimenting. Keeping the substitution requirements to a minimum for this first holiday will keep stress to a minimum. I can expand the dairy-free options at Christmas and throughout next year as I have time to refine recipes.

While there is a wide variety of plant-based milk and cheese, the characteristics vary widely. That sometimes necessitates adding an ingredient to compliment or mask the flavor of the milk. It sometimes means a dish will require less fat or more sweetener. And it often means adjusting the amount of liquid in the recipe.

Learn on the fly.

If you don’t have much time up front but can afford the luxury of multiple purchases, choose a selection of cow’s milk alternatives to have on hand when you begin cooking. You can sample the taste, richness, and viscosity of several choices side-by-side to determine which will work best. Or divide up the mashed potatoes and try two or three at the same time. Let your guests help you decide the best option to make your go-to.

It doesn’t have to be only milk or cheese.

I use a mixture of firm tofu, unsweetened coconut milk (brand matters), and vegan cheese (brand matters) for lasagna. The tofu adds extra protein and a texture similar to ricotta cheese. I season the tofu to add flavor. I sometimes use plant-based yogurt for mashed potatoes or for baking.

While I will substitute milk and cheese for my dishes, I will use regular butter. I don’t suffer any ill effects from it. Others may. It’s good to check before assuming.

It doesn’t have to be plant-based.

Some people who cannot tolerate cow’s milk are fine with goat or sheep milk. Goat’s milk can often be found in pints or quarts in health food stores. Cheese made with goat or sheep milk is often available. Be sure to read labels before assuming feta is made with sheep milk.

If the protein in cow’s milk causes you a problem, A2 milk may be the best solution. It’s cow’s milk with all the familiar taste and texture, but a different protein that prevents stomach discomfort in some people. If you have an anaphylactic allergy to milk, do not use this as a substitute.

Substitute differently.

If only one or two in a crowd of 10 or 12 are dairy intolerant, you may want to make sweet potato or pumpkin pie using your regular recipe and offer the intolerant two an alternative dessert. I can purchase tofu pumpkin donuts nearby. Katz® offers a pumpkin pie spice glazed donut. And there are tons of recipes for dairy-free (and DF/GF) pumpkin bread. Pumpkin cookies would be easy as well.

And dessert doesn’t have to be pumpkin. Most pecan pies are dairy-free. Cherry or apple pie are good options. If you choose packaged crusts, read the labels to make sure there are no unexpected ingredients.

Don’t forget the stuffing.

While it may be easy to remember not to add milk, it’s sometimes harder to remember that some ingredients could already contain milk. Bread or cornbread that form the base of stuffing must be dairy-free too. The chocolate you choose should be dairy-free. Be sure to review all packaged items prior to including them in your dish.

Enjoy what you can.

If you don’t do the cooking, enjoy the items that are safe and skip the rest. Keep your avoidance as low key as possible and be sure to compliment the cook on the food you are enjoying. It is not necessary to jeopardize your health in order to please someone else. People who truly care about you will not want you to be unhealthy.

Say no if you need to say no.

When family systems are too dysfunctional to allow you to comfortably take care of yourself, it may be best to spend time with friends or football on TV. There are worse things than being alone on a holiday.

No matter what your dietary restriction, with some planning and playing there’s delicious food to be had. Wishing you a peaceful holiday in which to enjoy it!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Is fortitude key to thriving?

In the past 30 days, I’ve had two days off. For the past two weeks, I’ve worked 12 plus hours per day. This temporary gig requires patience and humor. Without a great deal of fortitude, I’d be sunk. As an entrepreneur, I have long been aware that tenacity, fortitude, and flexibility are more important to achievement than intelligence, knowledge, and contacts.

Fortitude is what gets you through when you do everything right and things still turn out wrong. It’s what allows you to get out of bed and be excited about a project no one else appreciates. It’s what enables you to be ethical even when it means your bottom line will take a hit. And fortitude supports the patience it takes to slowly build a successful endeavor. Most importantly, fortitude is what allows us to weather the storms that come our way, slog through the aftermath, and emerge better for having had the experience.

I’d be willing to wager that those who had previously developed fortitude have been less detrimentally affected by the pandemic than others. That doesn’t mean they felt the losses and inconveniences any less, it just means they had a well of mental and emotional strength to draw from while envisioning ways to navigate the rapidly changing environment.

While most years won’t bring a pandemic, all will bring unexpected challenges beyond our control. So how does fortitude fit into everyday life?

Life is a game.

We seem to recognize the value of fortitude in sports competition. We expect elite athletes to train relentlessly, endure painful injuries, and still perform. We expect them to be able to focus and deliver peak performance no matter what is reported about them in the press. We feel free to bash them publicly when they struggle with their head game. And yet many of us allow ourselves to be mentally and emotionally lazy.

But life is the overarching game. And creating the life we desire is infinitely more achievable when we are mentally tough and emotionally balanced. We are all capable of improvement. All we need is to prioritize and practice building our skills.

The sooner, the better.

I’ve seen adults who had very little difficulty early in life self-destruct when hard times finally found them. Perhaps if they had developed fortitude sooner, they could have continued their early success.

Failure and fortitude go hand in hand.

No matter what you’re attempting, you will sometimes fail. As long as you keep learning from momentary setbacks, you will remain on a path to success. Each failure helps build fortitude.

Everyone’s tolerance is different.

Developing mental toughness requires difficulty. Removing all difficulty and pain will not help a child, for instance, develop fortitude. But each child will have a different level of tolerance. And each will require a unique approach for absorbing difficulty as a positive experience. Finding that approach and encouraging children while allowing them to feel disappointment, frustration, fear, sadness, and anger are key roles of parenting. Adults can be guided similarly by spiritual leaders, life coaches, therapeutic techniques, and even trusted friends or empathetic bosses.

Avoidance may be more pleasant in any given moment, but in the long-term can contribute to additional avoidant behaviors, more chaos, less resilience, a lack of follow-through, an inability to stick with a plan, and a tendency to quit rather than persevere. A bit of struggle is a good thing so long as it doesn’t overwhelm to the point of becoming traumatic.

Boundaries are essential.

When you are capable of more, you will be asked to do more. No matter how tough you are, there is a point at which taking on more is unhealthy. Setting and enforcing boundaries is essential for keeping your load at a level that allows you to thrive.

Building fortitude can help you reframe “I can’t.” to “How can I best approach this?” That tiny shift can make all the difference in how you feel.

That can be the difference between surviving and thriving.