Deciding what goes in your mouth

We all must eat to fuel our bodies and drink to stay hydrated. If you don’t eat or drink enough, before long you’ll die of starvation or thirst. But let’s face it; we eat and drink for a lot of other reasons too.

We eat and drink while socializing with others. Some of us eat or drink from boredom. Some people self-medicate with food or beverages, meaning they eat or drink in an attempt to make themselves feel better. Others reward themselves, or those they love, with food or drink. Even more of us eat or drink things simply because they look or smell great or because the food or drink brings back wonderful memories.

There are probably loads of other reasons people choose to eat and drink what they do but, hopefully, most of the time we choose to eat foods and drink beverages we think will help us live long healthy lives. Yet, in the end, the foods and beverages we eat and drink the most, more often than not, are the ones we enjoy most.

That’s why it’s smart to take a minute every so often to think about what we’re putting into our mouths and feeding to our families. Since we’re all apt to eat more of what we like, make sure that everyone you love learns to enjoy the taste of eating right.

One way to make that happen is to examine the reasons people eat and drink when they’re not actually hungry. Far too many of us eat and drink mindlessly, a condition I like to call hand to mouth disease. Sufferers seem to eat constantly.

In an ideal world, someone wouldn’t eat or drink unless that person’s body needed fuel or hydration. Unfortunately, a lot of us lead very tightly scheduled lives during which we have only so much time available to eat and we have to learn to live within those parameters. Others have developed a routine in which they are conditioned to eat or drink at specific times, whether or not they’re hungry or thirsty. Even if we find ourselves dealing with situations where we can’t rely only on our body’s hunger and thirst cues, we can still balance the amount and types of food we eat, and the beverages we drink, with our personal energy needs.

Enjoying the taste of eating right doesn’t mean we have to deprive ourselves of things we love. When the things we love to eat or drink are less than healthy, we should be looking for ways to make them more healthy. For example, if you love soda pop, take a look at how much you’re drinking. Is there a way you could cut back? Maybe drink one less each day? Save soda pop for special occasions only? Switch to something with fewer calories or drink more water instead?

Interestingly, federal health authorities recently announced a 43 percent drop in the obesity rate among 2- to 5-year-old children. Some are guessing one of the main reasons is because kids aren’t getting as many calories from sugar-sweetened beverages as they did ten years ago. If all of us paid attention and reduced the amount of sugar-sweetened beverages we drank, many of us would soon weigh a whole lot less, just like those preschoolers.

We all want to be healthy and happy and we want that for those we love too, so we need to stop wishing and hoping and take action instead.

If we adopt a lifelong commitment to a healthful lifestyle, it’s likely that our changed behaviors will rub off on our loved ones.

We need to remember that the young people in our lives are watching our relationship with food and drink. Most will follow our example.

Are you always obsessing about food? Either talking about wanting to eat unhealthy treats or going on and off extreme diets? After dieting do you eventually go back to eating and drinking unhealthy food and beverages? Is that the type of relationship you want those you love to have with food? Wouldn’t you rather they enjoy healthy, nourishing food all the time?

It makes me sad when I hear people talk about following an eating pattern vastly different from the way they usually eat. More often than not, they plan to “go on a diet” to lose some specific amount of weight and then plan to go back to eating the way they usually eat as soon as they lose those pounds. What happens? Before you know it they’ve packed the pounds they lost back on plus a few more for good measure. What message does this give children? You’re telling them that food that’s good for them doesn’t taste as good as food that’s not as healthy.

You’ve seen children mimic their parents. Young children want to be like the adults they love. Keep that in mind the next time you turn up your nose at an unusual vegetable or rave about some high calorie dessert. Children watch and listen to you. If you’re admonishing them to “eat your vegetables” they wonder why you aren’t gobbling up your vegetables too.

Model the eating and drinking behaviors you want the children you love to adopt. The best way to do that is to eat together as a family as often as possible. Meals eaten together with family tend to be healthier meals, featuring less fried food as well as more vegetables and fruit. That usually translates into fewer calories and more healthy fiber, so eat together more often and make sure you’re serving foods and beverages that taste good while also being nutrient dense.

At the same time, while what you serve is important, don’t forget to make family mealtimes fun. Eating together helps you learn more about your children. It’s also a perfect time to teach them important social skills. That doesn’t mean scolding your children. Keep the mood at the table light. You want your children to associate healthy food with warm positive feelings.

There’s nothing sadder than watching a family eat together but not be together. You need a few rules. Put away the phones, electronic games, books, and newspapers. Turn off the television and talk radio. Make sure there isn’t anything in the environment that could prevent meaningful conversation. Then listen and make sure not to rush anyone. Slow down. Relish every bite. You should do that at every meal, but especially during family meals.

Find more nutrition information at or visit the Partnership for Food Safety Education at for more food safety information.

If you’d like more ideas to improve your family’s health, call to learn more about the Cornell University Cooperative Extension’s Eat Smart New York program. Learn fun new ways to eat more fruits and vegetables, drink fewer sugar-sweetened beverages, and get at least the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity each and every day, all while also saving money. The Eat Smart New York Program is one of many programs offered by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County, a community based educational organization affiliated with Cornell University, Chautauqua County Government, the NYS SUNY system, and the federal government through the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

For more information, call 716-664-9502 ext. 217 or visit our website at

It’s also important to remember that if you, or people you know, are struggling to make ends meet, you may be eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program. SNAP helps low-income people buy nutritious food and beverages. Because the U.S. Department of Agriculture knows a healthy diet will likely reduce health care costs, it’s putting healthy food within everyone’s reach. To find out more about SNAP benefit eligibility call 1-800-342-3009, apply online for SNAP benefits at, or contact your local social services office.

When planning a healthy meal many people shy away from potatoes, thinking potatoes are unhealthy. They couldn’t be more wrong. It’s the way potatoes are prepared or served that is often unhealthy.

If you love potatoes and you’re looking for something comforting as the winter drags on, try a nice comforting, yet healthy, dish like Scalloped potatoes.

In the recipe below, some substitutions make the old standby healthier without sacrificing taste.

More fresh ideas for potatoes include:

Bake potatoes and serve plain with toppings.

Mash potatoes, alone or with carrots or squash.

Add potatoes to vegetable soup.

Patty Hammond leads family and consumer science Programs at Cornell University Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County. Her column is published on the first Sunday of each month in The OBSERVER.

Scalloped Potatoes


vegetable cooking spray

1 pound potatoes (3 cups sliced)

1 onion, sliced (1 cup sliced onion)

2 ounces low-fat cheddar cheese (1/2 cup grated)

teaspoon oregano

teaspoon salt

teaspoon pepper

cup skim milk


Preheat oven to 375 F. Coat 2-quart baking dish with vegetable cooking spray.

Wash and peel potatoes.

Slice potatoes and onion thinly.

Grate cheese.

Combine oregano, salt, and pepper in small dish.

Place half of potatoes in baking dish. Spread onions over potatoes. Sprinkle with half the seasoning mixture. Layer remaining potatoes on top.

Add milk, remaining seasoning, and cheese.

Cover and bake 50 minutes.

Change oven setting to broil and broil uncovered, until evenly browned.

Yields about 4 servings

Nutrition Facts: Serving Size 3/4 cup (7 ounces), 160 Calories, 10 Calories from Fat, 1g Total Fat, 3% Calories from Fat, 0.5g Saturated Fat, 0g Trans Fat, 5mg Cholesterol, 400mg Sodium, 30g Total Carbohydrate, 2g Dietary Fiber, 5g Sugars, 7g Protein, 2% Vitamin A, 10% Calcium, 30% Vitamin C, 4% Iron

Source: GET FRESH! Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University and Cornell Cooperative Extension, 2001.