The blogs below are written in an informal style about serious, and not so serious, topics, mostly nutrition related, but also training, physiology and anything related to health, behaviour change or living life to the full. I can be opinionated so bear this in mind when reading. Enjoy.


What's in my pantry and why context is everything

“I would love to have a look in your pantry”.  No, this wasn’t some weird pick up line, but rather something someone said to me the other week. In all the years I have been a nutritionist, no one has ever really asked what I, as a nutritionist, eat. I had a look at my pantry when I got home, just in case the individual took me up on my offer to “come and check it out”.  I have attached some really bad photos of my pantry and kitchen shelves (they are not deliberately bad, I just don’t know how to take good photos).

I confess while I was writing my blog on clean eating I had to think deep and hard about my eating. I think the way I eat could be described as clean, but I certainly don’t label it as such. I also do not have orthorexia; the way I eat is just the way I eat. There is no focus or real intent, it just is. I can’t even remember how I made these changes or what I did to get to this ‘just is’. This has taken me onto the merry research dive into how we form habits, and is the topic of a future blog. For now let’s get back to my pantry.

My pantry. Full of stuff.

My pantry. Full of stuff.

Most, and by most I actually mean most, of my consumer decisions are driven by my motivation to minimise my impact on the planet. I get my dry goods from GoodFor. Why? They do zero plastic, everything comes in paper bags, I can order the volume of product I want or need, and they are a NZ company. Many of their products are organic, but my primary driver is the no plastic, that they plant a tree every time I order and they are a NZ company. Check. Oh, and they send a little hand-written card saying “Hey Lillian, thanks for your order”. Sometimes there is a smiley face too.

What dry goods do I have? Three varieties of rice; white, red and arborio (for risotto). Couscous, orzo, millet, polenta, quinoa, buckwheat groats, freekeh. I make my own pasta because all it takes is flour (2/3 cup 00 flour) and egg (1 x free range), and it is like adult playdough. Fun and super easy. Oats (Harraways from Dunedin, NZ made, paper bag) for overnight oats, breakfast and baking. Cocoa (the darker the better), and other random stuff.

I buy my vegetables from the local vegetable store or Farmer’s market (and sometimes the supermarket), but come summer will start getting them from my garden or friend in the Coromandel. I only buy what is in season. Why? Support local, eat what is in season, and I won’t pay $8 a kilo for tomatoes. Yes, I am getting a bit tired of the limited variety in Winter.

I get a weekly loaf of sourdough bread from my local Volare bakery. I buy my coffee beans from Raglan Roast, yummy and local, and my Blackcurrant powder from Zeaberry. I use olive oil, ginger, garlic and herbs and spices to add flavour to my meals. I do my own baking (yes, I use butter and sugar, even white sugar – play scary music here), and buy Whittaker’s or Green & Blacks chocolate.

I have about seven varieties of peanut butter and nut butters (I don’t even know how this happened, and I possibly should be a little worried by this), again, all smaller producers that are based in NZ (Forty Thieves, Nut Brothers and Fix & Fogg). I buy my honey from the Farmer’s market (glass jar, support local), and have zero qualms about paying for some yummy homemade relish. Nuts (my favourite snack. Damn dangerous the nut jar - handful, nom, nom, nek minute, handful, nom, nom) and seeds.

I have tins of chopped tomato, chickpeas, a variety of beans, sweetcorn, and coconut cream. Milk, butter, cheese and yoghurt. Yeah, yeah, cows fart and dairy is dirty, but I like milk in my tea and breakfast, cheese is sooooo good, and they are valuable sources of calcium and protein in my daily diet. As far as I’m concerned Almond milk is not milk, and the tetra paks they come in aren’t recyclable. 

My very sad fridge

My very sad fridge

What you won’t find in my pantry are muesli bars, cereals, two-minute noodles or any ready-made packets of food. In fact, what I have mentioned in the aforementioned paragraphs is pretty much it.  When my child was an adolescent participating in sport then I did, but now I don’t. I don’t do takeaways. The obvious choices like McDonalds, BK, KFC and pizza for the obvious reasons about health, and I think they just taste shit, but the others because I just can’t really be bothered driving and ordering anything. I can whip up a meal in the time it would take me to decide what I want and then order something.

Here’s the rub though. All of this takes zero effort for me because it is just what I do. I am a nutritionist, and have been for a long time. Cooking food, buying food, and knowing food is ingrained in my psyche and my daily habits. I live on my own and my child is now a young adult off under her own steam in the big, wide world (sort of. Anyone with young adult children knows they are like boomerangs and come back, usually to do washing, raid the pantry and borrow money). I therefore have the time and know how to do what I do. The current context of my life allows me to do these things easily, and when it comes to nutrition, context is a massive factor.

I recently caught up with a client. Married, both parents work full-time and have very busy jobs, 3 kids. There are significant bottlenecks in this individual’s day that make good nutrition habits challenging. Dinner time for the children, who all like and dislike different things, and none of which the adults like, mornings where the school lunches, dressing and drop offs make things chaotic, work and busy days disrupting eating opportunities, being tired after the kids have gone to bed, and really just feeling a bit smashed. Pretty typical of most families in this situation.

Some other examples - someone who has the money to buy good food but cooking skills are pretty limited and the food is the same and becomes boring. Another who has limited money for food so buys whatever is cheapest and filling (just as an aside here; eating a healthy diet isn’t expensive, trust me. If you are investing in all sorts of ‘superfoods’ and supplements, yes. Normal food, no). Parents with teenagers, adolescents who are unmotivated to prepare anything (even a toasted sandwich is a mission), so they smash the cereal or muesli bars. Someone who is living in an environment where they have no input into the foods being bought or cooked and therefore has limited control over their nutrition.

All of the aforementioned completely change the context of healthy eating. Context is everything. Stress, lack of good food availability, poor time management, lack of routine, and lack of motivation are all massive barriers to good nutrition, and often these things are out of our control, but often they are not. I know, I heard you think “Lillian, you can’t have two opposing oftens!”. Yes, you can. Life is phasic, sometimes things are good, we feel like things are in control. Sometimes life gets a little messy and it feels out of control. Your effort and motivation are focused elsewhere, and that is ok because life is like that. In fact, more than ok and understandable. But bad habits can creep in. Not a problem in itself, but it becomes a problem when bad habits become entrenched and routine. Once bad habits become routine, they become your new normal, and when something is your normal it usually functions outside of our awareness. These are harder to change.

What can you do? My best advice is to do what is practically reasonable given your context and resources. Unfortunately, I can’t be more specific than that as I don’t know your context. Awareness is the first step. What are your bottlenecks? What are the things in your day-to-day routines that are making normal, healthy eating become unstuck? How easy are these to change? What are the possible solutions?  There are always solutions, and usually more than one. How can you incrementally shift your behaviours so that they stick and become your new normal? Aim for small changes in habit rather than completely overhauling your life (No, you can’t get rid of the kids or the stressful job just to eat better). That my dear friends is the key. Awareness is crucial, and small steps more successful.

The client with the 3 kids, stressful job, who has a penchant for biscuits, is doing really well. We put some strategies in place that fitted in their context and were achievable given their current motivation. The solutions provided were to benefit the client, but also the family, I mean hell, while we’re here we may as well. Like any behaviour change and re-calibration of eating, it is a bit bumpy, but wow, they are doing much better than they were, and that is awesome. They are playing the long game and slowly chipping away at creating new habits. If only they would just stop putting biscuits in their pantry……

p.s. All the suppliers I mentioned probably do not even know who I am outside of my online orders and most certainly do not know they have made my blog. I know that there are people that do product placements, but this is not the case here. They are great companies though.