Southern Belles Who Like to Eat Well

March is known as the time we kick off spring, celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, observe Passover and this year Easter arrives before month’s end. It’s also National Nutrition Month with National Registered Dietitian Day on March 13th. All hail those who love kale!

As a dietitian based in Atlanta who writes about healthy eating I’ve invited a few food loving nutrition colleagues to share secrets for eating well in the South. Rather than forcing folks to eat more tofu and bean sprouts, dietitians know healthy eating plans should include familiar and favorite foods. In fact, more than eighty percent of folks surveyed by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics say the reason they’re not eating healthier is because they don’t want to give up the foods they like.

So first let’s turn to advice on fitting fried foods into a healthy diet.

On Fried Foods

“Only chose fried foods when you know they will really be worth it. I’ll fry up farm fresh green tomatoes from the farmer’s market but I won’t necessarily order fried cheese poppers from a fast food restaurant because I know they won’t be as good.

Limit how often you eat fried foods. Let’s face it, you enjoy it more when you don’t have it everyday, anyway—it feels more special. No more than one fried item at any given meal. Do you really need the fried pickles AND the fried chicken AND the fried potatoes and the fried okra AND the fried pie all at one meal? Didn’t think so!” - Sarah-Jane Bedwell, registered dietitian in Nashville and nutrition blogger for Self Magazine

“Fried chicken is a Sunday favorite when eaten at Martha’s Place, a famous soul food restaurant with long lines. In the past, it was not uncommon for folks to gather around a kitchen table for a meal of fried chicken with all of the side dishes on Sunday afternoon. Please note that foods were only fried on the weekend. Through the week we dined on a pot of vegetables with hot corn bread and we also went outside to play.” - Evelyn Crayton, registered dietitian, professor of nutrition, dietetics and hospitality at Auburn University.

On Using Southern Charm

“We add a little flavor, but know how to use it wisely. A little bacon fat or ham hock goes a long way in a dish. Just like our Southern charm — don’t overdo it. Know the perfect amount to use — not too much, not too little — just right to make us uniquely sweet and sassy.” - Lanier Dabruzzi, registered dietitian with the Southeastern United Dairy Industry Association.

On Dealing with Southern Hospitality

“One of the hallmarks of Southern eating is the abundance of food, especially at a family gathering. It’s not unusual to have a huge pot of black-eyed peas, a brisket in the oven, macaroni and cheese, cheesy grits, peas and corn, and on and on. I’ve always said in reply to good-intentioned pushy cooks: ‘I’m pacing myself.’ Another tactic is to compliment: “Girl, you do make the best black-eyed peas I have ever tasted!” - Jill Castle, registered dietitian, Connecticut based family nutrition expert who lived in Nashville.