By Debbie Rogers
Eating a healthy diet may be better accomplished in baby steps, according to the new Wood County Health Department nutrition director.
“Starting small is really important, particularly if there’s a lot of changes you want to make. It can feel daunting,” said Kaitlin Denison. “Think about changes that are sustainable.”
One diet change could be trying Blueberry Banana Baked Oatmeal.
“It’s pretty straight forward. The nice thing about it is it’s hard to go wrong with it,” she said.
The treat is also so delicious — with the juicy blueberries, sweet bananas and filling oatmeal — that it’s difficult to believe it’s healthy.
It’s also very flexible. Substitute in raspberries or apples. Leave out the syrup, if you’re watching your sugar.
The heart of the recipe is the bananas and oatmeal.
“Oatmeal is a good source of fiber, which makes you feel satisfied,” Denison said. “Bananas, similarly are a decent source of fiber. …. It’s an easy way to add in an extra serving of fruit.”
Other small diet changes could be choosing better snacks, such as whole-wheat crackers and cheese, or granola and yogurt. Try swapping sugary drinks for water, Denison suggested.
“If you’re not a fan of water, think about how to make it more interesting, whether it’s adding frozen berries to it, or cucumbers and lemon,” she said.
Denison is filling a new position at the health department. Her main responsibility is overseeing the Women, Infants and Children program.
The ingredients in this recipe, including the bananas, eggs and blueberries, can be purchased with WIC benefits, Denison said.
She will also create and implement nutrition programs in the county. People with chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension, will be able to gain nutrition services, Denison said.
“We would provide counseling and education on diet modifications to help manage their condition, or ideally prevent,” she said.
Wood County’s WIC program provided services, such as breastfeeding help and access to healthy food through an electronic benefit transfer card, to 1,127 people last month.
“We’re in a space where we can make an early impact and help families develop healthy habits from a young age,” Denison said.
Denison got her bachelor’s degree in Spanish and international studies from Bowling Green State University in 2013.
She was a nanny in Spain for three months, getting certified to teach English as a foreign language, when she had a career epiphany.
“It was a really interesting experience, just being exposed to another culture’s eating patterns. And I was also partially responsible for ensuring (children) — at that time a 9-month-old and a 5-year-old — were being fed throughout the day,” Denison said.
“Nutrition was always something that was personally of interest to me, so it was no big lightbulb moment, per se.”
She had to take some more classes to beef up her undergraduate resume, then got her master’s in food and nutrition science at Ohio University, graduating in 2017.
Denison did her dietetic internship at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
“Master degrees are required now for dietitians,” she said.
The Sandusky native is making her home now in Bowling Green with husband, David, who is a life design coach at BGSU.
“My dad was actually the cook in the house,” Denison said of growing up and learning her way around the kitchen. “I learned some basics from him, but honestly I was not that curious.”
Making curries for meals is her speciality.
“I love the bold flavors and, similar to this recipe, you can do a lot of different things. Add different proteins or different vegetables and fresh herbs.”
With her cooking now, she follows an “all foods” approach: There is nothing that is off limits.
“I like to enjoy eating … and a variety of foods,” Denison said. “Foods aren’t just for nutrition. I think they’re meant to be enjoyed and shared.”
Blueberry Banana Baked Oatmeal.
Blueberry Banana Baked Oatmeal
2 1/4 cups rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup ripe bananas, mashed (2-3 bananas)
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup maple syrup or honey
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8×8 or 9×9 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
In a large mixing bowl, combine rolled oats, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.
In a separate mixing bowl, mix together mashed banana, milk, maple syrup, egg and vanilla extract until fully combined.
Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well. Gently fold in the blueberries.
Pour mixture into baking pan and spread into an even layer.
Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the top is slightly golden brown.
Remove from the oven and let cool for 10-15 minutes. Slice and serve warm or room temperature.
Notes: Leftovers keep well in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. This recipe can be customized to fit your preferences or what you have on hand. You could also use almond milk, soy milk or your favorite alternative. You can swap out the blueberries for raspberries or even 1/3-1/2 cup of chocolate chips. It is also delicious topped with 1-2 tablespoons of peanut butter for added protein and healthy fats.