For Rachael Rutter, food is as much about nurturing as it is about nutrition. Not only is preparing good food in her Olathe kitchen a form of self-care, it can also be a way to connect with others, including her fiance, Dylan DeKoning.
Born and raised in Johnson County, Rutter is a licensed clinical marriage and family therapist and addiction counselor. She believes that in this age of social media there’s no replacing the primal human need for physical and emotional nourishment from sharing sustenance.
Q: Can you explain the emotional component that surrounds food for some people?
A: Humans are hard-wired for connection. We cannot survive without being fed, both physically and emotionally. Perhaps a more scientific hypothesis can stem from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
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Maslow’s theory is often portrayed in the shape of a pyramid, with the most basic physiological needs at the bottom. After one’s need for food and other basic needs have been met, Maslow theorizes that humans can move to satiating the need for safety, love and belonging, esteem and self-actualization.
So when you eat and fill that basic human need, Maslow theorized you are then free to work on other emotional needs and ultimately are free to become the best person that one can possibly be in the form of a self-actualized person.
Q: It’s interesting that in the face of tragedy, sickness or death that people bring food to families.
A: I think food eases anxiety and also creates instant community. An offering of food shows an appreciation of the person to whom it is brought. Life is for the living, and in bringing food to those who are struck by tragedy, it is a way to reaffirm life and take care of those who are suffering.
Food can be a symbol of empathy and can also give permission to those who are grieving to take care of themselves — to eat and continue living. Making food with and serving food to others are very loving and nurturing acts.
Cooking is about feeding both the body and the soul through creativity and connection. The act of preparing food allows one to live in the moment — rather than in the past and future — which is the definition of mindfulness and is key to gratitude and mental health.
Q: Is food a love language for you?
A: I am no gourmet cook, but meal times are important as a source of connection with those I love. We live in a fast-paced world in which we are trying to multitask — talk on the phone, eat and drive — all at the same time. I even have to be aware to practice what I preach and unplug to live in the moment.
It’s also easier to discuss more difficult issues when it’s in the context of sharing food with others. That’s why sharing meals regularly with those you love is so important. It’s easier to check in with someone and talk about your day when you are taking the time to sit down and eat together.
Q: Why did you choose this recipe to share?
A: I like this recipe because it is easy; makes enough to share with others; is full of nutrients; saves well in the fridge; can be eaten as a breakfast, snack or dessert; and allows for creativity.
When I make a recipe, I like to experiment with it and make it my own, and these Energy Balls allow for that. For example, you can add chia seeds for more protein, substitute ground pistachios for the coconut or add dried fruit instead of chocolate.
Some of my happiest memories are tied to food: my father, Rick, pretending to be a chef and making to order what we wanted to eat; my grandmother Norma, who lived in Marshall, Mo., and really gave me an appreciation for what it means to be a home cook; and my mother, Cindy Cote, who has so many cookbooks filled with her notes after preparing a dish.
Food doesn’t need to be perfect to be enjoyable, so don’t let a fear of cooking stop you from doing it. Brené Brown, the author of “The Gifts of Imperfection,” says you learn courage by couraging. The same can be true when it comes to preparing food — you learn to cook by cooking — and then you can reap the benefits of sharing it with others.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Send email to her at email@example.com to nominate a cook.
Makes about 2 dozen
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/3 cup honey
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup ground flax seed
1/2 cup mini dark chocolate chips
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
In a large mixing bowl, stir oats, peanut butter, honey, coconut, flax seed, chocolate chips and vanilla together until well combined.
Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill dough in refrigerator for 20 minutes.
Scoop out dough, 1 tablespoon at a time, and roll into balls that are about 1-inch in diameter. Place in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator.
Per energy ball: 119 calories (53 percent from fat), 7 grams total fat (3 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 11 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 28 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.