The Easiest Recipe to get Kids in the Kitchen

August is Kids Eat Right Month, a time to help kids learn more about nutrition and to give them the tools and skills they need to make better choices. As a dietitian you’d think my kids are the poster children for Kids Eat Right…but they’re not!

My kids love their sweets, prefer dessert over dinner, and could live off of snack food. Dinnertime is a challenge, trying to get them to eat anything except pasta with grated cheese or cherry tomatoes (whole – never cut! I learned my lesson). As a mom I do everything I can to get them into the kitchen with me, to help with dinner or assemble salads. Usually I lose to the television or iPad.

So imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon a brilliant way to get kids interested in exploring the kitchen and creating something delicious. And it involves no cooking and nearly no supervision. I wish I could take credit for this discovery, but alas it was an activity done in their summer camp/daycare that piqued their interest.

The theme for the week was Western, and my son made “cowboy chow” (otherwise known as trail mix). He brought home a white paper bag with a mixture of cereal, pretzels, raisins, dried cranberries, chocolate chips and marshmallows. For the next few mornings the kids wanted to make their own trail mix breakfasts, complete with cereal, whole-grain goldfish crackers, raisins, peanuts, almonds – whatever we had in the pantry. They explored, tried different textures (including taking a chewy granola bar and crumbling it up), mixed salty and sweet…and were completely self-sufficient.

While trail mix isn’t my favorite breakfast to serve the kids, and it certainly isn’t the most healthful choice in our kitchen, the lesson here was less about nutrition and more about discovery and self-reliance. It’s my job as parent (and dietitian!) to stock better-for-you choices in my pantry, and then my kids have the freedom to take it upon themselves to experiment. That’s what cooking – and creating – is all about: the discovery and the delicious final result.

You can make your own trail mix (or cowboy chow, or princess power food – or whatever will get your kids excited) with pretty much anything in your pantry. Let your kids explore and choose a few bite-sized finger foods, throw them into a bowl and see what happens. Ask them if they want it a little sweeter, a little more salty, or maybe a bit more colorful. When you go shopping, explore the dried fruits aisle and see if there’s something new your kids might want to try (try to avoid pre-sweetened or fried fruits, and opt for naturally-sweetened or dehydrated versions instead).

The clincher for me was the following Saturday morning. My kids were darling enough to let my husband and I sleep in, and when I woke up there were two very proud children with a buffet-like spread laid out on the kitchen table. They made their own breakfast bar for the family to enjoy!

Kids buffet


Savor the Flavor. Period.

I couldn’t let National Nutrition Month® go by without sharing my thoughts on this year’s theme: “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right.” The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the professional organization for dietetic professionals, is the sponsor of this annual event, and it’s no surprise that each year’s theme is often some kind of build off the organization’s catchphrase: Eat Right. (The website URL for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is, in fact,

I love the first part of the tagline: savor the flavor. It jives with my philosophy toward food: that eating is not just about nutrition but that it’s an experience, a source of enjoyment and a sense of culture. I feel strongly that when eating people should take note of all five senses: the sound of the sizzling stovetop, the smell of a dish that evokes a childhood memory, the look of a well-plated meal, the feel and texture of the food on your tongue, and of course, the taste! It’s when we fail to engage all senses that we find ourselves eating mindlessly, which can lead to unhealthy habits.

It’s the second part of the phrase that rubs me the wrong way: eating right. It implies a dichotomy: right vs. wrong. Good vs. bad. Pure vs. poison. No wonder people think of dietitians as the food police. The last thing people want to be told is that they’re eating wrong. Don’t even get me started how finger pointing like that can lead to disordered eating and views toward foods…

If I were in charge, I’d change the Academy URL and all associated phrasing to eating better. There is always room for improvement, no matter how healthful you diet may be already. There are plenty of other choices to make, foods to try, small steps to take. There is no perfect healthy eating plan (because then the food police will knock on your door and tell you to get some variety, for goodness’ sake!)

Think of it this way: when I introduce myself as a dietitian at a dinner event, people tend to get uncomfortable and say things like, “please don’t look at my plate!” I tend to say back to them, “don’t look at mine either!” This is one meal, on one day, and most likely a special occasion. This is not my everyday pattern.

If there is a definition of eating “right,” to me that means making more nutrient-packed choices and staying within your energy (calorie) needs. But it also means enjoying a rich dish or decadent dessert – heck, maybe even daily – so long as it’s portioned right and within a framework of an overall healthy eating pattern and lifestyle.

Foods I Heart – For American Heart Month

February is American Heart Month, a time to focus on your heart and health. Generally speaking, a heart-healthy diet is one that’s modeled after how the people in the Mediterranean region eat. That means plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, seafood, healthy oils, whole grains and an occasional glass of wine. People in the Mediterranean region also tend to walk more, linger over their meals and have close bonds among family and the community. I simply couldn’t let the month go by without putting together a list of my favorite heart-healthy items – things you can easily find here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Let’s see if you agree:

  • Oatmeal: This fiber-rich breakfast staple is a heart-healthy powerhouse. The beta-glucan in oatmeal acts like a magnet to cholesterol in the bloodstream and flushing it away. Oatmeal is also really inexpensive and versatile. Not only does it make for a hearty breakfast (check out this recipe for my perfect oatmeal), but in my family also use it in place of breadcrumbs for our favorite meatloaf recipe.
  • Beans: I think of beans as nature’s perfect food. It’s a vegetable and a protein, has little fat and calories yet provides numerous vitamins and minerals. The little legume – also called a pulse food – is perfect for pregnant and breastfeeding moms as it provides folic acid, iron and fiber. The United Nations called 2016 The Year Of The Pulses, and my favorite way to get more pulses is by eating black beans with tomatoes and a sprinkling of reduced fat cheese. Yum!
  • Nuts: Yes nuts have fat, but it’s primarily heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Nuts also provide fiber (are you noticing a theme here with this amazing nutrient and heart health?), and protein to keep you satisfied. I eat pretty much all kinds of nuts, but my favorites are lightly-salted almonds and peanuts. I even make my own peanut butter after being inspired by this post from a fellow dietitian blogger. Rarely does a day go by without having a dab of my homemade PB on an apple or a piece of toast.
  • Salmon: I don’t eat salmon very much at home, as certain family members have an aversion to its smell (not an uncommon turnoff, I’ve learned). But this pink fish is my go-to source for another kind of heart-healthy fat: EPA and DHA omega-3s (disclosure: The Global Organization for EPA and DHA omega-3s is a client, but they did not ask me to write this post). These marine-based long-chain omega-3s – not to be confused with plant-based ALA found in certain nuts, seeds and other foods – have been shown to support cardiovascular health, as well as brain health and other possible benefits (more science needs to be done). If you’re a health profession wonk like me and want to learn more about the science behind EPA and DHA for heart health, read this white paper. Or, you can get some basic information at Salmon is great on the grill (and leaves the smell outside) and is also really convenient – and inexpensive – when you buy it canned or in pouches.
  • Grape Juice: We all know that red wine can be good for the heart, but the same goes for your childhood favorite: 100% grape juice – the naturally sweet purple stuff made with Concord grapes (disclosure: I also work with Welch’s, but again, they did not ask me to write this. I just really like this juice and find the science compelling.) The Concord is a unique grape – it has a thick skin with a fleshy middle that literally pops out of its skin when you squeeze it. It also has crunchy seeds. Both the skin and the seeds are concentrated sources of polyphenols, or plant nutrients associated with health benefits including heart health and healthy circulation. You can’t find fresh Concords very easily outside of the fall season, but drinking 100% grape juice made with Concord grapes is really your best option for reaping the benefits. As you would with nuts – and frankly, all of the items mentioned above – portion size is important. Just ½ cup, or 4 oz., of 100% grape juice is enough to supply one serving of fruit. Remember also that 100% fruit juice (which, by its nature contains no added sugars but only natural fruit sugars) should be a complement to, not a replacement for, whole fruits. That is why…
  • Fruits and Vegetables – all varieties also make my list. I eat vegetables pretty liberally, as they provide tons of vitamins, fiber and nutrients for very few calories. I eat plenty of fresh fruit as well – sprinkled on my oatmeal, mixed in a smoothie or as a snack on its own. Fruits and vegetables should take up roughly half your diet. My favorites change by the season but these days I’m really into jicama, snap peas and clementines.

The best thing about the foods I’ve listed here is that they’re all easily accessible, found in your local grocery store, and are typically inexpensive. Eating a heart-healthy diet need not only be for those who can afford luxuries. Don’t forget to couple all this healthy eating with being active. Walking, playing, dancing – all of that is free!!!

Tell me your favorite ways to be heart healthy by commenting below.


Disclosure: I was not asked to write this post by any of my clients or colleagues, nor was I compensated to do so. I only work with companies and organizations that I believe in and that place a high priority on science and research. All opinions expressed are mine and mine alone.





Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Lying there on the couch for a much-needed rest after making and eating dinner with the family, the realization came to me: it’s time for a change.

Caffeine, I need you out of my life.

I’ve done it once before, when trying a friend’s (and fellow dietitian’s) detox-style eating plan for a few weeks. Letting go of coffee was the easiest part of that plan, after the initial headaches subsided.

It all began innocently enough. Since I was in middle school (don’t judge), I’ve enjoyed my morning mug of coffee. Sometime around my early 30s one cup turned into the occasional two. Then two-a-day became a habit. I’d have a cup of coffee in the morning while my kids ate breakfast and I got their bags ready for school. After dropping them off I’d return home for my own breakfast, which also included a piping hot cup of coffee alongside whatever I decided to eat that morning. I’d bring my meal and coffee up to my office, sift through my inbox and read the morning headlines while cradling my mug, letting the coffee waft and hit my nose. It was a ritual.

Sometimes for lunch, I’d grab a can of Diet Coke since plain water was getting boring and it was too early to switch over to sparkling water (that’s for dinnertime, of course). Suddenly, I realized I was depending on this caffeine trifecta to get me through the day.

Striking out the soda was pretty easy. As for the coffee, I tried to wean myself off the second cup, substituting green tea instead. And that worked…sometimes. But that day of the post-dinner repose I had had two cups of coffee in the morning, followed by a medium-sized fountain soda with my lunch (very uncharacteristic, but I had an errand to run that day, forcing me to grab lunch on the go). After working all day, driving around to pick up the kids, and preparing and eating dinner, I had the overwhelming urge to just lie down. I was crashing. That’s when it hit me: caffeine was a culprit and not a companion.

My plan is to cut down to one caffeinated cup per day. If I feel the urge for another cup, I’ll switch to decaf. It’s more about the flavor or the need for a hot beverage to warm my hands and insides than it is for the caffeine jolt. Eventually, perhaps I will switch to green tea exclusively for my caffeine fix, and then perhaps graduate to herbal tea exclusively for my morning pick-me-up, kicking the caffeine habit for good. Preferably without any headache side-effects.

Were you able to break up with caffeine? Tell me how you did it.

New Year’s Resolutions: a marathon, not a sprint

The New Year has begun! I love this time of year because it’s just brimming with possibilities and hope for the future. And while, sure, there are probably a million-and-one articles and blog posts about how to make (or not make) New Year’s resolutions, I hope this one will resonate with you.

First things first: I don’t really believe in New Year’s Resolutions. I feel like bettering ourselves should be a year-round effort and not confined to an otherwise dreary time of year (sorry, January-lovers). But, I do believe in setting goals and formulating a plan to meet those goals. With the craziness of the holiday season behind us, the New Year is as good a time as any.

For me, New Year’s Resolutions (or goals) is a lot like training for a marathon. You have a big ultimate goal in mind (to complete that marathon) and you have a training plan in place to get you to that finish line. You can’t just get up tomorrow and run the full 26.2 miles – that is, unless you’ve already got a strong foundation. That training plan is also filled with a lot of interim goals to keep you motivated and inspired. So whether your goal is to lose weight, quit smoking, or – yes – run a marathon, here are my tips to getting you to your goal:

  1. Harness that newbie energy. Starting anything new is fun at first – you might have recently joined a gym, gotten a new gadget, or formulated a plan that’s now ready to be implemented. But more than that, you have the energy and desire to reach that goal. However…
  2. Don’t blow all your energy at once. Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint. In long-distance running, if you go out too fast at first, you can easily burn up all your energy stores. While it’s possible to recoup some of your losses on the run by taking in drinks or nutrients, or even slowing down to a walk at times, it’s really hard to get back to your original energy levels. Slow and steady, while not flashy and exciting most of the time, really does win the race.
  3. Welcome outside help. We can’t do this all alone. Join a group, have an online community, work with a therapist or coach – whatever it takes. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. In fact, it’s a strength. You know that feeling when you’re in a race and you feel like you can’t go on any further…then you hear the cheering crowd? Those cheers are what carry your feet when your legs seemed to have given up. At the same time…
  4. Know that the strength to succeed exists inside you. Sometimes even the most well-intentioned help can only get you so far. That’s when you’re in the 20th mile, and the cheers are loud but your legs feel like bricks. That’s the time to dig deep, to block out the noise around you, find that strength within yourself, and pull through. That’s true if you’re trying to quit smoking, cut out desserts, whatever it may be.
  5. Celebrate your accomplishments. Not just the big major goal, but all the little ones along the path to success. The first 14-mile training run I did was huge to me because it was the longest distance I had ever done. Or maybe it’s the work happy-hour you happily attended without imbibing because your goal was to cut out alcohol. Each step counts.
  6. The end is just the beginning. After a marathon I feel elated to have finished, but that feeling soon became despair because I don’t know what to do next. I feel the same way after reading an amazing book. Celebrate like crazy when the big goal is met, but also be ready with the next goal in mind. It could be completely different from the first one or somewhat related. Like, if your goal was to quit smoking maybe your next goal will be to put those pink, healthy lungs to use and register for a 5K. For me, after a marathon my husband bought me a FitBit Flex, knowing that the daily goal of hitting at least 10K steps was enough to feed my competitive spirit while giving my body a much-needed rest from running.

Whatever you goals may be in the New Year, please remember these tips and know that you can do it! I’d love to know what you have planned in 2016. Share your New Year’s resolutions in the comments below, and tell me what steps you’re taking to reach them.


I Love School Lunch (and So Do My Kids)

A version of this post originally appeared on Stone Soup, a blog written by registered dietitian contributors. 

For the past several weeks, my social media feeds have been flooded with tips, tricks and gorgeous pictures of nutritious and appealing lunches for kids. It seems like kids across the country will be plunking down properly insulated and portion-perfect bento boxes of adorable cookie cutter-cut sandwiches and sides of fruit in caterpillar-shaped cuteness served with a carton of organic milk.

Not my kid.

In our house, we nudge our school-age child toward buying a hot school lunch. If you haven’t been to a school lunch cafeteria in while, I urge you to visit with your child someday. You might be surprised. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 required for the first time in more than 15 years that school lunch standards conform to the latest dietary guidelines. This meant using only whole grain ingredients, serving more fresh fruits and vegetables, providing lowfat or nonfat milk only, reducing sodium and setting calorie limits, among other changes.

The foods served at my child’s school may look like normal kid fare, but they are made with better-for-you ingredients. Chicken nuggets and buns are made with whole grains, hot dogs are actually turkey dogs, and pizza is made with a whole wheat crust and lowfat cheese. All vegetables served on the side (and a child must take a vegetable) are either fresh or reduced-sodium if canned. There isn’t dessert served except on special occasions. Yes, not everything on her tray gets eaten and may end up in the trash, however more often than not the packed lunches I give her come home with untouched food as well. With lunchtime crunched into a 20-minute timespan, that barely gives enough time to get lunch, sit at a table, have some unstructured time to connect with friends, and, oh yeah – eat!

Another thing I like about having my child eat school lunch is that it allows positive peer pressure to work. If other kids at her table are eating the same thing and her good friend is gobbling up the pea-and-carrot cup with gusto, that may inspire her to give it a try. Exposure and modeling are powerful teaching tools, especially when it comes to trying new foods. It works great at my son’s preschool, where kids and their teachers are all served the same lunch and snacks. They even have paella on the menu, which apparently my son has gotten to like.

So parents, when you get tired of making broccoli tree and celery boat dioramas, packed lovingly but returned home as if an avalanche hit the scene, put some money in your kids’ school lunch account and send them off with a kiss and the knowledge that they’re getting a healthy lunch…served lovingly by someone else!

Disclosure: none. All opinions are my own.