5 Tips for Transforming Kids Favorites into Healthier Alternatives

Working at WIC I talk with lots of parents whose kids often eat foods high in sugar, salt, and fat. Most of these foods are frozen, fast foods like hamburgers, chicken nuggets, french fries, or mac and cheese.  While these are okay on occasion it is not recommended to have on a regular basis. This is because foods high in sugar, salt, and fat can increase weight, make it harder for kids to keep up with classmates, and increase chronic disease like diabetes.

I enjoy talking with parents about ways to transform these fast food favorites into healthier alternatives that both children and parents can agree on. The struggle I, and many other Nutritionists, face though is how to guide parents into behavioral change that is long lasting.

Some struggles parents and caretakers face are finding time to prepare healthy meals while working full time, kids who are picky eaters, and financial struggles that limit the foods that one can buy.

A few days ago I came across an article from the public health practice group affiliated with the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This article summarized a recent survey given to parents about whether or not they believed they were offering their children healthy foods. What saddened me about the article is that only “1 in 3 parents reported feeling like they’re teaching their kids healthy eating habits”.

For these reasons, I decided to share some tips that could help put healthier versions of kids favorites on the table without all the fuss.

1.) Swap out ingredients for healthier ones

For example, if a recipe for Mac & Cheese calls for enriched white pasta use whole wheat instead. Have someone with Celiac’s disease or a wheat sensitivity? Use a whole grain based pasta . Whole wheat & whole grain offer more fiber, nutrients, and iron than enriched or white pasta does.

2.) When you can, prepare ahead of time. 

When making home made chicken nuggets a base bread crumb recipe can be prepared a head of time with the families favorite spices and stored in the cabinet for later use.

3.) Choose lean meats.

Instead of preparing hamburgers with ground beef try ground turkey or canned salmon instead. White meats or fish have less saturated fats than red meats & are a healthier alternative.

4.) Bake instead of fry.

When my clients tell me they fry their plantains I suggest they bake/broil it instead. This tip can be used for a lot of foods that are usually fried such as chicken nuggets, french fries, and hamburgers.

5.) Substitute or Add Vegetables

The other day I came across a Mac & Cheese recipe that incorporated squash! Adding veggies or substituting alternative ones can add fiber, vitamins, and minerals to foods that are traditionally high in calories and low in nutrients. This can also work for picky eaters. Other ideas can be sweet potato fries, kale chips, or baked carrots/parsnip fries.



Put your Family’s Best Fork Forward


Image courtesy of marin at freedigitalphotos.net 

It’s that time of year again. This March is the annual National Nutrition Month, which means that all month long nutrition professionals will be hitting up social media surrounding this month’s theme: Put Your Best Fork Forward! It’s an initiative built up around the main message of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans that says, it’s  not a singular food that makes the difference but entire meal plans made up of a variety of different foods working together.

The theme Put Your Best Fork Forward reminds us that healthy eating and living is only small changes built up over time. You don’t have to do something drastic, go on that special diet, or lose 20 lbs for a better, more healthier you. Instead it’s all about building good habits that’ll last a life time! (That includes exercise just as much as it is what we eat.)

Healthy habits, just like anything else, begins in the home  with what you cook for your family and yourself everyday. Your children will learn from the habits you build, so starting mindful eating habits right in your own home is the best place to start!

And this is exactly where I started when thinking about what would be this month’s blog post. At first I didn’t know what to write about, then, while cooking with my boyfriend, it suddenly occurred to me that the simple dish of sauteed vegetables and cashews could be the base of any dish.

It’s always hard coming home from work after a long day and not having anything prepared. It’s even harder to come home with the daunting task of whipping something up to eat when it’s 6:30 pm at night! What I needed was a quick dish that could be accomplished in 30 minutes or less. For many of us that would include frozen meals, I know it has for me many times and I’m a Nutritionist! But, my boyfriend Michael had whipped up this quick vegetable dish that can easily be built upon within 30  minutes. The best part was that the meal was only vegetables, spices, cashews, and a little olive oil. Talk about a marriage of antioxidants and healthy fats working together in perfect harmony.

My boyfriend’s a genius!

That being said I was quick to propose to him the idea for this blog and if I could share his recipe with my readers. Success! The downside though is that the recipe would have to be prepared ahead of time on a weekend and then frozen in containers for the rest of week. Other than that you could defrost the vegetable mix, add your own spices, meats, fish, or just add brown rice or whole wheat noddles for a variety of meals in 30 minutes or less. Just make sure the rice is cooked ahead a time. Batch cooking is how you get home cooked meals when you work 5-6 days a week.

Here is the basis of the recipe:

3 Sweet Peppers diced (Try for yellow, red, & orange)

1/2 c. of diced onion

1 c. of celery chopped

1 1/2 c. of chopped or matchstick carrots

2 c. of unsalted cashews

2 tablespoons of olive oil or another oil of your choice

Your choice of spices


1.) Wash the fresh produce in a colander. Afterwards place on a towel to dry.

2.) On a cutting board dice all the vegetables except the matchstick carrots. Place aside.

3.) Place a wok of skillet on the stove. Turn it up to medium heat and add all the vegetables w/ 1-2 tablespoons of oil. Add cashews last. 

4.) Put a cover on top of the vegetables and let cook until vegetables are tender. 

Now that you cooked dinner you have more time to gather round the table with your family. Happy National Nutrition Month!


5 Steps to Preparing Creative Lunchboxes Everyday

It’s that time of year again. With the last days of summer looming in front of us it’s time to start thinking what to pack for school lunches.

Whether your the reason for reading this article is to learn more about packing nutritious school lunches or just to get some new ideas I’m glad you’re here. Today I will go over 5 quick steps to creating creative lunchboxes.

1.)  USDA MyPlate

It’s back! Before preparing a lunchbox it helps to use MyPlate as a visual (http://www.choosemyplate.gov/). Imagine how you would divide your plate into four sections: Veggies, fruits, protein, and grains. Include dairy as an option as well. Then choose foods for the packed lunch in the above order.

If you’re family is vegan or doesn’t consume dairy then think of possible alternatives such as soy, almond, or rice milk. Dark green veggies, tofu, and some seeds also contain the bone-building nutrients found in dairy.

Planning your child’s lunchbox this way keeps you focused on healthful options to include and will also minimize choosing less healthful options. Although, a treat every now and then won’t hurt.

2.) Be Creative

If you’re like me then most likely lunches will include sandwiches everyday. This can become boring after awhile.

What I would suggest is to search lunchbox ideas on the computer whenever you lack for ideas. Here are some to get you started:

  • Leftover turkey or chicken salad w/ a side salad
  • Homemade pita bread or English muffin pizza
  • Fruit, crackers, and cheese (my fav!)

For more ideas follow this link: http://www.5dollardinners.com/31-days-of-school-lunchbox-ideas/#_a5y_p=2302145

3.) Staple Foods

Check your pantry for food staples. These include any common ingredient or food that can be made up into many different dishes such as beans, rice, canned veggies or fruit, and pasta. (Remember to rinse canned veggies to rid yourself of the extra salt.)

In addition, try buying foods that are easily packed such as carrot or celery sticks, grapes, or seeds.

4.) Food Safety

Lunchboxes have their own rules for preparing foods safely so as not to leave food in an environment where bacteria can multiple and cause harm. Usually, food can be kept safe above or below this temperature range: 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Use ice packs and thermos to keep cold food cold and hot food hot for 2-3 hours. Or you can freeze water bottles and juice boxes. Insulated lunch boxes can keep temperatures constant until lunch.

For more specifics about what does and doesn’t need to be kept cold go to this web address: http://culinaryarts.about.com/od/safetysanitation/a/baglunchsafety.htm

5.) Make it a Family Affair

Get your kids involved in the preparation of their lunchboxes. This can be as simple as having them choose what foods from each food group to include in the lunch.

Blog Review: The Allergy Free Zone

Hello guys! I hope everyone’s summer is going great so far, I know mine is. This week I would like to spend a some time discussing The Allergy Free Zone blog at wordpress.com.

I chose to review this blog for parents/guardians who have kids with allergies. For them, navigating the kitchen becomes a whole new challenge. Not only do they deal with teaching their kids basic cooking skills like cutting, washing, or food safety but they also have to teach them skills that could possibly prevent them from having an allergic reaction. These skills may include reading an ingredient label, researching restaurants, and grocery shopping for those with allergies.

With this in mind the Allergy Free Zone is written by Stacy DeGrazia, a Food and Nutrition student at FSU. She had been diagnosed with allergies at 17 years old so she understands the struggle of finding her way through grocery aisles, restaurants, and colleges.

Her blog provides quick tips and helpful information to guide those who have recently been diagnosed with allergies. Her blog entries are well-organized. Topics include:

1.)  Allergy vs. Intolerance

2.) Grocery Shopping

3.) Celiac Disease

4.) Technology to help aid those with allergies

5.) Recipes &

6.) Navigating a college dining hall

DeGrazia covers these topics using her blog entries, a video, an infographic, and a podcast. She also offers some links to websites that provide allergen free recipes. You can follow her on Pinterest, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

However, her blog does have some faults. One of these faults is not clarifying that Celiac Disease is not an allergy, but an autoimmune disease where the body’s own defenses attacks itself due to consumption of gluten. I would’ve also liked to see more links to other allergy blogs and nutrition based websites for more detailed information.

Here is the link to her blog:


Feel free to peruse these other blogs:

http://cybelepascal.com/ (A mom’s blog about raising two sons with allergies. She blogs about recipes that are gluten/top 8 allergen free and simple allergy free swaps in baking.)

http://community.kidswithfoodallergies.org/blog (Organization to help parents/guardians of kids with allergies cope with them through recipes and articles that makes living with allergies a little bit easier.)

7 steps to Food Safety (for Kids)

In order to keep cooking with kids fun it is necessary to cover a few basic safety rules to keep yourself and food safe.

1.) Always wash your hands.

Teach your kids the importance of washing hands before, during, and after cooking to stop the spread of bacteria that can lead to foodbourne illnesses. You will wash your hands when:

a.) You begin cooking

b.) You touch raw meat or eggs

c.) You switch tasks as such rolling meatballs to chopping vegetables

d.) Touch your face or hair

e.) After you finish

2.) If you have long hair pull it back!

3.) Wash all surfaces before and after cooking.

Surfaces that come into contact with food must be washed, sanitized, and dried with a cloth or wipe before and after working on them.

4.) Handle knives and other equipment properly.

Show your kids how to handle knives properly such as cutting away from yourself and carrying a knife across a kitchen. Even when they are using plastic utensils begin early. At each age teach your kids the appropriate tasks for their age group making sure they know what tasks they need adult supervision with.

5.) Use different towels and cutting boards.

When you cook never use the same cutting board for your meat that you use for prepping vegetables/fruits. Bacteria from meat can easily spread to raw foods and get people sick. The same goes for the towels you use to wipe down surfaces versus to dry dishes. You should never use the same towel for multiple kitchen tasks.

6.) Keep cold food cold and hot food hot

This seems only natural, but at some point in time all of us have kept food out for longer periods of time than is safe. To prevent this:

a.) Transfer large batches of food to smaller containers  and store in the refrigerator when cooling to allow the food to cool quickly.

b.) Never leave cold or hot food out at room temperature for more than 60 minutes.

c.) Thaw raw meat or vegetables in the microwave or refrigerator before use. Never thaw foods on the counter because it increases the time food is exposed to unsafe temperatures. It’s important to know that when thawing in the microwave food must be used right away. Foods thawed in the refrigerator must be used within 24 hours.

These rules become more important when traveling, going on picnics, or when packing school lunches. Using hot or cold water bottles or ice packs can ensure food is safe for a couple of hours until lunch period.

7.) Wash all fruits and vegetables.

When washing fruits and vegetables you can use a small brush or your hands under running water. Wash vegetables/fruits to lower the risk of food contamination with dirt, bacteria, and pesticides.

For more information on keeping food safe go to:



Review of Earth Friendly Eats blog


Today I will be writing about another nutrition blog and reviewing it. As part of my Computer Applications class it is necessary to blog not only of your topic, but also on other student’s topics.

Also, I believe it’s important to keep up with the latest nutrition news since research changes quickly.

I reviewed Earth Friendly Eats blog by Aleana, a nutrition student at Framingham State University with an interest in how we are effecting the environment with our food choices.  On her blog she highlights:

  • What eco-friendly eating is
  • Importance of eating local fruits/veggies
  • Our water footprint
  • Ways to decrease our impact on the environment

Aleana offers up to date information regarding our environmental impact, well researched topics, and resources from governmental websites.

Aleana also created a video and podcast about lessening our impact on the environment by becoming more aware of where our food is coming from. Lastly, she tackles the question does being eco-friendly mean becoming vegan? As it turns out no it does not. Good news for meat lovers!

Some details I did not like about Aleana’s blog are her environmental infographic, which is a bit hard to understand, and the lack of defining environmental terms or abbreviations for those who are new to the subject area.

Happy Eating!

p.s. The gardening tips is a great outdoor activity for kids.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Picky Eating

Photo by Supertrooper courtesy of Free Digital Photos.

Photo by Supertrooper courtesy of Free Digital Photos.

When it comes to eating, a parent’s (or guardian’s) responsibilities are:

  • What foods to present &
  • How those foods will be presented.

A child’s responsibilities are:

  • What they will eat
  • How much they will eat
  • Whether they eat at all.

This is how I first learned about a parent’s and a child’s responsibility when it comes to eating. However, who can be called a picky eater depends on the behavior.  Picky eaters only will eat certain foods and reject others. This will be different for each person. Some will have one food they eat constantly. Others will have a group of five or eight foods they are willing to eat.

If you have encountered this before you know the frustration of trying to get them to try new foods. The good news is that the kid that has been eating PB & J at every meal will grow out of it.  In the mean time here are the Do’s and Don’ts of picky eating to help with presenting new foods:

The Do’s:

1.) Do involve your children, nieces/nephews, and grandchildren in the kitchen! Involving the picky eater in the kitchen is a great way to introduce new foods. Refer to previous blogs for more ways to do this.

2.) Do take them shopping.  The second do is part of the first. Getting them to find fruits and veggies in the store will get them excited about eating it. Make sure you explain the nutritional value behind the produce you pick.

3.) Do rid the room of distractions. Remove electronics completely. Yes, that means the smartphone too. Here is the moment to make use of the tips provided by the Family Dinner Project.

4.) Do present a new food once a week. Keep presenting same food repeatedly so that the child in your life can familiarize themselves with it. Familiar foods are less scary foods! Be aware that this process takes lots of patience. It isn’t uncommon for this step to last more than a couple of weeks.

5.) Do let the child play with the food. Just like the 4th step, playing with the food makes it less scary. A child may be more willing to eat foods that are presented to them in a playful manner. (You don’t have to be Michelangelo to do this. It can be as simple as a well made with potatoes and gravy. This was my favorite as a child.)

The Don’ts:

1.) Do not stay with “safe” food. Although, you may be tempted to keep giving your child the same foods  it does not help in the long run. Your child is missing out on opportunities to expand his/her palette.

2.) Do not make multiple meals. If your child wants you to make a special meal for him or her instead of eating the main meal you should refuse. This habit will wear you out eventually.

3.) Do not force a child to eat foods you do not want to eat. Keep in mind your child will mimic your own eating habits. If you want your child to eat broccoli, you will have to learn to eat broccoli as well.

4.) Do not use food as a reward or punishment. While you want the child in your life to try new foods you do not want to punish them for not eating a certain food or rewarding them with a cookie every time they do. Again negative associations with food.

5.) Do not constantly present foods all day long. Listen to what your child is telling you. They know when they are full or when they are hungry. Don’t try to override this internal control.

For more information visit eatright.org