13, September 2016 2:39 PM

family enjoying a meal

September is all about family, food and healthy eating. Campaigns, such as Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, National Hunger Action Month™ and National Family Meals Month™ all coincide this month, making it a great time to prioritize healthy eating for the whole family. 

The statistics are alarming. 2.3 million or 24 percent of California children live in households that struggle to get the food they need. In addition, one in three children, including those in insecure households, are overweight or obese. Complex factors contribute to the hunger and obesity paradox, but one solution is more family meals. Aiming for three to five family meals per week has many benefits for children, including reducing the risk of obesity. Take action by adding at least one more family meal per week. Here are four ways to encourage family meals and mind the family food budget.

  1. Eat at home.

    Not only eating together, but also eating at home will save money, increase the overall nutrition of the meal and avoid excess calories. Most restaurant portions are large and too high in sodium, fat and calories, contributing to weight gain. When cooking at home, parents have the opportunity to serve fruits, vegetables and dairy along with the entree. By including all five food groups, the meal is more nutritious, providing key nutrients kids need, such as calcium, vitamin D, potassium and fiber. Family meals aren't limited to dinner, either. If schedules make evening meals impossible, plan a family breakfast. 

  2. Plan ahead.

    Before going to the grocery store, create the dinner menu for the week. Planning meals ahead of time minimizes food waste and encourages more meals eaten at hometwo valuable cost-saving strategies. Involve children in the planning by asking for menu suggestions, including fruits and vegetables to purchase at the grocery store or farmer’s market and entree ideas to prepare. Planning weekly meals ahead of time will not only save time and money, but also help the whole family be healthier.

    Good + Cheap
  3. Practice batch cooking.

    When preparing a meal, make double or triple the amount you need for dinner. Save the leftovers for a quick meal together later in the week or freeze the leftovers in small storage containers to serve in the weeks ahead. Also plan on leftovers for packing lunches for work and school. Having quick, pre-made meals available in the freezer is a healthy, cost-saving alternative to “take out” dinners when families are too busy to cook.

  4. Buy fresh foods in season.

    Fruits and vegetables purchased in season are less expensive than other times of the year. To help prevent food waste, buy some unripe fruit and allow it to ripen throughout the week. Freezing fresh fruit before it gets too ripe is another way to prevent food waste and adds variety later in the year without having to pay higher prices for fruit that is out of season and imported. In addition, be sure to purchase nutritious foods that are lower in cost all year long, such as beans, lentils, carrots, leafy greens, potatoes, sweet potatoes, apples and bananas. Frozen and canned foods are also healthy, affordable options if you struggle to finish up fresh produce. Look for labels that say "no sugar added," "canned in own juices" or "reduced sodium" for best results. 

The average fast food meal for a family of four will cost well over $25. Yet family meals that are planned, prepared and enjoyed together at home can cost far less. Good + Cheap by Leanne Brown is a gorgeous cookbook with healthy, affordable meal and recipe ideas for about $4 per person, per day. Check out some of the great recipes like Whole-Wheat Cheddar Jalapeno Scones and Charred Summer Salad, then download her entire cookbook. During Hunger Action Month, consider donating some of the money saved by eating at home to the Great American Milk Drive. This program connects needy families with vouchers for milk—so families can access this most-requested food item regardless of whether or not a food bank has refrigeration units. 

How do you help children maintain a healthy weight and plan healthy meals when your grocery dollars are tight? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Centers for Disease Control, Childhood Obesity 

Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), Understanding the Connections: Food Insecurity + Obesity

Fulkerson, JA, et al. Are there nutritional and other benefits associated with family meals among at-risk youth? J Adolesc Health. 2009 Oct;45(4):389-95. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2009.02.011. Epub 2009 May 28.

Gillman, MW, et al. Family Dinner and Diet Quality Among Older Children and Adolescents. Arch Fam Med. 2000;9:235-240.

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), The Importance of Family Dinners VIII.

Tags: childhood obesity family meals food access food insecurity Healthy eating hunger
Categories: categoryHealthy Eating for Kids

01, September 2016 9:00 AM

September is chock-a-block full with things to celebrate and observe. Many of the observances are interrelated as well. For instance, enjoying family meals even just once or twice a week (although we recommend more frequent family meals) can help protect against childhood obesity. 

Hunger Action Month helps remind us that food insecurity is a real concern for many families and More Matters Month reminds all of us that we can make improvements to eat closer to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 

Celebrate September and all of its important observations with delicious recipes that include a wide variety of foods from all five food groups. Be sure to sign up for The Scoop eNewsletter for more timely nutrition and health topics for families, health professionals and educators. 

September Family Meal Recipes

Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

Chicken Nuggets with Blackberry Mustard with Fettuccine with Broccoli and Carrots and Everybody Loves Chocolate Pudding; plus Turkey Taco Salad, Tex-Mex Summer Squash Casserole, Good News Breakfast Smoothie and Toast Danish.

National Family Meals Month

Mexican Lasagna with Nopales (cactus) Salad and Raspberry Mango Sundae; plus Oven Crispy Coated Chicken, Cabbage, Carrot and Pineapple Salad, Creamy Potato Soup and Super Quick Chunky Tomato Sauce.

Hunger Action Month

Corn and Broccoli Cheese Calzones with Black Eyed Peas and Red Beans and Peaches and Cream pops; plus Bean and Cheese Burritos, Creamy Banana Walnut Oatmeal, Tuna, Barley and Black Bean Salad and Homestyle Green Bean Bake.

More Matters Month

Quinoa Stuffed Tomatoes with Cheese Fondue and Frozen Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Pops; plus Super Grilled Veggie Wrap, Pasta Del Sol, Berry Blast Smoothie and Ribollita Sicilian Supper Stew with Peppered Cheese Melts.

Tags: balanced meals healthy eating for kids healthy eating for kids
Categories: categoryHealthy Eating for Kids

24, August 2016 10:39 AM

Time for children to head back to schoolAs families everywhere stock up on supplies for back-to-school, don’t forget two healthy habits to help ensure academic success. A good night’s sleep and a healthy breakfast are simple, but sometimes overlooked, school supplies that can really have a positive impact on student performance. 

Adequate sleep (nine to 11 hours for school-aged children) provides children with the energy needed to concentrate, think creatively, problem solve and retain information. And numerous studies show children who eat breakfast have better attention, memory and overall academic performance compared to those who miss out on breakfast. 

Start the day with a healthy breakfast Parents can help children get enough sleep by incorporating effective strategies into the evening routine:

  1. Allow “wind down” time after a family dinner. Once the dishes are put away, allow time for children to transition into a quiet activity, which will help him fall asleep easier.
  2. Establish a consistent bedtime routine. Put together a predictable sequence of events that is followed each night. The process might include taking a bath, putting on pajamas, brushing teeth and reading a story or listening to some relaxing music. 
  3. Set a specific bedtime and stick to it. Give children cues as to when the bedtime routine is starting. For example, running the bath water, putting away toys or playing soothing music can serve as a signal that it's time to start the getting ready for bed.

Establishing and sticking to a bedtime routine sets up an easier start to the morning. Well-rested children tend to wake up earlier and easier, allowing time for breakfast. Another useful tip is to plan breakfast the night before. Involve children in choosing breakfast options the night before to simplify morning decisions and preparation. 

Whether breakfast is consumed at home, in the car or on the bus, try to combine at least three food groups (see our "3 out of 5" breakfast formula) to ensure a healthy balance of nutrients. Try our kid-friendly breakfast recipes to add variety, and use these easy breakfast tips to help scholars get a healthy and successful start this school year. 

Sometimes even the best plans and strategies go awry, so check into options for breakfast at school. In many districts, breakfast is available in the cafeteria, sometimes in the classroom or even "after the bell." 

By stocking up on healthy habits like a good night's sleep and a healthy breakfast, children will be well-supplied for learning this school year. Here are more great back-to-school success tips from the U.S. Department of Education. 

Basch CE. Healthier Students Are Better Learners: A Missing Link in Efforts to Close the Achievement Gap. New York: New York. Columbia University; 2010. EquityMattersVol6_Web03082010.pdf Accessed February 26, 2014.

Kleinman RE, Hall S, Green H, Korzec-Ramirez D, Patton K, Pagano, ME, Murphy JM. Diet, breakfast, and academic performance in children. Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism. 2002;46(suppl 1):24–30.

Taras, H. Nutrition and student performance at school. Journal of School Health. 2005;75(6):199–213.

Tags: back-to-school breakfast family meals Healthy eating healthy eating for kids healthy habits
Categories: categoryHealthy Eating for Kids

03, August 2016 8:00 AM

Leaky Gut Diet and Health GuideWe recently met to discuss The Complete Leaky Gut Health and Diet Guide by Dr. Makotto Trotter, a naturopathic doctor and Doug Cook, a Registered Dietitian. This book is similar to a book we reviewed in 2014, the Inside Tract.

The Complete Leaky Gut Health and Diet Guide is centered around the theory that a “leaky gut” can trigger inflammation and result in symptoms of fatigue, migraines, mood disorders, food sensitivities, diabetes, chronic infections and asthma. An elimination diet, nutritional supplements and lifestyle changes are recommended as the primary treatments. 

It is important to note that Leaky Gut Syndrome (LGS) is not taught in medical school. Rather, it is a condition acknowledged in emerging research associated with inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome and celiac disease.1

Healthy Lifestyle Habits: Good for the Gut

The health plan recommends many sensible lifestyle modifications that have strong evidence for improving health, regardless of leaky gut status. For instance, the book includes 150 recipes that encourage at-home cooking. Several of our book club members noted that some of the recipes look quite good! Additionally, the plan encourages cooking with whole, anti-inflammatory foods while reducing overly-processed foods. Clearly these are lifestyle modifications that most dietitians would encourage as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Other recommended lifestyle changes include reducing stress, slowing down eating by chewing food thoroughly, exercising regularly, reducing caffeine and alcohol intake and improving sleep habits. Again, all of these recommendations have strong support among health professionals and are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. They are good recommendations for all adults and individuals experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms should begin with these strategies and see if their symptoms improve.

Our Gut Reaction: Unsupported Claims Go Too Far

However, our registered dietitian nutritionist book group took issue with the authors' liberties in extrapolating the known link between gut-brain axis into statements that are not supported by peer-reviewed nutritional science. Some of these unsupported claims include: 

  • “Eczema may be a sign of unexpressed agitation and anger coming out on your skin”
  • “An autoimmune disease may indicate a state of extreme pressure on yourself and excessive self-analysis and self-criticism”
  • “Leaky gut may mean you are not establishing adequate healthy boundaries in your life and in your relationships, which is manifesting as multiple stressors” 

Even with qualifying statements like "may be a sign of" or "may mean," our book club members thought these statements were unfounded and possibly harmful.

Trust Your Gut: One Size Does Not Fit All

Beyond the exaggerated and unfounded claims listed above, our book club members' biggest criticisms of the book are its "one-size-fits-all" approach and the extremely restrictive diet. As mentioned above, most people will experience improved gut health by changing the quality of the food they eat and addressing lifestyle issues. Others with very damaged intestinal tracts will need an elimination diet in order for healing to begin.

Although the book recommends an individualized approach with guidance from a health professional, we could envision a consumer attempting the weekly meal plans on their own. Unfortunately, what works for one individual may not work for another, and unnecessary elimination of foods or food groups should be avoided whenever possible to maximize the nutrients attained from foods versus supplements.

Bottom Line

As recommended by the authors, individuals experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms should talk to their healthcare provider about any symptoms before attempting any LGS treatment.

Health professionals should work hard in listening to client concerns! Too often, clients turn to unproven alternative health care solutions when they do not feel heard and respected by nutrition and medical professionals. It is important to remember that their experiences and symptoms are real and deserving of treatment. 

Finally, nearly anyone can improve their health by making positive lifestyle changes that include a healthy, balanced diet and exercise. Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are uniquely qualified to help develop healthy eating plans that enable individuals to navigate dietary modifications necessary after medical diagnosis.

Maureen Bligh, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist


1. E.A. Stewart, Leaky Gut Syndrome — Learn About the Causes, Associated Conditions, and Treatments under Research, Today's Dietitian, Vol. 18 No. 1 P. 46 2016, January 2016.

Tags: Dietitians Book Review Healthy eating Maureen Bligh nutrition research
Categories: categoryNutrition Education

01, August 2016 9:00 AM

A gust of wind might be a welcome relief from the sky high temperatures in store for this August. Lucky for us, high heat means plenty of summer treats from the farmers' markets and backyard garden. 

As you and your family start to examine your back-to-school schedule, don't forget that a good night's sleep and a healthy breakfast are just as important as new backpacks when it comes to school supplies. We'll help remind you to plan on regular family dinners and back-to-school breakfasts with recipes that kids can help make.

Be sure to visit the Family Meal Planning page for more information, tips and resources. 

August Family Meal Recipes

Farmers' Market

Grilled Eggplant Panini with Sweet Potato Salad and Roasted Peach Sundaes; plus Zesty Vegetable Salad, Spinach-Stuffed Green Peppers, Chicken-Pasta Salad with Blueberries and Balsamic Vinegar Tomatoes.

Zucchini Surprise

Zu- Canoes with Ranch Chicken and Peach Glazed Pie; plus Black Bean, Corn and Zucchini Enchiladas, Chocolate Zucchini Cake, Pasta Ratatouille and Cold Zucchini Soup.

Back to School Breakfast

Grab-and-Go Breakfast Bites with Bran Muffins and Grapefruit with Yogurt Dip; plus Spinach Pie, Mini Maui Pizza Pies, Refrigerator Oatmeal and Fruity Yogurt Parfaits.

Go Bananas

Roasted Bananas with Chocolate Yogurt Cream with Scallops with Citrus and Quinoa and Fresh Vegetable Salad; plus Banana Bread Oatmeal, Banana-y Chocolate Freezer Pops, Spicy Lamb Chops with Tropical Salsa and Lanai Pasta Salad.

Family Meals Cooking with Kids

Tortellini Primavera with Popeye's Spinach Salad and Strawberry Orange Cups; plus Top Your Own Tacos, Something's Fishy Wraps, Oh Boy, Squash! and Kiwi-Lime Frozen Yogurt.

Tags: balanced meals healthy eating for kids healthy eating for kids
Categories: categoryHealthy Eating

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