01, October 2016 10:00 AM

Fall in love with Autumn with cooler temperatures and changing leaves. Enjoy the variety of shapes and sizes in the pasta family, plus the wide variety of food group foods produced in California. Then go apple picking and get ready for a healthy Halloween. All told, October has a wide range of fun and festive celebrations for the whole family. 

October Family Meal Recipes

Pasta Month

Lunchbox Power Pasta Salad with Slow Cooker Posole and Super Fast Smoothie; plus Rotini with Fresh Tomato, Basil and Ricotta Sauce, Amaranta Pesto, Tortellini Soup and Apple Cheddar Mac + Cheese.

Farm to School + CA Thursday

Squash and Leek Lasagna with Popeye's Spinach Salad and Minted Fruit Salad; plus Brown Rice With Milk, Curried Sweet Potatoes With Spinach and Chickpeas, Grilled Chicken Breasts with Smoky California Dried Plums and Chipotle Mole and Spinach, Strawberry and Walnut Salad with Raspberry Balsamic Vinaigrette.

Apple Month

Apple Cheddar Quinoa Muffins with Apple and Horseradish-Glazed Salmon and Apples + Cream Shakes; plus Baked Squash with Apple and Walnuts, Fresh Apple Cake, Apple Raisin French Toast Casserole and Apple Tuna Sandwiches.

Halloween Prep

Smoky Corn and Black Bean Pizza with Autumn Salad and Blueberry Blackberry Gratin; plus Broccoli Cheese Quesadillas, Soft Chicken Tacos with Salsa Ole and Sombrero Salad, Applesauce with Dried Cranberries and Yogurt Fruit Salad.

The Great Pumpkin

Pumpkin, Potato and Leek Soup with Chicken with Yogurt-Cilantro Sauce and Cabbage Carrot and Pineapple Salad; plus Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, Pumpkin Pie Dip, Dinner in a Pumpkin and Good for you Pumpkin Rice.

Tags: family meals farm to school Healthy eating healthy eating patterns recipes shopping list
Categories: categoryHealthy Eating

28, September 2016 10:00 AM

The Silicon Valley Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Book Club met this month to discuss Diet Cults: The Surprising Fallacy at the Core of Nutrition Fads and a Guide to Healthy Eating for the Rest of Us by Matt Fitzgerald, a certified sports nutritionist.

The book explores the histories of popular diets of the modern age and an anthropological look at the evolution of mankind’s diet. The book's thesis is there is no “One True Way” for us to eat. From Paleo, to low-carb, to raw food diets, the author suggests that individuals are not just following a diet but forming an identity within an exclusive community. While each diet “cult” has its own rules, they all have one common claim: their way of eating is superior to all others.

The author advocates for an inclusive, “agnostic” eating pattern that fits within an individual’s lifestyle and is consistent with mainstream nutrition science guidelines, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs).

Where We Agree

While Fitzgerald is not a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, our group felt that the book was well researched and did not make any unsupported claims. The book references many well-known nutritional studies, including the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) which collects data from successful weight losers and maintainers.

The book highlights the three key behaviors NWCR participants have in common:

  • Self-weighing
  • Eating monotonously
  • Exercise

While we believe these can be useful tips for weight loss, we particularly agreed with another claim the author makes: motivation is the key to successful weight loss. As dietitians, we understand there are countless different lifestyle changes individuals can make to meet their weight loss goals, but it is necessary they have the motivation, and more often than not a trigger to their motivation, to modify their behaviors.

For the author’s own recommendations of an agnostic eating pattern he categorizes foods into a hierarchy of ten food categories (i.e. vegetables, fruits, dairy) in which we should aim to eat more of the foods at the top of the hierarchy and less of the foods on the bottom. This is more or less in line with the DGAs and our group agreed that they are sound recommendations that are inclusive and fit into most healthy lifestyles.

Potential Pitfalls

While we agree conceptually with the main themes in the book, we feel some people may be offended by the word “cult,” a strong word with negative connotations. Those who identify with certain diets, such as vegans or Paleo, may find this book to be a criticism of their lifestyle. Some people choose to immerse themselves in these communities of similar dieters where they can find support and inspiration. However, classifying all those who identify with a particular diet with an extreme label such as “cult” may be offensive to some.

Another caution, the book’s recommendations may not be enough for readers with specific weight loss goals or those with chronic diseases such as diabetes or heart disease. From our experience, many of these individuals need more structured guidance when trying to improve their health. Those needing to make positive changes to their eating habits to manage health issues or chronic conditions would also benefit from consulting with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who can provide a more structured, individualized eating plan.

We thoroughly enjoyed reading Diet Cults, particularly the in-depth history of many popular diets and how they rose to stardom. People who are already highly interested in health and nutrition or learning the history of diets and social eating patterns would really enjoy this book. Overall, we give it a two thumbs up rating.

Kristal Shelden, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Tags: Dietitians Book Review healthy eating patterns
Categories: categoryNutrition Education

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

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