Author Archives: eversc

Yogurt and Kids: A Winning Combination

I’m a big fan of yogurt and I frequently recommend it to both the big and little kids in my practice. I also eat it daily, enjoying it as part of breakfast, snacks, dips, dressings and even dessert. So I was pleased to discover more about the science thberries-1846085_1920at supports the role of yogurt in the health of kids. At the recent International Conference on Nutrition & Growth 2017, the Yogurt in Nutrition Initiative sponsored a symposium on how yogurt could improve the health in children.

Below are some key take-away points from the symposium that will inspire you to add more yogurt to your family’s weekly diet.

Yogurt Eaters Have Better Diets

Studies show that kids who eat yogurt on a regular basis also have better overall diets. In other words, eating yogurt is a marker for improved diet quality. Children who eat yogurt at least once a week also eat more fruit and whole grains compared to kids who eat yogurt just 1-6 times per year. Frequent yogurt intake is also associated with fewer calories coming from saturated fats and added sugars.

In another study, it was no surprise that kids who eat yogurt take in more key nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D, protein, and potassium.

Improved Heart Health

Reducing the risk of heart disease begins in childhood and studies from both the U.S. and Europe show reduced diabetes and cardiovascular risk factors in kids and teens who include yogurt in their diet.

  • Data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that children ages 8 to 18 who ate yogurt were slimmer, had a lower BMI and less body fat than those who did not include yogurt in their diet.
  • Similarly, the HELENA* study of European adolescents found an inverse association between consumption of yogurt and some cardiovascular disease risk factors, especially total and abdominal excess body fat.
    *Healthy Lifestyle in Europe by Nutrition in Adolescence
  • The NHANES study also found that eating yogurt more than once a week is also associated with an improved insulin profile in children and teenagers. Yogurt eaters have a lower fasting insulin level, lower insulin resistance, and higher insulin sensitivity.

Surprising Findings for Sugar Contribution

While yogurt has been criticized for contributing added sugars to the diet, the overall contribution of sugar from yogurt is less than 8% among children.  Current U.S.  food labels make it difficult to decipher how much of the sugar is inherent in the yogurt and how much is added. Even plain, unsweetened yogurt contains natural lactose so not all of the sugar on the Nutrition Facts label is from added sources.  Fortunately, the 2018 Nutrition Facts label will separate naturally occurring from added sugars.

When counseling kids and teens, I often encourage them to use their added sugar allowance on nutrient-dense foods such as yogurt instead of empty calorie, high sugar foods and beverages.  For instance, sugar-sweetened beverages, candy, desserts and pastries all contribute calories and sugar but few other nutrients.  Flavored yogurt is an example of a nutrient-dense food that also contains added sugar and thus represents a better use of the “added sugar budget,” which the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 defines as 10% of total calories.

Of course, there are many yogurt options on the market, including many with no or minimal added sugars. I always encourage parents to offer plain yogurt to children and also use it as a base for savory dips and dressings.  Greek yogurt is generally higher in protein and lower in added sugars.


The best news is that yogurt is a versatile and delicious favorite of kids and teens.  From snacks to smoothies, breakfast to sports recovery, yogurt in its many forms is always a great nutrient-dense and health promoting option.


Disclosure:  I was compensated for this blog by the Yogurt in Nutrition Initiative. All views are my own.


Blueberry Lemon Muffins

blueberries from freezer

These whole-grain muffins are so delicious, kids will never suspect they are loaded with healthy ingredients! Each muffin contains a little over 5 grams of added sugar*, far less than you would get in a commercial variety.

*Added sugar does not include the naturally occurring sugar found in the berries and yogurt.

1 cup fresh, frozen or canned blueberries, rinsed and drained
1 ¼ cups whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup quick cooking oats
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs
1 cup Greek lemon yogurt
(if using the individual cartons, it will require about 1.5 containers)
¼ cup canola oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Use a non-stick muffin pan or paper muffin liners. (I prefer to use the silicone mini-muffin pans). Mix flour, sugar and baking powder in large mixing bowl. In another bowl, beat eggs and mix in yogurt and vegetable oil. Stir into dry ingredients…

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Healthy Eating One Step at a Time

fork veggies

Making food choices you can live with is the key to long term health

March is National Nutrition Month®, which is a great time to reflect on your eating habits and set some goals for long term, sustainable changes. This year’s theme is “Put Your Best Fork Forward.

But let’s be honest. Most of us are falling short when it comes to eating well on a daily basis.  According to the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, almost 75% of the population has an eating pattern that is low in vegetables, fruits, dairy, and oils while the majority of Americans of all ages exceed the recommendations for added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium.

Reversing well-entrenched habits isn’t always easy but the benefits are well worth the effort. Improved energy, better school, sports and work performance, and less chronic disease are just a few reasons to focus on nutrient-dense food choices. Below are some simple steps to get you started.

Start by writing it down
Write down everything you eat and drink for a minimum of two week days and one weekend day. Honesty is the best policy here and you don’t need to share with others (except your dietitian ).  You will soon start to see patterns emerge. Are you skimping on whole grains? Eating only beige or white foods? Skipping meals and then over-indulging later in the day? Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages to quench thirst? Packing in too many snacks before bed? Dining at the drive-thru? You get the idea.

Pick One Thing
Don’t try to overcome every bad eating habit at once. Your habits took years to build so don’t expect an overnight overhaul. In fact, by approaching change in a steady, step-wise manner, your new routines and habits are more likely to stick.

Set a goal
Once you have identified problem areas, set small goals for improvement.  In my work with kids and teens, I use the following S.N.A.C.K. system for setting goals.

S = Small
Is this goal small enough so that I can meet it in a short period of time?
N = Needed
Is this a change that I need to make for better health?
A = Achievable
Can I achieve this goal? Will I need the help of others to meet this goal? Is it a goal that I can really accomplish?
C = Can I Count it?
Is this goal written in a way that I can count and measure my progress?
K = Know-How
Do I know enough to succeed at meeting this goal? Where would I find more information on this topic?

Together, we brainstorm examples of S.N.A.C.K. goals. Kids always have lots of great ideas! Here are some real-world examples from the children I work with:

  • Try at least two new fruits this week.
  • Eat breakfast before school every day this week.
  • Choose an after-school snack that has at least two of the major food groups.
  • When you are thirsty, drink water instead of sweetened drinks at least 5 times this week.
  • Order a side of apple slices, raisins, carrots, or salad instead of French fries at least once this week.
  • Drink or eat three servings of dairy foods (1% milk, low-fat yogurt, cheese, or fortified soy beverage) every day.
  • Eat one more serving of whole grain each day. (read labels to find out which foods have a whole grain listed first in the ingredient list).
  • Eat at least one cup of green vegetables every day this week.
  • Visit the grocery store and identify at least two new fruits or vegetables to try this week.goalsetting

To make it easy, download my goal setting monthly calendar. It’s a great way to start with small changes, track progress, set (and reset) your goals and build on your success.

Make it a Group Effort
Making better food choices works best when the entire family gets involved. Children are still in the process of forming habits so positive adult role modeling can be very powerful. If everyone agrees on a goal, it’s also easier to plan menus, shop, cook and agree on timing for family meals.

Best of all, seeing your progress towards healthier eating is both motivating and habit-forming! By making small changes, step by step and week by week, your family will soon be on the way to improved eating habits, more energy and better health.

More about National Nutrition Month®
National Nutrition Month® is a nutrition education and information campaign created annually in March by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Visit for nutrition education resources, tips, videos, blogs and more.

Flavor your February with delicious heart-healthy Foods

Celebrate American Heart Month with flavor-filled, colorful foodsraspberries-in-heart-shape

February is American Heart month, which is a great time to revisit your lifestyle habits and set goals for adopting heart healthy habits. Heart disease remains the leading killer in the US for women and men alike. We also know that heart disease begins in childhood so adopting healthy family food habits early in life is especially important.

My philosophy about heart healthy eating is a simple one. Eat nutritious foods that look good, taste good and bring enjoyment.

Steer clear of ready-made and fast foods that derive engineered “flavor” from dangerous combinations of fat, salt and sugar. Teach your kids to enjoy real, whole foods and avoid the marketing hype that kids will only eat “kid-friendly foods” such as chicken nuggets, greasy pizza and French fries.

Fortunately, eating well does not mean giving up delicious foods. My favorite eating plan is the Mediterranean diet because it features heart-healthy foods that are packed with color and flavor. The core of this eating plan centers on fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, flavorful herbs and spices, and healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados.  Add seafood, poultry, eggs and low-fat dairy to round out most of your meals. Oldways: Health through Heritage has produced a Mediterranean pyramid that illustrates this eating plan in vivid mouth-watering colors.

A Day of Heart healthy meals

Another benefit of the Mediterranean diet is the focus on simple, whole ingredients. You don’t have to be a gourmet cook to assemble a day’s worth of meals and snacks. I’ve provided examples below of how even a “non-cook” can pull together a day of heart-healthy eating.

Start your day with a bowl of oatmeal or hot multi-grain cereal topped with colorful berries, a sprinkle of cinnamon and a tablespoon of walnuts. Add a dollop of Greek yogurt and a teaspoon of natural sweetener such as honey, agave nectar or real maple syrup.

Make fresh vegetables the star attraction of your midday meal. Start with a plate filled with colorful salad greens and add additional fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, pepper strips, avocado chunks, red onion rings, grated carrots or other favorite and/or accessible produce. Top with a 1/4 cup of canned beans (drained and rinsed), a sprinkle of sunflower seeds and an ounce or so of your favorite natural cheese. Lightly spray with olive oil, add oregano, basil or other herbs and finish with a sprinkle of red wine or balsamic vinegar. Serve with a whole grain roll.

Sauté fish fillets* (e.g. wild salmon, trout, U.S. farmed tilapia, halibut, etc.) in a tablespoon of olive oil for 3-5 minutes per side (until fish just “flakes”). Top with lemon and fresh herbs (romediterranean-foodssemary, basil, parsley, cilantro, etc) or use your favorite fresh salsa as a topping. Serve with baked or roasted sweet potatoes and steamed asparagus spears. For dessert, enjoy an ounce of dark chocolate or a mug of homemade cocoa (made with 1% milk) with pear, apple or your favorite fruit slices.

*For a guide on choosing safe, sustainable fish in your area, see

Keep snacks small, yet satisfying. Toast a piece of hearty whole grain bread and top with almond or sunflower seed butter. Other ideas: a small container of plain Greek yogurt mixed with banana slices or a handful of pistachios paired with 2 fresh clementines.

Healthy Holiday Swaps

Lighten up your holidays with healthy treats and fun physical activity!

You don’t have to give up treats entirely or feel guilty about an occasional over-indulgence this season. The key to keeping holidays both healthy and fun is to strike a balance.  Below are a few swaps that will keep your holidays healthy without fear of morphing into the “Nutrition Grinch.” 

One of my holiday favorites is an eggnog latte. The problem is that even so-called “lite” eggnog is still loaded with calories and sugar. The key is to enjoy this seasonal treat in smaller amounts.

Adults can order the smallest size latte and ask that it be cut with fat-free milk. Better yet, buy a carton of “lite” eggnog and add a dash to your morning coffee. Eggnog is only available for a short time so enjoy it while you can.

For kids who enjoy eggnog, consider using it more as a flavoring with fat-free milk. Mix  2-4 ounces of  “lite” eggnog with 4 ounces of fat-free milk for a holiday treat. Your child will still be getting calcium, vitamin D, protein, potassium and all the other important nutrients found in milk.

Gingerbread Houses
Kids love to create gingerbread houses. Add a healthy twist by having your kids* construct mini-houses made of graham crackers, peanut or almond butter (instead of frosting) and dried fruit pieces, walnuts, almonds, pecans and other nuts. For color, add just a few candy pieces.
*Note: nuts and dried fruit can pose a choking hazard for children under the age of four. 

Holiday Tortilla Chips
Put those holiday cookie cutters to a healthier use by making your own tortilla chips. Start with whole grain tortillas and cut out reindeer, menorahs, stars, Santas, or other holiday shapes. Spray both sides lightly with canola oil spray and bake 5-7 minutes in a 400º oven. Serve with bean dip, guacamole or hummus.

For a quick and easy guacamole, add 1 tsp. fresh lime juice, 2 T. prepared salsa and 2 T. black beans to one peeled and seeded avocado. Ask your child to help measure the ingredients and mash it up with a fork or potato masher. 

Reindeer Freindeer-sandwichace Sandwich
Make everyday food fun by adding a holiday theme.  Spread bread triangles with tuna or chicken salad. Ask your child to create a reindeer by decorating each triangle with two olives for eyes, a grape tomato for the nose, and two pretzel twists for the antlers. 

For many families, the holiday season evokes the smells and taste of delicious cookies and other baked goods. Baking cookies from scratch allows you to substitute more nutrient-rich ingredients such as whole wheat pastry flour, ground flax, oatmeal, pumpkin, dried fruit, nuts, dark chocolate and healthier fats such as canola oil.

Simplify Holiday Favorites
Often, less is more (and healthier too) when it comes to holiday dishes. Instead of green bean casserole, serve steamed frozen or fresh green beans topped with toasted almonds. Make your own cranberry sauce with less added sugar. Consider roasting fresh sweet potatoes instead of the marshmallow/syrup version. Make a simple brown and wild rice pilaf and offer whole grain rolls with your meal. 

Keep on Moving!
Time off from work and school is not a permit for parking on the couch. Build fun, active play  into every day. When watching sports, take a halftime break and  go shoot some hoops, toss a football or play in the snow with your kids.

Fitting in Family Meals

When you dish up nutritious food and share a meal, you serve as a powerful role model for positive eating habits and set the norm for how your children view both food and family.

Family meals provide much more than a nutrient delivery system. Your child’s overall development is spurred by a positive mealtime atmosphere and the traditions shaped through mealtime togetherness offer young children a sense of security.  By sharing the day’s events, expressing feelings, and listening to one another, children learn to communicate effectively in a non-threatening environment.

Studies show that mealtime rituals also add up to better health. Children and teens who eat with their families have higher intakes of vegetables, calcium, fiber, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, folate, and vitamins A and B6. Studies show that kids who eat family meals several times each week not only have healthier overall eating habits, they also perform better at school and are more likely to attain a healthy weight. Teens and tweens who eat three or more weekly family meals even have fewer high risk behaviors such as depression, substance abuse and disordered eating. According to research from Project EAT (Eating Among Teens) at the University of Minnesota, family meals are also related to higher academic performance, greater psychosocial well-being and a reduced risk of unhealthy weight control behaviors.

Sadly, too many American families opt out of the shared family meal experience.  According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), more than 30% of kids ages 12-17 rarely eat with their family.

Families often bypass sit-down, home-cooked meals because of stressed out schedules and impossibly busy lives. Drive through dining, eating on the run, or grabbing mall or ballpark food soon becomes the norm. A home cooked meal starts to seem like a Herculean task!

The good news is that preparing a tasty, healthy family meal doesn’t have to take hours. Simple, fresh, easy-to-prepare foods can make it to the table in minutes.


Clearly, those who eat together must also plan and organize together – it doesn’t just happen.  For families used to grab-it-‘n-go eating, freeway dining, or TV dinners with the TV, a return to the family table requires renewed priorities and commitment by all members.  Below are some tips for making it happen.

  • Even families with impossibly hectic schedules can squeeze in quick meals.  Hold a family meeting each week, deciding on the days and times that will work around soccer practice, piano lessons, concerts, night classes, and work schedules.  Jot down meals on the family calendar, just as you would any other scheduled event. It’s not just dinner that counts – shared breakfast, weekend brunch or even bedtime snack sharing all count.
  • Consider “faster” food at home. Keep ingredients on hand for quick, easy, healthy meals. For instance, stir-fried vegetables with lean meat, chicken, shrimp or beans over brown rice, quinoa, or whole wheat couscous can be prepared in under 30 minutes. Whole grain pasta with a marinara sauce, Parmesan and salad is a quick, simple supper solution. Keep healthy “quick grab” foods such as a container of fruit sections, raw sliced vegetables or bagged salad on hand for easy side dishes. Another strategy is to make extra when you prepare favorite soups, stews and other healthy dishes and freeze ahead for later use.
  • To keep mealtime positive, establish rules about proper topics and appropriate conversation.  Bringing up the broken lamp, call from the principal, or tantrum at preschool will inevitably lead to conflict (and indigestion).
  • Focus on each other, not the food.  Allow children to eat until they are full without forcing “one more bite” or a clean plate.  Most experts agree that children develop healthy eating attitudes when they can choose from a variety of nutritious offerings – and not by force or coercion.
  • While most discipline should be reserved for another time, it is OK (and sometimes necessary) to deal with unacceptable mealtime behavior.  Asking a disruptive child to leave the table for a short period says to the family that you care about the ritual of eating together in a positive, peaceful manner.
  • Don’t forget to make mealtimes fun!  Laugh together, share funny stories, wear quirky clothes, celebrate your cultural/ethnic heritage, or start your own silly traditions.  Aside from the joy that mealtime sharing brings today, you will also fill your child’s memory bank with the special thoughts that only family togetherness can bring.

If you are interested in more information and materials that promote shared meals, be sure to check out the Oregon Shared Meals Initiative launched by the Nutrition Council of Oregon.

Source: Blogs | Pediatric Associates of the NW

It’s Apple Time!

I recently wrote about two of my favorite fall foods – apples and butternut squash.  So I was delighted to receive samples of a new variety of apple grown here in the Pacific Northwest.  The Autumn Glory apple is a healthy treat that somehow has naturally achieved subtle notes of caramel and cinnamon.autumn-glory-fall

I was curious to see how this variety was developed so I did a bit of apple genealogy research. Autumn glory’s “parents” are Fuji (a sweet and crisp cultivar) and Golden Delicious (yellow and sweet).  This also explains the vibrant red and yellow colors of the Autumn Glory.

The Autuautumn-glory-with-pbmn Glory apple pairs well with nut butters, resulting in the perfect fall snack for kids.  In my work with families, I like to emphasize the importance of using snack time  as an opportunity for adding to the daily fruit or vegetable tally. Most kids require at least 2 cups total fruit each day and a medium sized apple will meet half this requirement.  Apples are also a great way to add much-needed fiber to the diet so make sure to enjoy the skin as well as the flesh.

Are you an educator interested in featuring apples as part of your curriculum? The California Ag in the Classroom has a great list of apple themed books for use in elementary classrooms.

Disclosure:  I received a sample box of Autumn Glory apples.  All opinions are my own and I received no cash compensation for writing this blog.
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