Polenta Stuffed Peppers & Squash

September in Western Oregon is my favorite month in the garden because I finally get to harvest, harvest, harvest! This has been a great year for peppers, squash (summer and winter), green beans, tomatoes, eggplant, onions, herbs and really everything else I planted.

I’ve been on a polenta kick lately (Southerners know them as grits) so I began with a recipe from Vegetarian Southwest: Recipes from the Region’s Favorite Restaurants, changed it up a bit and ended up with some delicious results.

It started with my garden peppers and straightneck squash:

garden pepperssummer squash

I cut the tops of the peppers, discarded the stem but saved the lids. I then cut the squash in half and used a melon baller to scoop out and save the inside of the squash.

ready to stuff

Here is my version of the recipe:

1 cup uncooked polenta
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 small onion, diced
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1  – 4 oz. can fire roasted green chiles
1/2 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
4-6 sweet peppers and 2 large summer squash
Canola oil or butter
Fresh cilantro for garnish

Cook polenta according to package directions.  Chop pepper lids, scooped inside of squash and onions and sauté in oil or butter. Stir sautéed vegetables, cumin, pine nuts, chiles and the Montery jack cheese into the cooked polenta. Fill peppers and squash with the mixture and place in shallow casserole dish. Bake for 30 minutes at 350º F.

Remove from oven, top with cheddar cheese and bake until cheese is melted. Garnish with fresh cilantro right before serving.

Makes Approx. 4 Servings

ready to eat

And here is my dinner, complete with fresh garden greens. Yum!






Digging up Nutritional Roots (history, not vegetables)

20170730_181137Several years ago, as I was sorting through the books at a shop of old treasures near Santa Fe, New Mexico, I came across  a 1941 book titled “Nutrition and Physical Fitness” (3rd edition, W.B. Saunders). Written by noted Kansas State University* nutrition scientist, L. Jean Bogert, Ph.D., the book was not intended as a textbook, but rather, for the “adult with at least average intelligence, a fairly wide non-technical vocabulary, and a desire to have useful facts presented in the most direct manner.”

In other words, this book was targeted for the lay public — long before the shelves of bookstores were lined with diet and nutrition books.

Because nutrition is a relatively young science, this 76 year-old book is a potent reminder of how far nutrition knowledge and research have evolved. The B complex vitamins (there are 8) were lumped together as one “Vitamin B.” What we now know as the vitamin riboflavin was classified as “Vitamin G.” Several minerals, including zinc, selenium, chromium, and others, had not been identified as essential nutrients yet.

No mention was made of cholesterol and heart disease, the link between nutrition and cancer prevention, antioxidants, phytonutrients or trans fats. Instead, great attention was paid to Iodine deficiency and goiter (those were the pre-iodized salt days), vitamin D deficiency and rickets, and an almost obsessive concern with digestive difficulties, including an entire chapter devoted to correcting constipation!

The More Things Change . . .

More striking than the differences though, are the uncanny similarities of the nutrition issues and practices that continue to affect the health of Americans in 2017. Bogert expressed great concern regarding “the alterations in the character of the national diet.”

“The machine age has had the effect of forcing upon the peoples of the industrial nations (especially the United States) the most gigantic human feeding experiment ever attempted,” she wrote.
20170730_182053She saw the results as disturbing, mentioning specifically the over reliance on highly milled cereal grains, the high proportion of sugar in the diet, more highly refined foods, the decline in consumption of dairy products, eggs, fruits, and vegetables, and, in her words, “too prominent a place given to muscle meats.”

Her predictions, we now realize, have largely come to pass. Bogert’s words are sobering in light of the chronic diseases that continue to disable and kill Americans.  Obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and many types of cancer all have a nutritional basis. It’s no coincidence that the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans urge us to return to a diet that features more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean protein foods.

Advice For Children

In her “Diet for Children” chapter, Bogert again offers advice which rings true today. Years before the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) were established, she recommended children take in 880-1000 milligrams of calcium each day. (The most recent RDA for calcium advises 700 milligrams for 1 to 3 year-olds, 1000 milligrams for 4 to 8 year-olds and 1300 milligrams for ages 9-13). She also came close in her recommendation for iron, a nutrient that continues to concern modern-day kids. She advised 6-15 milligrams of iron per day for children, which corresponds closely to today’s RDA, which ranges from 8-15 milligrams per day, depending on age and gender.

According to Bogert’s recommendations, children of yesteryear were advised to take a daily dose of cod liver oil to meet vitamin A and D requirements. She likely didn’t realize this was also a good way for children to receive healthy omega 3 fatty acids, which are important for brain health and development.

Bogert also recommended that children eat plenty of fiber and drink enough water.

“Fiber is best obtained as an integral part of foods…in the form of fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods…,” she wrote.

Positive Feeding Strategies
The current thinking on behavioral strategies for feeding kids is not really so new either. Bogert alludes to the importance of parental role modeling in the following passage:

“Adults should be careful not to make disparaging remarks about certain foods before children. If everyone is accustomed to eat cheerfully at least a small amount of all the foods which come on the table, a better esprit de corps and saner attitude toward food will prevail. One will be surprised in such an atmosphere to see how food prejudices are gradually overcome and what it is possible to accomplish in learning to like many useful foods.”

And, she also addresses the issue of allowing a child to decide how much to eat:

“The safest general rule for normal children seems to be: make sure the diet contains plenty of the tissue-building materials and vitamins, and then to let the appetite take care of the quantity consumed.”

In other words, no forcing or mandatory “bite rules.” Not so different from the advice I recently offered here.

A Holistic Approach

Long before the terms “holistic” or “wellness” were coined, Bogert understood that nutrition was only one aspect of total health. With words that ring true for today – written in yesterday’s language – Bogert pretty much sums up our present-day lifestyle:

“Strain, worry, too little exercise and fresh air, lack of sunlight, hurry in eating, eating when tired, irregular habits, and insufficient rest are all such familiar evils that we fail to appreciate their significance and are inclined to accept them as inevitable. We need to recognize the fundamental importance of such factors in nutrition, and to endeavor to substitute favorable conditions for the present unfavorable ones.”

*In 1941, Kansas State University was known as Kansas State Agricultural college.












Smart Eating for a Successful School Year


Beginnings are a great time to review your child’s eating habits. A new school year offers opportunity for making some healthy changes that will impact your child’s performance, health, growth and even his or her mood.

For best results, involve your child and keep it positive by explaining how healthy habits can lead to success, whether in the classroom, on the playing field, or in the music room. Focus on the following areas and your child will be fueled for a year of success!


For optimal school performance, breakfast is a “must-have.” Whether your child eats at home, at school, or munches on a baggie of berries and peanut butter/whole grain toast at the bus stop, fueling up is a necessity to recharge brain cells to full capacity. While researchers can explain the scientific importance of breaking the fast, teachers can tell you firsthand about the impact breakfast-skipping makes on late-morning behavior and school performance. Kids need a balance of nutrients, so include sources of complex carbohydrates in the form of whole grains, a protein source (dairy and fortified soy beverages count too), and nutrient-boosting fruits or vegetables as part of the breakfast plan. A recent study showed that kids miss out on nutrients for the day when breakfast goes missing.

School Meals
Parents may be surprised to learn that in many cases, school lunch provides a wider array of nutrient-rich choices than a packed lunch. This is especially true when packed lunches contain highly processed chips, packaged cookies and crackers, white bread sandwiches and juice boxes. (see below for tips on packing a nutrient-rich lunch).

Ever since USDA revised the school meal regulations (which took effect in 2011), students have seen more fresh, healthy choices at school. School meals now include more whole grains, fruits and vegetables and less saturated fat, sodium and sugar.

Planning For Snack Attacks
Afterschool is when the appetite really kicks in for school kids. Children often head off the bus and straight into the kitchen. Take advantage of this hunger surge by offering plenty of healthy snack choices. Keep foods such as fresh fruit, cut-up veggies, string cheese, hummus, bean dips, yogurt, nut butters, and whole grain breads and crackers within easy reach. Add fresh citrus slices, cucumber or watermelon to a pitcher of water to encourage kids to drink water over sweetened beverages.

Family Meals
Family meals are a must-have for healthy, well-adjusted kids. When families make the time to sit down and eat together at home, everyone tends to eat better. Kids and teens who eat with their family a few times each week tend to do better in school and even get into less trouble. Plan ahead for those times when family activities leave you scrambling to get dinner on the table. Prepare healthy soups, stews, lasagna and enchiladas in double batches and freeze, or serve sandwiches on whole grain bread with simple side dishes such as fruit, salads and yogurt.

Finally, remember that parents are the ultimate role models for healthy habits. Make nutritious, whole food choices part of your daily routine and your children will become better eaters as well.

Packing a Nutrient-Rich Lunch

Colorful, Varied, Fun – these are the ingredients for a lunch that will please your child. Think beyond the nut butter sandwich to include a variety of kid-friendly foods that will end up in your child’s tummy instead of the garbage. The tips below will get you started.

Kids like compartments
Bento boxes or other divided containers are popular with kids and a perfect way to insure variety. Make sure to include an ice pack or frozen food item. Include at least 4 food groups in every lunch:

  • Colorful vegetables such as snap peas, carrots, celery, grape tomatoes, pepper strips, cucumber or zucchini slices, broccoli or cauliflower florets, spinach leaves
  • Easy-to-eat fruits like pineapple chunks, apple slices, grapes, kiwi slices, avocado chunks, cut-up melon and berries, clementines
  • Protein such as tuna pouches, natural deli meats, natural jerky, hard boiled eggs, string cheese, yogurt, nuts, seeds, hummus, edamame, or sunflower seed butter
  • Whole grains including the whole grain versions of crackers, flatbread, mini-bagels, pasta/quinoa salad or whole corn polenta squares served with salsa.

Kids like to have a say
Be sure to involve your child in lunch prep duties. When kids are in on the planning, they are much more likely to eat and enjoy lunch. This is also a great opportunity to teach your child about nutrition, budgeting and food safety.

Thinking ahead to cooler days
As the weather cools, there are many hot dishes that can be included in a thermos such as soups, stews and whole grain pasta dishes. Kids look forward to having warm foods as a part of their lunch and it’s also a great way to use up leftover favorites.


The “Rule of 3” for a Better Breakfast

School’s out for the summer but that doesn’t mean breakfast should take a vacation.

hummus fruit whole grain breakfast

Most kids and adults fall short when it comes to eating enough whole fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Breakfast provides a great opportunity to squeeze in more healthy foods and boost overall nutrient intake. To achieve a breakfast meal with an optimal balance of nutrients, follow the Rule of 3:

Rule 1

Include one serving of a protein-rich food such as eggs, lean meats, beans, nut or seeds (and their butters) or protein-rich dairy sources such as milk, yogurt or cheese. Protein stabilizes blood sugar, delays hunger and provides the building blocks for body growth, maintenance and repair.

  • A serving is 1 egg, ¼ cup beans, 1 tbsp. nut butter, 2 tbsp. nuts or seeds, or 1 oz. lean meat. For dairy, it is 8 ounces of milk or regular yogurt, 5-6 ounces Greek yogurt or 1.5 ounces of cheese.

Rule 2

Add a serving of whole grain to supply sustained slow-release energy, fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, iron and other trace minerals.

  • A grain serving is considered 1 ounce. Examples include one small slice of whole wheat bread, a 6 inch whole corn or whole wheat tortilla, ½ cup cooked oatmeal or 1 oz. low sugar whole grain breakfast cereal (varies by product, check the label to determine the serving size).

Rule 3

Incorporate a minimum of ½ cup of a colorful, nutrient-boosting fruit or vegetable to strengthen the immune system with vitamins A & C, potassium, and folate, as well as hundreds of additional phytonutrients and antioxidants.

  • Examples of a 1/2 cup serving include 1 small orange, 16 grapes, 4 large strawberries, 1/2 cup fresh salsa, 1/2 cup roasted sweet potatoes, or 1 cup chopped spinach. 

Mix & Match Your Morning Menu 

The table below provides simple “mix and match” menu ideas packed with nutrient-rich foods. Variety is the key when designing a breakfast that will supply enough energy to last throughout the morning.

Choose a food from each column to build a delicious “rule of 3” menu with the perfect mix of nutrients.

Protein or Dairy

Whole Grain

Fruit or Vegetable

Cheese – string,
sliced or grated

Whole grain granola






Quinoa flakes

Berries, fresh or frozen


Whole corn grits (also known as polenta)

Cherry tomatoes

Lean ham or sausage

Whole corn or flour tortilla



Whole grain
homemade muffin
Most commercial muffins are essentially cupcakes! Try my blueberry muffins or other lower sugar recipes.

Fresh Salsa


Whole grain mini-bagel

Melon slices

Nut and Seed butters
Peanut butter
Almond butter
Sunflower seed butter
Cashew butter

Whole grain ready-to-eat cereal
Look for a product with the first ingredient(s) as whole grains, at least 3 grams dietary fiber and 6 or fewer grams of sugar per serving.

Pear, peach or apple slices

Refried beans

Whole grain toaster waffle

Pineapple chunks

Sharp cheddar, grated

Whole wheat Pita bread

Potatoes with skin, baked or roasted


Whole grain toast

Sweet potatoes, baked or roasted

Cottage cheese

Whole grain English muffin



Eating a Loaf of Bread a Day!

Could you eat a loaf of bread every day for 90 days? Would you even want to? Yes, I know it sounds crazy and as a dietitian, not something I would generally recommend. Enter Lin Carson, Ph.D. She is a Portland based food scientist, mom and triathlete who runs the company Bakerpedia, a fantastic resource for the baking industry. She knows about all things baking! And Lin was tired of hearing about how wheat, gluten and bread are allegedly bad for everyone’s health.*  So she decided to fight back and begin an experiment (on herself) to see what would happen if she ate a loaf of bread every day for 90 days.

Lin contacted me before she began this journey and after my initial shock, I agreed to help guide her meal planning. I advised her to have labs drawn before this started and she weighs herself weekly. Follow her journey at www.eatbread90.com. She is also recording podcasts and you can hear my assessment on her progress below. (I join the conversation around 10 minutes, 40 seconds).

*For those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance/sensitivity, avoiding wheat and gluten are medically necessary. Lin’s talking about everyone else.

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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