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 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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Healthy Eating One Step at a Time

fork veggiesMaking 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.