Keep Calm and Slow-Cooker On

By Christie Caggiani, RDN, LDN, CEDRD

Photo Courtesy of Cooking Light
Photo Courtesy of Cooking Light

And we’re off! The start of the school year has descended upon us in full force. Busy school days, and just-as-busy afterschool activities, practices, rehearsals (not to mention homework!), can quickly put even the most calm and organized mom in a bit of a time-crunch tizzy.   And though as I mom I aspire to be both calm and organized, keeping up with my kids’ lives, trying to manage my professional one and juggling normal day to day stuff quickly interfere with the ideal.   I usually employ the philosophy of quick-to-assemble meals that can make it to the table in 20 minutes. Yet there are plenty of days that I really want to walk into my house and have food magically appear on the table.   In fact, there are vivid and wonderful childhood memories I recall, coming home to the amazing smells of dinner. Mom had it covered and all was well with the world.

So the invention of the slow-cooker is nothing short of genius, bringing me back to the reality that my home really can smell nourishing and food really can be table-ready when we all roll in the door. And it’s not even a new concept, though some of the digital features on them are quite 20th century. How easy it is to forget the small kitchen appliance tucked away in my top cabinet. Out of sight, out of mind I suppose. I’ve recently resolved to more regularly reacquaint with this 6-quart beauty, and though you may associate it with only a few dishes, the possibilities really are quite vast.

And while this has obviously now saved dinner, one of my favorite slow-cooker benefits is the meals that follow. Lunch for your child’s thermos the next day, a meal you can re-purpose for tomorrow’s dinner or extra servings that can be divided and frozen for a future time crunch.   Not to mention that you can confidently answer the kids’ eternal question, posed the second they see you after school: “What’s for dinner?

One of our latest favorites is slow-cooker lasagna, and while I’ll include a recipe below, don’t be afraid to play with it. Throw in some layers of diced veggies, swap out lasagna noodles with spaghetti or macaroni, mix in some fresh herbs or throw in all the little bits of cheese you have hanging out in your fridge drawer. Something magical happens when you let all these individual ingredients slowly work together over a string of calm, uninterrupted hours. They come together and by dinner, these solo players have created an orchestra of nourishment. In fact, slow cooker meals really allow you to play in your kitchen in a different, less structured way. It’s such a fun way for your children to cook with you, and see how being in the kitchen doesn’t need to be intimidating in the least.


A couple of pointers for you to consider:

  1. Read reviews online to compare features, sizes and find the best prices.
  2. If you’d like to brown or sauté before switching to slow-cooker mode, seek out versions that can accommodate.
  3. Make sure it has a “warm” feature, which the cooker will automatically switch to once the programmed cooking time has ended. This ensures you won’t come home to an over-cooked meal, if you’ve had an extra long day.
  4. Include enough liquid to prevent drying or burning.
  5. Look for a cookbook and/or search for recipes online specifically designed for slow-cookers.
  6. Consider “building” the meal the night before. Prep all the ingredients in the crock, put a lid on it, then store in your fridge until you’re ready to turn that baby on and leave the house.
  7. Make certain the area around your slow cooker is free from “stuff” – nowhere that your pet can disturb and knock to the floor, and away from stray papers or plastic that may not do well around heat.

Now sit down, taste every steamy bite and relish the fact that your clean up will be minimal, you’ve saved electricity, and have warmed the hearts, souls and tummies of your whole family!


Slow Cooker Lasagna

1 pound uncooked whole grain lasagna noodles

1.5 pounds ground beef or pork

1 onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp Italian seasoning

1 ½ tsp salt

1 24-oz jar spaghetti sauce

8 oz tomato sauce

6 oz tomato pasta

3 eggs

1 15-oz container ricotta cheese

6 cups fresh spinach

2 zucchini, shredded or sliced

1 cup parmesan cheese

2 cups shredded mozzarella, divided

3 Tbsp water


In a large skillet over medium heat cook the ground beef, onion, and garlic until brown. Add the spaghetti sauce, tomato sauce, tomato paste, salt, and Italian seasoning and stir until well incorporated. Cook until heated through.

In a large bowl mix together the ricotta cheese, egg, grated Parmesan cheese, and 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese.

Spray the crock with nonstick spray. Spoon a layer of the meat mixture onto the bottom of the slow cooker. Add a layer of the uncooked lasagna noodles. Break to fit noodles into slow cooker. Top noodles with a portion of the cheese mixture. Next layer 2 cups spinach and 1/3 of the zucchini. Repeat the layering of sauce, noodles, cheese and veggies until all the ingredients are used. Top with remaining 1 cup of mozzarella. Drizzle water around the edges of the crock.

Cover, and cook on LOW setting for 5 to 6 hours.

Let sit for 30 minutes or more and then slice and serve.

Suiting Up For School

By Christie Caggiani, RDN, LDN, CEDRD

Photo Credit: adwriter via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: adwriter via Compfight cc

School shopping. Two words that come with a bundle of emotions, not the least of

which include excitement, frustration, anxiety and anticipation. As parents, it can

give us pause, as we stop for a moment and notice the speed at which our kids are

growing up. It’s amazing how quickly a school year flies, and more amazing still,

how fast summer seems to evaporate. And now it’s time to shop for school

supplies…..and new clothes.

Clothes shopping is one time when we have an amazing opportunity to dialogue

with our children about the normalcy of growth, bodies and change. While our

bodies as adults can fluctuate and continue to evolve, our kids’ bodies are

transitioning at a pretty rapid pace. It’s vital that we know how to support them

when they have questions, and it’s important that they understand we love them as

individuals, not based on any aspect of their physical appearance. And while that

may sound extremely logical, we need to be aware of the subtle messages we send

our kids. Don’t be surprised when they have grown out of their clothes, in many

cases needing new duds from just a few short months ago. Catch yourself before

commenting, “I just bought that. How come it doesn’t fit anymore?” implying that

she’s done something wrong simply by growing.

One of my very favorite articles discusses how to talk to – or not talk to – our

daughters about their bodies. Read on for some inspiration and reinforcement as

you work to support your own growing kids!

How to Talk to Your Daughter about Her Body

Step one: Don’t talk to your daughter about her body, except to teach her how it


Don’t say anything if she’s lost weight. Don’t say anything if she’s gained weight.

If you think your daughter’s body looks amazing, don’t say that.

Here are some things you can say instead:

“You look so healthy!” is a great one.

Or how about, “You’re looking so strong.”

“I can see how happy you are — you’re glowing.”

Better yet, compliment her on something that has nothing to do with her body.

Don’t comment on other women’s bodies either. Nope. Not a single comment, not a nice

one or a mean one.

Teach her about kindness towards others, but also kindness towards yourself.

Don’t you dare talk about how much you hate your body in front of your daughter, or talk

about your new diet. In fact, don’t go on a diet in front of your daughter. Buy healthy

food. Cook healthy meals. But don’t say, “I’m not eating carbs right now.” Your daughter

should never think that carbs are evil, because shame over what you eat only leads to

shame about yourself.

Encourage your daughter to run because it makes her feel less stressed. Encourage your

daughter to climb mountains because there is nowhere better to explore your spirituality

than the peak of the universe. Encourage your daughter to surf, or rock climb, or

mountain bike because it scares her and that’s a good thing sometimes.

Help your daughter love soccer or rowing or hockey because sports make her a better

leader and a more confident woman. Explain that no matter how old you get, you’ll never

stop needing good teamwork. Never make her play a sport she isn’t absolutely in love


Prove to your daughter that women don’t need men to move their furniture.

Teach your daughter how to cook kale.

Teach your daughter how to bake chocolate cake made with six sticks of butter.

Pass on your own mom’s recipe for Christmas morning coffee cake. Pass on your love of

being outside.

Maybe you and your daughter both have thick thighs or wide ribcages. It’s easy to hate

these non-size zero body parts. Don’t. Tell your daughter that with her legs she can run a

marathon if she wants to, and her ribcage is nothing but a carrying case for strong lungs.

She can scream and she can sing and she can lift up the world, if she wants.

Remind your daughter that the best thing she can do with her body is to use it to mobilize

her beautiful soul.

Sarah Koppelkam

How to Talk to Your Daughter About Her Body

Finally Free from Fruit Fears?

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks via Compfight cc

By Christie Caggiani, RDN, LDN, CEDRD

So you may recall my disclosure in a previous blog, sharing that my son is anything

but a fruit lover. He politely refuses whenever offered any – whether it’s the

sweetest, most amazing strawberry, or the crunchiest red apple. When he has tried

the occasional bite, his eyes water, he gags, and just can’t move beyond it. He’s

made it into his teens allowing only raisins, applesauce and an occasional juice into

his otherwise varied nutritional palate. While he enjoyed fruit as an infant and

toddler, something switched when he became a more independent preschooler, and

while I accepted that there must be a lesson of humor and irony for me as his

nutritionist-mom, I inwardly believed that he would just shift out of it as he became

older and around other kids who ate fruit freely.

While I’ve held onto that hope, I’ve become a little more concerned that the mood

may never just strike him out of the blue. I doubt he’ll wake one morning saying,

“Cool – today’s the day I’m super excited to try blueberries”, unless I give him a little

more assistance. And that help must somehow go beyond “just try a little bite”. A

wise friend and extremely gift occupational therapist, Wendy Chen-Sams, MS, OTR,

NDT, actually confirmed my suspicions. She said that the likelihood for young adults

to expand their palates greatly diminishes once these teens have left their childhood

home, particularly when there are strong aversions to flavor and/or texture, as is

my son’s case. Fortunately for him (and me!), he’s become more curious and

actually would like to explore and expand. He’s motivated to grow to his height

potential, and assist his overall health. Cool – the critical first step of motivation is


Wendy recommended that we not only move slowly, but also focus on only one

sensory area at a time. Since he seems to have some taste and texture aversions, she

suggested we begin first with introducing a new, mild flavor. Of particular interest

to me was the fact that colder fruits would be much less likely to trigger his gag

reflux, and will slightly numb the sensors so it’s less overwhelming — homemade

popsicles are going to be our new friends!

Our first step will be to combine familiar flavors – banana (which he loves in

pancakes & bread) and orange juice – with a new one, pear. Because we aren’t

exploring texture yet, we will be blending them together until smooth, then pouring

into popsicle molds. Once they’re ready to go, he will explore the taste receptors on

his tongue, particularly on the tip and sides. The receptors at the back of the tongue

are more sensitive, so we’ll gradually make it to those.

Once he’s tolerating (hopefully enjoying, too!), we will introduce some ever-so-

slightly larger pieces of pear within the pops, and graduate to even more texture.

As his acceptance of taste and texture improve, we’ll gradually introduce the same

pear flavor at refrigerator temp. The ultimate goal is for him to eat a pear or new

fruit without any processing. As important as it is for kids to repeatedly try new

and different foods as they begin to acquire a taste and tolerance, it’s also crucial

that we don’t try the new food every single day. A few times a week is just fine, says


So this is part of our summer adventure, and you can be sure that I will keep you

posted as it unfolds!


Of course there are a plethora of different sensory food aversions, and I am aware

that my son’s are quite mild. If you have a child struggling in a manner that is

interfering with his development or quality of life, it is crucial that you seek some

additional assistance, first checking with your pediatrician who may then refer you

to an occupational therapist, speech pathologist and/or registered dietitian who

specialize in this arena.


Two suggested reads:

Meals Without Tears: How to get Your Child to Eat Healthily and Happily,

by Dr.Rana Conway

Just Two More Bites! Helping Picky Eaters Say Yes to Food,

by Linda Piette

Avocado Accolades

by Christie Caggiani, RDN, LDN, CEDRD



Hardly mainstream when I was a child, these curious fruits have become quite the versatile and popular food lately, and for good reason. I’ve been experimenting with these green beauties, and have to say I’m so impressed with the results! There are some wonderful reasons to include avocado in your family meals, and extremely easy ways to do so.


Because its flavor is mild, it’s easy on young, developing palates, and the texture is silky smooth, allowing parents to introduce it as one of baby’s first foods.


There are many things that make avocados …. awesome:


Fat: The heart-healthy fat found in avocados is primarily monounsaturated, amazing for children’s developing brains and helpful for absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.


Fiber: This feature, along with the fat, assists digestion and can help children who struggle with constipation.


Vitamins and Minerals: Avocados offer some great potassium, an essential electrolyte that runs our heart and assists in healthy muscle development. Additionally, they contains some Vitamin K and Vitamin E, both fat-soluble vitamins that assist in healthy blood clotting and provide strong antioxidant properties, respectively. The B vitamins, including folic acid, help in maintenance of a healthy nervous system, and are a key to unlocking the energy that other foods provide.


Flexibility and Versatility: You can work an avocado into endless meals in so many different ways. It lends well to whatever flavors you pair with it, and can be a nice change from typical condiments, spreads or dips.

  • Add some cinnamon and applesauce to mashed avocado for a sweet snack
  • Combine it with some tomatoes, onions and peppers for a dip with a zing
  • Try spreading some on your morning toast, then top it off with an egg
  • Dice some into your favorite pasta salad


Here’s one of my latest finds:


Avocado-Egg Salad Sandwiches with Pickled Celery

To prevent avocado from browning in leftover egg salad, place any remaining salad in a bowl and cover surface with plastic wrap. Then cover the entire bowl tightly with plastic wrap.

  • Yield:

Serves 4 (serving size: 1 sandwich)


  • 6 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup mashed ripe avocado
  • 1 tablespoon canola mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons dry-roasted salted sunflower seeds
  • 8 (1-ounce) slices whole-grain bread, toasted
  • 1 cup baby arugula
  • 4 heirloom tomato slices


  1. Add water to a large saucepan to a depth of 1 inch; set a large vegetable steamer in pan. Bring water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add eggs to steamer. Cover and steam eggs 16 minutes. Remove from heat. Place eggs in a large ice water-filled bowl.
  2. While eggs cook, combine 3 tablespoons water, vinegar, and sugar in a medium microwave-safe bowl; microwave at HIGH 2 minutes or until boiling. Add celery; let stand 15 minutes. Drain.
  3. Meanwhile, combine avocado, mayonnaise, juice, mustard, pepper, and salt in a medium bowl, stirring well until smooth.
  4. Peel eggs; discard shells. Slice eggs in half lengthwise; reserve 2 yolks for another use. Chop remaining eggs and egg whites. Gently stir eggs, celery, and sunflower seeds into avocado mixture. Top 4 bread slices with about 1/2 cup egg mixture, 1/4 cup arugula, 1 tomato slice, and remaining 4 bread slices.



Sydney Fry, MS, RD,

Cooking Light

May 2015


What's the Dirt on Clean Eating?

What’s the Dirt on Clean Eating?

Christie Caggiani, RDN, LDN, CEDRD

The mechanics of nutrition are based on science, yet at every turn we hear new headlines and buzzwords that make it hard to distinguish the difference between true, research-based science and the latest fad. One such catchy concept is that of “clean eating’” heard regularly in gyms, on magazine covers and throughout social media. But what is it? And how do we navigate it when it’s aimed at our children?


The truth is, there is not a legal, objective, research-backed or even consistent definition to the term “clean eating”.   To some, it means avoiding processed foods. To others, it’s interpreted as low carb, no meat, no dairy, non-GMO or a combination of various nutritional bends.


There are, however, many unintended implications attached to using the word clean, leading us to feel a sense of purity, superiority, a kind of “you are what you eat” mentality that takes on a moralistic emphasis.


Photo Credit: Arya Ziai via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Arya Ziai via Compfight cc

There is a belief that if I eat this way:

  • I’ll be healthy, prevent diseases and have an ideal weight.
  • I’ll be okay, in fact because I’m eating ‘good’, I’m actually a good person.

And on the flip side, if I don’t eat this way:

  • I’m probably going to become ill, gain unsolicited weight, and be unhealthy.
  • I’m making ‘bad’ decisions, which means I’m probably bad.


For many, the path of clean eating is one that started from a positive place, where they wanted to improve their life, health or energy. This is truly an admirable thing, yet as we shift toward rigid ways of eating or behavior change, we begin a mindset and patterns that are anything but balanced. We give up experiences and social opportunities because of the need to comply with limiting eating rules.  We cut out


So as a nutritionist, I have had opportunities to work with individuals in the throws of self-proclaimed clean eating.  And while it’s painful to see the side effects of rigid eating rules in adults, it’s most saddening when children and teens become entrenched in it. Whether it’s through social media, friends, a coach or a parent, I’ve begun to see more young people following this good/bad food mentality and the results aren’t pretty.


Some of the considerations of ‘clean eating’ for kids (and adults, too!):

  1. Look at what’s missing: are certain food groups limited or completely avoided? While fruits and vegetables give us some carbohydrates, they in no way to can replace the vast benefits of grains. Kids in particular are growing and using energy and at a speedy pace, and they absolutely require regular replenishment of carbs to their body and brain.
  2. Too much of a good thing…isn’t. Focus on high fiber, for example, can be problematic for children, leading to digestive discomfort, diarrhea or potential constipation, but also interfering with the absorption of protein, fats and certain vitamins and minerals, such as iron.
  3. Limited eating patterns can not only disrupt brain function and overall energy, but also decrease our children’s ability to create hormones and progress on their normal path toward and throughout puberty.
  4. As we teach kids to eat based on rules of good / bad, they become further disconnected from their own bodies, the signals of hunger and fullness, and the awareness of their own individual preferences.   This also disengages them from the process of being an adventurous eater, and can create an overall sense of deprivation.
  5. The limited variety and over-focus on food can either set the stage for or activate a full-blown eating disorder.


There is certainly no perfect way of eating, much as there is no perfect body, career or person. When we label food as clean or good, unclean or bad, we’ve moralized it, and that’s a message that permeates deeply within our children’s impressionable young brains. Instead, let’s get back to food being simply food, providing a variety of enjoyable, nutrient-filled options and guiding our kid’s to trust their bodies, not a “foods allowed” list.

Expanding Kids' Autonomy with Food

Expanding Kids’ Autonomy with Food

Christie Caggiani, RDN, LDN, CEDRD

Photo Credit: Tetra Pak via Compfight cc


Parenting is all about guiding, providing, teaching with unconditional love.  And it’s also about allowing our kids the space to try, explore and figure things out so that they can eventually trust themselves to make supportive choices.  Not only these overall developmental themes, they are also completely relevant as kids personalize their own relationship with food, eating and connection with their bodies.  When our children are young, we are the gatekeepers of the food:  providing, preparing and presenting it in a reliable, and consistent manner 1.  And while we may still be paying the grocery bills and answering the age-old  question, “What’s for dinner?!” as long as our children are under our roofs , our kids pretty quickly begin to practice more and more independence and autonomy with their food.  Imagine, if you were still cutting your 15 year olds steak at the dinner table!  That seems ridiculous, yet we want to make certain that we are also giving our kids the space to explore and take charge in other ways with their eating experiences.  Particularly as our children explore the middle- and high-school years, there are endless opportunities for us to give them room to make more of their own food decisions.

Give suggestions not solutions

Our hormonal little teddy bears (often disguised as grizzly bears), typically don’t respond well when we try to solve things for them.  They may ASK us for the answers, but they really want to be able to make their own decisions, and yet know they need some input from us.

Instead of“Why don’t you ever eat breakfast in the morning? “

Try“I notice you’ve been talking a lot about how tired you are, is there anything you think might make getting up less brutal?” .   Then, rather than firing off 5 things you know would work, simply ask if he would like some suggestions.  Not only does this give you an opening to discuss simple breakfasts that can be ready crazy fast and keep his energy up, it also gives you some space to discuss time management and ways the family can work together to support each other.

Capture teachable moments

We may be acutely aware that certain patterns aren’t working well for our kids.  An extremely common pitfall is the post-school slump.  Not only do our kids come home worn out from thinking, they’re also really, really hungry.  Getting them to connect how the first half of their day plays a role in the second half is a really big deal.

Instead of:  “How come you’re raiding the pantry the second you walk in the door?” which is not only shaming, it completely cuts off communication.

Try:  “I’m not going to bombard you with questions since you seem like you don’t want to talk right now.  Do you need any help putting together a snack?”  Then once she has some food in her system, you might explore the timing of lunch and foods she could add to it or to breakfast to keep hunger from building to the tipping point after school.   Discussing food or patterns that aren’t quite helpful will NOT go well, if her brain is irritable and famished.

Give options and reinforce you trust them

If you have a child who struggles to make her own decisions, or turns to you for permission, practice turning the question back on her.  Remembering that there is no perfect eating choice can really take the pressure off.  If she asks, “Mom, can I eat something else?”….

Instead of:  And absolute “yes” or “no”

Try:  “You’re the best one to know if you’re still hungry, so go ahead and listen to what your body’s asking for.  There is absolutely more food, so help yourself.”

Photo Credit: adwriter via Compfight cc

Get curious

Encourage your kids to take an attitude of curiosity.   Since we know that calling foods good or bad creates an onslaught of judgment and distorted eating, it’s helpful to teach them to explore what’s working for them or not so much.  This can include them choosing a different / new food from the grocery store or getting curious about how long a bowl of cereal satisfies after breakfast, and how that’s different than eating an egg sandwich.  Their first-hand experience is priceless and will speak volumes over our well-intended lectures.  And this experience is precisely what helps them launch as well-adjusted, balanced and connected young adults.

1.  Division of Responsibilities, Ellyn Satter, RD

Color Me Red

Color Me Red

by Christie Caggiani, RDN, LDN, CEDRD 


As we enter February, we’re seeing Red around every corner.  Valentine’s Day and American Heart Month highlight the color, and give us a burst as the sometimes-drab days of winter continue to swirl around us.   Not only can our moods become a little blah this time of year, our food choices may become more monotonous as well.  By creating a theme, however, we can add a fun, proactive twist to eating, and bring more variety to our plates. What a great way to jazz up your kids lunchboxes, snacks or meals at home by picking a color theme– and what better color this month than RED!

Photo Credit: Kiwifraiz via Compfight cc

Our role as parent or provider is not to make sure our kids love everything they eat, but rather to present them with opportunities to explore food, develop their preferences, expand their comfort level around a variety of choices, and therefore become confident, competent eaters.  A color theme is one way that children can participate in the process, as they identify colors in the grocery store, find them in your fridge, and add them to their plate palate.  It also provides an opportunity for them to learn about the function of many foods.   For example, as you will notice below, many red fruits and veggies help promote heart health, so children can begin to connect the ways that foods work for them and support their bodies and brains.   If you are introducing a new food, make it fun and don’t be discouraged if they don’t enjoy it the first time around (or the first many times!). 

So roll out the red carpet and enjoy acquainting your family with some of these bright beauties: 

Acai: This berry from Central and South America is shown to have excellent antioxidant value, which may assist in heart health, decreased inflammation and decreased risk of some cancers.  Mix frozen acai in your blender with a splash of milk and banana, then top with granola, fresh fruit and shredded coconut for a colorful and satiating breakfast or snack. 

Cherries:  These succulent rubies give us great fiber, immune-helping vitamin C, and heart-happy potassium.  Slice up fresh or frozen cherries for a fun ice cream topping or substitute berries in your favorite recipe with equal parts (pitted) cherries. 

Cranberries:  Not only are they super for our urinary tract system, they may also help keep our digestive system protected from unhealthy bacteria and ulcers.   Pour a glass of cranberry juice, add some canned cranberries into a smoothie or mix some dried cranberries into your kids’ trail mix.

Raspberries:  Rich in vitamins C and K, and many antioxidants such as alpha and beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and choline,  these berries can help protect our heart and prevent certain types of cancers.  Fold some fresh berries into your favorite muffin or pancake mix, or keep frozen raspberries on hand to toss into a smoothie or oatmeal

Strawberries:  They are a good source of heart-helping folate, which decreases the risk of certain birth defects, and are a powerhouse of the antioxidant vitamin C, giving a boost to our immune system.   Sprinkle some strawberries on cereal or blend up some frozen strawberries in a milk and yogurt smoothie.  Or dip into some melted chocolate for a super satisfying snack!


Photo Credit: jetalone via Compfight c

Watermelon:  Despite popular belief that watermelon is made up of only water and sugar, it is actually considered a nutrient dense food, one that provides a high amount of vitamins, particularly A and C, mineralssuch as magnesium, potassium and zinc, and antioxidants, including high levels of lycopene.  Because it does contain 92% water, it’s also a wonderful way to help keep your kids hydrated.  Insert a popsicle stick into watermelon chunks for a fun snack, or freeze some watermelon balls to add to your kids’ water bottles. 

Beets:  With an earthy flavor that gets supersweet when cooked, beets are very nutrient-loaded, giving us 19 percent of the daily value for folate, necessary for the growth of healthy new cells.  Their rich color comes from the phytochemical betanin, which helps bolster immunity. Roast them, pickle them or shred them raw and dress them with citrus for a refreshing salad. 

Red peppers:  For the love of your eyes and your skin, include these vitamin A-packed foods.  Add a little crunch to your child’s favorite deli sandwich or have them taste test with peanut butter or hummus. 

Tomatoes:  These red beauties are heart protective and provide a great defense against prostate and potentially breast cancers.  Include a little more marinara sauce on your pasta or add some grape tomatoes into the lunchbox.  

Intentionally Living the New Year

Intentionally Living the New Year
By Christie Caggiani, RDN, LDN, CEDRD


The New Year naturally ushers in an urge to do things ‘new’.  We may have a surge of energy to re-new many aspects of our lives:  our organization, our sleeping patterns, our cooking talents, our parenting skills.  And just as quickly, our intense expectations overwhelm us, creating a feeling of failure before we even begin!  So how can we make improvements in our lives without setting ourselves, and our families, up for disappointment?

Photo Credit: kevin dooley via Compfight cc

Start by moving out of a goal-driven mindset, shifting instead into living with more intention.  Many goals are number driven, putting the focus on reaching a set number, rather than making manageable and implementable changes.   Not meeting that goal creates a sense of inadequacy, even if there was truly improvement.  If, for example, we stress our kids eat at least three veggies / day, they quite likely will meet us with more resistance than if our overall intention is to include more color in their lunchboxes and on the dinner table.   Some days they may have 1 veggie; other days they may try 4!  Neither makes them a failure or a success.


Being intentional includes being mindful.   We can’t make any changes if we aren’t aware of what is and isn’t working for us.  Take note of how many nights a week you eat dinner as a family.   Be aware of how hungry your children are after school.  Notice how repetitive your grocery shopping feels.  Once you tune into the eating rhythm in your home, you can begin to identify areas you’d like to consciously and gradually improve.


Then resolve to focus on the positive.  When we have more of a ‘get to’ attitude, we demonstrate that healthful behaviors are not an obligation, or a ‘have to’.   The kids get to help with dinner, get to set the table, get to put away clean dishes, or get to pick out a new fruit at the store.  That even goes for trying a new food – they get to have at least one ‘no thank you’ bite.

Photo Credit: via Compfight cc

Some general areas to consider as you intentionally move into the New Year:

  • Plan out some of your meals for the week
  • Plan to include leftovers
  • Jot down meal ideas as you see them on a menu, in a magazine, in your inbox (or download Plan to Eat, where you can collect any and all recipes found online), and keep a running list of your favorites
  • Move cut fruits and veggies into pretty glass containers, visibly in your fridge
  • Have your kids pick out a veggie or fruit to add to the week’s grocery list
  • Set the breakfast table the night before
  • Include your kids, as is age appropriate, in kitchen help
  • Have after school snack options ready to go


Wishing you a fun, mindful 2015, filled with learning and adventure!

Embracing Our Daughters: Supporting Them as They Enter Adolescence

Embracing Our Daughters: Supporting them as they enter adolescence
By Christie Caggiani

Photo Credit: ashley rose, via Compfight cc

Truly some of the most humbling moments as a professional come from teachable moments as a mother.  I recently had a conversation with a mom, as our nearly teen daughters were getting together for the day.  She was clearly concerned about her child’s blossoming body, and shared that she had told her daughter she was going to buy her a gym membership. That alone gave me pause, however, when my daughter later recounted that they were encouraged to go for a walk to burn off some calories, it shifted me into anger. Fortunately, the girls said they went outside because it was a beautiful evening and they had a lot of fun walking, but I realized that no matter how much I try to teach body positive attitudes, the forces in this world are challenging those messages at every turn.


It is critical that as our adolescents’ bodies begin to change, we are a solid, reliable resource and support system for them.  This is a time when they are uncertain about their physical self, how to act, and how to feel, so we as parents are key in letting them know these changes are normal and that they are exactly where they should be in their development. Our role is to help them connect with, listen to, and respond consistently to their body’s signals, whether their body is asking for food, sleep, activity, or a good cry.  Our role is NOT to control how their bodies turn out or interfere with their changing process along the way.


One of my favorite books on this topic, Like Mother, Like Daughter by nutritionist Debra Waterhouse, is one I would highly recommend to any female.  Not only does it help us understand what is happening in our daughter’s body, it gives us greater insight into how we can better equip our young women to avoid the traps of weight and food preoccupation.  To quell your fears, and give you some direction, remember the following:

What Society Wants You to Do

What Your Daughter’s Body Naturally Wants to Do (and what we can reinforce)

Mold her body into an aesthetic ideal Find a comfortable weight that is biologically and genetically right for her
Encourage dieting Eat enough food to supply her body with nourishment and fuel
Condition her taste buds Stimulate all of her taste buds and enjoy the taste of sugar starting in infancy, salt starting in toddler years, and fat starting in adolescence.
Feed her low-fat foods Consume enough fat for brain development and physical growth
Feed her by the clock Eat when her body tells her it’s time to eat
Enforce three balanced meals a day Eat small, frequent meals and snacks throughout the day
Provide a full-course dinner Eat as much as her body needs at dinner and have a snack at night if she’s hungry


Here are some other pointers that may be helpful as you assist your pre-teens and teens in their journey:

  • Just talk.  Share your memories of puberty, and use it as an opportunity to open dialogue.  Ask her if there’s anything she finds confusing, and encourage her to name her emotions.
  • Arm her with resilience to handle insensitive comments from classmates, well-meaning relatives, and friends.
  • Connect openly with other parents and ensure that they provide a similarly positive body attitude environment.
  • Avoid making comments that tell her she will be okay once she grows taller, loses some weight, or changes her body in some way.  She is exactly where she is supposed to be today.
  • Focus on the internal qualities that make up her person – her creativity, compassion, or strength of character.
  • Never, ever talk negatively about your own or anyone else’s body.  Period.
  • Enjoy food with your child.  Let her see you eat, savor, and enjoy meals and snacks.
  • Encourage movement as a way to connect with the body, unload some stress, and have some unstructured fun!  Never encourage exercise as a way to change the body, burn calories or lose weight.

Recommended reading: 

200 Ways to Raise a Girl’s Self-Esteem, by Will Glennon

Embody: Learning to Love your Unique Body, by Connie Sobczak

Like Mother, Like Daughter, by Debra Waterhouse, RD

Pumpkin-Applesauce Muffins

Even though Halloween has passed, we are still enjoying pumpkin! Take a peek at this delicious recipe from our contributor Christie Caggiani!

Pumpkin-Applesauce Muffins
From the kitchen of Christie Caggiani, RDN, LDN, CEDRD

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Servings: 12


Serve with a glass of milk or Greek yogurt, and banana or other fruit for a quick breakfast or snack!  These are even better the next day, and they’re a super way to jazz up your kids’ palate when you mix-in some fruits and veggies.



  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • ¼ cup applesauce
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • ½ cup canned pumpkin
  • ¼ cup chopped raisins (optional)
  • ¼ cup chopped nuts (optional)


  1. Preheat an oven to 400 degrees F.  Grease 12 muffin cups, or line the cups with paper muffin liners.
  2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin pie spice; set aside.  Combine the brown sugar, oil, applesauce, pumpkin, buttermilk, and beaten eggs and mix until well blended.  Pour the pumpkin mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until combined.  Fold in the raisins and nuts, if desired.
  3. Divide the batter evenly in the prepared muffin pans.  Bake in the preheated oven until the tops spring back when lightly pressed, 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool the muffin pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes before removing the muffins from the pan.


Other mix-in options: dried cranberries, granola, apple pieces, chocolate chips, pumpkin or sesame seeds, shredded carrots or zucchini, peanut butter….or get creative and try something new!