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.

Greek Yogurt Marinated Chicken

By Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services


To prepare for the upcoming school year, I’ve been trying to focus on finding meals I can make ahead and then have ready to heat and eat during the week.  This yogurt marinade recipe is my recent favorite because in addition to a marinade for chicken, I’ve also used the recipe as a sauce or even dressing for other meals and side dishes. It keeps chicken moist–whether grilled or baked–and is a tangy and fresh compliment to seasonal veggies and sides!



Makes 4 servings (marinates 4 chicken breast fillets)

2 cups Greek yogurt, plain

2 tbsp honey

1 medium lemon, juiced

1/4 cup cucumber peeled and diced, finely

2 medium strawberries diced, finely

1/4 medium onion, diced

1-2 cloves garlic, made into paste

1 tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper



1. In medium bowl, stir to combine yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice and honey.

2. Dice onion, cucumber and strawberry. Paste garlic. Combine all with yogurt mixture.  Season with salt and pepper.

For Marinade: Pour into gallon-sized ziplock to cover chicken breasts and squeeze bag to coat chicken.  Allow to marinade in refrigerator overnight. Grill or bake chicken to desired doneness, checking for an internal temperature of 165F.

For Sauce: Chill yogurt mixture in airtight container and enjoy with veggies, grains, salads or proteins as a dipping sauce or dressing.



Crowd Pleasing Veggie Burgers

By Brenna O’Malley and The Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services Team


In search of a meatless option for a crowd or just an alternative to packaged veggie burgers with lots of extra ingredients? This easy make-ahead recipe is perfect for a quick weeknight dinner, a salad or lunch topper, or a great way to get some protein and veggies into your day! These are crowd pleasing veggie burgers because your whether your friends are meatless, gluten free or particular about the veggies or ingredients they like, these burgers can be adapted to fit your guests’ palates!

Yields ~8 patties


1 can black beans, mashed

½ medium onion, diced

1 large carrot or 1 cup baby carrots, grated or diced finely

1 (8oz) pkg of mushrooms, diced

1 medium red pepper, diced

1 cup oat flour (can be made by blending 1 cup oats)

½ cup quinoa, rinsed and cooked

½ cup sweet potato, diced and cooked

1 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

2 cloves of garlic, minced and made into paste

1 tbsp olive oil

2 eggs

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp red pepper flakes


Optional Add-ins:

1 cup sautéed spinach or kale, 2 tbsp chopped almonds, 1 tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce



  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. If you do not have roasted sweet potato or rinsed and cooked quinoa ready, prepare those now. Sautee onions, garlic paste, mushrooms and red pepper with tbsp. olive oil until veggies are soft.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and any optional add-ins you choose. Season to taste and mix well.
  4. Prepare a baking sheet, moisten hands with water and begin to tightly pack and shape patties for baking.
  5. Bake patties in oven for ~25 minutes, if your patties are thicker, flipping halfway through may promote even baking.
  6. Can be refrigerated for a few days or frozen to have on hand for the week. Enjoy!

Salmon Summer Rolls


By Nutrition Student, Deanna Ronne and Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services Team

These light, refreshing, and nutritious summer rolls are simple and fun to make, easily packed for lunch, or stored for leftovers, and even your kids will love them! Try keeping them in the refrigerator and eating them cold after a long hot summer day. Packed with protein and healthy fats from salmon and avocado, this roll will satisfy your hunger without making you feel too full.1

Rich in vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids, Salmon has many health benefits. One omega-3 in particular, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is the brain’s favorite fatty acid. A diet rich in DHA is associated with improved learning abilities and disease prevention.2,3



  • rice paper wrapper (find them in the ethnic foods section of your health food store. I recommend brown rice)
  • carrots
  • avocado
  • cucumber
  • spinach/spring mix/ lettuce
  • salmon

Optional Sauce:

  • ¼ cup soy sauce (reduced sodium)
  • 1 tbs honey
  • siracha sauce (to taste, 1 tbs for a mild sauce)

salmon roll


  1. In a bowl mix the soy sauce, honey, and siracha sauce. On medium heat, add the sauce to a pan with the salmon. Once cooked, set the salmon aside to cool off.
  2. Wet paper towels large enough to cover the bottom of your plate. Place a wrapper on the paper towel and dab it with another wet paper towel. (You don’t want to get the wrappers too wet, because they will break easily.)
  3. Place a handful of spinach in the middle of the wrapper and the rest of the ingredients on top.
  4. Wrap the roll: start by folding the shortest sides in. Fold the bottom up and roll up to the top.
  5. Enjoy! The optional sauce can also be used as a delicious dipping sauce.

salmon roll finished


  1. III, V. L. F., Dreher, M., & Davenport, A. J. (2013). Avocado consumption is associated with better diet quality and nutrient intake, and lower metabolic syndrome risk in US adults: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001-2008.
  2. Kris-Etherton, P. M., Harris, W. S., & Appel, L. J. (2002). Fish consumption, fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, and cardiovascular disease. circulation, 106(21), 2747-2757.
  3. Horrocks, L. A., & Yeo, Y. K. (1999). Health benefits of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Pharmacological Research, 40(3), 211-225.


Coconut Almond Crunch Granola Bars

By Laura Cipullo RD, CDE and Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services Team


From ready-made breakfasts to kids’ camp snacks, granola bars are a go-to choice for on-the-go moms and dads. What better way to enjoy granola bars, than making them yourself? They’re also a great way to get your kids involved in the kitchen!

Time: 30 minutes cooking, 15 minutes cooling

Yields: 10 bars


  • 2 cups oats
  • 1 cup almonds
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • ½ cup honey
  • ¼ cup nut butter
  • ½ cup dried fruits (raisins, craisins, dried cherries)


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Toast oats on baking pan for about 5 minutes, shake or stir the oats on the pan once or twice.  Pour into a bowl and set aside.

3. Coarsely chop the almonds and place onto the pan with the shredded coconut and place in oven for about 8 minutes, the coconut will start to turn golden and have a light aroma.

4. While the nuts and coconut are in the oven, pour the honey and nut butter (I used creamy almond butter) into a small sauce pan on medium-low heat, stir occasionally.  Simmer the mixture for 3-5 minutes until it is a medium golden.

5. Remove honey and nut butter mix from heat and stir in oats, almonds and coconut.  The mixture may seem dry, but should be evenly coated.

6. Sprinkle in dried fruits (I used a mix of raisins, dried cherries and cranberries) at the end of mixing.

7. Pour whole mix onto parchment lined baking pan or 8 x 12 cake pan and spread evenly.

8. Compress the granola mix so that there are not any spaces (this will prevent your bars from falling apart when you cut them).  You can use the bottom of another pan covered in parchment paper to flatten out the mix.

9. Wait about 10-15 minutes for mixture to cool before cutting into 1 x 4in bars.

10. Store in air tight container and enjoy!

Fun Adaptation: This recipe also makes a yummy granola! Just crumble the mix after it cools or chop into smaller pieces for a fun yogurt topping!

Panera Bread: How Head Chef Feeds His Family and Yours

By Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE and Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services Team


Looking to clean up your eating out? Panera has even more big news! The last time we talked about Panera, we were excited about their announcement to remove all artificial ingredients and flavorings from their menus by 2016, but Panera is not stopping there.  In mid-June, we had the opportunity to attend Panera’s Pantry, a pop-up space in Soho, only opened for two days. At their event the first night, Head Chef, Dan Kish, and Head Baker, Tom Gumpel, presented to us a demonstration and sampling of some new sandwiches and salad recipes from their upcoming Fall menu!

As we tasted, listened (and took lots of pictures of our plates!) Dan and Tom explained the trajectory of Panera’s journey and how they had designed the beautiful space where the event was held.  Displayed along the walls and shelves of the space were all 450 ingredients used in Panera’s dishes–the ones they love and the ones they are phasing out–total transparency.


Panera has been a leader in the food industry, from one of the first to announce their removal of articulate ingredients and flavors, to working with registered dietitians to formulate ensure their meals not only tasted great, but were balanced and provided healthy choices for a individuals and families eating out. We’re giving Panera another big thumbs up as they continue on their journey, and can’t wait to try what they come up with next!


But what does a Head Chef like Dan, feed his own family after feeding hundreds across America each day? We had the opportunity to catch up with Dan on his family’s favorite meal and what is important to him when making food choices.

MDIO: What’s your family’s favorite meal to make/have together?
Dan: Thanksgiving comes to mind first. That said, there occasions all year ranging from simple grilled bread panzanella enjoyed al fresco in the summer, to slow cooked meals on weekends in the winter that perfume our home with a delicious anticipation.

MDIO: “What’s your child’s favorite food at home?”
Dan: “Simple roasted chicken, roasted vegetables and really good artisan bread with butter.”

MDIO: “What are the most important things you look for when eating out or grocery shopping with your family?”
Dan: “We do our best to know who our food is coming from. Trusted sources are always the best.”

MDIO: “How do you get your kids involved in the kitchen and in learning about the foods that you and they are making and eating?”
Dan: “Our kids know and understand food because they were involved from a young age. When my children were little, we found it best to make them a part of the shopping process. Most effective was to go to local farmers markets and farm stands so they could engage with the people who grew, raised or harvested the ingredients that became the meal.
Salads are a great way to engage kids. Washing ingredients teach care. Making a simple vinaigrette teaches about ratios and balancing flavor and tumbling the ingredients together is fun.”

What we Learned at “Thinking Outside the Lunchbox”

By Nutrition Student, Deanna Ronne and Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services

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Are you at a loss when it comes to creative kid friendly food? Well, Dishing with the Media gave Mom Dishes it Out some fabulous new recipe ideas! We attended the “Thinking Outside the Lunchbox” event in SoHo a few weeks ago, kid’s cooking expert and professional chef, Cricket, along with 15 year old Season One winner of MasterChef Jr., Chef Alexander Weiss, introduced us to some fabulous recipes and parenting strategies. They shared ways to incorporate nutritious foods into more common kid-friendly recipes, and some new recipes for them to try! Most importantly they shared helpful ways to get kids, as young as 2 years old, excited about helping in the kitchen!

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The event began with samples of a refreshing green smoothie, “Nutribullet University Blast #2”, a delicious and nutritious summer snack for you and your kids. Even if you are dealing with picky eaters, you can show them how great it tastes by drinking it yourself! Cricket reminded us that the best way to promote healthy habits is to model eating behaviors yourself.

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Another great way to include unfamiliar foods in your kid’s diet is to incorporate them in recipes they are familiar with. Cricket and Alexander introduced us to two creative recipes using foods kids know and love with others they might be less comfortable with. Cricket’s “Broccoli Cheddar Mac and Cheese Cups” are the perfect way to sneak some veggies into a delicious bite of mac and cheese. They are fun to eat and easy to pack in a lunch box! You can even individually wrap them to freeze and use later on.

Tip from Cricket: Try cooking the broccoli in the same pot as the pasta (add it a few minutes after the pasta) to reduce dishes!

Chef Alexander uses a similar approach with his “Tofu Bao”, a recipe he created to mimic the Pork Sticky Buns many of us know and love. Instead of using pork belly however, he replaces it with tofu to create this tasty and easily packed lunch option.

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Chef Alexander explained how tofu is available in many varieties types of firmness, pre-baked, cubed, etc.  For those of you unfamiliar with tofu, it is a low calorie, high protein, soy-based product that can be used to replace protein and vegetables in many common dishes. Soft tofu can be blended and used to replace eggs in many recipes to make them healthier. (He advises not to use it in baking as it will make the desert too dense.) Because it is used to replace meat in this recipe, Chef Alexander recommends using a firm variety and to blot it to remove excess water before cooking. He also recommends a non-stick pan for searing tofu in his savory marinade. This sweet and salty dish was one definitely our favorite- delicious!

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Another one of our favorite recipes from this event is “Libby’s Veggie Confetti Dip.” It’s a great afterschool snack including a vegetable, protein, and dairy. Cricket showed us how Libby’s vegetable cups can be used to make a tasty dip using only a few simple ingredients: a microwavable Libby’s vegetable cup, yogurt, raisins, and herbs. During her demonstration, Cricket stressed the importance of getting kids involved in the kitchen and turning into a learning experience. Both Chefs agreed that “everyone can cook” so give your kids a task they can complete; an 8 year old can read the recipe out loud and measure ingredients, a 4 year old can use a plastic or butter knife, and even a two year old can help by tearing the herbs! Cricket believes that the more kids are involved in preparation, the more they will want to try the food. She also reminded us to give children “choice within your boundaries” by letting them choose the type of Libby’s vegetable cup!

Tip: This dip goes great with crackers, salmon, grilled chicken, burgers, and can also be blended in a Nutribullet to make a sauce.

We are so excited to get our very own Nutribullet and to recreate these recipes ourselves! All recipes from this event can be found here!

It Takes a Village – And Then Some!

It Takes a Village – And Then Some!

by Erica Leon, MS, RDN, CDN

While not easy, I somehow launched my children into college and beyond. With fellow empty-nester friends who are also health professionals and moms—one a nurse, one a psychologist—I took a walk down memory lane. We reflected on teaching children good self-care, particularly when they have health concerns related to food.

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks via Compfight cc


Peanut Allergy:

Carpooling was challenging enough, but when I thought three-year-old Thomas had shared my son’s peanut rice cakes, I panicked! Thomas was severely allergic to peanuts as well as tree nuts. Still parked at the nursery school, I hoisted Thomas like a football, screamed for the teachers, and rinsed his mouth, hoping I did not have to administer his EpiPen. He never ate any of the rice cakes, but I learned a valuable lesson on scrutinizing food items when you have or care for a child with allergies!

According to Hildie Kalish, RN, an elementary school nurse whose child has a severe nut allergy, “Keep your child safe by constantly checking and then rechecking ingredients in food products. Never assume an item is safe as it is not uncommon for food manufacturers to change ingredients or processing techniques. As soon as children are old enough to understand, teach them to read labels and avoid sharing food with other kids. When they are responsible enough, have them carry Benadryl and their own Epi-pen or Auvi-Q, and make sure they know how to use them.”


My nutritional skills were put to the test when I rescued ten-year-old Luke, my son’s friend, who was dizzy from playing baseball in the summer heat. Driving up with hydrating sports beverages and a mom’s wisdom, I remembered that Luke had an endocrine condition that made dehydration particularly dangerous. When a child exercises, their muscles generate heat, which in turn raises body temperature. The body cools itself through sweating, which must be replaced by fluid or the body will overheat.

Dehydration is more common in children, and young athletes are particularly prone to dehydration. Encourage your young athlete to drink fluids before, during, and after sports to prevent heat-related illnesses. Recommend fluid-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables and have your youngster carry a water bottle and drink a sports beverage when his/her physical activity level exceeds one hour.


I became a celiac expert when Rachel, a good friend of my daughter’s, was diagnosed. From that day forward, I stocked my cabinets with gluten-free items and helped her mom educate other parents about which foods to keep on hand for play dates.

 Merle Keitel, Ph.D, counseling psychologist and parent of a child with celiac, says,

“It is important to establish a support system that is aware of your child’s dietary restrictions and has food on hand that your child can eat if at their homes for an extended period of time.  In the case of celiac, fruits and vegetables work but if other children are having sweets, it is helpful for there to be chocolate or other gluten-free sweets so the child does not feel cheated and self conscious about being ‘different.’ Friends and extended family who are educated and willing to help can be a gift to the child with special dietary needs.”

Photo Credit: Whatsername? via Compfight cc


These real-life scenarios portray what can happen when a child has a chronic health condition. Says Kalish, “At school I work with families of kids newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I always say that education is key. I see parents overcompensating with extra treats for fear that their child will feel deprived. Diabetic children do not need extra treats. It is important to treat them like any other child and learn the merits of a healthy balanced diet with plenty of ‘everyday’ foods and occasional ‘sometimes’ foods.”

While we can try to protect our children from all types of threats, educating your child, caregivers, schools, and trusted friends about a chronic health condition is essential. Allow your child to take the reigns and manage his/her own health as soon as he/she are emotionally and intellectually ready. We want our kids to remember the lessons that we teach them at home, as they will eventually leave the nest.

Avocado Toast

Who doesn’t like toast for breakfast?  There’s toast with butter, toast with peanut butter but how about avocado toast?  We found this delicious recipe from Siggi’s Dairy.  Try this spin on toast – it’s a great way to start your day!

Siggi’s Avocado Toast

Makes one open face sandwich.

Courtesy of Siggi’s


  • 1 slice of whole-grain bread, toasted
  • ½ avocado
  • 3 tablespoons of Siggi’s plain-style yogurt (skyr)
  • 2 oz cherry tomatoes, halved salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp red chili flakes, optional



  1. In a small bowl, mash the avocado and yogurt together with a fork.
  2. Season with salt and pepper to taste if desired, season with red chili flakes.
  3. Spread the mixture on toasted bread and top with tomatoes.  Finish with a touch of salt.

Not a fan of avocados?  Try some other Siggi’s recipes for something new!