Family-Friendly Healthy Eating on a Budget

By Christina Wright-Yee, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Eating healthy on a budget doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming. By following these tips, you can be on your way to a balanced diet and budget!


  • Determine a food budget for your family. Use the Spend Smart, Eat Smart App to calculate your family’s weekly grocery budget to meet each family member’s nutrition needs and stay in budget!
  • Plan a menu based on your family schedule for a week at a time, building the menu around foods you already have in the house. Consider planning for left-overs for another night in the week.
  • Write down a list of all of your grocery items by category based on your menu. More trips to the grocery store can often lead to more impulse purchases. Grocery shop on a regular day of the week that works for you and your family, or for the deals of your preferred stores. Reading grocery flyers can help you determine what’s on sale and in season to help you create your grocery shopping list.


  • Eat before you shop. Going shopping while hungry often leads to spontaneous and unhealthy purchases.
  • Compare prices. Food items at eye level tend to be more expensive. Instead, look for store-brand version of the same products that tend to be more cost-effective. Look at the price per unit when comparing products to find the best value.
  • Reach for the back of food items in the produce, dairy and meat sections to get the freshest foods, with expiration dates furthest away.
  • Try other options in each food group:
    • Fruits and vegetables:
      • Buy fruits and veggies that are in season in their simplest form.  Pre-cut, washed and ready-to-eat foods tend to be more expensive.
      • Buy fruit canned in 100 percent fruit juice or canned vegetables with labels that mention low sodium or no salt added.
      • Frozen fruits and vegetables tend to last longer and are just as good for you as fresh ones.
    • Grains:
      • Pick whole grain options for rice and pasta, including:  whole wheat, brown rice, bulgur, buckwheat, oatmeal, whole oats and whole rye.
      • Buy oatmeal in bulk instead of pre-packaged sweetened versions. You’ll get more for your dollar and enjoy more health benefits too!
      • Look for breads in the clearance section. Freeze what you don’t use and pull out of the freezer as needed.
    • Protein foods:
      • Low cost protein options include: beans, peas and lentils. Limit pre-marinated meats as they tend to be more expensive and add more sodium (salt) to your diet.
      • Buy family-size or value packs of lean meats, such as chicken or turkey, and freeze portions you can defrost as needed.
      • Canned tuna and salmon stores well and are less expensive than fresh fish.   Opt for a canned version in water rather than one canned in oil. Check to make sure the can is BPA-free, is not dented or discolored, and is not bulging or cracked.
    • Dairy foods:
      • Choose low-fat (1 percent) or fat-free (0 percent) milk and reduced fat or low-fat cheeses.
      • Buy a larger container of yogurt and pre-portion the yogurt yourself, rather than buying the individual containers.
    • Other tips:
      • Drink water instead of sodas and juices.
      • Keep most of your shopping around the outside edges of the store, as it tends to be where the freshest and healthiest options are stored.


  • Keep it simple. Let kids dip their raw veggies into hummus, Greek yogurt or even light ranch instead of cooking the veggies.
  • Prepare double or even triple batches of vegetable soups, stews or casseroles on days you are less busy and freeze the leftovers to pull out for a quick meal on days you are short on time.
  • Cook extra meats and use it multiple ways during the week. For example, baked chicken can become shredded chicken to top a salad, put in a taco or in a casserole.

Remember, by portioning out your foods and focusing on healthy portion sizes, you’ll eat the right amount, which also saves money and your family’s health.

The MyPlate model shows a great visual way to balance food groups.


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Health Benefits of Winter Spices

By Joyelle Temming, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

As the days get shorter and colder, it’s always comforting to take in the fragrant smell of winter spices.  Cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and anise have aromas that are reminiscent of the holidays. It may surprise you that they have many health benefits too.

The winter season is synonymous with the common cold, so it’s a wonderful time to add spices to your diet that contain antibacterial properties and antioxidants that can help keep your immune system healthy! While spices should not be a substitute for medical treatment or prescription medicine under the supervision of a medical provider, incorporating spices into your daily cooking may help cut back on excessive sugar and salt as well as boost your overall well-being. All spices are naturally low in saturated fat and cholesterol and are a healthier alternative to sugar and salt to add flavor to your food.

Here are five common winter spices and their surprising health benefits:

  1. Cinnamon
  • Lowers fasting blood sugar
  • Provides relief from arthritis
  • Contains polyphenols that fight bacteria and boost your immune system
  • Lowers bad cholesterol
  • Contains antioxidants that help reduce oxidative stress that can contribute to the development of chronic disease
  • Contains four grams of fiber per one tablespoon of cinnamon
  1. Cloves
  • Improves blood circulation
  • Clears the respiratory passages
  • Improves digestion
  • Contains antioxidants, particularly a compound called eugenol that has been shown to have anti-cancer properties
  • Contains fiber, vitamins, and minerals such as manganese, vitamin K and vitamin C
  • Strengthens immune system, improves blood clotting, and maintains brain function
  1. Nutmeg
  • Nutmeg oil is a proven pain reliever
  • Soothes indigestion
  • Relieves insomnia and depression
  • Improves cholesterol levels and regulates blood pressure levels
  • Contains antibacterial properties with the potential to inhibit activity of bacteria that causes periodontitis and helps prevent tooth decay
  1. Ginger
  • Suppresses nausea
  • Reduces bloating, gas, and constipation
  • Minimizes menstrual cramps
  • Contains enzymes and antioxidants that help fight bacterial infections and boost the immune system
  • Fights inflammation
  • Aids weight loss and has promise in decreasing body fat by preventing overeating, improving energy levels and stopping fat generation in the body
  1. Anise
  • Contains antioxidants Vitamin A and Vitamin C
  • Excellent source of many essential B-complex vitamins such as pyridoxine, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin; contains minerals like calcium, iron, copper, potassium, manganese, zinc and magnesium
  • Has antifungal properties specific to candida, a naturally occurring fungus found in the throat, mouth, and intestines
  • Best natural source of Shikimic acid, which is used in the anti-flu medication Tamiflu
  • May have mild sedative properties for sleep

These spices can be a great addition to recipes during the winter when fresh produce is harder to find. To maximize health benefits, keep in mind that fresh spices are recommended over dried spices.

Try these seasonal recipes with your family to incorporate winter spices into your diet:

Chai Concentrate

4 ½ cups water

1 stick cinnamon

Fresh ginger, smashed (about 5 thin slices)

7 whole cardamom pods, smashed

2 whole star anise pods

10 whole cloves

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon orange zest

10 teaspoons loose tea or 10 tea bags

2/3 cup brown sugar

1 Tablespoon honey

1 Tablespoon vanilla


Bring water to a boil. Remove from heat.  Add all of the ingredients and let steep for 15-20 minutes.  Strain out the bags and spices.  Mix equal parts concentrate to milk. Will keep in the refrigerator for two weeks.

Whole Wheat Sweet Potato Muffins

1 sweet potato

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ cup vegetable oil

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup honey

1 (6 ounce) container vanilla yogurt

½ cup oatmeal

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup almonds

1 teaspoon cinnamon


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease 16 muffin cups or line with paper muffin liners; set aside. Prick sweet potato several times with a fork and place onto a baking sheet.
  2. Bake the sweet potato in the preheated oven until easily pierced with a fork, about 40 minutes. When the potato is cool enough to handle, peel and mash.
  3. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, the 1 teaspoon cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. Stir in the vegetable oil, eggs, vanilla, honey, yogurt, and mashed sweet potato, just until all ingredients are moistened. Spoon batter evenly into prepared muffin cups.
  5. Blend together the oatmeal, brown sugar, almonds, and the remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon in a food processor or blender. Sprinkle topping over unbaked muffins.
  6. Bake muffins in the preheated oven until golden and the tops spring back when lightly pressed, 12 to 15 minutes.

Recipe Source: All Recipes

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5 Ways to Reduce Intake of Food Additives

By Jessica Brown, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

When buying packaged products, it’s important to limit our consumption of common food additives. Direct food additives are natural or synthetic substances added to foods during processing to help enhance flavor, texture, appearance or nutrition, or to extend shelf-life.

Well-known additives include high fructose corn syrup, a sweetener; sodium nitrates, a preservative; and monosodium glutamate or MSG, a flavor enhancer. However, there are nearly 4,000 direct food additives registered on the Food and Drug Administration database.

Food additives to look out for include:

Humectants and Anticaking Agents

  • What they do: Stabilize foods through moisture control to maintain texture, reduce microbial activity, and prevent clumping.
  • Commonly added to: grated cheese, marshmallows, baked goods, baking powder, flour and cake mixes.
  • Examples include: Sugar and salt are commonly used humectants. However, most anticaking agents are made from synthetic substances such as silicon dioxide and aluminosilicates.


  • What they do: Prevent separation, provide a smooth texture, and extend shelf-life.
  • Commonly added to: mayonnaise, salad dressings, peanut butter, chocolate, and ice-cream.
  • Examples include: Egg lecithin, monoglycerides and diglycerides (naturally present in seed oils), guar gum, and carrageenan. Synthetic forms include carboxymethyl cellulose and polysorbate 80.

Stabilizers, Thickeners, and Gelling Agents

  • What they do: Provide a consistent texture and mouth-feel.
  • Commonly added to: jams, yogurts, soups, sauces and dressings.
  • Examples include: Cornstarch, pectin, and lecithin. Although synthetic versions exist such as carboxymethyl cellulose and methyl cellulose.

Color Additives

  • What they do: Enhance the natural colors in a food, compensate for color variation in foods, or add color to an otherwise colorless food.
  • Commonly added to: candies, breakfast cereal, beverages, and snack foods.
  • Examples include: Synthetic colors such as Yellow No. 5 and Blue No. 1. Plant, animal or mineral colorants are also added to foods such as grape skin extract, annatto, beta-carotene, or cochineal extract.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently published a policy regarding the emerging child health concerns related to the direct and indirect food additives.

5 tips to reduce your family’s intake of food additives:

  1. Read ingredient labels
    • Compare products while at the grocery store. Many manufactures are making comparable products with less food additives.
    • Identify hidden sources of food additives such as silicon dioxide in spices or polysorbate 80 in dairy products.
  2. Decrease intake of processed foods
    • Choose fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and animal products with minimal processing.
    • Make dishes from scratch when feasible to control which ingredients are incorporated into your food.
  3. Eat locally
    • Farmers markets or CSA (community supported agriculture) deliveries are a wonderful way to reduce food additives not only by choosing fresh fruits and vegetables, but in local canned and bottled products too.
  4. Make simple swaps
    • Make air-popped popcorn in place of microwaved popcorn
    • Swap blocked cheese for shredded cheese
    • Choose butter instead of margarine
    • Use maple syrup or honey in place of pancake syrup
    • Incorporate fresh herbs and spices instead of marinades and sauces
    • Choose plain chips and crackers more often than flavored options
    • Swap plain yogurt for flavored varieties and add your own toppings
  5. Get creative in the kitchen
    • Make your own salad dressing, dips, or taco seasoning
    • Use fresh citrus or herbs to flavor sparkling water

Use natural ingredients to decorate your cookies this holiday season. Use beet juice or powder for red icing, and wheatgrass juice or matcha powder for green icing

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers additional information on food additives.

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Powerful Health Benefits of Pumpkin

By Sue Freck, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

When pumpkins appear outside of your favorite market or store, it’s one of the first tell-tale signs of fall.  These days, they come in so many artisanal varieties, shapes, sizes and colors that they make the perfect accent to fall décor, in addition to classic jack-o-lanterns shining on the porch.

But besides their visual appeal, pumpkins are one of the most versatile and nutrient-dense vegetables in the squash family. Pumpkins are a powerhouse squash in that they are very low in fat; have zero cholesterol; are rich in dietary fiber; and are chock-full of vital antioxidants, minerals such as potassium, and vitamins. Those vitamins, such as Vitamin B-6, Vitamin C and Vitamin E, can be found in the flesh of the pumpkin. The fleshly part of the pumpkin also contains the potent antioxidant, beta-carotene, which gives it its vibrant orange color, but is also converted by the body into essential vitamin A.

One cup of canned pumpkin (not the pie mix with added sugar) contains about 83 calories, 7 grams of fiber and 504 mg of potassium. Add cooked or canned pumpkin to breakfast smoothies, Greek yogurt, or baked goods such as pancakes, muffins, or breads for a nutrition boost. Cubes of roasted pumpkin can be added to salads, stews, soups and pastas.  Additionally, scooping out the pumpkin seeds and roasting them is a quick and easy source of dietary fiber and fatty acids, which are essential in maintaining heart health. Try extending these health benefits to your canine friends by adding a couple scoops of pure canned pumpkin to your dog’s food or add to your favorite homemade dog biscuits recipe.

Pumpkin can enhance the nutrient content and flavor of many of fall’s family meals and snacks, savory or sweet. Here is a no-fuss delicious pumpkin recipe:

Slow Cooker Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal

Recipe from Taste of Home

  • 1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin
  • 1-1/4 cup steel-cut oats
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups water
  • 1-1/2 cups 2% milk

Optional toppings: toasted chopped pecans, ground cinnamon, and additional brown sugar and milk

Directions: In a large bowl, combine the first six ingredients; stir in water and milk. Transfer to a greased (use coconut oil or canola spray) 3-qt. slow cooker. Cook, covered, on low 5 to 6 hours or until oats are tender, stirring once. **Note: This recipe can also be made in a pressure cooker or an Instant Pot on a manual setting, adjust pressure to high and cook for 10 minutes.

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6 Ways to Eliminate Trans Fats in Your Family’s Diet

By Vanessa Chrisman, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Trans fats, found in processed foods, are an inexpensive way to extend the shelf life of foods. While trans fats have been helpful for food manufacturers, they’re considered harmful for humans—which is why it’s so important to eliminate trans fats in your family’s diet. They are unnaturally produced through the process of hydrogenation, where hydrogen is added to liquid vegetable oil. This process converts the oil into a solid fat at room temperature.

Trans fats are most often found in fried foods, savory snacks, frozen pizzas, baked goods, margarines, ready-made frosting, and coffee creamers.

Consuming trans fats has been linked to increased levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, lowered levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, and increased plaque in blood vessel walls. This increases the risk for developing heart disease. the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.

In 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determined that these partially hydrogenated oils are not safe for human consumption. Earlier this year, the FDA ban on trans fats began. The FDA has estimated that this ban on trans fats may prevent as many as 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 coronary heart disease deaths in the U.S. annually. The World Health Organization has called for a worldwide ban of artificial trans fats by 2023.

While the ban on trans fats has already begun in the United States, manufacturers in some cases have been given an extension on the compliance date to 2020.

Below are some ways to avoid eating foods that contain trans fats:

  1. Eat more whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lean meats, fish, nuts, and lean poultry. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store and avoid inner aisles where you’re more likely to find processed foods that may contain trans fats.
  2. Cut back on consumption of processed foods. Eat these foods less often and in smaller portions.
  3. Not all processed foods contain trans fats. When you do eat processed foods, avoid processed foods known to contain trans fats such as chips, cookies, donuts, icing, cakes, biscuits, microwave popcorn, crackers, fried fast foods and frozen pizzas.
  4. Read food labels and avoid foods with partially hydrogenated oil listed as an ingredient.
  5. Avoid stick margarine and vegetable shortening. Swap this for olive oil, grape seed oil, canola oil, soybean oil, corn oil, or sunflower oil when baking or preparing meals at home.
  6. Whether dining in or out, avoid fried foods. Choose foods that are baked, steamed, broiled, or grilled.

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