Shape Up Your Plate for National Nutrition Month & Beyond

March is just around the corner — a perfect time to recognize National Nutrition Month! Check out the helpful nutrition facts and guidelines below, by Sarah Kavlich, RD, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s.

Each March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) encourages Americans to return to the basics of healthy eating by consuming the recommended amounts of fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and dairy through a month- long campaign called “National Nutrition Month.”

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, founded in 1917, is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. The Academy is dedicated to improving the nation’s health, and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy.

National Nutrition Month began in 1973 as a week-long event known as “National Nutrition Week.” In 1980, the event expanded into a month-long observance as a response to growing public awareness in the area of nutrition. To recognize the dedication of registered dietitians as the leading advocates for advancing the nutritional status of Americans and people around the world, the second Wednesday of each March is celebrated as “Registered Dietitian Day.” This year – 2012 – marks the fifth annual Registered Dietitian Day.

The theme for this year’s National Nutrition Month is “Shape Up Your Plate,” based on the 2011 “MyPlate” campaign launched by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to replace “MyPyramid”. The initiative of “MyPlate” (as seen below) is to divide your plate into four sections: fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins, as well as a glass of a dairy product. Go to to find examples of foods for each section of your plate, portion sizes, benefits and helpful tips.

Shaping up your plate is about balancing your calories. You should enjoy your food, but avoid oversized portions. Increase some foods, while reducing others. By ensuring that half of your plate is made up of fruits and vegetables, you will feel full without going overboard on calories. Make at least half of your grains whole by choosing brown rice, whole wheat bread and quinoa.

Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk and dairy products. You can reduce your sodium intake by reading food labels on various foods such as soups, bread and frozen meals, and choosing foods that are lower in sodium. Lastly, make sure to drink water or sugar-free beverages in place of sugary ones.

What better time to re-vamp what’s on your plate than spring. March marks the beginning of spring when various fruits and vegetables like broccoli, beets, blood oranges, chard, kale, lemons, mushrooms and strawberries are beginning to wake up from their long winter’s nap and make their grand entrance onto your plate. Planning your meals around fruits and vegetables that are in season will make shopping easier, and lead to better-tasting meals made with fresh ingredients.

Visit  to find a recipe using kale. (*Substitute whole wheat pasta to increase the fiber content.) Serve this pasta with a side of roasted asparagus topped with orange segments to shape up your plate!

Make March your start for simple changes that will last a lifetime.

Resources: , , and .

Related articles:

  • 5 Ways to Reduce Intake of Food Additives
    What exactly are food additives anyway, and how can you help your family avoid them? A CHOC registered dietitian explains.
  • Healthy Eating Tips for the School Year
    It’s time to head back to school, and with that comes a fresh opportunity to establish new habits with children and teens. As your family falls into a routine around ...
  • Overcoming the Struggles of Picky Eating
    Picky eating is very normal for children, particularly in toddlers who have a natural fear of new foods. In fact, research shows that most kids get appropriate nutrition regardless of ...

Be Good to Your Heart – And Your Children’s Too!

By Katherine Phillips RD MPH, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States? In 2010, heart disease services, medications and lost productivity cost the United States $316.4 billion, making it an expensive yet very preventable disease. The most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease, which can cause heart attack, angina, heart failure and arrhythmias. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the cause of death for one in every four adult Americans.

However, adults aren’t the only ones at risk. Children are now developing cardiovascular disease risk factors that were previously only seen in adults. Children who are obese are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and elevated blood cholesterol levels. One study estimated that as many as 70% of obese children have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Prevention and early action are the keys to decreasing your risk and your children’s risk of developing heart disease.  The highest risk factors for heart disease include inactivity, obesity, high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, high cholesterol and diabetes.  Here are some ways you can reduce the risk of heart disease in your family:

Know your family history
o Genetic factors can play a role in the development of heart disease.

Know your numbers (and your children’s numbers too!)
o High cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes are three of the six top risk factors for developing heart disease, so keep them under control.
o New guidelines endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics state that all children, with or without a family history of heart disease, should have their cholesterol levels tested between the ages of 9 and 11, and then again between the ages of 17 and 21. Doctors think that this early testing and control of cholesterol levels in childhood can help reduce the risk of heart disease in adulthood.

Stop smoking
o Smoking increases the risk of cardiovascular disease by two to four times!

Improve your diet
o Diets high in saturated fats and cholesterol can raise blood cholesterol levels and promote atherosclerosis. High salt or sodium in the diet causes raised blood pressure levels.
o Choose lean meats, low-fat or fat- free dairy products; decrease foods high in saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar, and salt/sodium; and watch portion sizes.
o Increase fruit, vegetable and whole grain intake.
o Plan your meals ahead of time so you aren’t scrambling for something quick and unhealthy at the last minute.
o Do not use food as a reward for good behavior or good grades.
o Limit snacking and be aware of the snack foods your children are eating.
o Know what your child eats at school.
o Eat meals as a family so it is easier to know what and how much your child is eating.

Be active
o 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity every week (or just 20 minutes each day) can decrease your risk of heart disease.
o Aim for 60 minutes of physical activity for your child every day.
o Find fun exercise activities you can do as a family.
o Limit the amount of time you and your child spend watching TV and playing on the computer.

Control your weight
o Losing just 5–10 percent of your current weight over 6 months will lower your risk for heart disease and other conditions.
o If your child is overweight and there is no illness or condition causing the obesity, ask your doctor or a registered dietitian to provide you with some resources to help your child either lose weight or control their rate of weight gain while they grow.

Drink less alcohol
o Excessive alcohol use leads to an increase in blood pressure, and increases the risk for heart disease. It also increases blood levels of triglycerides, which contribute to atherosclerosis.
o Drink no more than one alcohol drink per day if you’re a woman and two alcohol drinks per day if you’re a man.

Be a good role model for your children. Parents who model healthy eating and physical activity can positively influence their children’s health.

For more information:
Harvard School of Public Health-The Nutrition Source:
Center for Disease Control and Prevention:
American Heart Association:

Related articles:

Start The New Year Right – Make Soup!

By: Jan Skaar, RD, CSP, CNSC, CLE, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Photo courtesy of
Are you tired of overindulging in the abundance of holiday cakes, pies and cookies during the last month? Are you thinking it’s time to give your waistline and your wallet a break? There’s no better time than January, National Soup Month, to try making one of the many delicious, healthful, and economical soup recipes that abound, for your family.

Soups have been a dietary staple for centuries in many different cultures. The word soup comes from the word “sop,” meaning a broth or liquid eaten with a piece of bread to “sop” up the liquid. Soups all have similar basic ingredients; are often easy to prepare; are high in nutrients; and they won’t break your food budget! Here are four steps to making a great soup:

1. Choose a base. Whether you are a vegetarian or meat eater, you can choose a broth or stock for the liquid foundation of your soup. Homemade is great, but if you need to save time like most of us, choose a prepared broth or stock from your favorite grocer. Many are available in low sodium and non-fat versions.  Stock has a more intense flavor compared to broth.

2. Choose your vegetables, herbs, meats or protein sources. Dried peas, beans and lentils are inexpensive, in comparison to meats, chicken and fish. They are high in protein, iron, fiber, and low in fat. This makes them excellent nutritional choices, and will stretch your food dollar.

3. Develop the flavor. Sauté or brown the meat or vegetables in a small amount of oil or use cooking spray. Some soups need an acidic ingredient such as wine or vinegar. These are used to deglaze the pan after sautéing the meat and vegetables, bringing out the flavor of the browned bits in the pan. The broth or stock is added next, becoming infused with flavor as your soup simmers.

4. Choose your texture and garnish. Soups can be pureed for a smooth appearance and texture. Leave your soup chunky for a more rustic look. A light sour cream or shredded cheese can help balance a spicy soup; fresh lime juice or chopped herbs can compliment a soup’s complex flavors.

You can find a plethora of great tasting soup recipes at or Check out the nutritional information listed for each recipe. Try Golden Winter Soup, made with butternut squash, russet potatoes and leeks. It tastes great with a tossed salad and a slice of French bread and Gruyere cheese!

And don’t forget, there are many soup recipes that do well in a slow-cooker, which can be a godsend for the working parent or just those of us who are too tired to cook at the end of the day. A great cookbook series for slow-cooker recipes is “Fix It and Forget It” by Phyllis Pellman. It is available in low fat, diabetic and 5 ingredient versions.  Try Chicken Tortilla Soup, a family favorite!  With a little planning, you can avoid the fast food habit and start your way to a healthier and budget-wise New Year!

Related articles:

  • 5 Ways to Reduce Intake of Food Additives
    What exactly are food additives anyway, and how can you help your family avoid them? A CHOC registered dietitian explains.
  • Healthy Eating Tips for the School Year
    It’s time to head back to school, and with that comes a fresh opportunity to establish new habits with children and teens. As your family falls into a routine around ...
  • Overcoming the Struggles of Picky Eating
    Picky eating is very normal for children, particularly in toddlers who have a natural fear of new foods. In fact, research shows that most kids get appropriate nutrition regardless of ...

October is Celiac Disease Awareness Month

October is Celiac Disease Awareness Month – a great time to learn more about this disease and following a gluten-free diet. Jill Nowak, RD, CDE, clinical dietitian at CHOC, shares her recommendations and the signs and symptoms of this condition.

What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune digestive disorder affecting approximately 1% of the population.  When a person with celiac disease eats gluten an immune-mediated response causes damage to the small intestines and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food.  Therefore, the only treatment for celiac disease is following a gluten-free diet.  Over time if left untreated, celiac disease can lead to an increase risk for anemia, osteoporosis, nutritional deficiencies, skin disorders and other health problems.

People with other autoimmune disorders, in particular type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and thyroid disease, are at increased risk for celiac disease.  Unfortunately, it may take as long as 11 years to correctly be diagnosed with celiac disease.  By being aware of the symptoms of celiac disease and discussing with your doctor to screen for celiac disease if you have another high risk autoimmune disorder, this time frame can possibly be decreased.

Symptoms for Celiac Disease
• Stomach pain, gas, constipation  and/or diarrhea
• Change in mood
• Weight loss
• Slowed growth in children
• An itchy, blistering skin rash

Following a Gluten-free Diet
A gluten-free diet involves not consuming gluten, a storage protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.  Most breads, pastas, breakfast cereals, baked goods and crackers have gluten.  In addition, hidden sources of gluten are found in foods such as soups, sauces, and gravies.  During recent times the gluten-free diet has become somewhat of a fad diet.  Ironically, this diet could lead to nutritional deficiencies and weight gain because many gluten-free products are made with highly processed, unenriched flours and added fat and sugar.  Therefore, it is strongly recommended that a person diagnosed with celiac disease seek nutrition counseling by a registered dietitian.  Eating well on a gluten free diet is possible.  Aim for eating gluten-free whole grains, choose enriched or fortified  gluten-free grains, cook with less fat, and eat more fiber rich and calcium rich foods.  Lastly, cross contamination is a major concern and food handling techniques is crucial in your own kitchen and when dining away from your home.

To find more information about celiac disease and the gluten-free diet, check these sites out:
• Celiac Disease Foundation ( )
• National Digestive Diseases Information ( )
• Shelley Case, RD  ( )

Related articles:

  • FDA Defines Gluten-Free for Food Labeling
    By: Jill Nowak, RD, CDE, registered dietitian at CHOC Gluten-Free Labeling of Foods On August 2, 2013, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a long awaited final rule defining “gluten-free” (GF) ...
  • Wheat Alternative Carbohydrates & Grains
    If your child’s allergist has suggested a wheat-free diet, there are a variety of grain and carbohydrate alternatives. It is important when choosing alternatives to include some whole grains because ...

Good Nutrition: As Close As Your Plate!

By: Caroline Steele, MS, RD, CSP, IBCLC, clinical nutrition and lactation services manager at CHOC Children’s

For almost 100 years, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been developing educational tools to provide nutrition information and help Americans make healthier food choices.  The original 1916 guide has been updated and reinvented over the years as our knowledge of nutrition and cultural influences have changed.  You may be most familiar with the Food Guide Pyramid which was introduced in 1992 and has served as a nutritional resource for almost 20 years.

Now the next generation food guide from the USDA is available!  MyPlate was unveiled on June 2, 2011 by First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.  The intent of MyPlate is to prompt consumers to think about “building a healthy plate at meal times.”  MyPlate will make it easier to put nutrition recommendations into practice by focusing on one meal at a time.

Eating healthy can seem complicated.  There is so much nutrition information available and so many food choices that actually deciding what to put on your dinner plate can be daunting and feel time consuming.  MyPlate makes it easy.  No matter how busy you are, one quick look at your plate can show you if you are getting the variety you need to stay healthy.

Compare the foods on your plate with the MyPlate icon.  How does it compare?  Are there food groups that you should be eating more of?  Less of?  All foods fit into a healthy diet—it’s just a matter of balance.

Some hints for a healthier table:

Balance Calories
• Enjoy your food, but eat less.
• Avoid oversized portions.

Foods to Increase
• Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
• Choose whole grains whenever possible.
• Switch to fat-free or low fat (1%) milk.
• Choose lean sources of protein such as lean meats, chicken, fish, and beans.

Foods to Reduce
• Compare labels for processed foods such as canned soups and frozen meals; choose those with lower amounts of sodium (salt).
• Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

Make it fun and use MyPlate as a family!  Have kids draw the MyPlate icon then compare it to their own plates.  Getting children involved in mealtimes and food choices can help them be healthier and make better nutrition decisions as they get older.

So dig in!  Good nutrition and healthy eating are as close as your plate.

Where can I get more information?
Go to  for more information, interactive tools, and sample meals.

Visit, the website of the American Dietetic Association for information on a variety of topics including healthy weight loss, nutrition for life, and food safety.