7 Health Benefits of Oatmeal

By Jenna Long, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

January is National Oatmeal Month, and there is no better time to explore the health benefits of oatmeal, and fun ways to prepare it as a way to mix up the breakfast options you’re offering to your family. Even though we live in sunny California, the temperature is starting to drop and many of us start are starting to crave warming breakfast options.

Beyond its warming properties, oats are packed with many health benefits:

  1. Naturally Whole Grain. This, therefore, means it contains all three original parts – the bran, germ, and endosperm (refined grains only contain the endosperm). Each part of the grain has valuable health benefits: brain is fiber-rich and keeps you feeling full while preventing constipation, germ is rich in B vitamins and healthy fats, and endosperm is the calorie-rich portion of the grain.
  2. Help lower LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol which specifically may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
  3. Increase satiety – that is to say you’ll feel full longer, which can help with busy work and school days and assist in weight maintenance.
  4. Help control blood sugar due to soluble fiber.
  5. Promote bowel regularity due to their fiber content. Try eating oats in their whole form, or for an extra boost add 1 Tbsp oat bran to hot cereal, applesauce, yogurt or smoothies.
  6. Contain unique polyphenols called acetamides, which have anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and anti-itching properties.
  7. Naturally gluten free. However, if you or your child are sensitive to gluten, look for certified gluten-free oats. Oats can become contaminated with gluten as they are growing and processed.

Old fashioned oatmeal, also known as “quick oats” is the most popular type of oat in the US. Steel cut oats require longer cooking time, about 20-30 minutes, but your patience will be rewarded. Steel cut oats create a rich and thick porridge with a nutty texture.

Try these easy to make, nutritious oatmeal recipes: 

Overnight Slow Cooker Apple Cinnamon Oats

Adapted from The Yummy Life


  • 2-3 Apples, cut into ½ inch pieces (~3 cups chopped)
  • 1 ½ cups milk (or non-dairy substitute)
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 1 cup uncooked steel cut oats
  • 2 Tbsp pure maple syrup (optional, or may use other sweetener)
  • 1 ½ Tbsp butter, cut into 6 pieces
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger (or 1 Tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped small)
  • 1 Tbsp ground flax seed
  • Optional garnishes: Chopped walnuts, raisins, additional milk


  • Coat your slowcooker with cooking spray.
  • Add all ingredients (expect optional garnishes) to slow cooker and stir
  • Cook on low for about 7 hours
  • Wake up to a wonderfully smelling home, portion into bowls, add optional garnishes and enjoy!

Tips and fun facts:

  • It is important to not use old fashioned oats because the oatmeal will become overcooked.
  • Maple syrup is a sweetener, but also high in antioxidants.
  • Flaxseeds can be purchased in the bulk bin of your grocery store in small amounts. Be sure to choose ground over whole flax seeds, so your body can utilize its nutrients.
  • This recipe stores well in the refrigerator, which also makes meal prep for the week easy. It also freezes well.

 Oatmeal “Cookie Dough” Smoothie

Adapted from Running with Spoons


  • 1 medium banana, frozen
  • ¼ cup raw old-fashioned oats
  • 1/3 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp chia seeds (optional health boost)
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp almond butter
  • ½ cup vanilla almond milk (or other dairy alternative)
  • 1 Tbsp chocolate chips (optional)


  • Place all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth

Tips and fun facts

  • This is a great recipe for those looking for an on the go breakfast
  • Try adding in ¼-1/2 cup of fresh or frozen fruit
  • Chia seeds, like oats, are rich in fiber. They are also high in heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and calcium.

Healthy Homemade Granola


  • 5 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon
  • ¼ cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup honey*
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil


  • Preheat oven to 350 °F
  • Mix wet ingredients and dry ingredients in separate bowls, then combine.
  • Spread out thin on a large baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes until just golden

Tips and fun facts:

  • *Reminder: Do not introduce honey until your baby’s 1st birthday and speaking with your doctor
  • Adding granola and fruit to your yogurt can make a great well-balanced breakfast, but may store bought granolas are high in both sugar and fat. Making your own granola is easy, saves money and all in all allows you to control the amount of sugar and fat – plus you can experiment with fun combinations of dried fruit and nuts.
  • In addition try adding chia seeds to your granola after it has been cooked for a health boost.
  • Some of our other favorite things to add to granola also include: ground flax seed, dried blueberries, chopped pistachios, ground ginger, unsweetened coconut.

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Healthy Thanksgiving Recipe Ideas

By Kelsey Childs, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Thanksgiving is a time for family and friends to come together and celebrate over a delicious meal. While most look forward to sitting down at the table to begin the feast, few enjoy getting up from the table feeling overly stuffed. Estimates from the Calorie Control Council suggest a traditional Thanksgiving meal may contain as many as 3,000 calories, and once appetizers and beverages are included, the total can climb to a whopping 4,500 calories!

This Thanksgiving, use whole food ingredients in place of processed products to boost the nutrient content of your dishes and lighten the calorie load. Swapping full fat dairy products with reduced fat versions can further cut back on calories without impacting flavor. Check out the healthy Thanksgiving recipe ideas below to see if one of these delicious dishes might have a place at your table this year.

Roasted Green Beans with Cranberries

Instead of relying on canned soups to flavor traditional green bean casseroles, try this recipe made from whole food ingredients. Cranberries, garlic, lemon, and balsamic vinegar combine to pair perfectly with roasted turkey.


  • 2 pounds fresh green beans, stem ends trimmed
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced into quarters
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest, from one lemon
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice, from one lemon
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup walnuts (toasted if desired, see note)


  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with heavy duty aluminum foil.
  2. toss  green beans with garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and sugar directly on the prepared baking sheet. Roast the beans for 15 minutes, then stir with a spatula to promote even cooking. Continue roasting until the beans are tender, slightly browned and just starting to shrivel, about 10 minutes more. Add lemon zest, lemon juice, cranberries and walnuts and toss well. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and more lemon juice if desired.
  3. Note: to toast the walnuts, bake them on a sheet pan in a 350-degree oven until fragrant, about 10 minutes.

Recipe source: Once Upon a Chef

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Use a combination of reduced fat milk and sour cream as mashed potato mixers to yield a creamy product without the need for large amounts of butter or cream.

  • 2 lbs. (4 medium) Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and halved
  • 1/4 cup light sour cream
  • 1/2 cup reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup reduced fat milk
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped


  1. Put potatoes and garlic in large pot with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil.
  2. Drain and return potatoes and garlic to pan. Add remaining ingredients. Mash until smooth.
  3. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Recipe adapted from Skinny Taste.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Honey and Cinnamon

Instead of smothering sweet potatoes in butter and brown sugar, try roasting your potatoes. The natural flavor of the sweet potatoes is complemented by the simple coating of olive oil, honey and cinnamon.


  • 4 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2  teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Lay the sweet potatoes out in a single layer on a roasting tray. Drizzle the oil, honey, cinnamon, salt and pepper over the potatoes.  Roast for 25-45 minutes in the oven, or until tender.

Recipe source: Food Network

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Summer Snack Ideas and Safe Food Tips

By Stephanie Nathanson, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

With summertime approaching, it’s time to grab your sunscreen, your beach towel, your picnic basket, and hiking boots and get outdoors! There are countless opportunities for outdoor activities, especially during the summer heat, but packing meals and snacks can be a bit of a puzzler. What can I bring that will keep me satisfied for an action-packed day, without spoiling rotten or getting mushy in my backpack?

Not only should you consider what to pack up for a full day in the sun, but how do you keep foods safe? One important consideration is to keep hot foods hot, and cold foods cold. Most bacteria do not grow rapidly at temperatures below 40 degrees, and above 140 degrees. The temperatures in between are known as “the danger zone” because bacteria multiply quickly and can reach dangerous levels after two hours, or after only one hour if it’s toastier than 90 degrees outside.

When planning a daylong hike or outing, pack enough food for one meal plus snacks. Aim for primarily non-perishable items. To keep cold foods cold, consider freezing a water bottle or juice box to use as an ice pack. After you eat your snack you’ll have a refreshing, cold drink.

snack ideas

Snack and meal ideas for summer days:

  • Peanut butter sandwich with sliced banana and honey
  • Protein/energy bars
  • Beef jerky
  • Individual nut butter packs
  • Canned tuna or chicken – mix with avocado instead of mayonnaise to eliminate the risk of bacterial growth
  • Dried fruit and nuts
  • Homemade trail mix recipes:
    • Almonds, walnuts, peanuts, cashews, pecans, raisins
    • Walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg, sea salt, dried apricots, dried cranberries
    • Cashews, brazil nuts, dried mango, coconut flakes, banana chips
    • Create your own mix and match of nuts and seeds + dried fruits including: almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, apples, mango, blueberries, cranberries, cherries, goji berries, figs, dates, apricots, pineapple, raisins, banana chips. *Caution with adding chocolate bits as they may melt in the heat.

Weekend camping trips

For longer trips, you will need to pack a cooler filled with ice for meat and other perishable items. An ice block will last longer than cubes, unless you are located near a convenience store to replenish your ice supply each day. Remember to pack a thermometer to ensure cooking temperatures are satisfactory within FDA standards.

  • Cook burgers made of raw ground beef, pork, lamb and veal to an internal temperature of 160°F
  • Heat hot dogs and any leftover food to 165°F
  • Cook all poultry to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F
  • Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145°F
  • All cold food items should be below 40°

The rule of thumb for day outings and overnight camping trips is to plan ahead. Decide beforehand what you are going to eat and how you are going to prepare it, including the equipment you will need.

  • Bring a cooler if needed, especially for overnight trips.
  • Keep raw foods separate from other foods.
  • Bring a cold source, such as ice packs or frozen juice boxes, to keep cold foods, such as meat and dairy products, cold.
  • Don’t forget your biodegradable soap for dishwashing.
  • Bring bottled water for drinking and teeth brushing, or check out in advance if you will have access to a filtered water source.

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Healthy Meal Prep Tips for Busy Parents

By Elise Harlow, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

When life gets busy, making homemade meals can fall to the bottom of your to-do list. Drive-through or take-out dinners may sound more appealing and time-friendly! While there is nothing wrong with the occasional fast-food meal, by cooking meals at home you can reduce the amount of added fat and sodium, and have control over the types of ingredients going into your family’s food.

To increase the amount of homemade meals you have on hand during busy times, meal planning and meal prepping can be your best friend. This can also be a great way to involve your kids in the kitchen and increase their interest in healthy foods.

Meal planning: this means taking one day out of the week to sit a down with a planner and plan out your meals for the upcoming week. After your meals are planned out, make a grocery list for all the ingredients you will need for the week.

Helpful tip: use leftovers from dinner for lunch the next day. For example, a roasted chicken for dinner can become a chicken salad sandwich for lunch the next day

How to involve your children: Let your children help you in planning meals by letting them choose what is for dinner one night a week. Maybe one day they can choose a meal that they know they like, and one day they get to pick a new food that they would like to try. You can even bring your children along with you to the grocery store to help pick up the ingredients needed for the week. Children tend to be more likely to try new foods when they have some sort of say in what they are eating.

Meal prepping: this means that once a week you pre-cook whatever meals from your meal plan that allow for this. For example,  roasting a chicken on Sunday and using the chicken in dishes for the rest of the week, or making lasagna on Sunday for dinner during the week, or portioning out yogurt and fruit in single-serving containers for easy grab-and-go breakfasts each day of the week.

How to involve your children: assign your children age-appropriate tasks that they can do on their own. Again, this will increase their interest in the food and could make them more likely to try new foods. Some ideas include scrubbing vegetables, counting ingredients, measuring, or mixing ingredients together.

A crock pot or slow-cooker can be your best friend during busy times. The beauty of a crock pot is that you can throw the ingredients in the crock pot in the morning on your way out the door to work and arrive home to a warm, homemade meal for you and your family. Looking for ideas? Below is a recipe for steel cut oats, that could even be cooked overnight, which means waking up to warm cooked breakfast!

Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oatmeal

Recipe adapted from CookSmarts.com
2 cups steel cut oats
6 cups water

2 cups milk of any type
2 tablespoons butter
2 to 3 peeled apples
¼ cup honey
2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
Optional add ins: flax seed, chia seed, almonds, pecans, shredded coconut, hemp seeds, pepitas, etc.


  1. Spray the slow cooker with cooking oil or brush with cooking oil to prevent sticking.
  2. Put all ingredients into the slow cooker. Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours.
  3. Top with optional add-ins of your choice.

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3 Easy Ways to Sneak More Veggies in Your Kids’ Diet

By Becca Janda, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Including more vegetables in our diet can have loads of health benefits. They are packed with vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals and offer more micronutrients per calorie than any other food group. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends getting in 2.5 -3 cups per day. Here are a few creative ways to add more servings of veggies to your weekly routine—you may not even notice they are there!

Cauliflower Rice

Rice is a staple ingredient in American home cooking and countless other ethnic cuisines. A new product you may be seeing in the produce or frozen section of your local grocery store is cauliflower “rice.” It is created from shredding or processing cauliflower into small little “rice-size” pieces that closely resemble white rice using a food processor or even a hand cheese grater. This “rice” can be substituted in place of real rice OR in combination with real rice as a nutritious addition to many of the recipes you currently make at home. Just by swapping out 1 cup of white rice with 1 cup of cauliflower rice you increase the fiber content of your dish from 0.5g to 3g per cup. You’ll also eliminate  100 calories considering just one cup of white rice contains almost 150 calories whereas cauliflower rice has only 33! Cauliflower rice has been making headlines in cooking magazines & health food blogs alike. Just one search on Pinterest will bring up numerous recipe options including cauliflower fried rice, cauliflower pizza crust, even cauliflower hashbrowns—the list goes on. One tip to remember when you start using it in place of rice—the goal is to keep the texture slightly firm to ensure it maintains the mouth-feel of rice. To do this, make sure to add it at the end of cooking, just to warm it up and slightly soften it.

Veggie-full smoothies

Dark leafy greens are packed full of nutrients crucial to our health and wellbeing. They are high in calcium, iron, potassium, Vitamin A and other phytonutrients which act as antioxidants.[1] Many of us feel stumped on how to include them in our diets: we cook them in soups, eat them in our salads, and some of us avoid them altogether because we don’t like the taste. One delicious way to include them in one more meal of the day is to enjoy them in a smoothie! Next time you’re making yourself a smoothie with blueberries and other fruit, try throwing in a cup of spinach or other mild flavored green. Once blended, you may not even notice it’s there! You can also add shredded carrots to your tropical smoothies: just throw a handful in your blender with some frozen banana, mango, and pineapple. They are delicious and packed with fiber and beta-carotene, which helps maintain healthy skin and boost eye health.

Butternut squash “cheese” sauce

Most of us can admit to craving cheesy comfort-food staples like macaroni and cheese or cheesy baked potatoes at one point or another. Next time the craving hits you, consider using this butternut squash “cheese sauce” recipe to boost your veggie intake while indulging your craving. Butternut squash is a great source of fiber, potassium, and vitamins A & C.  Its beta-carotene content gives it the look of orange cheddar cheese which makes it a perfect vegetable to sneak into those cheese-heavy recipes. The sauce consists of cooked butternut squash pureed with onion, garlic, chicken stock, seasoning and a little bit of butter. When you’re ready to use it in your recipes, heat it up until warm enough to melt cheese into it and add a small amount of milk. Poor it over baked potatoes, steamed broccoli, or bake it into some elbow macaroni pasta. And there you have it, comfort food remodeled with some hidden veggies! See recipe below.

Recipe for butternut squash cheese sauce:

2 ½ cups butternut squash, cubed

½ yellow or white onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 ½ cup chicken stock (or broth)

1 Tbls Butter or olive oil

2 Tbls all-purpose flour

½ cup milk

1 ½ – 2 cups of sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

Salt and pepper to taste


Heat oil in pan on medium heat, add onions and cook until translucent. Add butternut squash, garlic, and chicken stock; bring to a boil and cook until squash is softened, about 15 to 20 minutes. Carefully transfer ingredients to standing blender or use an immersion blender to puree ingredients until smooth and creamy. Return to pan and reheat on low-medium. Add milk. Coat the shredded cheese with flour before stirring it into sauce small handfuls at a time until fully melted. Use more milk or chicken stock to get sauce to a desired consistency. Season to taste.

Recipe adapted from All Recipes.

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