100 ways to get kids involved in the kitchen

Organized by skills required

No reading, coordination, sharp safety or heat safety skills required

(reasonable adult supervision still required)

  1. Wash hands before cooking
  2. Count out produce into a bag at the store
  3. Help find items at the grocery store
  4. Pick out a vegetable or fruit to buy and try
  5. Name different foods/ingredients as you cook
  6. Taste, smell, or touch ingredients (safely of course; avoid handling raw meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or foods with these as ingredients)
  7. Taste a dressing/sauce to see if it needs more salt/sugar/pepper/garlic/etc.
  8. Describe different ingredients: appearance, texture, smell, taste, category (vegetable, fruit, meat, grain, protein, canned, frozen, etc.)
  9. Choose dressing or toppings for a salad
  10. Find an appropriately sized container for leftovers
  11. Count out ingredients
  12. Play with non-breakable bowls and spoons

When I was a toddler, my mom had one low cabinet that had the metal mixing bowls and pots that I was allowed to play with and I totally thought a two piece bundt/angel food cake pan (like this one) would make a great snowman costume if I put the pointy part on my head like a top hat and wore the round part around my neck as a…scarf? I’m not sure what I was thinking. But I definitely got stuck in the round part and panicked and my mom had to help me get out and it’s one of my earliest memories

  1. Suggest a meal or side dish
  2. Choose a meal or side dish
  3. Look through a cookbook or cooking magazine together and choose some recipes to try
  4. Choose a recipe from a cooking show to try (even if it is just used as an inspiration)
  5. Follow a video tutorial together

Some limited physical coordination required

Many of these tasks can be done by very small toddlers who have an adult helper. Very small kids probably won’t be able to complete the task by themselves, but they will be able to participate, which is the important part. Check out the ADORABLE Chef Kobe here for some visual proof that toddlers can do these types of tasks

many many more cooking videos on their instagram @kobe_yn
  1. Sprinkle toppings on a salad
  2. Sprinkle cheese or breadcrumb topping
  3. Rinse lettuce leaves
  4. Add pre-measured ingredients to a mixture
  5. Mix spice mixtures/sauces/batters
  6. Mix meatballs
  7. Put ingredients in a pot to cook
  8. Collect bowls/measuring cups/measuring spoons
  9. Move dirty dishes from the table to the counter or dishwasher
  10. Get out toppings/condiments and put them on the table
  11. Scramble eggs
  12. Mash potatoes, bananas, or squash
  13. Scrub potatoes
  14. Shake a jar or container of dressing or seasonings to mix it (just make sure it is fully closed!)
  15. Shake a jar of overnight oats or chia seed pudding to combine (Add recipes here)
  16. Rinse or scrub veggies, fruits, or herbs
  17. Put ingredients into a slow cooker
  18. Throw skins/peels/package wrappers in a garbage bowl, trash, or compost bin
  19. Carry dirty dishes to the counter/sink/dishwasher
  20. Wipe off a table or a counter
  21. Toss veggies in oil and seasonings by shaking them in a closed container
  22. Cut out dough with cookie cutters
  23. Decorate cookies with sprinkles/frosting
  24. Top pizzas with cheese and toppings

Somewhat higher coordination or level of strength required

Will still require an adult supervisor and possibly an adult helper

  1. Help put away groceries
  2. Find and collect ingredients as you read them from the recipe
  3. Measure ingredients
  4. Put away ingredients as they are used
  5. Remove husk and silk from corn on the cob
  6. Pull garlic cloves from a head of garlic
  7. Peel garlic cloves that have been smashed
  8. Use a garlic press to press garlic
  9. Use a measuring cup or pitcher to add water to a pot
  10. Press buttons on a mixer, blender, or food processor
  11. Knead dough
  12. Crush nuts or bread crumbs in a plastic bag with a rolling pin, pot, fists, or Hulk hands if you want to make it extra fun
  13. Put plates, cups, silverware, and/or napkins on the table
  14. Peel an orange or banana
  15. Section oranges
  16. Snap asparagus
  17. Use a lettuce spinner to dry lettuce
  18. Dry lettuce by spinning it in a towel or mesh bag
  19. Tear up lettuce leaves
  20. Toss a salad
  21. Toss veggies in oil and seasonings for roasting using a bowl and spoon/fork
  22. Use a cookie scoop to portion out cookies/biscuits/meatballs
  23. Shape meatballs, rolls or other doughs
  24. Turn on slow cooker
  25. Peel an onion that has been cut in halves or quarters
  26. Put spreads on bread or toast
  27. Put dirty dishes in the dishwasher or sink or on the counter

Reading skills required

  1. Preheat the oven
  2. Read recipe out loud
  3. Read the ingredients list out loud
  4. Find a recipe
  5. Write ingredients on a grocery list
  6. Search for and add foods to an online grocery order
  7. Read the grocery list and cross items off the list as they are bought
  8. Follow directions to prepare microwave food
  9. Write and decorate a menu (although, they can just decorate a menu and “write” if they don’t actually know how to write. No one actually needs to read it 😊)
  10. Find a recipe that they want to try in a cookbook
  11. Search for and find a recipe to make online
  12. Follow a simple recipe

Sharp safety skills required

Use your best judgment as a parent

  1. Grate garlic
  2. Use scissors to cut fresh herbs
  3. Use scissors to cut pizza or quesadilla that has cooled
  4. Use an egg slicer
  5. Use a cheese slicer
  6. Use an egg slicer to cut strawberries
  7. Wash and cut grape bunches with scissors
  8. Put vegetables/meat on skewers
  9. Add ingredients to a food processor or blender
  10. Press the buttons on a food processor or blender

Kids can start to learn knife skills earlier than you might think! Here are two really great resources on how to start helping kids use knives safely and in an age-appropriate way (superhealthykids.com and happykidskitchen.com/) Might as well start teaching them safe skills early! (Besides, the earlier they learn, the earlier they can help!)

  1. Chop lettuce with a lettuce knife
  2. Chop soft vegetables or fruits (banana, cucumber, zucchini)
  3. Chop dough (to section for rolls)
  4. Chop or slice vegetables

Heat safety required

  1. Steam frozen veggies in the microwave and then season
  2. Make toast
  3. Make a microwaveable food
  4. Stir a pot or pan
  5. Add ingredients to a pot or pan on the stove
  6. Follow a simple recipe that involves using the oven or stove

Please note that these are ideas meant to empower you to involve your kids in the cooking process. You are the one who best knows your child’s abilities. Use your best judgement to choose activities that will be appropriate for your child. Please make sure you supervise your children during these activities, especially those that involve heat or sharp blades!

Would you like a neat downloadable and printable PDF of this list? Here you go!

Interested in a meal plan just for your family that includes built-in instructions for involving your kids? Learn more at www.nutritionforrealhumans.com/learning/

Some nutrition things I’m grateful for (including pizza)

  1. Taste and smell. We could just be like plants and photosynthesize but instead we get to enjoy the experience of eating.
  2. Variety and adaptability. We could just be like cows and just eat grass, or whales and just eat plankton. Our bodies are designed to be able to run on a wide variety of food sources. This not only means that we can enjoy a variety of foods, it means that a healthy diet can look different for different people and different cultures! There are so many delicious ways to be nourished!
  3. Coffee is good for you *. I look forward to my morning cup of coffee every day. Such a simple delight.
  4. I’m privileged to be able to access a really wide variety of healthy, safe, and fresh food.
  5. I do not have any food allergies, sensitivities or medical conditions that keep me from eating certain foods. As much as I like to promote that all foods fit, I realize in some cases not all foods fit because they cause an allergic reaction or pain or dangerous medical consequences. I’m thankful that at this point in my life, I do not have to avoid any foods and can eat cheese without any problems.
  6. This thin crust pizza recipe. (see below) We eat this pizza at least once a month, often when we don’t want to cook anything else and it is always a bright spot.

thin crust pizza slices on a plate
This pizza was spread with pesto and topped with mozzarella and goat cheese. *Fancy* Most of the time we just use tomato paste with spices and shredded mozzarella.

Pour 3/4 cup body temperature water into a medium-large bowl. Add 1 tsp yeast and let that sit for a little bit, until you can smell the yeast. Stir in 1 cup flour, then add 1 + 1/2 tsp salt. Then add 1 cup more flour and stir until you can’t stir anymore. Then either knead in the bowl or on a clean floured counter. (You can also use a stand mixer with a dough hook). Knead 8-10 minutes or until the dough springs back when pinched. I know that sounds like a lot of time, but I just turn on the Great British Baking Show and pretend I’m on the show with them.

Spray a little nonstick spray in the bottom of the bowl (or pour a teensy bit of oil) and roll the dough ball around in it – this is just so it doesn’t stick or dry out while it rises. Cover with a clean towel and let rise for about an hour.

(You can freeze it at this point to be able to treat your future self to homemade pizza)

Preheat the oven to 500 F. Roll out the dough on a silicon mat or parchment paper until it is 1/4 inch or less thick. Place the rolled out dough and the lining onto a cookie sheet (I like to use the back of a rimmed baking tray). Spread on your sauce and toppings of choice. Avoid topping very thickly or the crust will not get crisp. Bake for 8-15 minutes or until the bottom is crisp (check by lifting with a spatula).

You can use either white or whole wheat flour for this recipe. You can even make it without the rising time if you are in a hurry – just let it rest for a few minutes instead of an hour and roll it out right away. Enjoy!

What are you thankful for?

*Coffee is good for you just as much as any food that has shown to be good for you. Coffee in moderation, in general, is not harmful, and there are multiple studies showing health benefits in regular coffee drinkers. Obviously there are exceptions and nuances (like: drinking coffee won’t solve all your problems, and if you also drink it with a TON of sugar it is probably not as healthy) so speak with a doctor or dietitian if you have questions or concerns and don’t drink coffee if it makes you feel bad.

This post is intended to be informational only and is not medical or nutritional advice. If you have questions about your unique needs, ask about a custom meal plan or speak with a registered dietitian-nutritionist near you.

Good nutrition news: canned pumpkin (and pumpkin pie)

photo of pumpkins
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Today we’re talking canned pumpkin puree (and then pumpkin pie).

The type of pumpkin that is usually used to make pumpkin pie and other pumpkin goodies. (Note that this is about plain canned pumpkin, not canned pie filling. There’s nothing wrong with canned pie filling, it’s just not the same nutritionally as it already has sugars and spices mixed in)

First of all, pumpkin is a vegetable.

No one would argue about butternut squash being a vegetable, right? Pumpkin is very close nutritionally to butternut squash. It goes in the red-orange vegetable group with carrots, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes. You can totally count pumpkin as part of your vegetable intake for the day. Now, the general amount of vegetables that the USDA recommends eating per day is 2 1/2 cups, so unless you’re sitting down to eat a big can of pumpkin, it won’t take care of all of your veggie intake, but it can certainly be part of it.

myplate diagram

Pumpkin provides some impressive nutrition

The way canned pumpkin is processed means that some of the water has been taken out (via cooking) so its nutrients are concentrated!

1/2 cup of cooked pumpkin has:

  • 3.5g of fiber (10% of the recommended daily amount for men and nearly 15% of the daily recommendation for women) – helps manage cholesterol and blood sugar, feeds good bacteria in our intestines, promotes regular bowel movements, helps us feel full
  • nearly 10% of the daily recommended amount of iron – vital for oxygenation of the blood
  • 25% of the recommended amount of vitamin K – important for blood clotting
  • over 350% recommended daily amount of vitamin A (no, that is not a typo, it is super high in vitamin A) – acts as an antioxidant, important for skin and immune health, important for healthy vision

Nutrition data from: https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2918/2

Canned pumpkin in context: pumpkin pie

Most of us probably will not just sit down and eat 1/2 cup of plain canned pumpkin by itself. So how much of that good nutrition will you get in a slice of pumpkin pie? Well, of course it depends on the the recipe and the size of the slice.

Let’s take Libby’s recipe for example (that’s the recipe on the back of the Libby’s pumpkin can). And we’ll say that we cut the pie into 8 slices because that’s easy math. In each slice, there will be about 1/4 cup of canned pumpkin (half the amount we calculated before), so it will have:

  • 1.8g fiber (about 5% of the recommended daily amount for men and 7% for women)
  • Nearly 5% of the daily recommended amount of iron
  • Over 10% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin K
  • and 190% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin A

Some of those amounts might seem small, but realistically, this is the way most people get nutrients from food. Small amounts from different foods that add up during the day. For comparison’s sake, one serving of Benefiber Original has 3 g of fiber, which is about 8% of the recommended daily value for men and 12% of the recommended daily value for women.

And it certainly has more vitamin A, iron, and fiber than many other desserts, like angel food cake or brownies.

Now of course, we must acknowledge that eating a slice of pumpkin pie (with ice cream or whipped cream perhaps too) also comes with more sugar, salt, and fats than just plain pumpkin, so if these are nutrients that you need to limit for a health condition, take those into account.

(and regardless, probably don’t make pumpkin pie the only way you eat vegetables)

However, a pumpkin pie having fats, sugar, and salt, doesn’t mean that you won’t get benefit from the fiber, iron, vitamin K, or massive amounts of vitamin A. You may also get extra calcium if the pie is made with evaporated milk, and extra fiber and/or B-vitamins if the crust is made with whole wheat flour

The bottom line: If you like pumpkin pie, enjoy it! (And know you’re getting a decent amount of fiber, iron, vitamin K, and a super amount of vitamin A!)

Want to try some savory pumpkin recipes?

Here’s some suggestions:

Pumpkin Soup from two peas & their pod

Creamy Pumpkin Marinara from Cookie + Kate

Healthy Pumpkin Chili from All the healthy things

This post is intended to be informational only and is not medical or nutritional advice. If you have questions about your unique needs, ask about a custom meal plan or speak with a registered dietitian-nutritionist near you.

Also links go to third-party sites, I’m not responsible for those sites or the ads they display, so go at your own risk.

Why it’s worth having your toddlers (or teenagers) make a mess in the kitchen

Imagine having your children by your side in the kitchen. You read the recipe out loud and they find the ingredients in the pantry. You show them how to carefully measure out ingredients. They stir the ingredients together, remarking about how good it will taste. Then you put it in the oven and you both excitedly clean up the kitchen waiting for it to be done. Then you laugh together as you eat. A picture-perfect scene.

mother and daughter preparing avocado toast
Photo by August de Richelieu on Pexels.com

It can happen. But let’s be real, sometimes it looks like this:

. . . like your toddler pulling snacks out of the pantry while you try to get them to stop so you can just get the ingredients you need. It looks like them dumping the ingredients into the bowl so enthusiastically that half of it lands on the table. It looks like your two kids fighting over whose turn it is to stir. It looks like you’re stressed because you’re trying to make this a positive experience, but your kid just licked their finger to taste the batter and then started stirring the sauce with their hand and the other kid keeps trying to touch the stove. Sometimes it looks like your kids not being at all interested in helping cook. It’s not always the warm happy Pillsbury crescent commercial. That’s for sure.

It’s often more work to have your kids “help” in the kitchen.

So why is it worth it? And how can you make it easier?

Why it’s worth it:

Kids who help with food preparation are more likely to try new foods and eat more vegetables Research shows that helping to prepare a meal makes kids more likely to try new foods (1), more positive about unfamiliar foods (1), more likely to eat more vegetables (2), and more likely to eat more of the meal in general (2).

If kids are involved in the making process, they feel ownership and pride over the meal, so of course they want to try it and are biased toward liking it. Plus, they get to experience the food in an environment where there is no pressure to eat it. This can make new or disliked foods less intimidating. This does not mean they will magically like everything, but it will probably surprise you how much more likely they are to try something that they helped prepare.

If you have particular or picky eaters, this can be one way to help them be more comfortable in exploring new foods. If you’re worried that your kids don’t like “healthy” foods and only like beige and white foods, this is normal, BUT involving them in cooking can help expand their palate.

Kids who practice cooking are more confident in their cooking skills and are more likely to make healthy choices (3) The more kids cook, the more kids handle food, the more kids practice good food hygiene, the more comfortable and confident they are in their ability, and the more positive they feel around food (3). This seems pretty obvious. However, having confidence around food and cooking is a huge advantage toward choosing and eating healthy foods. It removes the barrier of not knowing how to prepare a food. And even if they don’t know how to prepare a specific food, they are more likely to feel confident that they can learn how. People who know how to cook and feel confident in this are more likely to choose and prepare healthy foods (3).

Practicing cooking and food skills doesn’t need to be learning how to julienne vegetables, sautee meat, or make a roux. It includes things like picking out foods at the store, washing vegetables, following a recipe, loading a dishwasher, measuring ingredients, learning what a spatula is, and using a microwave. It can of course include fancier skills as well, but you don’t have to and shouldn’t start there.

By helping your kids have food literacy, you are equipping them with vital tools they can use to be healthy which leads to the next point:

Cooking helps improve self-confidence and independence. Do you remember the first time you made a recipe all by yourself? My first memory of this is making the Kraft boxed mac and cheese. I was so proud! A kid helping with dinner feels like they are a contributing part of the family. As they get more comfortable with a skill and learn new skills, they gain confidence and independence.

This helps them grow in confidence while they still live with you, and equips them for when they are on their own as adults. Interestingly kids in a focus group about cooking at home counted learning cooking skills as a valuable part of helping in the kitchen, because they knew would need to be able to cook later in life (4). Future cooking skills is one thing at least on some kids’ minds.

Also, with enough practice, kids will eventually be actually helpful in the kitchen! It’s a long term investment – but it can pay off.

So, why is it worth it? Because even though it will be slow and difficult and stressful at times, you’re equipping them with really valuable life skills: not just cooking, but exploring new and different foods, the ability to choose and prepare healthy foods, and the confidence builder of mastering new things.

(This doesn’t even mention that cooking can be used to help learn math, science, language, cultures, history, etc.)

So, how can I make it easier? (and not want to shut everyone out of the kitchen forever)

I could talk forever about this because introducing kids to the kitchen is what I loooove to do. But here are a few ideas to start out:

Choose the right time. Don’t try this at a time when everyone is cranky and hungry and/or rushed. Choose a time when you can give your full attention and have no time pressure.

Make breakfast on a quiet weekend, do some prep work with them when they come to you bored (read the recipe and collect the non-refrigerated ingredients, wash and tear up lettuce leaves, mix spices, bake some rolls or biscuits), choose one afternoon a week when one kid goes down for a nap or is at school so you can focus on one child at a time, etc.

Start with hand washing This should always be the start of any cooking session. It teaches food safety and hygiene right from the start and can make them feel like they are really cooking (because everyone, even a chef, needs to wash hands before cooking). Be sure to model this behavior as well as speaking about it 🙂

Use an easy recipe you are really comfortable with. Don’t make it harder on yourself by trying to involve kids with a new or tricky recipe that requires brain space. This might mean that they help you make box macaroni and cheese – this is perfectly fine! After washing hands, and before you start, read the recipe out loud together. This is a good cooking practice to establish and it makes sure you know what you’re doing, and depending on the age of the kids, helps them get a big picture as well.

Start small. It may be overwhelming and taxing for you and your kids to expect them to help you with a whole recipe or a whole meal, especially if they are small. Involving them in meal preparation can start with as little as having them put silverware on the table, having them help you wash vegetables, helping you get out ingredients, or having them shuck an ear of corn.

In the mac and cheese example, this could be that they get to use a measuring cup to help fill up the water to boil or dump in the cheese packet. Keeping it short at first makes it a positive experience even with a short attention span. Obviously if they want to keep helping, that’s great, but if not you can build up little by little.

Repeat Kids thrive on routine. If you have a weekly repeating meal (Taco Tuesday, Pizza Friday, etc.) this is a great time to involve them because you and they know what to expect and you will both get lots of practice making it together. Kids can get familiar with the steps and gradually grow in their abilities.

My earliest memories of cooking are making pancakes or waffles on Saturday mornings with my dad. I grew from helping him mix to proudly learning how to flip pancakes (this was over a matter of years, I was not a preschool pancake flipping prodigy)

Narrate If they’re with you in the kitchen (even if they’re not actively helping), just talk about what you’re doing like you’re on a cooking show. If they ask questions, answer them. Offer to let them help with a specific task or to let them taste or smell an ingredient. You can also talk about where the recipe is from or tell a story related to the recipe.

Let them help you pick what to make This is especially good if you need help getting your kids interested in the first place. With your guidance, kids (especially older kids), can help choose foods to make. Use cookbooks, or magazines, Yummly, or Pinterest to find a recipe that looks interesting to them. Sources with pictures are really great, because we eat with our eyes, and for a kid not familiar with many foods or cooking techniques, it may be hard to image what a food would be like from just a text recipe. Start with a category that you choose (soup, breakfast, broccoli, chicken, etc.) to narrow down options and make sure you aren’t always making desserts or pizza rolls.

Have them help with clean up It is good for them to learn to clean as they go and really good for you to have them clean as they go. You can start small with this too. Kids can help put wrappers or food scraps in the trash (you can also use a garbage bowl on the table to reduce trips to the trash can), they can put dirty dishes in the sink or dishwasher, help put ingredients away, and wipe off a table when they are done.

This obviously isn’t comprehensive. How you involve your kids in cooking will depend on them and you and that’s fine! But I hope these ideas provide some comfortable ways to get started and some encouragement to keep going if you already have.

Stick around for more ideas because I will be adding more! Follow the blog, join my email list, check out the links on my resource page, or get a plan built just for your family.

If you are you reading this and going, wait, I don’t even feel comfortable in the kitchen myself. How can I teach my kids? I don’t feel confident in my ability to prepare balanced and meals, but I want to, and want my kids to have that ability. I wish I just had somebody who would just walk me through the process, make it a little less overwhelming, who could be my coach and cheerleader

That’s me! I can do that! I would love to work with you at your current level of cooking/food comfort to develop a tool kit of meals, skills, recipes, so you can feel confident in the kitchen and pass that along to your kids. If this sounds like something you want, learn more here

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S019566631630160X
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0195666314001573?via%3Dihub
  3. https://journals.lww.com/topicsinclinicalnutrition/Abstract/2013/01000/Cooking_Confidence_and_Healthy_Eating_Choices_of.5.aspx
  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1499404619300776

10 healthy salads that require absolutely no cooking skills

These are meals that literally require throwing ingredients together. No quick sauteeing, no slicing, no chopping, no measuring. This is for you if you want to make a meal but don’t have access to a kitchen. This is for you if you don’t know how to cook but want to eat more at home. This is for you if you don’t want to cook because you’re too exhausted or busy or just have other things you’d rather do. This is for you if you’re struggling with your mental health and you just need some fuel for your body on days when you have no motivation to do anything.

lettuce, black beans, salsa, scoop of queso fresco in a white dish

Most of these salads are a balanced meal in themselves. They have veggies, protein, and some sort of carbohydrate. Most of them are lower on the carb side (especially carbs from grains), so if you like bread, a whole grain bread makes a good compliment to the meal. I personally feel like a salad meal isn’t complete without bread. 🙂

Anyway, on to the salads

Taco Salad

pre-washed lettuce/greens OR sliced cabbage/coleslaw mix + can of beans + (optional can of corn) + shredded cheese + salsa + (optional guacamole and/or sour cream) + chips

Cheese Apple Walnut Salad

pre-washed lettuce/greens + apple slices + walnuts + shredded or crumbled cheese+ vinaigrette dressing + optional pre-cooked chicken OR deli turkey OR deli ham

No-Chop Cobb Salad

pre-washed lettuce + pre-cooked chicken OR sliced deli chicken + bacon bits + blue cheese + cherry tomatoes + pre-cooked hardboiled eggs (crumbled by hand or squished with a fork) + scoop guacamole + vinaigrette + optional dried chives sprinkle

Easy Caprese

Cherry or grape tomatoes + sliced mozzarella or mozzarella balls + olive oil + fresh basil or dried basil + optional extra pre-washed greens

Salad Bread

Washed leaves of Romaine/Green leaf/Red leaf/Butter/Iceberg lettuce spread with hummus/tuna salad/chicken salad/egg salad/peanut butter (sounds weird but actually not bad) or use them to roll up deli meat and/or cheese with whatever condiments you like

Chicken Caesar Salad

pre-washed lettuce/greens + pre-cooked chicken OR sliced deli chicken + Caesar dressing + croutons + (optional cherry tomatoes)

Salmon Caesar Salad

pre-washed lettuce/greens + canned salmon + Caesar dressing + croutons + (optional cherry tomatoes)

“Chinese” chicken salad

sliced cabbage or coleslaw mix + pre-cooked chicken + sliced almonds + canned mandarin oranges + Asian dressing or soy sauce and honey + (optional crunchy chow mein noodles)

Pear Spinach Salad

Canned sliced or cubed pears (drained) + pre-washed spinach + pre-cooked chicken + pecans, walnuts, or sliced almonds + dressing of your choice (blue cheese and pears is a winning combination I think)

Bean Salad

You can actually buy cans of this already made, or make your own: canned kidney beans + canned garbanzo beans + canned green beans (or add whatever beans you like) + vinaigrette dressing. Eat with whole grain bread for the most complete protein

I have done my best to make sure that these recipes require as little preparation as possible. The most that will need to be done is opening a few cans, maybe tearing some lunch meat, spreading some stuff on other stuff, and mixing stuff together. The items mentioned as pre-cooked can be something you have pre-cooked yourself, but I have tried to choose things that you will be able to buy at a typical grocery store pre-cooked to truly minimize the work and need for a kitchen. I do realize not everyone has access to a grocery store or a grocery store with a wide selection of fresh ingredients. I’ve tried to include salads with a variety of ingredients, many of which are shelf-stable or last a long time.

Do you have any go-to recipes (salad or not) that don’t require any cooking? Feel free to share in the comments

This post is intended to be informational only and is not medical or nutritional advice. If you have questions about your unique needs, ask about a custom meal plan or speak with a registered dietitian-nutritionist near you.

Let’s talk about food we hate

Let’s talk about food we hate. Or even foods we just don’t really like.

Tasty GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
How I feel about olives

It’s fine and normal to have foods you don’t like and choose not to eat!

Everyone has their own personal preferences. It’s cool if you never want to try those foods or learn to like them. It’s your choice!

From a nutrition perspective, there is such a variety of food on this earth that most people can have a balanced diet that fits within their food preferences. There might be a few changes and stretches to make, but it’s rare that you will need to eat only foods you hate to be healthy.

If you are concerned that food preferences are so restrictive that they prevent you from getting adequate nutrition, please speak to a registered dietitian or primary care provider.

Here are some foods I don’t like:

  • Beets
  • Bacon
  • Papaya
  • Fresh mango
  • Mayonnaise
  • Ranch dressing
  • Thousand Island Dressing
  • Ham
  • Pork chops
  • over-dressed salad (soggy lettuce 🙁 )
  • Pineapple candy
  • Cooked or canned pineapple
  • Pickled mushrooms
  • Olives
  • Chicken skin
  • Gristle
  • American cheese
  • Eggplant
  • Licorice
  • Redvines
  • Coconut
  • Root Beer

That being said, some of these I keep trying because I want to maybe someday like them.

Sometimes it’s worth giving foods a few chances before you rule them out forever.

(This doesn’t even take into account not eating certain foods because of religious or ethical beliefs. This is also totally up to each individual and should not be considered just a preference. )

You might discover you don’t like a food prepared one way, but eating it another way, or in another context is delicious. For example, I grew up not liking tuna. But it turns out I just don’t like the mayonnaise that was always in tuna salad. Tuna by itself, or mixed with avocado – I like just fine.

This beet pasta recipe from Nadiya Hussain is another good example. I am not really a fan of beets, but this pasta has so much garlic, lemon, and cheese that it’s all I can taste, but I still get the nutrients and beautiful pink color from beets.

Eating foods prepared differently may be especially helpful if you are sensitive to textures.

Some foods are an acquired taste and it takes a few times (or several times) of eating them before it starts to taste good. So, if you really want to like a food, it’s ok if it takes you a few times.

And tastes change. As kids, our palates are really sensitive, especially to bitter and sour tastes, but we lose some of that sensitivity as we’re older so we’re more likely to enjoy foods like coffee, broccoli, beer, vinaigrette. I used to hate pineapple in all forms and just automatically avoided it until I ate it at someone’s house to be polite and discovered that it was pretty good fresh. Still can’t stand it cooked or canned though.

Read about encouraging kids to try new foods and see more resources here

Here are some foods I use to not like but I do now:

  • Tuna (turns out I just don’t like mayonnaise)
  • Ketchup
  • Hamburgers
  • Mushrooms
  • Tomatoes
  • Mustard (still not a fan of straight yellow mustard, but some whole grain or Dijon…alright)
  • Grilled onions
  • Fresh pineapple
  • Asparagus
  • Roast beef
  • Coca Cola, Dr. Pepper
  • Coffee
  • Yogurt
  • Goat cheese
  • Salsa
  • Dark chocolate
  • Sour cream
  • Guacamole
  • Potato chips
  • Pepperoni
  • Dill

Now, why would you want to eat foods you don’t like on the off-chance that you might start liking them?

Health: Wanting to get the health benefits of a certain food or food group that is not your favorite (salmon for omega-3s, spinach for the iron, chicken breasts for the lean protein, or just generally more veggies for example). It’s why I keep trying beets and eggplant.

Social: This is another big reason and actually a really important one. Sometimes being able to eat a greater variety of foods gives you more freedom in your social life. You don’t have to worry about what’s going to be served at dinner a dinner party, or might be more likely to join a group that’s going out to a new restaurant.

Variety: You’re bored of the foods you are currently eating and want to try something new

Legacy: You want your kids to try new foods and you need to set a good example.

You just want to because it seems cool: I’ll be honest here. While beets are really healthy, the main reason that I really want to like them is that they are sooo pretty! Did you see that pasta? It’s an unreal magenta color! Or olives. It was a great disappointment to my child self that I didn’t like olives because I wanted to be like all the cool kids and stick them on my fingers, but I still don’t like them despite continuing to try them :/

Your takeaway for today: it’s ok to not like all foods, but sometimes it’s worth giving a food a few chances before swearing it off forever because you may someday be able to wear olives on your fingers like the cool kids.

What foods do you dislike? Or what foods are you learning to like?

This post is intended to be informational only and is not medical or nutritional advice. If you have questions about your unique needs, ask about a custom meal plan or speak with a registered dietitian-nutritionist near you.

Good nutrition news: apple crisp

Who loves apple crisp? The cinnamony-syrup covered apples, topped with bites of buttery, crunchy oats. Mmmm. I have been known to eat apple crisp for breakfast or dinner as well as dessert. And after this post, you might consider an apple crisp breakfast too!

close up of apple crisp in a glass dish

Here’s some good nutrition news about apple crisp:

Apple crisp can totally count as a serving of fruit

Right off the bat, if you’re eating an apple crisp (or any type of fruit crisp) you’re eating some fruit! Recommendations for daily fruit intake vary from 1 cup to 2 1/2 cups. Even a small serving of crisp will probably have at least 1/2 cup of fruit, which will give you a good portion of your recommended fruit intake regardless of whether you’re aiming for 1 cup or 2 and a half!

Apple crisp can be a source of whole grains

Most apple crisp recipes I am familiar with include oats (quick or rolled) as part of the delicious crumbly topping. Both of those forms of oats are whole grains, which compared to refined grains, have higher fiber and more protein. The USDA recommends at least 1/2 of your daily grains be whole grains. So there you go, by eating apple crisp, you’re moving toward that goal!

Now that you’ve got fruit and whole grains, all you need to make a meal is some protein, maybe some vegetables or calcium

  • For breakfast, serve with some scrambled eggs or a scoop of yogurt for protein
  • Apple crisp + slice of sharp cheddar cheese is a classic combination that provides protein + calcium and you should try it if you haven’t
  • For a vegetarian/vegan breakfast option, serve alongside a handful of nuts and a calcium-fortified beverage
  • Serve the above options in the evening for a breakfast-for-dinner option
  • Pork + apples is a winning combination. Some pork chops + steamed or roasted vegetables + this crisp …*chef’s kiss*
  • Serve alongside your favorite sausage and a green salad

Ways to make your apple crisp even more nutritious:

  • Use whole wheat flour as the flour portion in the recipe for even more whole grains
  • Don’t peel your apples. A large part of the fiber in an apple is in the skin. (Plus, this way you don’t have to spend all that time peeling apples)
  • If you want to replace some of the saturated fat with unsaturated fats, replace the butter with a plant-based substitute like Smart Balance which has more unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids

Now, I just want to say that apple crisp is a magical food that will solve all of your problems or that you can eat as much as you want because it can do no wrong. Like any food, balance is key.

The main thing I want you to take away is that this cozy dessert has plenty to be happy about. So next time you’re enjoying some cinnamonny, crumbly, apple-y goodness, rejoice in the ways it is nourishing you!

If you are inspired and want to make your own, here’s the recipe I usually use. And if you need a gluten-free option, here is a gluten-free apple crisp recipe from Cookie and Kate.

This post is intended to be informational only and is not medical or nutritional advice. If you have questions about your unique needs, ask about a custom meal plan or speak with a registered dietitian-nutritionist near you.

What does a dietitian – nutritionist eat? The truth.

“so what do you eat?”

I get asked this question as a dietitian often enough that I figured I would write out the answer. But I want to start out by saying that as real humans, we have different bodies, needs, preferences, beliefs and values about food. So consider this more of a post to satisfy curiosity than any recommendation.

And not to sound like a broken record (but this is important) this is not a prescription or a recommendation. This is a description. This is just what I eat.

The good news of nutrition is there are lots of ways to eat healthy. So while this is how I eat, (and I consider it healthy) it will not be the right solution for everyone. You might have different dietary needs due to a medical condition, or a family member’s medical condition. You might have different dietary preferences – or a different lifestyle that make these choices impractical. That’s ok.

That’s the beauty of Nutrition for Real Humans, and that’s why I work with each client to design a plan that will make healthy eating work for them.

Now, onto what you clicked on this title for: What does a dietitian eat? (Or more accurately, what does this dietitian eat?)

I thought about it and wrote down some patterns that I tend to follow when I’m deciding what to eat. I don’t really have strict rules; in the words of Captain Barbosa:

A fruit or vegetable with each meal.

At least one, sometimes more. This could look like a banana with breakfast, eating a carrot alongside my sandwich, or adding a bunch of vegetables to the soup I’ve made for dinner.

Benefits of fruits and vegetables

  • High water content (good for hydration)
  • Generally high in fiber
  • Source of a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C
  • Source of phytonutrients and antioxidants that we don’t even fully comprehend the benefits of yet
  • Often add beautiful color, flavor, and texture to the meal!

Most grains whole grains.

I try to make whole grains the default grain that I eat. If I make rice, it’s brown rice. When I make bread or muffins or waffles, I make sure at least half the flour I use (if not more) is whole wheat flour. When I buy grain products (tortillas, cereals, pasta), I usually choose products where the first ingredient listed is whole grain or whole wheat.

Benefits of whole grains

  • Higher fiber content (more filling, digest more slowly)
  • Slightly higher protein content
  • Naturally contain more vitamins and minerals than refined grains (although most products made with refined grains have vitamins and minerals added back to make up for this loss)

This doesn’t mean I don’t eat refined grains. When I bake, usually at least part of the recipe is made with white flour because the texture is better, and if I’m making a dessert, I just use white flour.

It’s hard to pass up a good sourdough if it’s white bread, and our favorite instant mac and cheese is made with white pasta.

Protein source with each meal.

Benefits of protein with each meal

  • Personally, I feel full longer and have better energy between meals if I eat some protein.
  • Helps ensure I get enough protein during the day.
  • Spreading protein through the day has been shown to be helpful in building and maintaining muscle mass
  • Many foods that are sources of protein are also important sources of other essential nutrients, like iron, calcium, or B-vitamins.

Vary sources of protein, and include plant-based proteins frequently.

Learn more about protein , and specifically plant-based protein

Benefits of varying protein

  • Gain the different benefits of different types of protein (e.g. omega-3 fatty acids in fish)
  • Spreads out the drawbacks of different types of protein (e.g. high sodium content of cheese)
  • Keep it interesting
  • Eating more plant proteins generally reduces cost of meals and environmental impact

Keep nutrient-dense snacks around.

So when I’m hungry between meals I have something available to eat that will help provide me with more nutrients and energy as well as satisfy my hunger.

Learn more about what I think about snacks.

Some snacks that I like to have around:

  • Roasted salted almonds
  • Roasted salted mixed nuts
  • Yogurt
  • Dark chocolate
  • Cheese
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Hummus
  • Carrots
  • Popcorn
  • Mandarin oranges/tangerines
  • Whole grain muffins
  • Dried fruit
  • Lara Bars (snack bar made with dried fruit and nuts)
  • Cottage cheese
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Peanut butter
  • Seaweed snacks

I don’t always have all of these around, but these are examples of what might be laying around our house.

Use healthy fats when cooking

I embrace fats in general when cooking, especially olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, to help make a meal more satisfying and tasty. I also really like dairy fats: cheese, butter, full fat yogurt. There is evidence showing that intake of fats from dairy, especially from yogurt and cheese is not associated with increased heart disease or diabetes risk or death. We also personally don’t have any health conditions that would make it especially risky for us to eat saturated fat.

Benefits of fats

  • Take longer to digest, and help promote satiety (satisfaction)
  • Help your body absorb certain vitamins
  • Important carriers of flavor

Drink mostly water, milk, coffee and tea (unsweetened or lightly sweetened)

These are the drinks I have at home. It doesn’t mean we never have soda or juice or alcohol, but we mostly only buy these if we are hosting guests, or if we are out to dinner or as a special treat

(No pictures because I don’t often take pictures of just glasses of water or milk haha).

Mostly cook and eat at home

This is mainly because of how I grew up and how I ate when I was first on my own and didn’t have lots of money. But it also lets me be in charge of what’s in my food.

Probably more sweets than you expect

We both have sweet tooths (sweet teeth?). We probably have dessert at least half of the nights of the week (more if I’ve baked something). This could be ice cream, a handful of chocolate chips, kettlecorn, or a microwave brownie.

This is one thing that I am tempted to feel guilty about. But most of the time I don’t, and my husband really helps me be a balanced, reasonable human here. Dessert is something we both enjoy (and often a way to share celebration or just spend time with other people), and the way we eat it does not cause us health problems.

Benefits of sweets/desserts

  • Delicious
  • Often a way to spend time with people
  • I like baking
  • Sometimes an opportunity to get extra nutrients in: dark chocolate contains iron, kettlecorn is a whole grain, milk-based desserts contain calcium, fruit-based desserts provide extra fruit! Don’t think something is immediately of no value just because it has sugar!

Just in cased you missed that excellent GIF in the beginning, these are general descriptions of what I eat. I don’t follow them like strict rules. Sometimes I just don’t have a vegetable or fruit with a meal, or don’t have a protein with a meal. And again, this is not THE RIGHT way to eat. There is no one right way.

If you really want to know what I eat, just follow @nutritionforrealhumans on Instagram, or Facebook. That’s where all of these pictures are from 🙂

If you feel you must take a recommendation away from this post:

Make most of your guidelines and nutrition goals positive or additive

Notice, that most of these guidelines are things I DO, not things I don’t.

There is some evidence that adding foods, or having positive goals (vs. don’t eat that or eat less this) are easier to maintain. Positive goals are awesome. You get to feel accomplished when you do them!

What small thing can you start doing?

Make snacks work for you: How to use snacks to achieve your own ends (even if that’s world domination)

Snacking for real humans part 3

Blueberries and salt and vinegar almonds – two of my favorite snacks

Snacks are tools. Make them work for you!

One of the most useful and effective tools that I used while providing outpatient nutrition counseling is called motivational interviewing. It’s based on asking questions to find out what motivates the client/patient and working from that motivation to decide what changes to make alongside the client. Not just telling the client what changes to make.

This is also what nutrition for real humans is all about. You are a real human with a real unique life. You are the expert in what’s going on in your life. You know what’s important to you. Your snacks should reflect that. So…

What do you want your snacks to do for you? What are you looking for from your snack?

This can change from day to day or from snack to snack. There’s no one right answer, and it might be more than one answer. Knowing what you want can make sure you choose the snack that will fulfill that purpose. The right tool for the job.

Here are some things you might want a snack to help you accomplish:

  • Have more energy
  • Gain weight
  • Get more protein
  • Eat more fruits
  • Not be bored
  • Satisfy a craving
  • Have more stable blood sugar
  • Avoid being so hungry that you buy the entire snack aisle at the grocery store
  • Avoid being so hungry that you can’t make a decision about dinner so you end up putting it off until you have a headache so you just eat a bowl of ice cream and go to bed
  • Eat more whole grains
  • Eat more fiber
  • Lose weight
  • Eat more vegetables
  • Procrastinate
  • Drink more water
  • Try new foods
  • Waste less food
  • Feel better about a bad experience
  • Have enough energy and brain power for world domination

When you know what you want your snack to do for you, you can choose a snack that will be a good tool for the job

Having more than one thing that you want your snack to do can help you narrow down your options even more!

Let’s take an example: you are craving something salty and also want to increase your fiber intake. How about some salted nuts? Or some whole grain crackers? Veggies and ranch to dip? Or maybe you actually really want chips. So you have a little chips to satisfy the craving and you also eat an orange to get the fiber.

Another example: You want to be more hydrated and eat more vegetables. These go really easily together because vegetables have a high water content. Sliced cucumbers, carrot sticks, snap peas, sliced bell peppers, salad, any of these would satisfy both goals.

You want to eat more fruit and have more energy at work, so you plan ahead by buying some portable and tasty dried mango to take with you

dried mango slices in a blue bowl

Sometimes you may need to prioritize one goal.

For example, you are really craving a donut, but you also have the goal of eating more fruits and you haven’t eaten any fruits yet today, so you prioritize the fruit goal and eat some grapes. Or you decide to prioritize the donut craving and eat some fruit later.

This is me eating a delicious sour cream donut. To be honest, I don’t remember if there was any fruit prioritizing, I’m just including this picture to break up the text

Or you need to eat something so that you don’t have a panic attack at work, but none of the vending machine snacks meet your avoiding sugar goal. But you REALLY don’t need to be having a panic attack at work, so you make the lowest sugar choice from the vending machine. (And maybe you buy a stash of snacks that DO meet your goal to keep in your locker for next time)

Or you’d love to eat an organic snack that doesn’t leave packaging waste but what you can afford is not either of those things, and you need to eat at regular intervals to manage your blood sugar and stay alive. Staying alive takes priority here.

Sometimes what’s available doesn’t meet all our snack needs, so we need to prioritize. But knowing what those goals are can help us choose the best snack from what’s there.

Sometimes the right snack is not a snack.

Sometimes when you determine why you want a snack you can decide that a snack isn’t actually what you were looking for. You needed a break from work or some comfort after a stressful phone call. Sometimes a snack can provide those things, but you may, once you know that’s what you’re looking for, decide you have a better solution.

This is for you if you don’t like snacks:

Maybe you don’t want snacks to do anything for you. Maybe you don’t like snacks or don’t like to eat between meals. That’s totally fine. Snacks are not required. You do you.

Principle 3 of snacking for real humans:

Know what you want a snack to do for you, then choose the right tool for the job.

If that’s world domination, then you’re going to need some nourishing snacks.

What do you want your snacks to do for you?

As are all of the posts in this blog, none of this is intended as medical or nutrition advice and is for educational purposes only. Speak with a registered dietitian-nutritionist or your primary care provider if you have questions about your specific nutrition needs.

Snacks are not a weakness. They can actually make you healthier.

Snacking for real humans part 2

Also this post contains brief discussion of calories so if reading about that will be a struggle, maybe skip this post 🙂

Snacking is totally valid and anyone who says otherwise can go eat a snack*.

Have you ever felt that snacking between meals was a weakness? Something you give into because you aren’t strong enough to wait until the next meal? Or something you eat because you didn’t have time to make lunch or were super busy and didn’t feel like eating earlier and now you are starving? Something that messes up your healthy meal plan?

Do you feel guilty about eating snacks?

And even if you don’t, I have good news:

Snacks can make you healthier

This study, done in 19,427 adults, found that more frequent eating (higher number of meals/snacks per day) was associated with a higher score on the Healthy Eating Index 2010. The Healthy Eating Index is a tool that measures how close to the USDA healthy eating guidelines someone’s eating is – things like servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, etc.

The TLDR: people who eat snacks generally meet more of their nutrient goals!

That study was done in adults, but there was also one done in children that showed similar results. And actually, dietitians recommend feeding small children multiple snacks a day because they need so many nutrients to fuel their growth and activity that they can’t fit it into 3 meals!

Count your snacks

A different study of data from 14,263 adults, and found that on average, 18-24% of calories eaten in a day came from snacks. (That’s about 1 in 5 in case you prefer ratios to percentages). That is a pretty big portion of daily energy intake! If you eat snacks every day, they are a big part of your nutrition – so you should count them, and make them count!

Now listen before I go any further, this is not to say that we should be eating fewer calories from snacks. (Or that everyone should be counting calories.) I only bring up the 18-24% to show that snacks can be a big portion of what we eat!

TLDR: On average, about 1/5 of our dietary intake comes from snacks

Now, you can take this one way and be like, oh no, I must only eat carrots and hummus for my snacks because I have to count those calories. NO. I mean, if you’re counting calories then, yes, you have to count those calories. But thinking you should only eat low-calorie snacks is making snacks seem like a bad thing that you are trying to minimize.

You need calories. Calories are just a measurement of energy we get from the food we eat – something that we all need to be living, functioning humans.

Snacks are one of the ways we can get energy (calories) from food. You should count them as part of your daily energy intake. And you should think of them as ways to get the nutrients you need.

Make snacks count: Are there nutrition goals you are overwhelmed by?

  • 5-9 fruits and vegetables a day
  • 3 servings calcium-rich food
  • 8 glasses of water/day
  • 25-35 grams fiber a day
  • x grams of protein per day
  • more antioxidants, more iron, etc.

Take into account your snacks when thinking about those goals. You might find you are closer to meeting them than you thought.

Sometimes because a snack is not a meal, it doesn’t fit into the “what I ate today” box. It gets forgotten or just doesn’t get taken into account. If you count the trail mix that you snack on when you’re hungry in the car, you might find you are eating more fiber than you thought. If you count your night cheese, you might find you are closer to your calcium goals than you thought.

This can go both ways of course, a few of those studies did note that most sweets and sweetened beverages were eaten as snacks, so maybe you’ll find that you are eating more sodium or sugar than you thought and need to adjust a little so you can meet your goals

If there’s a goal you aren’t quite meeting, think of how you can leverage a snack to get there. Can you add a glass of milk or a cheese stick to get more calcium? Can you choose a whole grain granola bar or a handful of nuts to get to your fiber goal?

Anyway, remember this 2nd part of snacking for real humans:

Snacks are not a weakness. They are just a part of your nourishment and can make you healthier! Own those snacks!

*If you don’t like to eat snacks and are happy with just eating meals, and you’re meeting your nutrition goals, no worries. It’s not required to eat snacks. Unless your dietitian or doctor tells you otherwise. This whole blog post is not medical or nutrition advice for you and is for informational purposes only. If you have questions, speak with a registered dietitian or doctor.