New year, new you? Try one small habit, not two

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My New Year’s Resolution is to start writing titles that sound like Dr. Seuss books.

Haha not really.

I know there will be approximately 70,000 blog posts or articles about making New Year’s resolutions and why you should or shouldn’t, etc. I’m not here to convince you about whether you should make a resolution or not.

What I do know is that the beginning of a new year causes lots of people to think about goals and aspirations. And a lot of those goals will be related to nutrition, so I’m here to tell you what I know about nutrition goals.

Nutrition goals are hard.

Changing anything is hard. If you’re trying to start doing something that you’re not used to doing, it’s going to be hard. If you’re trying to stop doing something you’re used to doing, it’s going to be hard. It’s just the nature of making changes.

There are surely psychological and behavioral studies that will explain the how and why it’s hard, but look – you probably know that from experience. I know it from my own experience and from the experience of working with probably thousands of people trying to make nutrition changes.

So here’s two things I want you to remember:

Start small

Choose 1 or 2 small things that you are confident you can do. And by confident I mean, you are like 95% sure that you will do it. (I know I said not 2 in the title, but it just rhymed, just don’t choose too many) Something that even seems a little bit too easy is fine, especially if you are just starting this change.

If you have a big goal like “eat healthier” or “lower my cholesterol” or “cook at home more” or “run a 5k” – that’s good! You set those big goals as your end game and use them to decide what your small goals are.

Choose small goals that will move you toward your big goal.

For example:

  • Eat healthier -> eat a fruit with breakfast every day
  • Lower my cholesterol -> find a whole grain bread you like to eat instead of white bread
  • Cook at home more -> Find two recipes that you can make easily and wouldn’t mind eating once a week (or talk to someone about planning meals for you so you don’t even have to think about it)
  • Run a 5k -> Commit to walking 10 minutes 3 days per week

Making these small goals gives you a hit of accomplishment along the way, before you make it to that long term goal. Kind of like a save point in a video game. This gives you more confidence and motivation to make new goals (a cycle of accomplishment) instead of making large unrealistic goals and feeling bad when you don’t reach them (a cycle of defeat)

There are lots more people who have written more about starting small/achievable goals; I really like how the Lazy Genius explains it here

Give yourself credit

Remember what I said just a few paragraphs ago? Making changes is hard. So give yourself credit when you’ve made a change, even if it’s a small one!

Did you hear that?

Give yourself credit for making even a small change!

If you eat a fruit with breakfast most days when you didn’t before, or you now cook two meals at home per week instead of one – good for you! You made a change! You are progressing in the direction you want to go.

If you’ve made progress – you eat more veggies, you drink less soda, you walk more often than you used to – give yourself a sticker*, or a pat on the back, or a little dance in your kitchen, whatever helps you celebrate

*The stickers thing is working for me right now. It gives me a small bit of childlike delight when I can mark that I exercised or completed a blog post with a pretty sticker hehehe

Then take that celebration energy and decide the next change you want to make!


Sometimes knowing what small steps to start with can be difficult – this is where a professional can be helpful. A good dietitian (or other professional if your goal isn’t nutrition related), can help you figure out the first steps to take to reach your big goal.

If your goals are related to meal planning, prep, or cooking, I can help with that! I’d be happy to help you get those wins – click here if that sparks your interest

If you are looking for nutrition help and advice in general (not related to meal planning, etc.), you can find a dietitian near you here

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.

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.

31 Meals that Require Zero Cooking: Sandwiches and Wraps

It seems to me that there are infinite “easy” cooking recipes out there that range from actually easy, to probably easy for someone who grew up in the kitchen, to maybe easy for a trained chef who has a fully stocked kitchen and a sous chef.

The goal with this series (starting with sandwiches and wraps) is to be a list of ideas that require (as the title says) zero cooking. Because maybe you like cooking, but are in a crazy busy season of life and don’t have time. Maybe you live in a place with only a mini fridge and no utensils to prep with. Or maybe you just don’t like cooking and have better things to do than spend time chopping, slicing, braising, sauteing, and/or cleaning up. Granted, some of these things will take a little prep, but – stay with me – it’s mostly opening packages and dumping things together or maybe spreading something with a knife. I’ve even made this list so you don’t even need to heat anything up.

The components for all of these meals are a bread or grain wrap + filling (usually protein) + fruit or vegetable

This model makes sure the meal includes at least 3 food groups on USDA’s MyPlate. If there is already a fruit or vegetable in the filling, adding another fruit or veggie on the side, makes it even closer to the goal of 1/2 the plate being fruit and/or vegetables.

For more information on USDA’s MyPlate, visit choosemyplate.gov

Bread or Wrap:

  1. Sliced whole grain bread
  2. Hoagie roll
  3. Sliced sourdough
  4. Whole grain tortilla
  5. Whole grain pita
  6. Gluten-free sandwich wrap
  7. Whole grain waffles

These are just some examples, as there are so many bread options. Choosing a whole grain option will make for a higher-fiber and more filling meal.

Fruit or Vegetable:

  1. You can use a whole fruit or vegetable that’s ready to eat, like an apple or carrot (just rinse these) or banana or mandarin orange.
  2. You can also use packaged produce that is already prepared, like bagged spinach, baby carrots, or a jar of pickles.
  3. Most grocery stores also sell pre-washed and cut fruits and veggies in the produce section.
  4. A grocery store with a pay-by-weight salad bar can also be a resource for purchasing already washed and prepared veggies in smaller amounts (think shredded cabbage, pickled beets, or sliced cucumbers).

Protein fillings:

  1. Peanut/almond/cashew/sun butter
  2. Nut butter and jelly
  3. Nut butter and honey
  4. Nut butter and sliced fruit
  5. Nut butter and lettuce/spinach + optional mayo (I know it sounds weird, but some people like it)
  6. Turkey (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, Sriracha, horseradish or even guacamole)
  7. Turkey and veggie (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, Sriracha, horseradish, or guacamole)
  8. Turkey and cheese (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, Sriracha, horseradish, or guacamole)
  9. Turkey and cheese and veggie (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, Sriracha, or guacamole)
  10. Roast beef (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, guacamole, or Sriracha)
  11. Roast beef and veggie (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, guacamole, or Sriracha)
  12. Roast beef and cheese (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, guacamole, or Sriracha)
  13. Ham (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, or guacamole – not sure if guac would go well with ham but fine if you want to try it)
  14. Ham and cheese (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, Sriracha, hot sauce, or guacamole)
  15. Baloney (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, Sriracha, hot sauce, or guacamole)
  16. Cheese (any cheese besides cream cheese can work as a protein food)
  17. Cheese and veggie (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, Sriracha, or guacamole)
  18. Salami/pastrami/hot dog (salami and other sausages are higher in fat and sodium, so better to choose this less often, however – still provides protein)
  19. Tuna salad (many stores sell tuna salad already mixed OR make your own by mixing canned tuna with mayo or guac or yogurt and some salt or pepper)
  20. Chicken salad (see above – you can add flavor to either of these with garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, or a spice mix packet)
  21. Hummus and veggies – particularly ones with crunch – snap peas, lettuce, shredded carrots, small tomatoes, celery, cucumbers, sliced cabbage
  22. Egg salad (buy egg salad already made or mash up some hard-boiled eggs with mustard, salt, pepper, mayonnaise, paprika or whatever other spices you like in your hard-boiled eggs)
  23. Eggless salad (same as egg salad, but mash up tofu instead)
  24. Tofu and veggies (definitely want to add some flavor to this using soy sauce, hot sauce, Sriracha, etc. as tofu is pretty bland)*
  25. Pre-cooked chicken, lettuce, and Caesar dressing*
  26. Beans (baked beans or black beans, pinto beans or garbanzo beans, chili beans or white beans – add hot sauce, garlic powder, chili powder, or taco seasoning to plain beans)*
  27. Bean and cheese *
  28. Bean and salsa/guac/hot sauce*
  29. Bean and cheese and salsa/guac/hot sauce*
  30. Yogurt and fruit*
  31. Yogurt and fruit and nuts*

*These would probably work best as a wrap, but you could certainly make them into a messy sandwich

Some of these ideas might seem obvious, but just because they are super easy and common doesn’t mean they aren’t a good meal. Feel free to share your sandwich/wrap ideas in the comments.

And of course, this are general ideas and guidelines. They are not intended to treat any specific health condition. Speak with your doctor or dietitian about your specific dietary needs.