Nutrition Blog

Each month, I.L. Creations' registered dietitians create our Wellness Newsletter discussing a different nutrition or wellness topic. You may subscribe to this at the registered dietitian's table during your cafe's monthly wellness visit or by clicking the link below to our Home page.  Here on the blog, we continue the conversation by posting relevant, entertaining, and useful food and nutrition information. 

Please look through our previous posts below to see what topics you may have missed. If you would like to see a topic in the future, let us know!

Check out the Home page to subscribe for free to our monthly Wellness Newsletter.
Check out the Recipes page to see recipes from previous newsletters, registered dietitian cafe visits, and our registered dietitian's family favorites.

Heart Health Month-Make a Heart Healthy Chili

posted Feb 22, 2019, 12:55 PM by Tracy Ducker, MS, RDN

February is heart health month and as we wrap up our Annual Chili Tasting Contest, we thought why not focus on Heart Healthy Chili. The beauty of chili is it can take on what- ever flavors you want and love. So mix it up and be creative. Below is a guide to creating your own award winning chili that's good for your heart. 

Balance Holiday Eating with a Little Creativity

posted Dec 19, 2018, 8:12 PM by Evangelina DiSpirito, RDN, E-RYT   [ updated Feb 8, 2019, 11:23 AM ]

By: Evangelina DiSpirito, RDN, E-RYT

The holidays are in full swing, and the array of decadent food and drinks are tempting our taste buds.   Getting creative to stay on a healthy track can be a breeze with these five simple steps.


1.     Healthier substitutions: Create a healthier display of foods by substituting healthier ingredients in your favorite recipes or by bringing in healthier holiday treats               to work.


v Hummus dips, and instead of pita chips, try veggie sticks such as jicama (which contains inulin and can lower blood sugar), sugar snap peas, tri-color sliced bell peppers. and carrots.

              v Pumpkin mousse parfait or use pumpkin mousse recipe as a dip and serve with sliced apples, jicama, and ginger 
                 snaps. Click Pumpkin Mousse Parfait for pumpkin mousse recipe.

vGreek yogurt Spinach dip with whole grain pita chips and vegetable sticks.

vVegetable-based dishes, for example, instead of green bean casserole.  Try steaming fresh green beans then sautéing yellow onions, mushrooms with olive oil. Toss sautéed mushroom and onion mixture over steamed green beans.

vFor work gatherings, instead of the candy and cookie basket, try a fruit basket with interspersed dark chocolates.


2.    Don’t skip meals before a party.   Have a light snack that contains a healthy carbohydrate and protein, along with an                   8-ounce glass of water. This pre-party snack practice will help stave off hunger so you can scan the buffet table objectively.

v Sliced apples sprinkled with cinnamon paired, with one tablespoon of peanut butter or half of cup of Greek yogurt.   

v Low-fat cottage cheese (4oz) with pears.


3.     Don’t drink your calories.  Stay hydrated with water or unsweetened beverages to avoid drinking your calories:  Whether you are drinking alcohol or holiday                    punch, these drinks can pack on the calories.   Cut calories in half by trying these tips:

v Alternate drinking 8 ounces of water for every calorie-laden drink (wine, beer, eggnog, punch, sodas) consumed.  

v Always have sparkling water or water in your hand to avoid being offered high-calorie drinks.

v Dilute the drinks (wine or punch) with half sparkling water for a festive spritzer drink.

v Opt for smaller-size cups to drink wine, punch or sodas.


4.       Portion control with serving size control.   "Half it and have it."  Serve yourself smaller portion sizes for snacks and meals.  

v Allow yourself two starches (such as mashed potatoes, stuffing, macaroni and cheese) per plate.

v For appetizers, opt for more fruits and vegetable appetizers paired with low-fat, high-fiber, high-protein foods such as bean dips or Greek yogurt dips. 

5.       Stay active.  Whether you are vacationing or will be on a staycation for the holidays, be sure to continue to have an exercise routine.   Staying active will help you

          stay motivated and help keep you healthy.

v Start the day off by hitting the gym for a spin class, yoga class or jog outside.  

v Walk after holiday meals.

        v Help clean kitchen.

Remember, not every approach works for everyone, so find what works for you.  Most importantly, enjoy the essence of the season by being at peace with yourself so you can be at ease with your food choices.   Happy Healthy Holidays!

More information about this article, contact author at .

Healthy Foods for Healthy Numbers

posted Dec 3, 2018, 11:09 AM by Tracy Ducker, MS, RDN


When you have diabetes or prediabetes, knowing what to eat can be challenging. However, what you eat can greatly improve your blood glucose numbers and your quality of life. By using the American Diabetes Association’s diabetes plate, you can plan a variety of healthy meals. Whether you have diabetes or not, it is always important to think about portion sizes, the 9" diabetes plate helps you keep portions under control, but it is still a good idea to become familiar with the recommended portion sizes for the foods you eat. 

Let's break the plate down. 

Protein foods make up 1/4 of the plate. Protein foods are needed for building and repairing muscles and cells. Animal based proteins contain little or no carbohydrates so are a good choice. Beans and lentils contain carbohydrates, but are also a good source of protein and fiber. Aim for 2-3 servings of plant based proteins a week.

Grains and Starchy Foods can and should be part of well balanced, healthy meal plan for those with diabetes. The key to choosing these foods is choosing high quality whole grains and starchy foodsHigh quality carbohydrates are low in sugar and contain fiber.  Fiber will slow down the absorption of carbohydrates so glucose levels won’t rise as quickly. Whole grains, beans/lentils, steel-cut or rolled oatmeal, quinoa, barley, bulgur, sweet potatoes, most fruits and non-starchy vegetables are all good high quality carb choices.

Non-starchy vegetables are low in calories and fat, and have important vitamins and minerals, like vitamin A, C, K, magnesium, potassium and antioxidants. Fill 1/2 of your plate with non-starchy vegetables.

Fruit and Dairy or Dairy alternatives are both are carbohydrates but they contain important nutrients and it is recommended to have 2 servings of fruit daily and depending on your age 2-3 servings of dairy or an alternative. Dairy foods contain calcium and, if fortified, vitamin D. 

Choose water or low sugar beverages and enjoy sweets occasionally. They will take the place of healthier carbohydrates, but if planned properly you can enjoy a small piece of pie or birthday cake. 

The American Diabetes Association website has a lot of information related to meal planning, exercise, diabetes medications, and support. Click on

Diabetes Awareness and Preventive Action Can Save Your Life

posted Nov 20, 2018, 1:07 PM by Evangelina DiSpirito, RDN, E-RYT   [ updated Nov 20, 2018, 1:17 PM ]

By Evangelina DiSpirito, RDN, Experienced Diabetes Educator

Almost everyone knows someone who has diabetes, which is the general feeling I get from the many groups to whom I present on a regular basis.  In fact, a participant in one of my talks said, “I don’t know anyone who as has an A1c below 5.7, and couldn’t this just be normal for everyone?”  The fact is, an A1c at 5.7 and above does indicate prediabetes.  It should not be considered the new normal because of the damage it causes within the body and the risk for developing diabetes if no action is taken to prevent it.    Hence, the reason to raise awareness about diabetes prevention. 

How common is diabetes? The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates about 30.3 million people in the U.S. over the age of 18 have diabetes, and of that number, 7.2 million are not diagnosed.   Additionally, 84 million people have prediabetes, a condition that can develop into diabetes if no action is taken to adjust lifestyle and diet for the better.  Diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in the United States in 2015.

What is Diabetes? Diabetes is a condition where the body cannot effectively use its blood sugar due to the hormone insulin.  Insulin’s role is to transport blood sugar from the bloodstream to all the cells in our body for fuel.   In people with diabetes, sugar (in the form of glucose) remains in the blood stream.   The lack of fuel in our cells and accumulation of glucose damages a person’s vital tissues and organs, and therefore leads to many of the medical complications we see in people with diabetes.  The table below describes the different types of diabetes and the labs that are used to screen for each one.

Diabetes and Diabetes Related Conditions


Blood Sugar Screening2

A1c (%)

Type 1

Very little insulin to no insulin is available.  Occurs at any age and is not directly related to diet and lifestyle.  It is related to an auto-immune condition which destroys the cells that make insulin.   Can be diagnosed at any age.

Fasting Blood Sugar:  126 mg/dl and greater

6.5% and greater

Type 2

Insulin is being produced but is not effective in helping blood sugar enter the cells for energy.  This is known as “insulin resistance.” Type 2 is tied to diet and lifestyle. Losing 7% of weight can help the body use its own insulin effectively. 

Fasting Blood Sugar: 126 mg/dl and greater

6.5% and greater


A temporary condition diagnosed around 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy. 3   This condition can occur due to a drastic fluctuation of hormones, high pre-pregnancy weight, and having risk factors for diabetes.   Early treatment can save the life of the mother and baby. 

1-hour glucose tolerance test.  At least two readings above normal.



Fasting blood sugars are elevated above normal but are not at a level of diabetes.  Related to diet and lifestyle.  Early detection and action can prevent diabetes and protect damage within the body.

Fasting Blood Sugar: 100 mg/dl to 125 mg/dl

5.7% to 6.4%

Diabetes Symptoms: Consistently high and low blood sugar levels can lead to symptoms of fatigue which we may attribute to hectic daily living.   However, if you have persistent symptoms along with the risk factors listed below, you should consider getting screened for prediabetes and diabetes.   Consistently high and low blood sugar levels can damage many of the body’s vital organs and tissues.

Excessive hunger

Frequent urination

Unintentional weight-loss


Blurry vision


Excessive sleepiness

Dry, itchy skin or slow wound healing

Urinary tract infections

What are Complications of Diabetes? If cells of the body are consistently deprived of fuel, and blood sugar levels in the bloodstream stay elevated, this can lead to many of the conditions we see with diabetes: 

Who is at Risk?

Factors You Can’t Control

Factors You can Control

v  Age (Over 45)

v  Genetics

v  Family history (parent or siblings)

v  Ethnicity (African American, Hispanic, American Indian, Asian-American)

v  Diagnosed with Gestational diabetes





v  High Blood Pressure (140/90)

v  Inactive most days of the week

v  Unhealthy eating and                          drinking habits

v  BMI over 25

v  Waist Circumference

-  Men (more than 40 inches)

-  Women (more than 35 inches)

v  Prediabetes




What Can You Do?

If Diagnosed with Diabetes:

Taking the appropriate action can help people with diabetes live longer and healthier lives.  Following the steps below will help you prevent diabetes-related complications.

1.  Work with a diabetes specialist team including an endocrinologist, registered dietitian nutritionist, and nurse.

2.  Work with Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for a personalized meal plan that best works with your medication.

3.  Exercise 30 minutes every day.

4.  Take medicines as prescribed to effectively achieve healthy blood sugar levels. 

5.  Practice mindfulness every day to help manage stress and promote sleep.

6.  Check out our next ILC Healthy Living blog on healthy meals to prevent diabetes.


To Prevent Diabetes:  Taking these steps may prevent diabetes. 

        1.  Get screened for prediabetes and diabetes.  Look at your fasting blood glucose or A1c numbers and talk to your doctor.

        2.  Physical Activity: Get 30 minutes a day of physical activity, which makes the body more sensitive to use its own insulin.    

        3.   Meet with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who specializes in diabetes to help provide you with healthy meal planning that fits in your schedule.     

        4.  Check out our next ILC Healthy Living blog on healthy meals to prevent diabetes.


For more questions on this article, please contact the author at


1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2017. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Department of Health and Human Services; 2017.

2. American Diabetes Association Guidelines for Diagnosis of Diabetes. . Download 11/15/2018.

3. Mayo Clinic. Diagnosis of

Incorporating Plant Based Meals

posted Oct 29, 2018, 11:51 AM by Tracy Ducker, MS, RDN   [ updated Oct 29, 2018, 12:04 PM ]

The benefits of incorporating more plant based meals were discussed in our last blog. So this week I’ll put it all together and focus on ways to incorporate more plant based foods into your current meals. It really isn’t hard, if you follow these guidelines.

As you replace some of the meat in your diet with plant based foods, there are a few nutrients you’ll want to be sure to consume on a daily basis.                       

Calcium -  Calcium can come from a variety of foods.

            - Dairy products tend to have the most calcium, but fortified plant based milks (soy or almond) are also good sources.  

        - Tofu with calcium

        - Dark green leafy vegetables such as kale and collard greens, broccoli, some beans (soybeans, chickpeas)

        - Almonds 

Vitamin B12  -  B12 is found predominately in animal foods. If you consume dairy and/or eggs you typically get enough, however if don’t consume any meat or meat by-product you will either need to choose foods fortified with B12 or take a vitamin B12 supplement (cobalamin). Check with your doctor before taking a supplement as B12 can interact with certain medications.

        - Fortified foods such as cereals, soy milk, nutritional yeast, and meat analogs  

        - Dairy foods 

        - Eggs

Protein – Protein can be found in animal foods and many plant based foods. There are a variety of plant based foods that contain protein.

        - Legumes (beans, lentils, peas)        

        - Dairy foods (milk, yogurt, cheese)

        - Eggs       

        - Soy products 

        - Nuts and nut butters

Vitamin D – There are very few foods that contain vitamin D. Our bodies can make vitamin D from UV sunlight, but those who don’t get a lot of sunlight and do not consume dairy foods may have difficulty meeting their needs. Check with your doctor about having your vitamin D levels checked if you are concerned.

        - Eggs 

        - Fortified dairy foods, soy beverages, orange juice, and ready to eat cereals       

Iron – Iron content is highest in meat foods, but iron needs can met through plant based foods. Be sure to consume foods high in vitamin C at each meal to increase iron absorption.

        - Beans, including tofu                                                                                                                                                                                                          

        - Dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, swiss chard)     

        - Fortified breakfast cereals 

        - Baked potatoes  

       - Cashews and pumpkin seeds

Here are examples of how to increase plant based proteins in your breakfast, lunch and dinner meals, all for about 2000 calories. You can adjust the portion sizes up or down to meet your calorie needs.


2 egg vegetable omelet, slice of toast with peanut butter, 1 orange or 6 oz glass orange juice


2 cups Southwestern vegan chili, 1 cup mixed fruit salad with 6 oz non fat Greek yogurt, whole grain roll or corn bread


2 cups Rustic spinach salad with seeds, 3 oz grilled salmon, 1 cup Mixed grain and bean salad


1 oz unsalted mixed nuts, 1 cup steel cut oats with dried fruit, or 8 oz spinach and berries power smoothie


The key is to make ½ of your plate vegetables and fruit, ¼ of your plate whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat pasta), and ¼ of your plate lean meat or plant based protein foods (beans, lentils, nuts, seeds). Check out our recipes for more plant based foods.

Plant-Based Eating Is the Best Medicine

posted Oct 17, 2018, 1:51 PM by Evangelina DiSpirito, RDN, E-RYT   [ updated Nov 20, 2018, 12:42 PM ]

By Evangelina DiSpirito, RDN, E-RYT

Plant-Based Eating Defined

Plant-based eating, simply put, is consuming plant foods in all your meals.  If you are not excited about giving up salmon, eggs, Greek yogurt, or cheese, which are the foods not generally included in vegan or vegetarian diets, the good news is that you may not have to give up those animal-based foods to achieve excellent health. 

When you hear “plant-based” eating, vegan or vegetarian comes to mind.  Plant-based eating is commonly thought of as diets with no animal products, as is true of vegan diets, which are devoid of any animal products.  Vegetarian diets do allow dairy and egg consumption, which are referred to as lacto-ovo-vegetarian.  There is also pescatarian, another vegetarian diet that includes fish.  One more diet rarely thought of as plant-based eating is that of an Omnivore diet, which consists of both plant and animal foods. 

Plant-Based Eating Promotes Longevity

The benefits of plant-based eating are not just reserved for those who avoid all animal foods. A study, the  Adventist Health Study 2, which was published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), followed 73,308 Seventh-day Adventist men and women to compare the health benefits of vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, and semi and non-vegetarian diets.  The mortality rates over the course of 5 years in these groups were lowered when eating plant-based for groups that were vegan, vegetarian, semi-vegetarian or pescatarian, as compared to nonvegetarians.  Interesting enough, the pescatarian (fish eating and plant-based diet) group had the lowest death rate when compared to all these groups, including vegans.  Although the vegan and vegetarian diets had a lower rate of heart disease and cholesterol levels, the fact that the pescatarian group had the lowest rates of all mortality rates indicates the health benefits of including fish, along with an abundance of vegetables in your diet helps you live longer.(1)

Plant-Based Eating Lowers Blood Pressure and Prevents Type 2 Diabetes

Many individuals adopt plant-based eating for many different reasons and often times, a health condition surfaces that can be remedied by eating more wholesome plant-based foods.  Individuals who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure or diabetes will find that by switching to healthier options and including more plant-based foods in their meal, their health and energy improves tremendously.   The high content of dietary fiber, potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, and folic acid is known to promote healthy blood pressure and healthy blood sugar levels.

Plant-Based Eating Protects Against Cancer 

Plant-based eating is anti-inflammatory, especially, if you are consuming plant-based foods that are not processed.  That’s because eating plant-based foods can change the physiology of your cells for the better, due to polyphenols that help fight free radicals and inhibit the growth of cancer.(2)  Specifically, the nutritional properties of fruits and vegetables like blueberries, raspberries, citrus fruits, kale, cauliflower, asparagus, and brussels sprouts,  provide an abundance of nutrients. 


The Healthy Plant-Based Meal

Eating for good health and well-being can be achieved by consuming meals that contain more fruits, vegetables, beans, healthy starches and reserving only a quarter of your plate for animal protein (see image below).  Being mindful to lower the portion sizes on your plate, specifically in the foods that can increase weight such as fats, nuts, animal protein, and whole grains.  For example, pasta, rice, and potatoes are allowed in a vegetarian diet. However, too much of these items can cause weight gain.  Sodas, sugar and plant fats are considered vegetarian, but these can pile on the calories and promote weight gain and insulin resistance that lead to diabetes when consumed in excess.  Consuming more raw fruits, vegetables and beans will ensure that you will stay satisfied on wholesome high-fiber foods.   

All IL Creations cafés have a house made salad bar and offer a variety of lean meats to help you on your path to healthy plant-based eating.  At select locations, Registered Dietitians are able to answer your questions about plant-based meal planning for your specific needs.*

For more information about this article, please email the author, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, 
For plant-based recipe ideas click here Recipes           

1Orlich MJ, Singh PN, Sabaté J, et al. Vegetarian Dietary Patterns and Mortality in Adventist Health Study 2. JAMA internal medicine. 2013;173(13):1230-1238. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.6473.
2. Pandey KB, Rizvi SI. Plant polyphenols as dietary antioxidants in human health and disease. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. 2009;2(5):270-278.

The Truth about your Diet and Cholesterol

posted Sep 10, 2018, 7:29 AM by Evangelina DiSpirito, RDN, E-RYT   [ updated Sep 25, 2018, 1:47 PM ]

By Evangelina DiSpirito, RDN, LDN, E-RYT


What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is basically a fat in the blood.   We get cholesterol in the blood by eating animal-fat foods and it’s also made by the body. Cholesterol plays a role in our hormonal balance, as well as many cellular functions that are essential to keeping us healthy.  However, too much cholesterol in our bodies can cause a build-up of plaque in the arteries that can lead to cardiovascular disease.


Cholesterol and Your Health

The amount of cholesterol you have circulating in your blood can determine your cardiovascular health.  Cardiovascular health refers to the health of your arteries.   Imagine the arteries as pipes you have in your home.  Clear pipes provide you with fresh water and remove the waste from your home efficiently.  If pipes become clogged with excess residue or rust, the water will not be as fresh, nor will the waste water drain well.  Similarly, your body is lined with pipes we call arteries, which line organs including the heart and brain.

Blood that flows through the arteries carry nutrients and oxygen to the cells within the vital tissues and organs in our body and removes carbon dioxide and other toxins from these tissues.   Our lifestyle, and what we eat and drink, as well as exposure to toxic chemicals such as tobacco, determine the integrity of our arteries.  If arteries become clogged, blood flow is restricted and can result in a heart attack or stroke.


Why worry about Cholesterol in the blood when you have no symptoms?

High cholesterol does not have any symptoms, so many people are unaware that their levels may be high.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, (CDC), cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a leading cause of death among Americans over 18 years of age.  Nearly 800,000 people die in the United States each year from cardiovascular disease (1 in every 3 deaths).   Having high cholesterol is one of the risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease.  Other risk factors include high blood pressure, genetics, having diabetes, and a waist circumference of over 35 inches for women and over 45 for men.   


Diet and Cholesterol

Eating cholesterol-rich foods, such as eggs, has been reported to put one at risk for high cholesterol.  This has led to dietary recommendations of no more than 300 milligrams per day for healthy Americans.  However, recent studies challenge the current dietary cholesterol restrictions and find that consuming dietary cholesterol does not increase the risk of heart disease.   Elevated cholesterol in the body is tied to overall fat intake, specifically, saturated fat and trans fats, as well as sugary foods.  So, don’t give up those eggs for breakfast, just yet!   Eggs once got a bad rap in previous studies, which did not look at the daily intake of saturated fat from other foods.  However, eggs are rich in healthy nutrients, including choline and Vitamin A, as well as being low in saturated fat (1.56 grams) and containing healthy unsaturated fats.    Eating one egg a day has actually been reported to increase good cholesterol (HDL), and not raise LDLs, according to research from The City University of New York’s School of Public Health and Health Policy.


3 Main Fats in the Blood that influence Cardiovascular health

Total cholesterol is the sum of blood fats circulating in your blood, which is LDL, HDL, and Triglycerides.   

LDL (Lousy Cholesterol):  Considered "Bad Cholesterol".  A build-up of this cholesterol can clog your arteries.  Frequently eating large portion sizes of foods that are high in fat, and especially high in saturated fat.

HDL (Happy Cholesterol):   Considered "Good Cholesterol".  Removes bad cholesterol from the bloodstream and helps keep arteries clear. If LDL is high and HDL is low, this puts one at risk for a heart attack and stroke.      

Triglycerides (Trouble Fat):  When triglycerides are elevated it signals "Trouble" in the body and can cause damage to the arteries.  Triglycerides form in the body when we consume more calories than we use up.  Triglycerides are also elevated in individuals who have high blood sugars.   If you have very high triglycerides, make sure to talk to your doctor about being tested for pre-diabetes or diabetes.


Translating the Cholesterol Numbers to The Foods We Eat

It’s not enough to know your numbers, but what you do with those numbers is what counts.  Reviewing your cholesterol numbers with your doctor or a Registered Dietitian is key to understanding what actions to take.   Here is a guide to help you on your way to healthy cholesterol numbers:



Nutrition Recommendations



Healthy Range

Foods to Eat Less of or Avoid

Foods and Beverages to Include

Suggested Actions to Take

Total Cholesterol

Less Than 200


LDL (when elevated can clog arteries). 

Less than 100



Limit Saturated Fat (Fatty meats Red meat, skin on chicken, pork chops, butter, whole fat milk, and cheese)

Skinless chicken breast, salmon, whole grains with soluble fiber(oats, barley),  beans,  vegetables, avocado, flaxseed, walnuts.  olive oil, green tea, spices (curcumin).

Herb: Red yeast rice acts as a cholesterol-lowering statin, however, check with your doctor to see if it's right for you.

·       Quit smoking

·       Exercise (30 minutes daily)

·       Stress management


HDL (helps get rid of the bad cholesterol).

Greater than 

40 for men

50 for women



 Hydrogenated oils (Trans Fats);

  Excess alcohol

Omega-3 rich foods including Salmon, sardines, sea bass, olive oil, walnuts.

*Red Wine (Some studies report an increase in good cholesterol with a daily serving size.  5oz wine is a serving size).  However, a healthy diet and exercise are more beneficial for well-being and cardiovascular health than wine.

·       Exercise (30 minutes daily)

·       Quit Smoking


Triglycerides (when elevated, damages arteries).

Less than 150

High sugary foods and beverages, excess alcohol, 

Omega-rich foods, such as Salmon, Soy (tofu, soymilk), olive oil, walnuts.


·       Quit smoking

·       Cut back on alcohol

·       Cut back on sugary foods and beverages.

*Alcohol should be consumed in moderation and can be an addictive substance in certain individuals.

For questions about this article, please email

Raising Happy and Healthy Eaters

posted Aug 27, 2018, 1:41 PM by Tracy Ducker, MS, RDN   [ updated Aug 30, 2018, 9:02 AM ]

As parents and caregivers we all want our children to develop healthy eating habits. And they can with our help and guidance. Parents/caregivers have the biggest impact on children’s eating habits and their relationship with food, but sometimes mealtimes can turn into battlegrounds. With your child refusing to eat certain foods or not eating at all or eating too much. Here are some tips to help make mealtimes pleasant and healthy.

Children learn by watching you. By eating healthy foods you teach your child that healthy foods are important. Stock the refrigerator and cupboards with healthy foods, make it easy for everyone to grab a healthy snack.

All children go through the same stages of eating, starting with breastmilk or infant formula then progressing to solid foods. With obesity rates rising in children, you can help your child develop good eating habits by watching for hunger and fullness cues. When babies and toddlers are full they will turn their head away from food, push the food away, begin to play or lose interest in eating, babies may fall asleep. Hunger cues are often easier to recognize, babies will put their fists in their mouth, make sucking noises, and/or cry. Toddlers want to be independent and may verbally tell you, reach for food or have a melt down when hungry. For toddlers it is important to have scheduled mealtimes and 2-3 snacks each day so your child knows when to expect to eat and trusts you will feed him/her, it will also help avoid melt-downs and tantrums due to hunger.

Quick Tip: Always hold your baby when feeding and sit with your toddler. Mealtimes are great for spending quality time with your child and making sure they don’t choke.

Preschoolers often start to exhibit “picky eating” behaviors. This is normal, it’s the parent’s and caregiver’s job to continue to offer a variety of healthy foods and let your child decide what to eat from what is provided. Children at this age can start to have some choices in what they eat. From your planned meal, choose one food group to offer up a choice, for example, give them a choice of what vegetable they would like – carrots or broccoli, then invite to help prepare it. Giving too many choices is confusing for young children and can lead to frustration on both parties. Also, children are more likely to try foods if they have helped prepare or choose it.

Quick Tip: It can up to 10 times or more of offering a food before a child will try it – they may or not like it, but praise them for being adventurous.

School age children are becoming more independent and can be more involved in planning and preparing meals. Many school age children are still “picky eaters,” by continuing to offer a variety of healthy foods you set the stage for the teenage years when they are choosing the majority of what they eat. The appetites of school age children varies from meal to meal and day to day, let them continue to listen to their body's hunger and fullness cues. 

Quick Tip: Don’t be a short order cook. Cook one meal and incorporate at least one or two foods you know your child likes. Let your child decide what he/she is going to eat and encourage them to try new foods but don't force it - it will only lead to frustrated parents and upset children. 

Teenagers are making many of their own decisions on what they eat, so by having healthy foods in the house, you know they will at least be eating healthy in your house. If your teens plays sports, help them choose healthy foods that fuel their bodies and help their performance by discussing food labels and healthy options at the places they eat at.

Quick Tip: Continue to eat together and make mealtimes a relaxed and fun place to gather.

For more information on feeding your child(ren) click here.

“TAP” into Healthy Meal Appeal

posted Aug 11, 2018, 11:05 AM by Evangelina DiSpirito, RDN, E-RYT   [ updated Aug 18, 2018, 7:21 PM ]

By Evangelina DiSpirito, RDN, LDN, E-RYT

Let’s face it when seeing meal options through a typical kid’s eye, choosing between pizza, french fries or choosing steamed squash, you can guess what they would pick!  August is Kids Eat Right Month, and as a Registered Dietitian and mother, I have to be creative to get my own children to eat foods that usually make them cringe. 

In a 2017 comprehensive review of scientific literature by the Mayo Clinic on Childhood Obesity,  it was found that “1 in 3 children in the United States are overweight or obese.” Children who have obesity are more likely to develop chronic health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, and cholesterol issues.  However, being healthy doesn’t always have to be about a child’s weight status.   Exposure to toxins found in the environment and in foods, as well as less consumption of antioxidant-rich foods, can lead to certain types of cancers and autoimmune diseases over the years, regardless of weight.  Therefore, it is vital that we teach our children early on that protecting their body from these conditions starts with prevention through healthy eating and lifestyle habits.

Since discussing weight can be a sensitive issue at any age, it is essential when talking to your children to have a caring dialogue about eating and lifestyle habits.  The focus should be on eating to be healthy, not to lose weight.    Having a conversation about healthy eating and lifestyle habits should always be about feeling healthy and prevention, not being thin. This is because being thin does not always mean one is healthy, and when talking to children, it can set them up for a poor body image.

As consumers, we are more health-savvy than ever, and we know that fruits and vegetables are healthy, but what about making an appealing meal out of those healthy foods?   For those of us who have children, it can be a struggle to get our children to eat for good health.  Even if you don’t have children, maybe your “inner-child” is what’s preventing you from eating healthy.  Tap into creative ways to motivate you and your children to eat more healthy.

So how do we get our children or our inner child to eat healthier?  Think “TAP”: Texture, Appetizing, and Presentation, when preparing meals.  These 3 elements will allow you and your children to be more creative in preparing appealing meals.

Texture: Children and adults may not like the mushy texture of food, but if the food is prepared to produce a different texture, it may be more appealing.  For example, I recall teaching a Human Nutrition course to a group of nursing students, and one student indicated she disliked the taste of broccoli.  When I further asked what she specifically disliked about the broccoli, she said it was mushy and just didn’t taste good.  It was the texture that she disliked.  I asked her to try to steam fresh broccoli for no more than two minutes.  She did so and found she liked the taste after all.   This student's aversion to broccoli is an example of how certain cooking methods can change the texture and flavor of foods.

Appetizing:  A food can be very good for you but if it doesn’t taste good, it won’t entice us or our little ones to eat the foods they so need to grow strong bodies.   Plain Greek yogurt is one of those food items that I still struggle with getting my kids to eat.  However, by creating Greek Yogurt parfaits or smoothies, or by using Greek yogurt instead of sour cream in many of your recipes, children will eat because it’s more appetizing.  Try layering Greek yogurt with blueberries and walnuts to provide a better appetizing taste.  Even better for the children is making a smoothie out of the Greek yogurt.  Add peanut butter, banana and ½ cup of Greek yogurt, then grate some dark chocolate (1 tablespoon), and you have yourself a healthy power smoothie.  Look for these offerings at your IL Creations cafes. 

Presentation:  My son never liked zucchini, so  I would steam, sauté or grill it, yet he would still cringe and not eat a bite.  One day, I tried spiralizing it to make it look like 

Spaghetti and let him add the seasonings he enjoys, and . . . “winner,” he now enjoys Zucchini!   The presentation of this vegetable to look like spaghetti changed the appeal of the meal.  The texture of the zucchini is “al dente,” which means not mushy, just slightly dense. The presentation looked like spaghetti noodles, and encouraging my son to assist in enhancing the taste allowed him to season the noodles to his liking.  Thus, the presentation can be a powerful motivator to get kids to eat foods they would typically not eat.  And during the month of August in select IL Creations cafeterias, we will be sampling the “spaghetti style zucchini”.

So, think of foods you can “TAP” to create better “meal appeal” for your children, or for your own inner child.   

For other ideas, feel free to "Ask the Dietitian" during our Wellness Visits at select IL Creations cafeterias. Or email us directly at

Quick and Easy Dinners

posted Jul 23, 2018, 9:25 AM by Tracy Ducker, MS, RDN   [ updated Jul 30, 2018, 6:27 AM ]

Working late? Traffic a nightmare? Shuffling kids around to practice? Too tired to prepare an elaborate meal? You don’t need to reach for the cereal-again. We have some great tips to help you put a healthy dinner on the table – quick.

1- The first thing to do is plan ahead (it is also the hardest to do). Grab a calendar (see below for some apps) or create your own if you still like paper and pencil. Take 5-15 minutes and look at what you have going on that week and start planning. For evenings with a lot going on, find ways to use leftovers or use already prepared items to create a meal.

2- Create your shopping list – see what you already have in the cupboards and refrigerator/freezer. Are there items you need to use up? I like to organize my list using the layout of the grocery store I go to, that way I save time having to go back and forth revisiting the same section or isle. If possible try to plan your shopping trip so you have time for some food prep when you get back home. If it fits into your budget consider buying some items that are already pre-prepped (ie. Preseasoned meat, pre-cut produce).

3- Prepping for the week- wash and cut any produce that won’t spoil quickly, prepare any sauces for the week.

4- Putting it into place – to make things easier during the week either mark the leftover containers or have a section in the refrigerator designated for leftovers.


Tips: Once you have 4 weeks of menus you can just move meals around depending on your schedule. It is always good to have a quick back up meal that is ready to go, in case something pops up. Breakfast for Dinner works really well as a backup meal.

  •          Make 2 or 3 pounds worth of meatballs and freeze in portioned bags or containers for quick spaghetti and meatballs, meatball soup, or BBQ meatballs during the week.
  •         Throw left over vegetables in a pot with vegetable stock, add some lentils, beans or left over meat for a hearty soup. Double the recipe and freeze for next week.
  •         Use a slow cooker for an easy one pot meal, freeze 1/2 for next week.
  •         Have whole wheat pita bread sub rolls for a quick sandwich using left over roasted chicken, ham or steak. Try lettuce wraps for a low carb alternative.
  •         Toss a veggie salad and add canned tuna or beans for a super quick meal.

Below is a simple example of how to plan a week's worth of dinners. It does take a little time initially but in the long run you will save time and have healthier well balanced meals. 












Prepping for the week


Roasted whole chicken with baked sweet potatoes,

fresh or steamed sugar snap peas and carrots,

Patriotic fruit salad



Meatless Monday



Penne with herbs, tomatoes and peas (from cooking light)

Crusty whole wheat bruschetta with pesto and tomatoes




Soccer Practice






Baked salmon with lemon and Italian seasoning

Couscous pilaf with peas and carrots

Fresh cut fruit with yogurt dip








Pulled BBQ chicken sandwiches (use chicken from Sunday)

Tossed Salad with Fresh Veggie, nuts or seeds, and cheese

Roasted red skin potatoes



 Soccer Practice



Breakfast for dinner:


Veggie and Salmon omelets (use leftover salmon and bell peppers, add additional veggies of choice

Whole grain toast

Spinach, strawberry and flaxseed smoothie

                              Soccer Practice



Dinner out






Steak fajitas with veggies and whole wheat or corn tortillas

Baked tortilla chips with guacamole

Cilantro lime rice with black beans



Meal planning apps - Here are a few I found, there are many others available all with different features, so look around to find one that best meets your needs:                                                   Mealtime (free); FoodPlanner (free); MealBoard ($4); Recipe calendar (free). 

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