Lettuce Turnip the Beet: Veggies (and More) for Heart Health

NNM imageDid you know February was American Heart Health Month and March is National Nutrition Month? With cardiovascular disease continuing to be the leading cause of death in the U.S., it’s important to continue spreading awareness and staying mindful of the steps we can take to reduce our risk of heart disease and stroke, not just during official awareness months, but year-round. Some of the easiest and most effective ways of reducing your risk involve dietary and other lifestyle changes. These don’t need to be extreme, nor immediate; every small step counts towards keeping your heart healthy and strong!

Keeping your heart healthy starts with maintaining a healthy diet, rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. Many people find consuming enough fruits and vegetables in a day to be expensive and time consuming. It doesn’t have to be! Below are some easy tips to include plant-based foods in your diet no matter how hectic your lifestyle.

1. Keep It Simple

It’s easy to get caught up in the social media hype to create the most visually stunning, balanced plate out there, but when it comes time to make your meals, it might not be feasible to create picture-perfect dishes. That’s okay! Instead of striving to live up to unrealistic standards of eating a beautiful, colorful salad for every meal, try to stick to the basic guidelines of overall healthy eating (like those found at MyPlate.gov) and slowly work your way towards your goals!

2. Know What’s in Season

One of the easiest ways to keep your fruit and vegetable budget down is to shop for in-season products. Not only will these items be freshest and tastiest, but they usually don’t have to be transported for long journeys to your supermarket, allowing the prices to remain affordable. As an added bonus, since these products are usually fresher, they will last longer in your fridge. This can also help cut your food budget by reducing food waste!


(image credit: Produce for Kids)

3. Frozen Is Your Friend

Not only are frozen fruits and vegetables convenient, but they are generally more cost-effective than fresh, out-of-season products. Also, fresh produce is not necessarily healthier than frozen! Evidence suggests that in some cases, frozen foods have even more nutrients than fresh ones do.1 That’s because most frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at peak times during the season in which they grow best. Additionally, they are most likely to be frozen within the first 24 hours after picking, before the nutrients have a chance to start breaking down. As long as you are buying high-quality vegetables with minimal additives like salt, sugar, or preservatives, you can always have fruits and vegetables on hand for a quick smoothie or side dish. How’s that for heart healthy?

4. Snack Smart

When reaching for a snack, many of us are in the habit of grabbing a bag of chips or chocolate bar. While these high-calorie foods can curb hunger fast, they are mostly devoid of beneficial nutrients and contain large amounts of sugar and fat. Opting for some fruit or vegetable-based snacks––like an apple and peanut butter or a handful of carrots and hummus––can easily increase your intake of fruits and vegetables and reduce consumption of processed, high-sugar, high-fat foods, killing two birds with one stone!

5. Any Amount Is Beneficial

Of course, the more fruits and vegetables you have, the better. However, sometimes it can be discouraging to hear recommendations that seem unattainable. The current recommendations by the USDA call for 2 cups of fruit and 2-3 cups of vegetables daily, depending on age and gender. While this may seem like a lot, these amounts can be consumed in any sized portions you like. For some people, it is easier to consume 4-5 small handfuls of fruit and veggies periodically throughout the day. For others, having a large bowl of fruit for breakfast and a large salad for lunch is easiest. Find what works for you, and keep in mind that any amount counts. Being mindful of your intake is the first step!

6. Find Fun Variations to Classic Dishes

Eating heart-healthy foods does not have to mean giving up your favorite dishes. If you cook at home, changing up a recipe to incorporate more nutritious vegetables is a breeze! For example, when making lasagna, you can blend sautéed vegetables into the sauce for a heartier taste and texture. Rice dishes can be replaced with riced cauliflower, which really does mimic white rice well and provides more than triple the amount of fiber and a fraction of the calories! Additionally, adding some vegetables like artichokes or peppers to a baking dish while cooking your protein is a quick and easy way to have a serving of vegetables incorporated into your meal.


(image credit: Feeding Your Beauty)

7. Embrace the Three S’s: Soups, Smoothies, and Salads

If you would prefer to pack in as many servings of fruits and vegetables as possible during one sitting, a good strategy is to choose one of the Three S’s: soups, smoothies, or salads. You can have one of these during each meal––like a smoothie for breakfast, salad for lunch, and soup for dinner. This way you can choose a combination that best fits your taste or choose one to pack in a majority of your servings of vegetables for the day. These foods are great in that they can allow you to cover many servings of fruit and vegetables all on one plate. Additionally, they can be made ahead and stored in portable containers for easy transport. Eating heart-healthy foods does not have to be expensive or inconvenient; it just takes some creativity!

One-week challenge

With these tips in mind, you might be up for a challenge since reading about some tips won’t do you any good until you get started on seeing what works for you:

  • For one week, try to follow one or more of the above tips each day, to include more fruits and vegetables in your daily routine.
  • Post your experiences in the comments below and get a discussion going about how easy (or difficult) making these changes has been for you.
  • With the right strategies in place, you can reach your health goals. Your heart and body will thank you!


  1. Miller, SR, Knudson, WA. (2014). Nutrition and Cost Comparisons of Select Canned, Frozen, and Fresh Fruits and Vegetables. Sage Journals.

Rosy Husni headshot

Guest post by Rosy Husni, MS, Dietetic Intern

4-Week Fast Track: Taking Off the Pressure

Join us for our next 4-Week Fast Track program: Taking Off the Pressure.

From 1/31/18 – 2/21/18, we will host a private Facebook group* and launch a weekly live video (which will be archived on the group wall) to help you take the pressure off your blood vessels, manage hypertension, and regulate your sodium intake.

Take Off the Pressure

The program is 100% online and you can work at your own pace. You will have lifetime access to the videos, downloadable materials, and the private Facebook group.

Program agenda:

  • Week 1: Welcome & introductions. Know your numbers & habits (establish a baseline).
  • Week 2: Nutrition education. Habit-building and goal-setting.
  • Week 3: Cook/prep skills and strategies, including recipes.
  • Week 4: Wrap-up. Track performance. Set up future goals.

Investment: $28 for 28 days. Click here to register by Mon, 1/29/18 (we will send you a payment request for $28 once we receive your registration which you can remit via Facebook Messenger, Venmo, or Paypal).

*You do not need to have a Facebook account to participate as video links and downloadable materials will be made available to you regardless.

Worth Your Salt

I recently divulged on social media that my blood pressure (BP) had been consistently quite high, to the point where I thought I’d either soon be hospitalized or have to start taking meds. While I’m not opposed to conventional pharmaceutical methods to manage a particular health condition, I was adamant that I would be able to resolve this issue on my own, so I worked with my doctor and tracked my blood pressure multiple times over the course of about two weeks, while paying closer attention to my food intake and physical activity to see if any lifestyle adjustments would be able to correct this issue.

BP Before

Before I share the outcome of my story, let’s first discuss what may or may not be known about sodium and high blood pressure.

Sodium is both an electrolyte and a mineral and is found in about a 40:60 ratio in table salt, aka sodium chloride (or, scientifically, NaCl). Sodium plays a role in what’s called the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, where it helps maintain our body’s fluid balance and nerve and muscle function. People with a high-sodium diet, suffering from dehydration, or diagnosed with Cushing’s syndrome among other conditions can become hypernatremic while anyone experiencing excessive sweating, severe vomiting or diarrhea, recovering from burns, or diagnosed with underactive adrenal glands, thyroid gland, or other illnesses can become hyponatremic.

Salt shakerAccording to the USDA, one teaspoon (about 4g) of salt provides an entire day’s worth of sodium for a healthy adult at about 2,300mg; and, even then, this is considered an upper safe limit, not a recommended daily allowance. The average daily sodium intake of Americans is actually 3,400mg, or nearly 50% more than the limit. Higher-than-recommended intakes of sodium are known to raise blood pressure and may pose other health risks like heart disease and stroke, the first and sixth leading causes of death in NYC, respectively.1 Interestingly (or maybe not so interesting if you’ve heard me say this before), over 75% of American sodium consumption comes from “outside” foods: packaged, processed, and take-out/dine-in items.2 Salt added during cooking at home doesn’t factor in nearly as much, so if you’re considering cutting back on the sodium intake, re-assess your sources before taking away that salt shaker.

(image credit: Harvard Health Publishing)

When it comes to high blood pressure (or hypertension), the kidneys are unable to filter extra sodium in the body. As the sodium collects, the body holds onto its water content (fluid retention) to try and dilute the salt, thereby increasing both the amount of salt and the amount of water in the body. This results in increased blood volume, which means the heart has to pump harder and puts more pressure on the blood vessels. This situation is no joke and why hypertension has been coined “The Silent Killer.” Over time, if the high-sodium effect becomes the norm in your body, and you end up with chronic hypertension, you may, ultimately, suffer a heart attack, stroke, or worse.

As a Registered Dietitian, my approach to helping people with any of the issues noted above usually involves teaching them how to read the Nutrition Facts label on the back of packaged foods and introducing them to the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet, which, contrary to popular belief, is NOT a reduced-sodium diet, but instead focuses on nutrient-dense foods that are rich in protein, fiber, potassium, magnesium, and encourages whole foods over processed ones. This shift alone brings with it options that are naturally low in saturated fat, sugar, and salt––a win-win even for those not necessarily dealing with hypertension.3

In my case, I had to admit I was eating out way more often than I was cooking at home and, even though I was ordering from “healthy” or “natural” restaurants, I was not in control of my sodium intake and we all know that the way eateries make foods palatable is by adding fat, sugar, or salt. Since that revelation, I’ve switched back to eating more at-home meals and, when I do eat out, I ask for a low-sodium version of whatever I order or put in a special request in hopes the restaurant would so graciously accommodate me (which it usually does). With my doctor’s approval, I also added regular physical activity to my daily routine––I tend to be quite desk-ridden––and started noticing improvements in my blood pressure readings in just a few weeks.

BP After

My suggestion to you is to put this information into action ASAP:

  • Purchase an affordable blood pressure monitor and check your BP a few times a day for about a week to get an average reading for yourself. (NOTE: New blood pressure guidelines were released in November 2017 and are reflected below. What once used to be “normal” is now listed as “elevated.”)
  • Keep a log of meals during that same time period so you can cross-check if there’s a correlation if and when you get an uptick, especially if you often eat outside or packaged foods.
  • Consult with your doctor if you skew higher than normal more often than not during that test period.
  • Work with a Registered Dietitian (like me!) to help get you back on track, give you recipes to try at home, and/or teach you basic cooking skills to prepare healthier meals.


(image credit: American Heart Association)


  1. Health Department Announces 5 Year Results of National Salt Reduction Initiative. New York City Department of Health.
  2. Use the Nutrition Facts Label to Reduce Your Intake of Sodium in Your Diet. FDA website.
  3. Soltani, S.,Chitsazi, M.J., Salehi-Abargouei, A. (2017). The effect of dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH) on serum inflammatory markers: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. Clinical Nutrition; S0261-5614(17).

Think Outside the Cereal Box

When it comes to the first meal of the day, it seems the easiest go-to food, especially if you’ve inadvertently smacked the snooze button one too many times, is cereal or a muffin…unless you’re one of those people who skips breakfast altogether (in which case, please come see me after class). Instead of reaching for a plain bowl of whatever’s in the cabinet, consider first food that will nourish you and set the tone for the rest of your day.


Recent studies have shown that regular breakfast consumption can have an impact on overall health, specifically decreasing the risk of type 2 diabetes––since insulin sensitivity appears to be higher in the morning than other times of day––and conditions associated with metabolic syndrome (increased blood pressure, excess body fat, abnormal cholesterol).Additionally, since protein increases satiety, starting your day only with carbs––especially if high in simple sugars––may work to your disadvantage, leaving you ravenous before you even get to the office or run your first errand.2,3

Add in some healthy fats and even a very busy and important person like yourself can begin the day with a high-quality, protein-rich, nutrient-dense meal. To start, let’s review protein foods:

  • Animal-based protein includes eggs, yogurt/dairy, meat, poultry, fish.
  • Plant-based protein includes legumes/pulses (e.g., beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas), nuts, seeds, soy meats/products (like tempeh), seitan. Keep in mind that all veggies and grains have some protein in them.

For busy mornings or if you have less than 10 minutes to get your breakfast act together, the following might be your best bets:

  • Oatmeal (or another grain, like quinoa) with 1 T peanut butter or 1/4 c nuts and 1/4 c fruit
  • Avocado toast


Avo Bagel_Veg

If you have some time the night before, consider these make-ahead options:

  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Smoothies (click here for a mix-and-match guide to help you balance the right ratio of fruit:veg:protein:fat)
  • Overnight oats

HB eggs_Veg


If you have about 20-30 minutes:

  • French toast with 1 T real maple syrup, 1/4 c nuts and 1/4 c fruit
  • Pancakes with 1 T real maple syrup, 1 T peanut butter and 1/4 c cottage cheese
  • Veggie omelet or scramble

French Toast_V



Note: When preparing meals, a good rule of thumb is that 100 calories should give you enough energy to last about an hour. In the case of breakfast, for example, something like a bowl of oatmeal with a tablespoon of peanut butter added will total approximately 300 cals, so you shouldn’t feel yourself getting hungry again until about three hours later; a single hard-boiled egg, on the other hand, will only provide you with 70 cals and might be better as a grab-and-go snack until you can eat something heartier.

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Please feel free to add below.


  1. Maki, K.C., Phillips-Eakley, A.K., & Smith, K.N. (2016). The Effects of Breakfast Consumption and Composition on Metabolic Wellness with a Focus on Carbohydrate MetabolismAdvances in Nutrition, 7(3): 613S–621S.
  2. Missimer, A., DiMarco, D.M., Andersen, C.J., Murillo, A.G., Vergara-Jimenez, M., & Fernandez, M.L. (2017). Consuming Two Eggs per Day, as Compared to an Oatmeal Breakfast, Decreases Plasma Ghrelin while Maintaining the LDL/HDL RatioNutrients, 9(2): 89.
  3. Chandler-Laney, P.C., Morrison, S.A., Goree, L.L.T., Ellis, A.C., Casazza, K., Desmond, R. & Gower, B.A. (2014). Return of hunger following a relatively high carbohydrate breakfast is associated with earlier recorded glucose peak and nadir. Appetite, 80: 236–241.

January Is Thyroid Awareness Month

When is the last time you thought about your thyroid? Perhaps you heard someone mentioning having a sluggish thyroid or you know iodine has something to do with the thyroid, but not sure what.

Your thyroid, a small gland at the base of your neck, uses iodine (a mineral) to produce hormones and is involved in many of your body’s functions, including metabolic rate and regulating your heart beat.1,2 Iodine is essential for normal thyroid function and iodine deficiency is the main cause of thyroid dysfunction worldwide. (The United States fortifies its salt with iodine purposely to thwart deficiency.)3 Diseases of the thyroid stemming from under- or overproduction of hormones can cause some unremarkable symptoms—like fatigue or weight gain—or more noticeable ones (like goiter), but become serious conditions like Hashimoto’s disease, Graves’ disease, or thyroid cancer, which is why it’s important to support your thyroid health.


(image credit: Medicina Online)

In the U.S., the daily Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for iodine in adults is 150μg—which is easy enough to meet if you use table salt in your food—and increases to 220-290μg for pregnant and breastfeeding women, respectively. Women, especially older women, tend to have more issues with their thyroid than men.4

The following is a list of some of the foods and nutrients that may help promote a healthy thyroid, along with providing many other health benefits; however, if you have been diagnosed with a thyroid condition, be sure to consult with your doctor or a Registered Dietitian first as some of these items might exacerbate an existing condition.5,6

  • Omega-3 fatty acids from fish, vegetable oils, walnuts, flax seeds, and leafy/cruciferous vegetables. Click here for some great recipes that focus on omega-3s.
  • Selenium from nuts (Brazil nuts, specifically). Click here to learn more about selenium-rich foods.
  • Iodine from basic table salt (“iodized” salt) or seaweed/sea vegetables and dairy foods. Click here to learn the difference between table salt (sodium chloride) and other types of salt.

To learn more about thyroid health, nutrient deficiencies/toxicities, and related diseases and conditions, please visit the American Thyroid Association’s website.


  1. Thyroid disease. Women’s Health.gov website.
  2. Thyroid disorders. Medicinenet.com
  3. Leung, A.M., Braverman, L.E., & Pearce, E.N. (2012), History of U.S. Iodine Fortification and SupplementationNutrients, 4(11): 1740–1746.
  4. Harvard Women’s Health Watch (2013). Could you have a thyroid problem-and not know it?
  5. Theobald, M. (n.d.). 7 Hypothyroidism-Friendly Foods to Add to Your Diet. Everyday Health website.
  6. James, D. (n.d.). What You Should Eat To Improve Thyroid Health. mbghealth website.

A Garden of Eating

There’s no escaping the “New Year, New You” phenomenon that happens every January. From productivity gurus talking about resolutions and goals to the onslaught of health and wellness professionals (present company included) telling you what to eat, what not to eat, how to diet, how not to diet, and why you need to start working out right now.

It can be overwhelming.

But new habits don’t have to start on the first of the year, or on a Monday, or as soon as you perfect the last new habit. They can start any time and they can be flexible.

Case in point: If you’ve been wanting to learn more about plant-based foods and incorporating more fruits, vegetables, legumes, and/or grains into your weekly meals, you can start small and make changes as you determine your taste preferences, learn about the availability of seasonal and local produce, or experiment with flavors and cooking methods.

(image credit: D. Leonis)

It’s no secret that plants benefit our health. The phytonutrients found in vibrant fruits and veggies help keep our body functions working and disease at bay in a way that animal foods don’t; but that doesn’t mean both categories can’t find harmony on your plate.

One-week challenge

At your next meal or snack, count up the colors or the food groups in front of you to get a feel for what your normal eating patterns are like and if you think there might be room for improvement or variety. If so, for one week only, add some plants to your plate. That’s right. I said “add.” No need to get rid of anything you’re already eating; just start including some new items off the “plant” list below.

Food Groups

Pick a few of your favorites and toss them into as many of your meals or snacks as possible for one week. Depending on your location and what’s in season, you might be able to find fresh citrus fruits or berries (or use frozen, if preferred), packaged, pre-washed veggies like baby spinach or mesclun mixes are convenient and usually available year-round, and you can always find bagged or canned plant-based proteins like beans, peas, nuts, and seeds in the grocery store. At the end of the week, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Was this easy?
  2. Did I enjoy this?
  3. Could I do this again?

If yes to all three, then keep going! If no, then decide if you want to try a different item, method, or stop altogether and re-assess at a later date.

If you’re not sure where to begin, click here or here to learn more about adding plants to your meals, or follow me on Instagram for some easy-to-make, colorful and flavorful dishes that revolve around plants.

After your challenge is over, stop back here and leave a comment to let us know what worked or what didn’t work, and drop a line at any time if you need help moving forward.

‘Tis the Season

The DishWithDina crew is taking a break to enjoy the holidays, be with friends & family, and gear up for all the fun, fab things coming in 2018. We will be back on January 3 with new blog posts, online promotions and webinars (both free and fee-based), individual/group nutrition counseling sessions and educational programs (available in-person and virtually), and much, much more!


Until then, merry and happy whatever you celebrate. Be well, be kind, and remember to eat your veggies!

Ding! Dong! Dieting Is Dead

The field of dietetics is either getting trickier or simpler by the minute, depending on how you look at it. The profession itself includes the word “diet,” but many Registered Dietitians are trying to promote overall health versus a focus on the number on a scale, taking into account the true definition of diet is merely the types of food that an individual regularly consumes and not meant to denote a restriction of calories.

Yes, there are benefits of managing one’s weight. During my schooling, we learned of certain increased risks for people with a high body mass index (BMI) and/or a specific waist-to-hip circumference; but, we also learned that every body is different and many people can be healthy at any size.

When meeting with clients looking to lose weight, the first thing I ask is, “Why?” Sometimes, it’s about body image, sometimes, it’s about managing a health condition where weight loss may benefit them; but, more often than not, it’s about establishing healthier eating and other lifestyle habits, like home-cooking or exercising or wanting to include vegetables in as many meals as possible. In my practice, when I work with clients like this, I always encourage them to continue eating whatever makes them happy and to also focus on foods that will give them the most nutrient-dense, health-supportive bang for their buck.

While some of my clients enjoy tracking food and calories to be sure they’re getting an overall variety of foods throughout the day and adhering to a specific daily caloric requirement (based on their height, weight, and physical activity level), they know there’s no pressure to be “perfect” in their eating habits. We discuss moving away from depriving themselves of foods they enjoy and stop using words like “good/bad” or “clean/dirty” regardless of what they’re eating. In fact, in a recent study, it was found that all foods serve a purpose, be it providing enjoyment, energy, or something in between.1 On a related note, we continue to gain more information of the relationships between certain foods and their health benefits, like dietary fats, which help migrate us into realizing that all foods really do fit.

Big Gay EDIT.jpg

What a Registered Dietitian eats.

Unless there is a clinical condition where certain foods may exacerbate certain symptoms or do further harm (e.g., diabetes, kidney diseases), we should ease off restricting our diets; that is, the foods we eat regularly. If you find yourself in a rut or obsessing about being “perfect” in your eating habits or otherwise, or generally want to incorporate healthier habits in your lifestyle, I encourage you to work with a Registered Dietitian and other health provider or counselor, if needed, to help rearrange—not change—your habits in a way that supports your overall health and wellbeing.

Consider the following:

  • The scale is one of many numbers. Depending on fluid shifts (water retention after eating an overly salty meal, for example), body fat percentage, and muscle mass, that number you see in front of you can vary greatly day by day. There can be two people with the same weight whose overall body composition is much different from each other, so try not to be too influenced by your scale.
  • Focus on progress, not perfection. If you’re starting out learning new habits of any kind, be patient with yourself. Set small daily or weekly goals and celebrate the little victories to keep you motivated. The overall balance and variety of your habits have to be realistic for you in order to lead to long-term results.
  • Dig deep or learn to let go. What’s really motivating you? If that number on the scale elates or depresses you, find out why. Same thing with calorie counting. Specific numbers can sometimes feel restrictive whereas healthy behaviors can be liberating.


  1. Linardon, J. & Mitchell, S. (2017). Rigid dietary control, flexible dietary control, and intuitive eating: Evidence for their differential relationship to disordered eating and body image concerns. Eating Behaviors, 26: 16–22.

Don’t Worry, Eat Happy!

With the summer heat coming to a close and the cool autumn breeze fast approaching, it is important for us not to become stagnant in our healthful habits. It might seem desirable to cuddle up on the couch with some comfort food once the temperatures drop, but don’t forget to get in your servings of fruits and vegetables as well. In the U.S., farmers’ markets are still chock full of colorful produce, so be sure to take advantage of the bounty while it’s still there. Besides, September just happens to be “Fruits & Veggies––More Matters” month.


(image credit: WPR.org)

On average, New Yorkers eat less fresh produce in the fall and even less in the winter, than they do during the summer months, regardless of the fact that NYC has over 139 greenmarket locations within its five boroughs, most of which operate year-round.1 Many of us may feel too overwhelmed by work, bills, and family life, that making sufficient time in our busy schedules to browse through farmers’ markets for fresh produce with limited shelf life feels akin to an unnecessary chore than anything particularly beneficial.

What may limit Americans in creating habits concerning weekly farmers’ markets, and/or grocery shopping in general, is not only a lack of information about how to shop, but also a lack of information regarding what to shop for.2 The abundance of food options may cause a great hindrance to shoppers’ abilities to make significant changes to their food shopping habits. Though the great increase of selections concerning produce is appealing mentally, in practice, however, it may often debilitate shoppers.

In addition, market patrons, who may live with tight financial constraints and are unsure about proper food storage and efficient meal planning may make dietary and food purchasing decisions that are more unhealthy than not. For those that struggle with cooking time/skills or eating similar meals frequently, the added fact that farmers’ market fruits and vegetables have a very limited lifespan may also increase stress around the immediacy of consumption.

In order for food shoppers to develop weekly habits for farmers’ market shopping, and prevent market attendance from waning during the fall and winter months, taking the necessary steps will prevent stress overload and make fresh produce shopping less complicated and more exciting!

Eat Happy pic2

(image credit: Cynthia Moon)

Step 1: Budgeting: How much are you willing to spend?
Buying fresh produce seems very expensive when, in actuality, it is cheaper in the long run. First, determine how much money you’re willing to spend, then calculate how much you normally spend both weekly and monthly, making sure to include how often you dine out or purchase lunch outside instead of taking leftovers to work. Make sure the market you attend receives currency in the form of Health Bucks and/or food stamps if your budget is very tight. Your shopping list must be based on your budget, along with recipe adjustments that will most likely incorporate rotating certain veggies into different dishes.

Step 2: Recipes: Find recipes that you can rotate and use your staples as a base!
What do you cook often? What are your staple foods? Do you like brown rice? Does your breakfast always include bananas because you think they’re the cheapest fruit you can find? Farmers’ market vendors can often suggest simple recipes relating to the types of produce they provide. Allow yourself the possibility of varying your fruits and vegetables. For example, if you are left with a large amount of spinach at the end of the week, you can quickly use it up as a base for a salad instead of your old standby romaine lettuce. Leftover onions and broccoli would be a great addition to your morning omelet or scrambled eggs. If blueberries happen to be the right price and are in-season, buy extra and freeze them to use in desserts or breakfast smoothies at a later date.

Step 3: Meal plan: Start weekly, then make necessary adjustments.
It is important to first calculate your daily energy needs in order to be certain of how much food you need to eat weekly and how much to buy in the first place. Your weekly meals can easily be rotations or variations of your go-to recipes and your produce shopping should be nutritious additions to your staple foods. For example, if you made split pea soup for dinner Monday evening you can use the leftover celery, carrots, and onions from that meal in a tuna sandwich for lunch the next day. Meal plans should incorporate an adequate balance of your essential nutrients according to your specific energy needs and physical lifestyle––such as carbohydrates, proteins, and fats––through a varied diet of whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruits, lean meats, and/or fish.

[Editor’s note: Click here to learn more about meal- and menu-planning and here for some smoothie mix-and-match suggestions (over 3,000 combinations to make sure you get your fruits and veggies on).]

Step 4: Shop!
Find farmers’ markets that you know will provide the necessary foods you need for your meal plans, are budget-friendly (like the Fresh Food Box offerings in most NYC neighborhoods), and are closest to you. Take hold of the wonderful abundance of food options we have in our city during the cold season to come. As a result, not only will your health benefit from a nutritious and varied diet, but you will be contributing to a greater, environmentally sustainable cause, and without breaking the bank.3

[Editor’s note: Click here to find a farmers’ market in or near your zip code and here for more tips on shopping at your local farmers’ market.]


  1. NYC.gov. (2017). Farmers Markets in New York State.
  2. Graffagna, S. (2014). “10 Healthy Habits for Fall.” Superhero You website.
  3. Tufts University. Health & Nutrition Letter. (2016). “Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables to Help Fight Frailty.” Tufts.edu website.
Abigail Ortiz Author Pic

Guest post by Abigail Ortiz, nutrition student

Fending off the “Freshman Fifteen”

For most Americans, this week (or next) marks the beginning of a new school year even though TV commercials for sales on notebooks, backpacks, and other school supplies started airing months ago. If you’re an adult returning to school, like I was back in 2013, there could be a whole slew of emotions about re-integrating into that lifestyle, both academically and otherwise; but, there’s something about setting foot on campus that puts students of any age in a whole different frame of mind. Homework deadlines seem to pile up before the first week has even begun, sleep becomes non-existent leading up to midterms and finals, and healthful eating habits go right out the window before the first semester is over.

During my dietetic internship at Lehman College two years ago, I was assigned a group presentation where we reported on research findings about how college students tend to gain weight over the 6- to 8-week span of the winter holiday season (Thanksgiving through the New Year). Interestingly, though, the study participants weren’t “traditional” college students, i.e., 18- to 22-year-olds. In fact, the age span included grad students, some well into their 30s.

The study showed that, as seasons change and colder weather approaches, students are more likely to change their food, mood, and physical activity for the worse. Ongoing indulgences over the fall semester and into the holiday season can cause a significant increase in the percentage of body fat and fat mass, leaving students vulnerable to obesity development from those unhealthful holiday habits that may carry on further into their adulthood and passed onto their children or other family members. Increases in body fat are a major factor in morbidity and mortality which is why it is important to strategize ways to maintain healthful eating and other lifestyle habits during stressful times.

If you start paying attention to your habits at the beginning of the school year, committing to choosing a lifestyle that supports healthy eating and physical activity, and recruiting your friends and classmates to get on board with you, you may find it easier to carry that mindset over through the semester, the holidays, into the next year, and every year after that.


Consider the following:

  • Head to class prepared. To avoid excess hunger and grabbing something not-so-great at the campus cafeteria or out of one of the many vending machines outside your classroom, pack yourself a bunch of healthy, satisfying snacks (e.g., apple with peanut butter or veggies with hummus) at the beginning of each week, then take one or a few of them with you when you head to campus for the day.
  • Cut out sweetened beverages. Added sugar and calories will do you no favors in keeping you fit, healthy, and energized. Keep a water bottle with you at all times and drink from it regularly. Take advantage of getting free refills from campus water fountains.
  • Read the Nutrition Facts Label. If you do ending up grabbing a packaged food or snack, be a savvy consumer and compare the sodium, calories, fats, and sugars in these items. Some vending machines have started incorporating a grading system to help you make healthier choices.
  • Go play outside. Even if you’re cramming in a study session on your own or with some classmates, you deserve to take a break. Go for walk or toss a frisbee to each other for at least 10 minutes. Spending time away from the books and engaged in physical activity is a great way to give your tired brain and eyeballs a break and quality time with your friends.
  • Join your campus’ nutrition club. A great way to stay committed to health and eating well during the school year is to get involved in activities that will guide those habits by default. Don’t have a nutrition club at your school? Start one!
  • Be compassionate with yourself. If you do overindulge, try to keep your focus on the goal of long-term wellness. Remember your health is determined more by what you do on average most days than what you eat during any one meal.


  1. Díaz-Zavala, R., Castro-Cantú, M., Valencia, M., Álvarez-Hernández, G., Haby, M., & Esparza-Romero, J. (2017). Effect of the Holiday Season on Weight Gain: A Narrative Review. Journal of Obesity, 2017:1-13.
  2. Hull, H.R., Hester, C.N., & Fields, D.A. (2006). The effect of the holiday season on body weight and composition in college students. Nutrition & Metabolism, 3:44-61.
  3. U.S. Department of Agriculture Center for Nutrition on Policy and Promotion. (2013). MyPlate On Campus Toolkit. USDA: Alexandria, VA.

[A version of this article appeared on this blog on December 9, 2015.]