Personalize Your Plate!

It’s March and National Nutrition Month! It’s important to make good food choices year-round, however, this annual campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics choose this month to reinforce healthy eating habits. This year’s theme, Personalize Your Plateshowcases that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition and health. We are unique and have different bodies, goals, backgrounds, and tastes. Here are some ways you can build a healthy ‘personalized’ plate for your own mealtime.

Choose a variety of nutritious foods that you like from the groups below: 

  • Brightly colored fruits and 100% fruit juice
  • Vibrantly colored vegetables
  • Fiber-rich whole-grain foods
  • Low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese, and yogurt or fortified plant-based alternatives
  • Lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, soy foods (tofu and tempeh), beans, lentils and nuts

Be creative when adding them to your plate. For example, add your favorite nuts and dried fruit to oatmeal or other cereals. Wash and cut your favorite vegetables for ready-to-eat snacks or lunch bags. Increase whole grains by making sandwiches on whole-wheat bread. If whole-grain bread is not your ‘go to’ bread, make ‘checkerboard’ sandwiches. Use one slice of whole wheat and white bread. It will help you slowly get used to the taste and texture of this nutritious alternative.  

Plan ahead to make nutritious meals for the week. Every Sunday, I take inventory of all my food sources – fridge, freezer, and pantry. Next, I choose recipes based upon my inventory and pencil in on a calendar the main dishes for each day of the coming week. For example, Monday-macaroni and cheese (Meatless Monday), Tuesday-chicken, Wednesday-chili, etc. Then I add veggies, broccoli for Monday, carrots for Tuesday, and a hearty green salad for Wednesday. Finally, I complete each menu with our favorite whole grains, fruit, and dairy item. The time spent planning a week’s worth of meals in one day saves an enormous amount of time the rest of the week. There’s no more mad dash to throw a meal together or run out for fast food. And, since the meals are on the calendar, other people in your household can grab the recipes and ingredients for that day and get the meal started. 

To keep this meal planning cycle running smoothly, make sure you maintain a well-stocked food supply and keep a running grocery list. I keep my list in plain sight on the fridge so anyone in my household can add items to the list.

Honing your culinary skills can also help you personalize your plate. Creating delicious dishes using different cooking techniques like sautéing, stir-frying, and grilling, add texture and enhance the flavors without adding a lot of extra ingredients, fat or calories. Following healthy recipes is easier if you understand the cooking terms. Whether you are a new chef or a seasoned chef (no pun intended) looking to be more kitchen savvy, consider tuning in to TV cooking shows and learn from the pros, watch cooking YouTube videos or check out cooking classes at local community colleges and other places in your area.  

To learn more about how to Personalize Your Plate, go to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, National Nutrition Month page at Check out the free downloadable tip sheets available in English and Spanish to get you started. Bon Appetit!

Winter Tips for De-icing Walkways Sustainably

Using salt to de-ice roads, parking lots, and sidewalks is a common practice to reduce driving and walking hazards but can result in a significant cost to aquatic habitats and drinking water quality. The growth and reproduction of fish, aquatic bugs, and amphibians are affected by excess amounts of sodium and chloride in deicing salts, as is drinking water quality in both surface and groundwater supplies. As homeowners, we can play a role in reducing salt use and thereby reduce impacts to our water quality: 

  • The best approach to reducing slipping hazards and the use of potentially harmful deicing salts is shoveling sidewalks to reduce snow accumulation and ice formation. 
  • Covering small areas such as your steps with heavy, waterproof plastic or a tarp before the storm can reduce shoveling and deicer use.
  • Focus use of deicing products on high use areas and slopes where traction is most important. 
  • Spreading the deicer before snow and ice start helps reduce accumulation and usage of salts. Note that salt and deicers are not effective when snow is more than three inches deep. 
  • If applying deicers after snow and ice is present, remove as much snow and ice as possible before application. 
  • Try adding sand for traction to reduce salt use.
  • Consider more sustainable alternatives like calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), more effective at melting ice and snow when temperatures are above 25 degrees. See the EPA list of safer products: 
  • Follow the label directions. If only a handful of salt per square yard is required, using more is not more effective, just more expensive. It also increases the risk to plants, animals, vehicles, and impact to groundwater. 

Stay green this winter and help to protect our wildlife, our drinking water, and our environment. Wishing you all a safe holiday season!

Safe COVID-19 Halloween Tips

Spooky season has arrived and if you’re anything like me, you can’t WAIT for Halloween! But, COVID has made life a little different this year, especially with the upcoming holiday.

Many places around Maryland have limited Halloween activity, including trick-or-treating. But for those places that haven’t, here are some safe and happy tips to still have your scary fun!

Photo by Gabby K on
  • Virtual costume parties & parades
    • Zoom is a great option to show off costumes and play games. 
    • Outdoor costume parades are another option if it is possible for everyone to stay at least 6 feet apart and wear cloth face coverings.
  • Spooky movie night
    • You can’t go wrong with a Halloween movie marathon! Some of my old-time favorites include Hocus Pocus, Halloweentown, Monster House and Casper.
  • Decorating pumpkins
    • Decorating pumpkins is always a safe and healthy option! Be sure to roast the pumpkin seeds when you’re done for a healthy snack option as well!
  • If there is no trick-or-treating in​ your community…
    • Trick-or-treating may be discouraged or canceled in some areas this year, as I know it is in mine.
    • A family scavenger hunt for treats in your home or yard can be a fun alternative. 
  • If trick-or-treating is still on in your neighborhood, avoid large groups or clustering at doorsteps or anywhere else. 
    • Participating in one-way trick-or-treating where individually wrapped goodie bags are lined up for families to grab and go while continuing to social distance 
      • such as at the end of a driveway or at the edge of a yard
      • If you are preparing goodie bags, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after preparing the bags.
    • Make sure protective masks are used at all times!
      • The CDC states that “a costume mask (such as for Halloween) is not a substitute for a cloth mask. A costume mask should not be used unless it is made of two or more layers of breathable fabric that covers the mouth and nose and doesn’t leave gaps around the face.”
      • Do not wear a costume mask over a protective cloth mask because it can be dangerous if the costume mask makes it hard to breathe.
Photo by cottonbro on

The CDC offers great options, instructions and alternatives for some Halloween fun!

Just because we are in the midst of a global pandemic, doesn’t mean you can’t still get spooky and creative with your children! Have fun, be safe and don’t forget to STAY SPOOKY!

Family Meals Month

September is officially Family Meals Month, and as a busy, single mom with a full-time career, managing mealtime is not always a simple task. Easy isn’t always healthy, and healthy isn’t always appetizing to young, discerning palates. But while I rarely please everyone when it comes to dinner, I do try to take advantage of that time to spend some quality time with my sons. 

Studies have shown that youth who eat with their families on a regular basis are more likely to develop a sense of community and better relationships. In fact, a 2013 study in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence indicates that adolescents who frequently ate with their families were less likely to engage in risk behaviors such as underage drinking, smoking, or aggressive and violent behavior, among others.

There are lots of suggestions online for finding ways to get your family to sit down together when you have a busy schedule. A quick survey of top Google hits for “Family Meal Time” includes everything from making the dining room a no-phone-zone to offering up conversation starters, but for my family, meal time starts in the kitchen.

Alex and Mikey
Alex uses a knife for the first time, supervised by his younger brother Mikey (and mom of course!)

Involving my two boys, who are now 8- and 12-years-old, in meal planning and preparation builds essential life skills in the art of cooking — not only in knowing how to prepare and cook different types of food, but I’ve also seen them learning time management, patience, and pride in creating something that we all enjoy together.

Along with learning how to wash and chop, they are learning how to follow directions, food safety procedures, and it has even helped in understanding fractions and measurements. I’ve also found they’re even more willing to try new foods because they’re so involved with the preparation steps.

Although it’s usually messy and requires slightly more time, supervision, and cleanup than a dinner I prepare myself, bringing my kids into the kitchen makes family mealtime easy. They’re excited to sit together at the table and talk about what they made, about what they do and don’t like about the meal we cooked together, and what they’d like to try next. Those conversations lead us into talking about school, work, friends, extracurricular activities, and we’re rarely at a loss for words during these dinners.  

Our sister blog Eat Smart, run by the University of Maryland Extension Food Supplement Nutrition Education (FSNE) program, offers lots of advice for involving kids in the kitchen and provides age-appropriate activities for children to help with. Check out their blog, “Start The Year Off With Kids in the Kitchen,” for more tips on getting your kids engaged in mealtime prep.

Homemade Grab-n-Go: Salad In A Jar

“Salad in a jar” is an easy, healthy, and creative way to pack lunches. By layering ingredients in a container, the salad ingredients stay separated until you are ready to mix and eat. Depending on the size of the salad, a pint- or quart-size, wide-mouth canning jar will work. The best part is that you can make a week’s worth of lunches ahead of time and store them in the refrigerator until you need one.

The “salad in a jar” idea can make it easier for you to eat a salad a day. Research shows that eating a salad a day can help prevent diseases and give you more energy.

The basic idea is to start with the heaviest ingredients (which don’t absorb the dressing), work up through the lighter ingredients, and then top it with the salad greens. To pack the perfect salad, place ingredients into your jar in the order listed below. I’ve also offered some suggestions so that you can make your own combinations to keep it interesting. Ingredients marked with an ** should be added the night before you eat the salad.

  1. Salad Dressing: Depending on the size of the salad and your personal taste, add 1 to 4 tablespoons of your favorite salad dressing.
  2. Hard vegetables: chopped carrots, cucumbers, peppers, cooked beets, and onions.
  3. Cooked beans, grains, and/or pasta: chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, cooked rice, and pasta corkscrews. If you want to add quinoa or millet, add them in Step 6, since they are more absorbent grains.
  4. **Protein: diced or crumbled cheese, diced (cooked) chicken, tuna fish, hard-boiled eggs, or cubed tofu.
  5. **Soft vegetables or fruits: avocados, tomatoes, diced strawberries, mandarin oranges, or dried fruits, like apricots or raisins.
  6. Quinoa, millet, nuts and/or seeds: almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, or sunflower seeds.
  7. Salad greens: Fill the rest of the jar, adding different varieties of your choice. Tear them into bite-sized pieces and pack tightly. Remember to leave space at the top if you are planning to add cheese, protein, and soft fruits or vegetables later.

Screw the lid tightly on the jar and refrigerate for up to 5 days. When you are ready to eat your salad, shake the jar to mix ingredients together and then unscrew the cap and shake it into a bowl. Once the salad is in the bowl, toss it some more with your fork to make sure the dressing is evenly distributed.

A “salad in a jar” is a novel way to pack a well-balanced healthy lunch. Everything stays separate and dressing-free until you toss all the ingredients together, so you’ll never have to sit down to a soggy salad again.