Lettuce Eat: A Veggie Journey We All Can Take

This is a guest post from Vivian Jibrin. Happy to support her very cool Lettuce Eat project!

Vivian Jibrin

By Vivian Jibrin
Compared to most teens (I’m 18) my diet is fairly nutritious, but I’m the first to admit that I could be eating more servings–and types–of fruits and vegetables. I also want to learn how to cook more dishes than just eggs, fried rice, pasta and brownies!

But how to get motivated to do this? The answer came to me when searching for a topic for my Gold Award–the highest award that can be attained by a Girl Scout. I found out that many U.S. teens aren’t even getting one fruit or vegetable daily! If I can help others
incorporate more vegetables and fruits into their daily meals, while learning why it is so important to do so, it would surely push me to do the same.
So, I started “Lettuce Eat” which has three basic approaches:

  • A high school club that met once a month, focused around a different fruit or vegetable, such as berries or potatoes or dark-leafy greens. We ate the fruit or vegetable, talked about its nutrition qualities, and discussed recipes. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, I had to adjust rapidly to social-distancing conditions and held my club sessions over the web, after a slight tweaking of the approach.
  • Video-conference meetings with Girl Scouts (ages 7-15), to teach them about fruits and vegetables in a fun, age-appropriate way. For example, I developed interactive activities such as the sorting game and a scavenger hunt; and I even made a few live-demos of simple snacks. When I started the project, I thought I knew the most important things about nutrition; after all, my aunt is a registered dietitian! But as the months went on, and I went deeper into the Gold Award project, I discovered lots of new aspects about nutrition, and a lot of cool tips.

For example:
Did you know that dandelions are wildflowers you can eat? They’ve been used in traditional herbal medicine for centuries to treat digestive disorders and more. The truth be told, the leaves can be a bit bitter, nevertheless, they can come handy in a survival situation.

A tip for the vegetable -hater: Sneak vegetables into meals without having to taste them. It got me to eat vegetables I don’t like, such as cauliflower or Brussels sprouts. I sautéed chopped vegetables with ground meat to use in lasagna and other dishes (recipe in www.lettuceeat.club).

I learned I could eat a lot more vegetables at one sitting by “shrinking” them. For instance, I sauté or steam spinach and other vegetables to just a fraction of their raw size, making it seem like I’m eating less.

My favorite part of cooking was adapting dessert recipes. I would reduce the amount of added sugar in the recipe and then incorporate more fruits and/or vegetables, making the desserts more flavorful.

Sometimes you don’t even need to make a complicated and elaborate dish, just adding something on the side adds tremendously to the nutrients you get out of the meal. For instance, tomatoes have a lot of vitamin C, and when added to rice and beans, you absorb more iron from both the beans and the rice.

Another discovery: Sprouting super healthy microgreens. I have to say that it has really become addictive in my household! Now there are sprouts for breakfast every day –they are great atop a toast with melted cheese, growing out of mason jars and flat (take-out) trays. Thus far we have sprouted sunflower seeds (which taste awesome), alfalfa seeds (delicious too), mustard seeds (a bit spicy), radish (very spicy but yummy), chia seeds (smokey and bitter–not likely to try those again), and now we are hoping to learn to sprout seeds from sunflowers in our own garden.

I think my most useful lesson was the importance of having “3 square meals” to minimize being tempted by unhealthy snacks. I used to snack A LOT on Cheerios and yogurt; so much that I would get into a vicious cycle of eating too much in-between meals, then not being hungry enough for a healthy meal, and then being hungry again for snacking… and this would go on and on. Now I know to have a meal complete with veggies, protein, and healthy grains and have eliminated most unhealthy snacking –except for a treat now and then.

Those are my discoveries, and I think my club members and video-conference audience also picked up some healthy tips. If nothing else, our sessions made everyone a little more aware of
what they are putting on their plates (as well as what they were missing before). I was surprised how much kids liked the live hands-on cooking sessions and activities such as the “ Sorting Game ”, where they ducked to the floor when an unhealthy food was called, or did jumping jacks and fancy twirls when fruits or vegetables were called.

You can visit the “Games” tab at www.lettuceeat.club for a full description of five different games.

There is so much to learn about nutrition, and so much people don’t know –even some of the parents and the Girl Scout troop-leaders were surprised by how much they learned during the sessions. And although I am no nutritionist and only spent about a year on my project, Lettuce-eat turned out to be a fun way to dish out useful and accessible information for teenagers, younger children and all.

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Butterfly Pea Flower Trend: Are You Up on This Latest Craze on Instagram and in Cocktail Bars?

Do you know about butterfly pea flower?

It’s been called the mood ring of drinks and is a top beverage trend for 2019. It’s currently blowing up on Instagram – featured in cocktails, tea drinks, lemonade, desserts, blue rice and “unicorn” noodles.

Even if you haven’t heard of butterfly pea flower yet, it’s hard to miss the distinctive blue hue that’s been brightening up blogs and newsfeeds. Or maybe you spotted someone sipping an intriguing jewel-toned drink during happy hour, or carrying a striking blue bubble tea or latte.

If you’re new to butterfly pea flower, hope you’ll check out my most recent article for U.S. News & World Report What’s Up With Butterfly Pea Flower?


Photo courtesy of Sara Stierch on flickr

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7 Food Trends Spotted at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ 2018 Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo #FNCE

I just returned from Washington, DC to attend the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE).  It was a particularly good conference, full of excellent presentations on some of today’s hottest nutrition topics, including debates on intermittent fasting vs. calorie restrictions, and weight management vs. Health at Every Size (which rejects weight as a measure of success) — which I’ll address in a future post.  I also enjoyed the sessions focused on nutrition communications, including a tremendous panel on food porn and a session I moderated on mastering video — featuring a trio of dynamite RDNs:  Ellie Krieger, Regan Miller Jones and Manuel Villacorta.

Once again, the exhibit floor was full of new products from a range of exhibitors, including large CPG companies and smaller brands in the natural/organic arena.  Here are seven of the top food trends I spotted:

Digestive Wellness and Gut-Friendly Foods

Gut health was a mega trend at FNCE, as evidenced by the Healthy Gut Pavilion at the expo.  The exhibitors showcased an array of products — from probiotics in many forms (including beyond dairy), gluten-free items and foods low in FODMAPs, an acronym for Fermentable Oligoaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccarides and Polyols — short-chain carbohydrates and sugar alcohols that may be poorly absorbed and trigger IBS and other digestive discomforts for some people. Low-FODMAP foods have been trending for awhile, but expect this category to get even bigger.  Some of the brands included Fody, Fodmapped, Rachel Paul’s Foods, and Lo-Fo Pantry, the first line of low-FODMAP flours and baking mixes.  Even Prego has released a low-FODMAP pasta sauce.  Because this trend is getting so big, there are now programs that will certify low-FODMAP foods.  Two of these programs were at the expo:  Monash University and the FODMAP Friendly certification program.

Probiotics were popping up in a lot of foods — going beyond yogurt in products like Good Belly’s plant-based beverages and shots with live active cultures.  Kellogg’s debuted an interesting new whole grain cereal called Hi! Happy Inside that contains prebiotics, probiotics and fiber — which they described as the “power of 3 in 1” to support digestive wellness.

Not only were gut-friendly foods popular on the exhibit floor, one startup company called Day Two promoted a test that registered dietitians can use to evaluate a client’s gut microbiome for personalized nutrition counseling.

Instagram Trends Crash Freezer Case

I loved how Vegolutionary Foods jumped on two big Instagram food trends to make them conveniently available in your freezer. Their CAULIPOWER cauliflower pizzas and pizza crusts have been out for awhile — I especially liked the uncured turkey pepperoni pizza. Their latest product is Sweet PotaTOASTS, frozen slices of roasted sweet potatoes that you just pop in the oven or toaster and top with nut butters, avocado, nutella and more.  Maybe you’ve seen how #sweetpotatotoast has taken over Instagram — with more than 21,000 posts and counting.  How clever to make this picture-perfect trend available as a convenience item (only one ingredient:  roasted sweet potato).  This company is another example of a founder-led brand.  It was created by Gail Becker, who said CAULIPOWER was born out of a Pinterest fail.  She wanted to find a nutritious gluten-free pizza crust that actually tasted good for her two boys with celiac.

Vegetables and Fruits Transform

Vegetables were not only transformed into toasts and pizza crusts, they were showing up in unexpected places and in a variety of forms — from pasta and burgers to bars and beverages.  Fruits were often showcased as fresh, but they were also packaged up in various ways for convenient snacking, including dried and dehydrated.  I liked these carrot sticks from Rhythm Superfoods, which also sampled beet and kale chips. Seneca featured USA-grown apples that were dehydrated into chips.

Protein Get Portable

Now that snacks represent half of all eating occasions, companies are clamoring to offer new snack options.  Protein continues to be a top snack attribute — often with a front-of-the-pack call-out of grams per serving.  I really liked these hard-cooked egg snacks from Eggland’s Best. Pictured below is the egg, olives and feta variety, but there are three additional flavors:  egg, salame and provolone; egg, chocolate-covered almonds and cheddar; and egg, bacon and cheddar. 

Veggicopia sampled shelf-stable dip cups, including hummus and black bean dip.

A company called Vegetarian Traveler exhibited Protein Toppers — portable, shelf-stable packets of plant protein for adding to salads, vegetable side dishes, stir-fries, oatmeal and other dishes for a protein boost.  This was just one of the many examples of how beans/legumes were trending.  The toasted bean blends included garbanzo, soybean and peas.

Nuts and Seeds Were Soaring

Nuts and seeds were featured throughout the exhibit floor — as nut and seed butters, nut powders and oils, nut and seed milks, and a variety of snacks.  Sunflower seed butter was featured in multiple booths and promoted ‘nut free’ to appeal to those with tree nut allergies.  New products included Sesame Milk and Barukas, a previously unknown nut in the U.S. that comes from the Amazonian savanna.

Old School Brands Are Reinventing

While there were lots of small niche brands at the expo touting innovative new products, many of the large CPG companies who have exhibited at FNCE for many years were upping their game.  Quaker Oats gave us a sneak peek of a new Oat Beverage that will be out in January.  This is a dairy alternative that is formulated with oat bran so it qualifies for the FDA heart health claim (setting it apart from competitor’s oat milks).  The new drink is a good source of fiber and an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D.  I really like Campbell’s new Well Yes! sipping soup — in trendy flavors like Harvest Carrot & Ginger and Butternut Squash & Sweet Potato.  It’s a great way to eat more vegetables as a snack.  Starkist featured ready-to-eat pouches of tuna and salmon, along with their latest line of Chicken Creations:  Bold Buffalo Style, Ginger Soy, Zesty Lemon Pepper and Chicken Salad.  Minute sampled really tasty whole grain cups that are ready in 1 minute in the microwave.

Purpose-Driven Brands

Many brands were elevating a mission and showing how they give back, including The SoulFull Project. These makers of innovative oatmeal and other hot cereals contribute to a local food bank for each product sold. The company is a Certified B Corporation that is committed to using business as a force of good.

A Few Additional Trends

Bean cuisine. Healthy indulgence (chocolate). Fiber. Free-From. Allergy-Friendly. Turmeric. Paleo/Keto/Whole30.  E-commerce (sold only on Amazon). Food-tech (DNA testing for personalized nutrition from Nutrigenomix; gut microbiome testing, and stem cell-based  rejuvenation from Prolon).

Here’s what others are writing about FNCE 2018 trends.  I’ll report back and link to additional posts I find, or let me know your thoughts.

Food & Health Communications:  FNCE 2018 – 5 Essential Trends and Takeaways

Food Navigator:  Trendspotting at FNCE  

Chew the Facts: Food Trends: Is the Future of Food Drinkable Nutrients?

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The Rise of the Anti-Diet Movement: Is it No Longer P.C. to Want to Lose Weight?

Body positivity.  Anti-diet.  No doubt, there’s a ditch-the-diet movement going on. Heck, even Weight Watchers ditched “weight,” opting for the name WW instead.

Cries of “diets don’t work” are getting louder, and increasing numbers of registered dietitians  are embracing a “nondiet” philosophy — which was recently highlighted by dietitian Cara Rosenbloom in the Washington Post  A new trend in health care: the “nondiet” dietitian. 

I liked many parts of the article, but it begs the question:  What’s the opposite of a “nondiet” dietitian, a “diet” dietitian?  So everyone else is about rules and restrictions?  Are we separating dietitians by who supports weight loss vs. those who reject it?

It seems to me there’s a growing divide among dietitians.

Even though many dietitians have built their careers on “intuitive eating” and warn about today’s “diet culture,” other dietitians are pointing out that the “anti-diet movement” may have some problems.  Or maybe there’s not even agreement on what “anti-diet” really means.

One recent rant has been widely discussed among dietitians.  Emily Kyle wrote a provocative post I am Not an Anti-Diet Dietitian — and let’s just say, it got a lot of attention.

I don’t feel that the term anti-diet dietitian aligns with my core audience with what I want to help them with. I don’t think that my core audience knows what an anti-diet dietitian is.  I feel like writing anti-diet dietitian in my Instagram bio is just what all the cool kids are doing these days.

She made some good points.

The one thing that has freaked me out the most about the Intuitive Eating community is the complete black and white way of looking at things.  I don’t know how to explain it, but in so many conversations that I have secretly read from the comfort of my Facebook screen, I have been turned off by the black and white thinking of this movement.

In contrast, Emily wrote about her approach with clients.

I will never weigh you or ask you to lose weight.  I will hear you, and I will sympathize with you when you say you want to lose weight.  I won’t tell you that you are wrong for wanting that.

Registered dietitian Jessie Shafer addressed the topic in Delicious Living Has the Anti-Diet Movement Gone Too Far?

A downside of the anti-diet movement is the rejection of any conversation about diets or weight loss for proven healing or the pursuit of wellness through food.  Those can be — and largely are — very positive messages and stories to tell.  And even if dieting or watching your weight are not parts of your path to personal wellness and markers of your own health (it’s not a main focus for me), that doesn’t mean it’s not a meaningful tool or pursuit for others.

Another RD Samantha Cassetty recently wrote about the topic for NBC News.com Is the Anti-Diet Movement Leading us Astray?

I don’t agree that the desire to lose weight is always a sign of self-loathing as some anti-diet experts would have you believe.  Perhaps for some, but for others the desire to shed some weight is an act of self-care and can be a positive experience.

This was the theme of an opinion piece in the New York Times by Kelly deVos, author of Fat Girl on a Plane, who wrote about her daughter’s desire to lose weight,  The Problem with Body Positivity

Many people in the body positivity movement — which I’d like to count myself a member of — believe that the desire to lose weight is never legitimate, because it is an expression of the psychological toll of fat shaming. So any public discussion of personal health or body size constitutes fat shaming.

In my case, I’m still trying to get it right.  But I’ve come to feel that loving yourself and desiring to change yourself are two sentiments that should be able to peacefully coexist.

Amen.  I totally agree with that.

Similarly, Amber Petty, a writer and blogger in LA, addressed the topic in Greatist, Is the Body Positivity Movement Going Too Far?

So although it sounds extreme to say that dieting and weight loss are not part of body positivity, I think there’s some truth to that statement.  That doesn’t mean you can’t lose weight or want to lose weight and still think positively of yourself.  Individuals should do whatever they want.

I’ve had mixed feelings about the body positivity movement, but I’ve become more positive for body positivity than I would have thought. To me, they’re asking that we end the cycle of obsessing over our bodies.  Sure, some proponents of this movement go too far and claim that people who lose weight are traitors.  But most advocate just appreciating yourself as you are, and than means being OK with wanting to lose weight or being OK with staying heavy.

Even the founder and CEO of Greatist weighed in on the issue (sorry, no pun intended).  Derek Flanzraich declared It’s Ok to Want to Lose Weight

…somehow saying you want to lose 10 pounds (OK, really 15) still seems like such as shameful admission.  That’s silly — most of us want that.  Most of the country probably wants to lose more weight than that.

So we should be talking about it.  Otherwise, how can we find a healthier way to succeed at it?  I also worry the body-positive movement is holding us back, not pushing us forward.

She concludes:

To tackle weight loss the right way, we need to destigmatize it.

It’s OK to want to lose weight.

And it’s important we talk about it so we can work together to accomplish it in a way that sticks.

Yes, it’s OK to want to lose weight.  Yes, you can feel good about yourself and still want to achieve a healthier weight — and there’s more than one way to do that.  I don’t believe that dietitians should be divided into “nondiet” and “diet” dietitians.  But I do think that sometimes we don’t understand — or appreciate —  another way of thinking.  I certainly don’t like it when we attack each other, which happens all too often.  Maybe there are misconceptions on both sides.

I really liked this article by registered dietitian Kara Lydon in Shape, who tried to clarify what the anti-diet movement is, and what it isn’t:  The Anti-Diet Movement is Not an Anti-Health Campaign

Some say that the anti-diet movement has been misconstrued with countless Instagram posts of burgers, pizza, and ice cream, but what about all of the accounts that post nothing but smoothie bowls and salads? Burgers and pizza aren’t any more “extreme” than a massive acai bowl or kale salad after all. My hope is that the anti-diet movement helps to normalize some of the foods that have been demonized by diet culture so that eventually, we’ll stop calling food “good” or “bad” and start looking at food as just, food.

I wholeheartedly agree. Foods should not be demonized — and we shouldn’t attach fear, guilt, regret or morality to food.  We also shouldn’t have a narrow view of what’s “good” food — from smoothie bowls and kale salads to green smoothies and keto dairy-free, gluten-free chia pudding.  Sure, there are lots of problems with today’s diet culture.  But I think we shouldn’t appear to be so anti-diet that we send the message that we’re against weight loss. 

How can dietitians help people achieve weight loss in a healthy way — in a way that reinforces new habits and lifestyle changes. Yes, there’s more to being healthy than the number on the scale, but It’s OK if you want to see a lower number when you do step on it. No one should be ashamed of that.  It’s how you work on this goal that’s important.

Just hearing that “diets don’t work” may be discouraging and defeating. Let’s switch the focus to what DOES work — whether for wellness or weight loss.

This isn’t a new topic.  I wrote about a debate between Linda Bacon, author of Health at Every Size (HAES), and obesity researcher John Foreyt at our annual nutrition conference back in 2011, Is the War on Obesity a Battle Worth Fighting?

Now I’m about to attend the same conference in Washington, DC, and a similar debate is scheduled for our 2018 meeting.  I’ll be sure to report back.  But I bet I’ll come to the same conclusion as 2011.  Can’t we all get along?    Can’t intuitive eating and body positivity coexist with losing weight?  Why must we line up on two sides?  Why the conflict?

Tell me what you think.


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2019 Food Trends: Buzz-Worthy Foods and Ingredients You Need to Know

Get ready. 2019 food trend predictions are happening.

One of the first reports to be released is from Baum + Whiteman, international food and restaurant consultants based in Brooklyn.  Here are a few highlights from their list of the hottest food and beverage trends in restaurant and hotel dining for 2019.

Shiso leaf goes mainstream


King Oyster mushrooms


Tahini in unexpected places

Oat milk craze wiping out other alt-dairy milks, probably boosting other oat products

Food from the stans: Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and other breakaway republics from the former Soviet Union

French cooking will make its annual comeback

Jewish restaurant food continues its growth curve

Edible flowers

Floral infusions in plain old water

Hemp and cannabis in cocktails, soft drinks, beer and cooking

Low-calorie vegan ice cream

Umami-boosting, meat-aging Koji

Asian pastry/sandwich shops

Katsu sando (pork or chicken cutlet sandwich)

Pour-your-own-beer systems

Duck and chicken liver preparations in restaurants that people trust

No-alcohol cocktails at fancy martini prices

Szechuan peppercorns reappear in Chinese Hot Pots and Dry Pots

Hard seltzer

Sour Calamansi aka Calamondin

After the last straw local governments launch war on Styrofoam

More chefs taking on activist roles on environmental degradation, and disaster food relief (thank you Jose Andres)


Image credits:

Hokkaido sea urchin with shiso leaves, yuzu kosho, elderflower jelly, kimchi and seaweed by City Foodsters on flickr

Katsu sandwich by Megumi on flickr

King Oyster mushrooms courtesy of Wendell Smith on flickr


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