Quick Tips For Busy Moms Who Don’t Want Kids Wired On Sugar

I’m a mom of twins, so you can trust me when I say that NO ONE wants kids that are revved up on too much sugar. NO ONE.

The truth is, too much sugar revs kids up – and then their energy level crashes. Neither scenario is really what’s best for them.

On the other hand, I’m passionate about keeping food enjoyable, making meals pleasant, and giving my kids a healthy mindset about what they put in their mouths. So I’m not ready to take dessert off our family menu.

Here are some of the tips I use to find that elusive middle ground:

1. Eat dessert (seriously!)

Sure, skipping dessert improves the nutrition profile of many meals.

But our families enjoy having sweets at some meals. And studies tell us that deprivation just teaches our kids to sneak around to satisfy their sweet tooth.

We just need to unlearn the lesson that “dessert” has to mean banana splits, rich pies, cookies as big as frisbees, and huge slices of cake.

2. Use my insider tips to keep dessert healthy

As a dietitian who spent years developing truly healthy recipes for restaurants, that had to taste great to sell, I can tell you from experience that desserts CAN be prepared in a healthy and satisfying way.

  • Start by using fresh fruits and juices, yogurts, whole grain cereals and other wholesome ingredients.
  • Cut the sugar — recipes almost always call for far more than you need for great taste.
  • Make the dessert with vanilla and/or cinnamon, which bring out the sweetness without having to use as much sugar.
  • Sprinkle some of the sugar that was called for in the recipe on top of the dessert so your tongue gets an instant sweet taste rather than burying it all inside.
  • Serve smaller portions with a fruit on the side to fill you up more nutritiously while making it look extra-special.

See? You can create wonderful sweets your kids will love!!

3. Don’t worry as much about calories.

Kids really do need healthy, filling meals to grow. Give kids healthy choices and balanced food combinations, so they learn from experience that healthy food can be fun, delicious and satisfying.  Let them experience all the wonderful food combinations that they can love — and that will love them back!

And of course, that includes healthy desserts using the tips in #1 above.

4. Minimize sugary beverages

Sugary soft drinks, lemonade, fruit punch and sweetened iced tea really don’t do our kids any favors. They offer very little if any nutritional value while doing a number on their teeth.

Focus on sweets that they actually eat, as part of a meal. These are real foods, that offer real nutritional value and help show kids that healthy = tasty. I don’t demonize sugary drinks, but I don’t proactively suggest them to my kids. We offer sugary drinks only on occasion, while recognizing that there are times when that’s what they’re going to have because that’s what’s being served — and that’s OK, too.

Sugar isn’t bad, but moderation is the key. Instead of getting it from sugary beverages, where so much sugar is lurking, offer it through foods your family eats that also bring nutritional value such as desserts and snacks prepared with fruits and whole grains.  This will reinforce the message that healthy can mean tasty.

Yes, You CAN Take The Kids to McDonald’s & Here’s What To Order

Should you be eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at McDonald’s?

Of course not… but you don’t have to avoid it 24/7 either.

There are some healthy choices, and these are my top picks.


Sausage Burrito

Not the best of my picks, but a better choice than most of the other breakfast items offered at McD’s. It ‘s quite high in sodium, but low in sugar and calories and it provides a decent amount of protein.

Per serving: 290 calories, 15 g fat (6 g saturated fat), 800 mg sodium, 26 g carbs (2 g sugars, 1 gram fiber), 13 g protein

Boost it for better nutrition:
• Add apple slices or clementine or low-fat strawberry go-gurt

Fruit and Yogurt Parfait

Although slightly high in sugar, and low in fiber for a “fruit”-based item, it does provide some protein and is relatively low in calories, fat, saturated fat and sodium.

Per serving: 150 calories, 2 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 75 mg sodium, 30 g carbs (22 g sugars, 1 gram fiber), 4 g protein

Boost it with add-ons at McDonald’s for better nutrition:
• Add a cup of low-fat milk

Egg McMuffin

Yup – the classic. You get most the food groups in this breakfast choice. The only thing you’re missing is produce, and you can add a fruit to really boost the nutrient profile.
Although a bit high in sodium for a small menu item, it provides 18 grams of satiety-providing protein, with a low amount of sugar, and it is relatively low in calories.

Per serving: 300 calories, 12 g fat (6 g saturated fat), 730 mg sodium, 30 g carbs (3 g sugars, 2 gram fiber), 18 g protein

Boost it with add-ons at McDonald’s for better nutrition:
• Add apple slices or clementine

Egg White Delight McMuffin

The classic with a healthier twist! You still get most of the food groups in this but with less fat because they skip the egg yolk. That brings the calories down to 260 and also slashes the fat and saturated fat to a healthier level.

Per serving: 260 calories, 8 g fat (4.5 g saturated fat), 750 mg sodium, 29 g carbs (3 g sugars, 2 gram fiber), 16 g protein

Boost it with add-ons at McDonald’s for better nutrition:
• Add apple slices or clementine

Lunch & dinner

Chicken McNuggets

Without the sauce, these little guys aren’t as bad as you may think. In fact, they are one of the best of the fast food nuggets out there. It’s the sauce that’s very high in sugar and fat – the creamy ranch is the biggest culprit, offering more fat than a hamburger. Having them with ketchup is a better choice.

Per serving (6 nuggets): 270 calories, 16 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat), 510 mg sodium, 16 g carbs (0 g sugars, 1 gram fiber), 15 g protein

Boost it with add-ons at McDonald’s for better nutrition:
• Add a side salad with low -fat dressing

Small Hamburger

A small serving, but a good size for a child and a lot lower in saturated fat than many other burgers out there!

Per serving: 250 calories, 8 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 480 mg sodium, 31 g carbs (6 g sugars, 2 gram fiber), 13 g protein

Boost it with add-ons at McDonald’s for better nutrition:
• Ask for extra lettuce and tomato
• Add a side salad with low fat dressing or apple slices or clementine
• Add low fat milk or strawberry go-gurt

Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich

This sandwich is a healthier choice than the other chicken sandwiches at McDonald’s and offers a whopping 37 grams of protein for only 380 calories and only 2 grams of saturated fat, but you also get a heavy dose of sodium. That comes mostly from the sauce- so for a healthier option, ask for it plain or with the sauce on the side (and minimize the amount you add).

Per serving: 380 calories, 7 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 1110 mg sodium, 44 g carbs (11 g sugars, 3 gram fiber), 37 g protein

Boost it with add-ons at McDonald’s for better nutrition:
• Ask for extra lettuce and tomato on top
• Add apple slices or clementine

McDouble Hamburger

Although still high in fat and sodium, it’s a healthier choice than some of the other burgers on the menu, clocking in at only 380 calories with a hearty helping of protein.

Per serving: 380 calories, 18 g fat (8 g saturated fat), 840 mg sodium, 34 g carbs (7 g sugars, 2 gram fiber), 23 g protein

Boost it with add-ons at McDonald’s for better nutrition:
• Ask for lettuce and tomato on top
• Add a side salad with low fat dressing or apple slices or clementine

Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad

The ingredients here are great- romaine lettuce, spinach, kale and red leaf lettuce with black beans, roasted corn and grilled chicken. It’s the dressing that adds all the sodium and fat. While still being high in sodium, swapping the southwest dressing with the low fat balsamic vinaigrette will save you some fat.

Per serving (with Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette instead of Southwest dressing): 390 calories, 13 g fat (4.5 g saturated fat), 1480 mg sodium, 32 g carbs (12 g sugars, 6 gram fiber), 37 g protein

Boost it with add-ons at McDonald’s for better nutrition:
• Add a cup of low fat milk

Desserts & snacks

Vanilla Cone

Not the most nutritious choice, with lots of sugar and corn syrup, but better than some of the other dessert offerings.

Per serving: 200 calories, 5 g fat (3.5 g saturated fat), 80 mg sodium, 24 g carbs (24 g sugars, 0 gram fiber), 5 g protein

Soft Baked Oatmeal Raisin Cookie

One of the better choices of dessert here, offering fiber, some protein and under 13 grams of sugar, which is good for a decadent cookie.

Per serving (1 cookie): 140 calories, 5 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat), 125 mg sodium, 22 g carbs (12 g sugars, 1 gram fiber), 2 g protein

Baked Apple Pie

When it comes to pie, delivering 4 grams of fiber and only 13 grams of sugar is a good sign that there are plenty of real apples in this dessert. Although higher in fat than the other choices on my snack and dessert list, it is lower than most other pies on the market.

Per serving (1 cookie): 230 calories, 10 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 125 mg sodium, 22 g carbs (12 g sugars, 1 gram fiber), 2 g protein

What NOT To Say To Your Kids When You’re Dieting

It is SO important for us parents to understand which conversations can help or harm kids’ eating habits, and how to talk to our kids in a positive way about food and health.

Conversations about body weight and size can actually hurt kids, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota Medical School. They’re linked to an increased risk of unhealthy dieting and other unhealthy and inappropriate weight-controlling behaviors in children.

And those conversations don’t necessarily have to be about the children’s weight and size to be harmful. They can also be about the parent’s weight and size.

On the other hand, these researchers also found that parents who talked to their children about nutrition and healthy eating — instead of weight and size — were less likely to have a child with an eating disorder.
The bottom line:

  • Talking about nutrition and healthy eating in positive ways is a good idea.
  • Talking about weight, size and dieting is a bad idea.

Often, the best way to discuss weight is NOT to discuss it at all. Obsessing about your own or your kids’ weight and body size can give the subject more importance than it deserves.

Children get cues from their parents. If you want your kids to feel good about their bodies, don’t obsess about your own.

Pay attention to the actions you use around them and the words you use.

Never put yourself down in front of them for how you look and don’t let anyone else do this either.

Avoid comments like:

  • Let’s be good and skip the chips
  • I was so bad today — I ate a piece of pie
  • I’m so fat, I need to lose weight
  • No, I can’t have that, I’m dieting
  • No, don’t eat that, it has too many calories

Instead, say:

  • No thanks, I don’t want any (no reason is necessary)
  • This apple is so crunchy and delicious and it’s so healthy for my body
  • These delicious carrot sticks help my eyes stay sharp and focused
  • I’m eating healthier so I can have more energy
  • Drink your milk to help your bones and teeth stay strong
  • Eating healthy will help you excel in sports
  • Eating healthy will help you concentrate better to help you with school and homework

Remember, as nutrition expert Dr. Brian Wansick says: “If you’re a parent, it’s better to focus on the benefits of broccoli and not the harms of hamburgers.”

Focus on food in a fun and positive way and you’ll be teaching your kids the right lessons about healthy eating.

Fran’s Picks: Frozen Greek Yogurt, Cauliflower Crumbles, & More!

There is no such thing as a “perfect” food. For example, a product can be high in iron, but can contain a lot of fat. Another can be low in sodium but higher in sugar.

What makes a food a “good” choice?

The government has developed criteria for making product health claims such as “Low Fat”, “Low Sodium”, “Good Source of Iron”in addition to the latest Dietary Recommendations For Americans.

As you know, I appreciate finding convenience foods that are truly good for our families to eat. Using these recommendations, I spotted these four super-convenient — and good for you! — items in my local grocery store. They’re national brands, so they should be available in yours too.

My “Fran’s picks” contain at least 2 of the following features:

  • Low or reduced calorie
  • <10% of the calories from saturated fat
  • No more than 30% of the calories from total fat
  • Low or reduced sodium
  • No added sugar
  • Excellent or good source of protein
  • Excellent or good source of fiber
  • Excellent or good source of one or more vitamins or minerals
  • Whole grain
  • Source of omega 3’s

Fran’s Picks are also

  • Free from artificial additives and preservatives
  • Trans fat free
  • Contain no high-fructose corn syrup.

Fran’s Picks

Dannon Oikos Greek Frozen Yogurt

Dannon Oikos Greek Frozen YogurtI love this frozen treat. Besides being indulgent and satisfying, each serving delivers 6-7 grams of protein and about 120% of the day’s calcium. Although it does contain some added sugar, what satisfying sweet treat without artificial sweeteners doesn’t?

Rationale for Fran’s Pick:

  • Excellent Source of Calcium
  • Good Source of Protein
  • Low Fat
  • Low Sodium

Morningstar Farms Garden Vegetable Burger

garden vegetable burgerThere are many vegetarian burgers on the market, but this one is the best tasting in my opinion- by far! And for only 150 calories per burger you get 17 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber.

Rationale for Fran’s Pick:

  • Excellent Source of Protein
  • Excellent Source of Fiber
  • <10% Calories from Saturated Fat
  • No more than 30% Calories from Total Fat
  • Whole Grain

Green Giant Cauliflower Crumbles

cauliflower crumblesIf you want a great stand-in for carbs such as white rice and potatoes, pick up a bag of Green Giant Fresh Cauliflower Crumbles from your supermarket.

“These time-saving, washed and chopped nuggets are recipe-ready for roasting, baking, sau­téing, mashing or steaming right in their package,” says Green Giant.

Each serving (approx. 1/2 cup) has only 20 calories, yet delivers 2 grams of fiber, 70 percent of a day’s vitamin C, 15 percent of a day’s vitamin K, 10 percent of a day’s folate, and 7 per­cent of a day’s potassium.

Rationale for Fran’s Pick:

  • Low Calorie
  • Low Fat
  • Low Saturated Fat
  • Low Sodium
  • Excellent source of Vitamin C

Applegate’s Breaded Chicken Patties

applegate chicken pattiesApplegate’s is just 210 milligrams and yet it’s filled with flavor. You’d never know it has half the sodium of the other leading brands.

Applegate does not use chickens that have been raised using antibiotics. Their birds are raised on “sustainable family farms in a stress-free environment that promotes natural behavior and socialization.”

Rationale for Fran’s Pick:

  • Excellent Source of Protein
  • No more than 30% of the Calories from Total Fat
  • <10% Calories from Saturated Fat
  • Reduced Sodium

Yes, You CAN Shop The Middle of The Supermarket!

Did you ever hear nutrition “experts” proclaim that we should only “shop the edges” of the supermarket so we can avoid those evil packaged and processed convenience foods usually located in the middle of the grocery store?

That makes me nuts. I’m a busy working mom—and a registered dietitian—and I absolutely cook with packaged foods and convenience foods. You won’t hear me apologizing for it, either!

Are packaged foods really all that bad?

Absolutely not! The problem is that when we hear terms like “convenience food” or “packaged food,” we immediately picture whoopie pies, donuts and cheese puffs – obviously not the most nutritious choices.

The truth is that many handy and time-saving products are minimally processed and still offer abundant beneficial nutrtients. Just a few examples:

  • frozen vegetables
  • dairy products
  • packaged quick-cooking rice
  • canned fruits

We are all starved for time. Avoiding all convenience foods and cooking everything from scratch is not always possible. Most of us need a little help from convenience.

I’m happy to reassure you that you are not committing a nutrition sin!

Not all convenient foods are created equal

A common misconception today is that all convenience foods are bad for us and healthy meals require home cooking from scratch.

Guess what: home-cooked food isn’t necessarily healthy. So much depends on how it’s prepared.

Supermarket-bought versions can even be better for you!

Tips for choosing the healthiest convenience, packaged and processed foods

Don’t be fooled by the product name

Did you know that a “creamy” item doesn‘t have to contain any cream?  A “cheese” cracker doesn‘t have to contain any cheese and a “fruit” product need not contain even a single molecule of fruit?

There’s a host of other examples but the message here is “don‘t be fooled by product names” as they are designed to sell products. They don’t always accurately describe the product’s ingredients. To know what is in the product, look at the list of ingredients.

Refer to the list of ingredients

All packaged food must include a list of ingredients. The largest quantity ingredient is listed first, and the one in smallest quantity is noted last. This list can show you the relative amount of sugar, fat, and salt in a product. Usually the shorter the ingredient list, the more nutritious the product.

Check the additives and preservatives

Additives cover a wide range of ingredients from flavors, colors, and preservatives, to vitamins, minerals, sugar, salt, and fat. They serve a wide variety of purposes and they aren’t all bad. High standards of food quality would not be possible without the additives we find in a wide variety of nutritious convenience foods, such as canned fruits and vegetables, packaged breads, and cereals.

However, some additives may cause adverse side effects and here are some you may want to avoid.

  • Sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite
  • BHA and BHT
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Artificial dyes (such as Yellow #5 and #6; Blue #1 and #2; Red dye # 3 and Red #40)
  • Propyl gallate
  • Sodium sulfite
  • Artificial sweeteners to watch:
    • Aspartame, found in NutraSweet and Equal
    • Acesulfame-K, found in Sunette and Sweet One
    • Saccharin, found in Sweet’N Low
  • Sulfur dioxide
  • High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
  • Potassium bromate

Note the serving size

Food manufacturers can be tricky with serving sizes. To make a product look low in fat or calories, they may list information based on a tiny, sometimes unrealistic serving size.

So if you are eating more than what is listed as the serving size, ensure you consider that the nutrients listed are not applicable to your serving size.

The good news is that the label is changing, and by 2018, manufacturers will be required to list a more reasonable serving size and make it more apparent on the food label.

Be savvy about food claims

Have you ever picked one grocery item over another because of the health claims on the label? You may have been duped.

That’s because terms like “trans fat free” or “all natural” are often slapped on a food item that may not be as healthy as you may think.

Frustrated? You’re not alone. Nearly 59% of consumers have a hard time understanding nutrition labels, according to a Nielsen survey.

Here’s a list of the 7 most common—and most misleading phrases—manufacturers can use on food, with advice on how to look past the hype.

“All natural”

Don’t be fooled, all natural doesn’t mean all that much. The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t define it, although manufacturers are allowed to claim “natural” if the food doesn’t contain added colors, artificial flavors, or “synthetic substances.” That means there’s room for interpretation. Therefore, a food labeled natural may contain preservatives or processed and stripped of many nutrients. Some natural products have even been found to have high fructose corn syrup and companies have argued that since it comes from corn, it’s natural.


If you are seeking whole grain, look for “whole” as the first word in the ingredient list (i.e.: “whole wheat”, “whole rye”, “whole oats”, etc.). Multigrain indicates that the product contains multiple grains but it doesn’t say how much of the grain is present.

“Zero trans fat”

Trans fat is bad for your heart, and the ideal amount to eat is zero. However, products that say no trans fat can actually contain less than 0.5 grams per serving. If a product says “0 trans fat” on it, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there are no trans fats present. Check for words on the ingredient list such as hydrogenated oils and shortening, which mean trans fat is still present.


A food label may say a product such as olive oil is “light,” but manufacturers have been known to use the term to refer to the flavor or color rather than the ingredients. The flavor might be lighter, but you may not be saving one calorie.

“Made with”

Products that claim to be “made with real fruit,” or “made with whole grains” (or “real cheese,” etc.) may not contain very much at all. While companies must list the amount of nutrients they contain, such as fat and cholesterol, they do not have to disclose the percentage of ingredients like fruits and whole grain.

“Lightly sweetened”

Although the FDA has definitions for terms like “reduced sugar,” “no added sugar,” and “sugar free,” companies sometimes come up with marketing lingo that is, well, just made up.

One of those terms is “lightly sweetened,” which isn’t defined at all by the FDA. It means whatever the manufacturer wants it to mean.

The bottom line

Health-conscious families and cooks can shop the middle of the supermarket without fear.

And remember to pat yourself on the back for being a time-starved consumer who still manages to put tasty, good-for-you meals on the table!