How do you figure what is 20%?

In Episode 2 of the Montana Moves and Meals podcast, we discussed my first nutrition tenet: the 80/20 rule of moderation. This principle is meant to allow for some flexibility in one’s diet to include foods that we enjoy but that may not be great for us (the 20%), while maintaining a focus on eating for health (the 80%). By following this tenet, you lose the all-or-nothing approach to nutrition and the excuse that “the diet starts tomorrow!”

After we posted the podcast, I received the following question: “How do you figure what is 20%? 20% of the days? 20% of meals? 20% of calories?” Great question, and one that I felt deserved to be answered for everyone, not just for those who are comment readers.

First, determining the 80% vs 20% is really up to individual discretion. There are no hard and fast rules. But here’s my take:  I would say the percentages should be considered in the context of all of the food/beverage choices that you make over the course of a day. If you think about it, we make dozens of eating choices everyday – wheat bread or white? Salad or fries? Trail mix or chips? Milk or water? Opening the refrigerator door or not, etc. So, to follow the 80/20 rule, 80% of those choices are the healthy option; 20% of those choices are based purely on what you want.

I would judge the 80/20 breakdown over a day or even a couple of days as you might have entire meals that are mostly in the 80 or 20 category, but hopefully not entire days that are in the 20%. Determining the 20% doesn’t need to be an exact science; it’s more of just a basic guiding principle and reminder that most of our diet should consist of healthy foods, while still leaving room for foods that make us happy & satisfied. In fact, think broadly when considering this principle. Resist the temptation to categorize each and every food as good or bad, as it’s all too easy to extend this to a judgement about ourselves as good or bad for eating that food. We eat a variety of foods for a variety of reasons, and the food we eat has no bearing on our worth as a person. It does however, have a bearing on our health outcomes and health risks, and that’s why it’s important to prioritize healthy nutritional choices.

Hope this helps.

Happy Eating!



Time to order your fresh, local summer veggies!

Although some days it still doesn’t feel like it, it’s officially spring, which means now is the time to consider joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. CSA programs offer a weekly share of garden produce, and in some cases, additional products like eggs, meat, flowers, or canned goods, in exchange for a lump sum payment at the beginning of the growing season. This model is beneficial to both farmers and consumers. For farmers, offering CSA shares provides capital for start-of-the-season costs. For consumers, benefits come mostly in terms of nutrition and economic savings. CSA participants have been shown to eat more fruits and vegetables during the season, and therefore more health-promoting nutrients such as fiber, vitamin A, and cancer-fighting antioxidants and phytonutrients. As a CSA participant for the past 2 years, I can definitely attest to eating more veggies during the CSA season!

Even though weekly share costs may appear expensive, comparison of CSA prices with the retail value of equivalent amounts of produce have shown significant savings for the CSA participant. In fact, studies show the retail value of the produce received from a CSA share to be 120-250% the cost of the share price. If it still feels pricey, you can do as the Andrews and Stokes families have done the past couple of seasons, and split a share with another family. You can still get the benefits of fresh veggies each week, albeit less of them, at half the cost.

Finally, CSA participants also have the opportunity to form a connection with the farmer who grows their food, something that cannot be done with store-bought produce. Some CSA farms also offer volunteer opportunities or member events to further promote a sense of community.

Participation in a CSA does involve shared risk. There are no guarantees if a hail storm wipes out half of the garden. However, most farmers want to provide CSA members with good value for their participation and will prioritize the CSA shares if produce is scarce.

Several MUS campuses offer CSA programs in conjunction with a campus farm, and all are recruiting participants now. You can also search Local Harvest for a CSA located near you. Check out the info below and sign up today!

townes harvest

fvcc csa

Happy Eating!



National Nutrition Month: Put Your Best Fork Forward

“Nutrition, at its core, is simply about eating good food.”

I’m sure the readership of this blog knows that March is National Nutrition Month. I mean, it’s circled on your calendar, right?  Well, in case you haven’t heard, National Nutrition Month is a month intended for celebrating healthy, delicious food that nourishes your body. It’s also a month that all joking aside, even as a dietitian, I often overlook. So this year, I am going to be a little bit better, and acknowledge National Nutrition Month with a blog post!  

Each year, the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, the largest organization of dietitians and nutrition professionals, selects a theme for National Nutrition Month. The theme for 2017 is Put Your Best Fork Forward. It’s a broad theme that allows a lot of personal interpretation, so here’s my take:

To me, the phrase Put Your Best Fork Forward makes me think about the actual act of eating. And not eating just anything, but eating wholesome, delicious food.

Sometimes in the world of nutrition, we get so focused on single nutrients or numbers that we lose sight of the bigger picture. We get lost in in the questions like “how many grams of protein should I be getting each day?” or “which calcium supplement is best?” that we forget that nutrition, at its core, is simply about eating good food. It’s about eating consistent meals throughout the day consisting of fresh, healthy ingredients that you actually enjoy. Gone are the days where healthy means only raw vegetables without dressing, light margarines, and nonfat/sugar-free everything. Instead, putting your best fork forward means food that is flavorful, colorful, and most of all, satisfying. It’s roasted vegetables with a generous enough serving of olive oil, salt, and pepper to bring out all the flavors, it’s whole eggs topped with creamy avocado chunks, and it’s your favorite cut of beef savored and served with garden carrots and locally grown whole grains. It’s food that, in reasonable portions, makes us both healthy and happy.

Put Your Best Fork Forward also means eating food with a fork. Of course there are exceptions, but for the most part, the healthiest meals (in our American diet and American way of eating, anyway) actually require utensils. Consider foods that can be consumed without utensils — fast food burgers, prepackaged granola bars, snack foods straight from the bag, donuts or pastries, etc. All can be eaten quickly, on the go, in your car, mindlessly in front of the TV, or at your desk as a distraction from work. Now think about a hearty, nutritious meal that has protein, veggies, and whole grains. You need a fork to eat what you just pictured, don’t you?

Put Your Best Fork Forward further implies a conscience decision to make good choices. Just as putting your best foot forward means putting forth solid effort and trying your best, putting your best fork forward means you are doing things on purpose to help yourself and your family eat a healthy diet. Good nutrition doesn’t happen by accident. It requires effort. Sometimes this news is discouraging to people. But remember that small actions on a consistent basis, like fitting in 3 servings of vegetables a day or planning out your dinner meals for the week, can produce big results like feeling less fatigued, bringing or keeping your cholesterol and blood pressure in a normal range, or losing the weight that has been creeping up over the years. 

The other part of making a conscience effort to eat well is to not get too discouraged when you make a poor food choice. Putting Your Best Fork Forward means that each time you eat something is another opportunity to provide your body with the nutrients it needs. So what if you gave into that candy bar craving? Get right back on track with your next bite, snack, or meal. Had a day at work full of junk food? Make an extra healthy dinner at home to balance things out.

So this month, in honor of National Nutrition Month, take a moment and consider, what does Put Your Best Fork Forward mean to you? And what can you do today to eat in a way that matches and honors your interpretation?

Happy Eating!


For more info on Putting Your Best Fork Forward, visit


Power Bite: Basic Kitchen Knife Skills

In this Montana Meals Power Bite video, Cristin demonstrates how to properly and safely handle a chef’s knife, and demonstrates some basic cuts like slicing, chopping, and the julienne. Honing your kitchen knife skills are an essential part of cooking healthy meals at home!


Montana Meals: Basic Kitchen Knife Skills from Montana University Sys. Wellness on Vimeo.

Eliminating Food Waste: Save the Planet & Your Pocketbook

Neal and I recently had the pleasure of having Kelsey Tanner with us for a two-week rotation as part of the Montana Dietetic Internship (MDI) program. Kelsey earned her Master’s degree in Food Systems with a focus in food security and access from NYU, and had chosen the Montana Dietetic Internship because of its emphasis on sustainable food systems. Kelsey is passionate about the environment, and about the impact of our food choices & food system on the environment in particular. When I asked Kelsey to write a guest post on a topic of her choosing, she immediately decided to write about reducing personal food waste; an often overlooked, yet significant consideration. Please welcome Kelsey Tanner, dietetic intern and guest blog writer:

When people think about making smart food choices, thoughts typically turn first to long-term personal wellness. But there’s an even bigger picture to consider beyond individual health when it comes to making food choices, and that’s the health of our planet.

According to the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, nearly one-third of food produced worldwide for human consumption is lost or wasted. In the U.S. specifically, a typical family of four leaves more than 2 million calories, worth a staggering $1500, uneaten each year. Aside from the financial and food security implications of all this wasted food, the vast majority of this discarded food ends up in landfills, where it releases methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas, 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. In addition, valuable resources such as water and energy were used to produce the food, and when the food is wasted, so are the resources used to grow, produce, and deliver that food.

Luckily, just as there are small habits we can adopt to improve our overall health, there are also simple habits we can integrate into our daily routines that can help us reduce food waste, beginning with the 5 strategies listed below:

  1. Plan your meals. Not only will meal planning help improve your personal nutrition intake, it can significantly reduce food waste at home. Start the planning process by checking your fridge and pantry. Check to see what you already have on hand, and use that first instead of buying more. Make a list of what needs to be used sooner rather than later.  Consider portion sizes too. It’s a good strategy to intentionally plan leftovers to bring for lunch, or use in a reimagined way later in the week, but only make an amount that you can reasonably eat before the food goes bad, or you get tired of the same thing.

Tip: Dedicate a shelf in the fridge specifically for food that may be starting to turn bad soon, then use those items for inspiration when you plan your next set of meals.

  1. Choose ugly produce. Much of the produce dumped before it reaches consumers hands is due to natural imperfections, though it is completely fine to eat. These funny-looking fruits and vegetables have been viewed as a profit loss because they are avoided by customers, and so they are often left on the field or refused by retailers. This loss is estimated to account  for 25% percent of all produce grown, contributing to more than half of all food wasted.  Recently, ugly fruit and vegetables have gained attention in the press and social media, leading to efforts to reduce waste by changing the fate of these blemished produce. These ugly fruits and vegetables have the same nutrient content as beautiful ones, so get your recommended servings of fruits and vegetables per day by going ugly. Help reduce the amount of produce that goes to waste by purchasing produce with blemishes from local farmers and retailers.
  1. Don’t dump it, freeze it.  Many fruits and veggies can be frozen, so before they go bad in your fridge, cut them up, freeze them, and use them later to make a delicious smoothie, soup, or other healthy favorite. On several occasions, at the end of a busy week I’ve found myself with an excess of peaches, bananas, berries…you name it. In a panic, I try to figure out how I can eat as much fruit as possible in the time it has left, so it does not have to end in the trash. However, you don’t have to go on a fruit-binge to keep fruit out of the dump! All fruit can be frozen, so when there is too much or it is not going to last, cut it up, throw it in a baggie, and mark the date.  Fruit can last up to a year frozen, if stored properly. Use it in a smoothie and turn what would have been food waste into an additional daily serving of fruit.

Tip: Freeze in smaller one-portion baggies or containers.  This minimizes clumping, makes it easier to use, and prevents unfreezing and refreezing.

  1. Don’t trash it, can it. Preserving foods through fermentation is an easy way to make vegetables last, while gaining added benefits. The fermentation process can increase the nutritional content by increasing the availability of nutrients, such as iron, to the body. Fermented food also acts as a homemade probiotic, supporting gut health. So when you didn’t have time to make that dinner you had shopped for, your garden is overflowing with cucumbers, or maybe the beets and carrots looked so great at the farmer’s market that you overdid it, don’t trash those veggies! Can them so both you and the environment can reap the benefit.

Tip: Fermentation is just one way method used in canning. Canning works for all kinds of fruits, vegetables, and even soups, and is a great way to preserve your food.  Never canned before? Here is a great intro resource.

  1.  Dine smart. It is estimated that about 10% of all food waste comes from restaurant food uneaten by its customers. However, eating out is when we tend to overeat. A study from 2014 in the journal Public Health Nutrition showed that dining out for one meal tends to lead to an additional 200 calories to that day’s intake. So here are a few tips for reducing both food waste and your waistline:
  • Order an appetizer as your main course
  • Some restaurants offer half portions on the menu. If not, there’s no harm in asking if a half portion could be provided.
  • Share an entree with a friend
  • Box up half your entree and take it home for another meal

Tip: For buffet style food at restaurants or campus cafeterias, start small. Take small portions each time and go back if you are still hungry.  This not only reduces the amount of food left on your plate once you’re finished, but helps regulate your appetite, making it easier to stop once you feel full, preventing you from overeating.

If you are interested in learning more about food waste and what you can do about it, check out some of these resources:


Santa’s Kitchen Wish List (Good boys & girls only)

All you good little boys and girls out there have probably put together your holiday wish lists.  And although the newest iPhone, or virtual reality set, or new skis might be cool and make you the envy of all your friends, if you are looking to make 2017 your healthiest year yet, consider adding a few of the following items to your holiday wish list. The following are my personal favorite nutrition-related tools that make healthy eating and cooking easier, more enjoyable, and more convenient.

Note: I am not getting paid to promote any of these items; this list is a reflection of my personal opinions only. With the exception of the Ninja slow cooker and Glasslock containers, I have no particular brand loyalty on these items. The links are provided as examples only.

  1. Chef’s Knife. Every cook needs a great chef’s knife. While there are hundreds of different types of knives to choose from, my favorite is this pink high-carbon stainless steel knife (as seen in Montana Meals videos!) This knife is lightweight, super-sharp, comes with a handy-dandy protector, and is the perfect size for chopping and slicing a variety of vegetables and meats. Really hard items like bones or frozen foods are best left to a butcher’s knife, but I think this knife is a great all-around tool.
  2. Slow cooker. Few things are better than coming home after work to a house that smells delicious, with dinner nearly complete. Even better than just a regular slow cooker, the Ninja 3-in-1 slow cooker switches to warm after the designated cook time, can sear meats in the pan itself (no need to dirty an additional pan), and can also function as an oven, using steam to prevent baked goods from getting dry. The Ninja 3-in-1 is pricey, but in my opinion, I think the convenience of this tool is worth the investment.
  3. Immersion blender: If you regularly make soups or sauces, or perhaps aspire to, I highly recommend an immersion blender. Avoid burns or big messes when transferring hot liquids from a cooking pan to the stand-up blender by blending the liquid in the cooking pot itself.
  4. Glasslock containers: I always suggest keeping healthy foods like pre-sliced veggies in clear containers at eye-level in the fridge, and these excellent containers will help you do just that. The lids seal very tightly, so these are also great containers for transporting your lunch to work.
  5. Salad spinner: A salad spinner may take up some precious kitchen space, but it’s an incredible tool when it comes to cleaning greens and keeping them fresh. Forget using paper towels to dry off your greens or herbs; just use the spinner to get rid of excess water after rinsing, then store the greens in the spinner in the refrigerator. Chances are, you’ll eat a lot more salads if you have clean fresh greens ready and waiting for you.
  6. Food thermometer: Keep you and your family safe by ensuring that all food is cooked to its proper temperature. There are lots of fancy food thermometers to choose from, but even a basic one will do. Here’s a handy guide on safe food temperatures from the USDA.
  7. Digital food scale: I remember buying my first food scale a few years ago because I had just received a cookbook as a gift that had all of the ingredients listed in weights rather than volumes. I never thought when I was buying my scale that I would use it as much as I do! I use my food scale frequently for measuring exact ingredients like flour when baking, when measuring fresh produce from my garden, and when cooking recipes that have ingredients listed in weights.
  8. Steamer basket: Steamed vegetables are an excellent, easy side dish. Just fill a saucepan with about an inch of water, place the basket with chopped veggies in the pan, cover, and bring the water to a boil until the veggies are brightly colored and soft, but not mushy. Or, be brave and try steamed collard greens as a wrap in place of a tortilla like in this recipe for collard-wrapped bean burritos. A steamer basket is the perfect stocking stuffer.
  9. Cast-iron Dutch oven: Cast-iron cookware is durable, can withstand high oven temperatures safely, retains heat, and unlike nonstick pans, doesn’t pose a threat when scratched. If you’re anemic, using cast-iron cookware is also a good strategy for boosting iron intake. Soups, stews, no-knead bread, beans, risotto, braised chicken, apple butter—the possibilities of what to cook in this pan are nearly endless!
  10. Prep bowls: Having all of your ingredients chopped, measured, and ready to go before you start cooking — what chefs refer to as “mise en place”—will help you be a more efficient home cook. These prep bowls of varying sizes can keep your cooking space nice, clean, and organized.

Happy (Holiday) Eating!


P.S.  I was just kidding.  No one is really buying a virtual reality set right?


Good Nutrition starts in your grocery cart!

It happened unexpectedly last Wednesday. I was walking outside, and all of a sudden, I got that distinct sense that fall is coming. The air was crisp, with the familiar smell of fall, and the afternoon sun was noticeably lower in the sky. As university employees, this is an exciting time of year. Students will be back soon, and we’ll get in the routine of another semester.

Even though most of us are no longer students, the start of the school year is a great time to reestablish healthy habits. One of those habits that I always recommend is setting aside a designated time each week to meal plan, grocery shop, and if time allows, prep some items such as cutting/cleaning vegetables, making sauces, or measuring dried spices. You don’t have to plan out every entree, side, beverage, and dessert, but taking even 10 minutes before you shop to think about your dinners for the week can be incredibly helpful. For more about meal planning, check out my previous blog post That’s the Plan.

Today, however, I wanted to share a few grocery shopping tips from the book, Slim by Design by Brian Wansink, PhD. I read this book about a year ago (see Environment Trumps Willpower) but I was recently skimming through it again and found this quote:

 “Our best and worst eating habits start in the grocery store.”

Maybe it’s because I made the rookie mistake last week to go grocery shopping when I was hungry, but this quote really resonated with me. It sounds so simple; what you have available your kitchen determines the quality of your diet. When we buy junk food, we eat junk food. When we buy healthy foods, we eat healthy foods. Or at least, the probability that we’ll eat healthy foods increases! It’s difficult to eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables throughout the day if we don’t even have 5 servings available and accessible to us. So what can we do while we’re at the grocery store to increase those good eating habits? Here are my two favorite strategies from Wansink:

  1. Divide your cart in half. One half is designated for fruits and vegetables only; the other half is for everything else. When researchers added a dividing line, along with a sign explaining the “rule” to shopping carts at a few supermarkets in Virginia and Canada, shoppers spent twice as much money on fruits and veggies. Most of us fill our carts about ¼ full with fruits and veggies, but adding that dividing line made ½ a cart of produce seem more appropriate to shoppers. Categorizing purchases also made people take pause and consider their food choices. Put this suggestion into action by dividing your cart in half using a purse, coat, reusable shopping bags, or whatever other item you might be carrying with you. If it’s a smaller shopping trip, you can use one of the small double decker carts, putting fruits and veggies only in the top basket, and everything else in the bottom basket.
  2. Linger in the produce section. The more time you spend in an aisle, the more money you will spend on the items in that aisle. Wansink’s research team found this to be true for shoppers regardless of the type of items in the aisle. So, sprint through some of those junk food aisles (or avoid them completely), and dawdle in the displays of fruits and veggies.

I’m really into strategies like these; strategies that help us eat better without a huge effort on our part. These type of behavioral strategies can really set us up for success. Give them a try during your next trip to the grocery store—I hope I find you loitering around some vegetables as you fill up half your cart with healthy, delicious food!