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Updated: 3 days ago

The time flashed on my phone as I reached past it to place one more block on the tower I was building with my toddler. I wondered how 5pm came so fast. I also wondered if this day was ever going to end.

I'd been up most of the night with my newborn, and then up for good at 6am with my terrible-two-toddler. The never ending day was full of toddler tantrums, diaper blow-outs, landmines of toys, mountains of laundry and now.....

Dinner time. (dun - dun - dun)

I didn't have an ounce of energy left to plan or prepare a meal. The thought of making Mac and Cheese or Ramen again left me feeling guilty. I was a Registered Dietitian, why couldn't I manage to pull a real meal together?

Then I remembered meal planning rule #1: a healthy meal includes the 5 food groups

This sounds counterintuitive, but remembering that rule made dinnertime easier and helped me let go of my guilt. How does including the 5 food groups make dinner easier?

Eating something from all 5 food groups ensures that you get enough carbs, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals to continue on with your day. It also makes it easy to serve a healthy meal without doing any cooking.

My dinner that night consisted of: cheese, whole grain crackers, canned applesauce and canned beets.

Fruit? applesauce

Vegetable? beets

Whole Grain? crackers

Protein? cheese

Milk? to drink

Dinner took only a few minutes to prepare, and I left the table feeling confident that I had fueled my body with the nutrition it needed to continue battling my two year old and folding mountains of laundry.

I made a lot of fast and simple dinners those first few years of my children's lives. When you remember to include all 5 food groups, you can make a healthy + filling meal in no time.

Common no-cook meals we eat often:

whole wheat bread + peanut butter + jam serve with canned peaches + cucumber slices

green smoothies + whole wheat toast (berries, juice, spinach, milk blended) + toast

avocado toast (whole wheat bread + veggie) + yogurt with fruit (protein + fruit)

cottage cheese, crackers, pears, carrot sticks

hummus, crackers, fresh fruit (whatever is in season) + bell peppers (to dip in hummus)

tortillas + refried beans + canned corn + mango smoothie (mangoes + milk blended)

Other ideas for minimal cooking:

box mac + canned fruit + canned green beans (most kids love these, they are salty yum!)

ramen (add in frozen stir fry veggies + an egg) + canned/frozen fruit

chicken nuggets + whole wheat toast + fresh strawberries + cucumbers

hot dog + whole wheat bun + fruit & veggie

Any meal can be a healthy meal if you use WHOLE GRAINS and add a FRUIT + VEGGIE

Here's why serving all 5 food groups matters:

Each food group contains different types of nutrients (click the links for more info):

Fruits: Fiber, Folate, Potassium and Vitamin C

Vegetables: Fiber, Phytochemicals and Vitamins A, C, E and K

Grains: carbs for energy! B vitamins, some minerals + fiber (if you use whole grains)

Proteins: protein and fat to build tissues! contain: B vitamins + minerals (like iron and zinc)

Milk: potassium, calcium, vitamin D + B vitamins, minerals

If you leave out a food group, you miss out on the nutrients found in that food group.

Serving the 5 food groups is the simplest way to eat healthy.

More simple meals (that require a little bit of cooking):

broccoli baked eggs + avocado toast + fresh fruit

grilled cheese on whole grain bread (= grain & protein) + applesauce + canned tomato soup

homemade macaroni (= grain & protein) + cauliflower + canned peaches

whole wheat tortilla + cheese + black beans + bell peppers + frozen mangoes

rice and bean salad + watermelon

veggie noodle soup + cheese sandwiches (= grain & protein) + apple slices

tuna noodle casserole (= grain & protein) + canned peaches + canned green beans

lasagna (= grain & protein) + canned green beans + apple slices

salad greens + kidney beans + corn + strawberries + CROUTONS! + cheese & dressing

whole wheat pancakes, eggs (cooked with spinach) + fresh fruit

Want more ideas? click this link for meal ideas from or ask your FA about out monthly cooking classes!

Simple meals like these expose kids to different foods, which prevents picky eating and promotes healthy eating habits. Chopping up a watermelon to serve with your Mac + Cheese isn't too time consuming, but it is the easiest way to teach kids how to eat healthy.

Now that my kids are older, they cook healthy dinners for us. Often it's just mac and cheese with canned corn and canned peaches. But it always contains the 5 parts. They also know how to pack a healthy lunch. Every day, they pack a fruit, vegetable, grain and protein.

I don't have to nag or remind them, they just know.

Following this simple meal planning rule guarantees healthy family meals.

It won't save you from toddler tantrums, diaper blowouts or mountains of laundry. But it will give you confidence that the meals you serve are healthy, even if it's just cheese and crackers with a side of fruit and vegetables.

Feel like you need more help with nutrition or meal planning?

Here's a great website with more information:

You can also ask your FA for a referral to the dietitian or signup for our monthly cooking class.

Happy Eating!

Boxed Mac and Cheese is a staple of many children’s diets. It’s easy, salty, neon orange and loved by 99% of all kids. What’s not to love? It’s also nutritious. A serving of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese from a box has 10g of protein, 2 g of fiber and is a good source of calcium, iron and potassium.

I love boxed mac and cheese.

But I also love homemade Mac and Cheese.

Homemade Mac is not as fast (or as neon orange) as the kind from a box. It’s also more expensive and requires a little bit of skill to make. Your kids might not like it if they’ve only had the neon orange kind.

However, my recipe has whole wheat noodles and cauliflower, so it is A LOT more nutritious than the kind from a box, which is why we’re going to learn how to make mac and cheese from scratch for cooking class this month.

If you participate in DDI Vantage Early Head Start, click here to sign up for class:

Still not convinced?

Here's 4 reasons to join us and try out this recipe:

#1 To introduce your kids to something new

One of the most important things you can do to raise healthy eaters, is to expose them to new foods often. (read this to learn more). New variations of simple meals (such as Mac + Cheese) are a good way to introduce new foods.

#2 To increase the nutrition value

Whole wheat noodles and cauliflower turn regular mac into a super food. One serving of our cooking class recipe has 52 grams protein! Toddlers only need 13 grams of protein per day, so if they like this mac, they could potentially eat 4 days worth of protein in one meal!

The whole wheat noodles and cauliflower also add fiber (18 grams, which is an entire day’s worth) and cancer fighting phytochemicals. Don’t think your kids like cauliflower? They won’t even be able to taste it in this recipe.

#3 To use up your WIC vouchers

This recipe was created with WIC participants in mind. Unlike most Mac and Cheese recipes, (which use butter and flour), this recipe is only made with WIC approved items. If you are looking for ways to use up the food you get from WIC, this recipe might be your new best friend.

#4 The ingredients are shelf stable

If you keep your freezer stocked with cauliflower, your fridge stocked with milk and cheese, and your pantry stocked with noodles, this could be your go-to meal when you don’t know what to make.

The recipe contains a vegetable, grain and protein source. All you have to do is add some fruit and you’ve got a complete meal!


DDI Vantage Early Head Start participants can try this recipe for free by clicking this link to sign up. All ingredients will be delivered to your doorstep before class.

Not participating in Early Head Start? You can still join us to cook along, but supplies won't be delivered to your door. Here is the zoom link

Registration closes 9/13/2023, so make sure you sign up today!

"You must be going camping!" The grocery clerk chirped

"How did you know?" I jested, while dropping marshmellows, graham crackers, hot dogs and watermelon on the checkout counter.

"Just a lucky guess." Replied the clerk.


It's finally summer! And the clerk guessed it right: we're going camping with hot dogs and marshmallows to cook over the campfire.

Hot dogs and marshmallows are not my favorite foods.

Marshmallows are 100% sugar. I can easily eat 100 of them without realizing it. And hot dogs.....well......who knows what's in hot dogs........besides your day's worth of salt!

But I still buy them.


They taste good. Food is more than nutrition. Food is culture. Food is connection. Food is fun. And camping without hot dogs and smores isn't camping.

But I'm going camping for 10 days.

And eating hot dogs for 10 days will give me a stomach ache. Plus, we can't have a campfire in most of the places we're camping.

So what will I feed my family while on the road?

Mostly pre-made cold salads out of the cooler. Also some fruit and crackers.

I like to cook everything ahead of time and pack it in ziploc bags/tupperware. Here's my menu for the next 10 days, starting with a photo of everything in the fridge:

Snacks for the week

  • frozen gogurt

  • snap peas

  • apples + peanut butter

  • triscuits + cottage cheese

  • cheese slices+crackers

  • homemade peanut butter oatmeal cookies


B: greek yogurt + homemade granola (I made this a month ago and it's still good)

L: 5 minute greek salad + italian crackers with cream cheese

D: camping with another friend, and she's cooking dinner for us


B: overnight oatmeal (I don't like chia seeds, so I leave them out)

L: tzatiki + hummus + stonefire naan bread + avocado slices + watermelon

D: tortillas/cheese + rice/bean salad + avocado + watermelon + homemade rice pudding (I used 3/4 the amount of sugar it calls for, and I put 1 tablespoon of cinnamon in)


B: eggs + pancakes on the propane stove

L: leftover rice/bean salad + rice pudding

D: another family is making dinner for us


B: overnight oatmeal (made ahead and put in peanut butter jars)

L: Pasta salad (this months cooking class!, signup link) + nectarines

D: Cold peanut noodle bowls + edamame + marshmellows over the fire


B: yogurt with granola

L: cabbage ramen + canned chicken + canned pineapple

D: burrito bowls + apple slices


B: overnight oats

L: leftovers + watermelon or nectarines

D: grilled cheese sandwiches + canned tomato soup


B: overnight oats

L: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches

D: hot dogs, s'mores

Saturday - Monday

B-D: family reunion, meals will be provided for us!

Wish us luck! What do you like to eat on road trips? Leave a comment or send an email to nicole and let her know!

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