Hydration, Mindful Eating, Tempting Tempeh, and Personalizing Your Plate: A Recap of National Nutrition Month

Written by: Lori Bumbaco, MS, RDN, CSO, LDN, Oncology Dietitian

Every year during the month of March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics invites everyone to learn about making informed food choices and developing healthy eating habits. This year’s theme was to “Personalize Your Plate”. Healthy eating is not a “one-size fits all” approach. A registered dietitian can provide specialized advice that is unique to you.

In a series of videos (linked below), I introduced a new topic week by week and included some tips and resources to put the information to good use!

We kicked off National Nutrition Month by trying to eat and drink a variety of healthy food and beverages every day.

The first tip was how to hydrate better with infused water!
Did you know that Americans consume 3 times the amount of added sugars above what is recommended? Over ½ of those added sugars come from SSBs… aka Sugar Sweetened Beverages. Soda, fruit drinks, sweet teas, antioxidant beverages, and protein drinks are all examples of SSBs. Why be concerned about SSBs? Can lead to weight gain, obesity, DM2, heart disease, kidney diseases, non-alcoholic liver disease, and even gout. Obesity is associated with increasing the risk for 13 types of cancer.


Fun & festive without the added sugars or artificial ingredients … Experiment with your own combination and share with me what your favorites are!

The second tip was how to practice mindful eating to savor each bite.
Have you ever emptied the breadbasket while waiting for your meal at a restaurant, only to find that you’re already stuffed when your meal finally arrives? Or accidentally eat the entire bag of chips while watching TV?

This is called mindless eating, and while the occasional indulgence is normal, if this type of automatic eating becomes a habit, it can take a toll on your health. Mindful eating is all about tuning into your food while tuning out distractions when you eat. It’s about being present in the moment, focusing on what you’re eating and noticing when your body is full.

We can reduce the chances of mindless eating and take matters into your own hands by setting the stage for a healthy eating environment. Make healthy options visible like leaving a fruit bowl on your kitchen counter, placing easy to grab snacks in your pantry such as individual packaged nuts, air popped popcorn, or keeping infused waters, pre-cut veggies, bean dips and guacamole in plain sight in your fridge.

Using some of this healthy kitchen hacks may help minimize your mindless eating and help you thrive through the transformative power of food and nutrition.

In the second week, we explored the first step for healthy eating, meal planning.
Take time to make time … when meals and snacks are planned, we save ourselves precious time, energy, and even money. Dedicate one or two days during the week to create a plan according to your schedule. Meal templates can help you keep organized and find inspiration from that, create a grocery list and try to stick to it.

If you are eager to learn more about transforming versatile pantry staples into a handful of recipes, Love Food Hate Waste has you covered! If you failed to plan, have no fear because Yum-O-Matic has you covered. You can search for a recipe with virtually any ingredients that you have on hand.

We also celebrated National Registered Dietitian Day on March 10th. Did you know? Registered Dietitians are the food and nutrition experts!
See the Top Ten Reasons to Consult with a Dietitian

In the third week, I suggested that we learn skills to create tasty meals.
Everyday life presents us with a set of ingredients, it’s up to us to turn them into something delicious. Keep healthful ingredients on hand using the grocery list you prepared and include a new food to broaden your nutrition horizon. Spring is an opportunity to Spring Clean your pantry so that you can have healthful ingredients on hand.

What gets my vote for one of the best pantry staples?
Pulses, which are the edible seeds of legumes such as dry peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas. One of the most versatile yet nutritious ingredients to include in a healthy diet. In 1 cup of pulses, we enjoy up to 18 grams protein and 15 grams of fiber. Pulses also fill a nutrition gap for what’s missing in the Standard American Diet by provided potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc, folate, and niacin. Did you know that pulses contain phytochemicals, literally translated as “plant chemicals”. They are the cancer fighters that are present in the bright pigments of plant foods. Black beans for example, contain anthocyanins. Talk about a nutrient dense package with disease fighters!

All versions of pulses are great. While dried are preferred, look for precooked lentils in the produce section or precooked beans in the frozen section. Even canned and boxed beans are convenient to have on hand for those nights when you are scrambling to put something together. Consider choosing low sodium options that contain < 140 mg per cup.

Pulses are one of the world’s choice as a staple food. Consider how versatile they are in many recipes. From a bean breakfast burrito, ful medames, or even beans in a smoothie to bean burgers, lentil daal, bean chili, lentil tacos, minestrone, chana masala, or black bean brownies or a dessert hummus. There are endless possibilities with pulses. You’ll be asking, what can’t I do with them?

If you want more inspiration, check out Quick Meal Ideas and you can even find recipes using the ingredients that you have on hand at Recipe Finder. Talk about fun and doable!

The next tip for trying new foods was to highlight my one of my favorites, tempeh.
I consider myself a tofu-oodie. Tempeh is a powerhouse food, but it often gets overshadowed by its more popular cousin, tofu.

What exactly is tempeh? It is a whole soy food product made by binding soybeans with other grains, from barley to millet, corn, or brown rice and fermented with a mold from the Rhizopus genus. That may not sound all that appealing to you, but the nutrient density and versality just may convert you into a fan.

Find tempeh in almost any grocery store in the refrigerated produce section. It has a distinct tang and nutty flavor, and meat-like texture. It is sort of like the sourdough bread of plant proteins in terms of flavor.

Why do I recommend that we eat tempeh? In a 3 oz. portion tempeh contains 16 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber all while meeting 10% iron needs and 6% calcium needs for a general diet in one package. Tempeh also provide prebiotics, which are the special fibers found in some plant foods that feed the beneficial bacteria in our gut. Tempeh also has cancer fighters called isoflavones (genistein, daidzein, glycetein) which increase the activity of enzymes that possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and carcinogen deactivating properties, folate which keeps our DNA healthy, and turn off cancer promoting genes. Tempeh also contains protease inhibitors which inhibit the development and growth of cancer cells at several stages and induce apoptosis. That’s a fancy word for trigging cancer cells to die.

Now are you tempted to try tempeh? How should you begin?
I like to steam my tempeh to reduce the bitterness before using it in the recipe. I also think this acts like a facial to open the pores and allow the tempeh to soak up whatever flavor you are going to add to it.

Naturally easy to crumble with your hands (get your hands dirty!) or a processor which then serves very nicely as a ground meat substitute. From chilis to stews, a ragu to stroganoff, or Bolognese, ground tempeh is quite versatile!

Slice or cube it and sauté or bake it or even grill it. Turn it into a stir fry, a crouton substitute for your salad, or on sandwiches or wraps. I made a TLT with tempeh that I marinated ahead of time, and added avocado, lettuce, and tomato. I also crumbled tempeh to make a Bolognese on top of spaghetti squash and a tempeh veggie taco. There are several unique ways to include tempeh in your daily diet, and it can be easily swapped in for other protein sources in a variety of different recipes. Start experimenting with tempeh to transform your favorite dishes and give them a tasty, plant-based twist.

In our final week, we welcomed the arrival of Spring produce.
The season provides us with delicious and nutritious options for plant-based inspiration. We can try new fruit and vegetables as a way to integrate a fresh start as we emerge from winter. Asparagus, beets, spinach, rutabaga, leeks, peas, apricots, rhubarb, strawberries, and cherries are all highlights of the season.

If you are curious to learn more about how to use these super stars in some recipes? Check out Debby and I inside the demo kitchen for our program Spring into Change.

I hope you enjoyed celebrating National Nutrition Month as much as I did this year. I would love to continue sharing more nutrition content, and invite you all to share with me the topics that you are most interested in. Hopefully you agree that maximizing nutrition can help us to thrive inside and out!

Week 1 Videos:

Week 2 Videos:

Week 3 Videos:

Week 4 Videos: