Taking Control with Portion Sizes This Holiday Season

The holiday season is quickly approaching! Gatherings with family and friends are often filled with laughter, games, happy memories…and casseroles and desserts served with a side of guilt. 

Portion Control and Overeating

We all overeat from time to time, and during the holidays it can feel more difficult to break the habit. Another piece of Aunt Betty’s coconut cake or that third helping of Grandma’s turkey- it’s hard to resist. We tend to eat more than we need for many reasons – not wanting to waste, getting our money’s worth, feeling bored, happy, sad, or just eating out of habit.

But did you know that people who usually overeat are more likely to be overweight? The cycle of overeating and weight gain can increase the risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, trouble sleeping, difficulty breathing, and heart disease. This holiday season, it’s time to take control. You can have your cake (and eat it too!) by paying attention to portion sizes. 

MyPlate: Healthy Portions for Beginners 

Portion control includes the amount and types of foods we eat. MyPlate.gov was created by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)  and has easy to follow tips for a healthy diet. For a well-balanced meal, MyPlate recommends:

  • Two sections (or ½ of the plate) fruits and vegetables, 
  • One section of lean proteins (such as meat, poultry, fish, or beans)
  • One section of grains (focus on whole grains!)
  • Be sure to include a serving of dairy such as low-fat or non-fat milk, yogurt, or cheese. 

Each section of the plate is important to keep our weight balanced, muscles fueled, and our bodies healthy.

 Help Yourself to Some Practical Tips!

In addition to MyPlate, there are a lot of easy ways you can help yourself and your family to be smarter about portion sizes!

  • Use a smaller plate: we normally eat what we see. Using a smaller plate can “trick” your mind into feeling full without overeating.
  • Watch serving sizes: serving sizes are listed on packages and can help us avoid eating extra calories, sugar, salt, and saturated fat.
  • Portion out leftovers: make it easy to eat the right amount
  • Don’t clean the plate: encourage kids to eat until they are full – not until their plate is clean. Teaching children portion control early will help them control their weight throughout life.
  • Avoid eating out of the bag: take out just one serving to avoid eating too much
  • Leave the dish on the counter: reaching for seconds at the dinner table is easy when the dish is beside you. 

Watching what you eat doesn’t mean you’ll miss out on the holiday season, it just means you get to be smarter about it! Go ahead and enjoy a piece of cake or dig into that pie, just be mindful of your portion sizes.

Happy Eating!


EFNEP student employee

Bean & Butternut Squash Chili

Chili is a classic meal as the weather starts to cool down. This time of year butternut squash is in season. Add squash to chili for a hearty and healthy dish this fall!

Red Bean & Butternut Squash Chili 


  • Non-stick cooking spray 
  • 2 cups diced butternut squash (about ½ of a medium squash)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1/2 pound extra-lean ground beef 
  • 1 cup or 1 (15-ounce) cans red kidney beans 
  • 1 cup or 1 (15-ounce) can black beans
  • 3 cups or 1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes 
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder 
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 1 small bunch cilantro, leaves and stems separated
  • Shredded cheese and non-fat sour cream for topping (if desired)


  1. Spray Dutch oven or large pot with non-stick cooking spray. 
  2. Peel and chop butternut squash into a medium dice (discard the skin and seeds) and set aside. 
  3. Peel and dice onion. 
  4. Place chopped onion and pepper in skillet. 
  5. Cook ground beef and onion over medium heat in a non-stick skillet until meat is browned and onion is soft (about 5 minutes). Drain. 
  6. Add butternut squash, undrained red kidney beans, undrained black beans, tomatoes, garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, onion powder, red chili flakes, and chopped cilantro stems to cooked ground beef and onions. Stir to mix well.
  7. Bring to a boil and cook slowly for 10-15 minutes. Stir several times to be sure chili is not sticking to the pot. (Temperature should reach 160°F.)
  8. Top with cheese and non-fat sour cream if desired. Garnish with cilantro leaves.


Beets are tasty and colorful vegetable that can be found in season during the fall in North Carolina. This root vegetable has a sweet taste and contains fiber. Check out these four recipes to include beets in your diet this fall.

Chicken Quesadillas with Beet & Green Apple Salsa 
Makes 4 servings/Serving size: 1 quesadilla
-Non-stick cooking spray
-¼ cup chopped onion
-1 cup cooked and shredded chicken
-2 tablespoons Beet & Green Apple Salsa
-¼ cup Monterey Jack, Colby, or other cheese, grated
-4 (10-inch) whole-wheat tortillas

  1. Spray skillet with cooking spray and preheat over medium-high heat.
  2. Sauté onions until tender.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix chicken, salsa, and onions.
  4. Place ¼ of chicken mixture on one side of tortilla and top with ¼ of cheese. Fold over mixture and seal edges. (Use a small amount of water for a perfect seal.)
  5. Spray skillet. Brown one side of quesadilla over medium heat for about 3-4 minutes. Turn and brown the other side. (Chicken temp should be 165˚ F.)
  6. Cut each folded tortilla into 3 wedges for easy handling. Serve with extra salsa if desired.
  • Beet Salsa
  • 4 small beets, preferably a mix of golden and red, roasted, peeled and cut in very small dice
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 jalapeño chiles, minced
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro (more to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (more to taste
  • ½ small green apple, cored and cut in very small dice 
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil


  1. Preheat oven to 400.
  2. Remove the tops and roots of the beets and peel each one with a vegetable peeler. Cut the beets in desired size.
  3. Place the cut beets on a baking sheet and toss with olive oil, salt and black pepper.
  4. Roast for 35-40 minutes, turning once at the 20-minute mark.
  5. When tender, remove from oven.  Serve warm. 
  6. In a large bowl, toss to combine all the ingredients.
  7. Serve immediately. 

Chicken & Ratatouille Sheet Pan Supper 
-2 tablespoons olive oil 
-4 tomatoes, quartered or one can tomatoes 
-1 medium zucchini, large dice 
-1 medium white onion, large dice 
-2 small beets, scrubbed, peeled and cut into large dice 
-1 medium eggplant 
-10 cloves of garlic, minced
-6 chicken thighs 

  1. Preheat oven to 400 ̊F.
  2. Drizzle a little olive oil on 2 sheet pans. Spread olive oil to evenly coat pans.
  3. In a small bowl or jar with lid, mix all ingredients for Balsamic-Thyme Oil. Set aside. 
  4. Combine all cut vegetables including the garlic in a large bowl.
  5. Place 3 chicken thighs on each pan. Brush each thigh with Balsamic-Thyme Oil. Pour remaining Balsamic-Thyme Oil over mixed vegetables and toss to coat.
  6. Divide the vegetables between the two pans. (Do not crowd).
  7. Roast chicken and vegetables in oven for approximately 30 minutes, stirring vegetables every 15 minutes.
  8. Internal temperature of chicken should be 165°F before removing from oven.

Beet & Sweet Potato Oven Fries 
-Non-stick cooking spray 
-2 large sweet potatoes
-4 large beets (2 red, 2 golden)
-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 
-Juice and zest of one navel orange
-Salt to taste 

  1. Preheat Oven to 400.
  2. Lightly spray baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray.
  3. Wash potatoes and beets thoroughly and dry with a paper towel.
  4. For the beets, trim tops and roots.
  5. Cut the sweet potatoes and beets into long strips about 1/2 inch thick. 
  6. Drizzle the sweet potatoes and beets with oil and the zest and juice of the orange.
  7. Spread the beets and sweet potatoes evenly in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in preheated oven.
  8. Bake at 400°F for 40 minutes. After 20 minutes, take sheet out of oven and turn the potatoes and beets over. Immediately return sheet to oven and continue to bake for another 20 minutes.
  9. Remove from oven and season to add salt to taste. 

Beet Greens Pesto
-1 bunch beet greens (leaves, not stems)
-2 cups spinach
-½ cup almonds
-3 large cloves garlic
-1 lemon, juiced
-1 tablespoon salt
-2 teaspoons black pepper
-¼ cup olive oil
-2 tablespoons parmesan cheese

  1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor. Pulse until well blended (about 2 minutes).
  2. Using a rubber spatula, wipe the sides down of the food processor and repeat the pulsing process for another minute. Do NOT pulse with rubber spatula in the processor.
  3. Serve immediately over fresh whole grain pasta or freeze for future use.

Recipes contributed to by: Chef Brigid Washington

Eat Better Together Month

The “Family Dinner Project” is a nonprofit organization at Harvard University. This is a growing movement of “food, fun, and conversations about things that matter.” There has been a lot of research looking at the relationship between regular family meals and the physical, mental, and emotional benefits that come with them.

Family meals have been found to improve:

  • Academic performance
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Greater sense of resilience
  • Lower risk of substance abuse
  • Lower risk of teen pregnancy
  • Lower risk of depression
  • Lower likelihood of developing eating disorders
  • Lower rates of obesity

The Family Dinner Project has a website that is a great resource for families trying to eat healthier on a budget, together. You can find weekly dinner menus with recipes and a shopping list as well as conversation starters. 

Learn more and find healthy budget tips here: https://thefamilydinnerproject.org/about-us/benefits-of-family-dinners/

-Amy Owens, Dietetic Intern

“I Can’t, I’m Watching My Carbs”

You have probably heard someone say they are “watching their carbs” or “not eating carbs”, but what does that really mean? Carbohydrates (or “carbs”) along with proteins and fats, are a major nutrient that gives our bodies energy. Carbohydrates include breads, pastas, cereals, rice, beans, fruits, and vegetables. Baked goods, syrups, soft drinks, and candy are carbohydrates as well. 

Cutting out processed foods and refined carbohydrates could help to reach a healthier weight but our bodies need some carbohydrates to stay healthy. 

The media has created a lot of confusion around carbs, but it’s actually pretty simple. Most of the carbohydrates we eat come in one of two forms: simple or complex.

Simple carbohydrates include candy, sugary drinks, baked goods, syrups, white bread, and white pastas. These foods break down easily and are stored as sugar in the body. If we eat too many of these simple carbohydrates it could lead to weight gain. 

Complex carbohydrates include whole grain pastas, whole wheat breads, vegetables, dairy, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and fruits. These foods take longer to break down and give us energy. Unlike simple carbohydrates, these healthier carbs contain fiber and can help you to maintain your weight more easily. Fiber can also keep you feeling full for longer and improve your cholesterol and blood sugar levels. 

So the next time you consider “cutting your carbs”, try including “complex” carbs such as brown rice, whole grain pasta, sweet potatoes, beans, and oats into your diet instead. 

Here is a sample dinner menu for getting complex carbohydrates in your diet:

  • 5 ounces grilled chicken breast
  • 1 cup spinach salad
  • 1 baked sweet potato
  • 1 whole wheat dinner roll
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce

Here’s to happy and healthy eating!
-Logan, EFNEP student employee

Source: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002469.htm


Food Safety Education Month – Eggs

In honor of Food Safety Education Month, let’s take a closer look at eggs. Eggs are an affordable high-protein food. They contain 13 essential vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants. Sunnyside up and over easy eggs seem to be what everyone is serving these days. But did you know it’s safer to eat eggs that are cooked all the way through? That’s why we’re always told not to eat cookie dough because it contains raw eggs! Keep your family safe by following these food safety guidelines: 

  • Eggs: cook until the yolk and whites are firm
  • Egg dishes (quiches and casseroles): at least 160°F 

Salmonella is a bacterium that can be found in eggs and leads to foodborne illness. There is no way to tell if an egg has Salmonella just by looking at it. The best way to avoid Salmonella is by practicing food safety —from the grocery store, to your fridge, to your plate. Below are some important food safety tips.

At the Grocery Store

  • Check to make sure your eggs are clean, uncracked, and kept refrigerated before buying. Cracked or dirty eggs should be thrown away.
  • Purchase “pasteurized” eggs.
  • Keep eggs away from fruits, veggies, and other shelf-stable foods in your shopping cart to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Keep your eggs at the top of your shopping cart so they don’t crack.

Storing Eggs 

  • Put the eggs in the fridge as soon as possible. Make sure your fridge is set to 40°F or below. 
  • Do not store the eggs in the door because this is the warmest part of the refrigerator. 
  • Do not wash the eggs because they have a protective coating that could be destroyed. Without this layer, there could be extra bacterial growth.
  • Do not keep the eggs at room temperature for more than 2 hours total (1 hour in warmer weather)

Cooking and Handling Eggs

  • Wash your hands before and after handling eggs.
  • Sanitize all surfaces that came into contact with the eggs. 
  • Salmonella is killed at 160°F, but you still have to be careful with everything the eggs touches, including your hands.

If you have more questions check out https://www.incredibleegg.org/egg-nutrition/egg-safety/#5 for answers to frequently asked questions about eggs!

-Amy Owens, Dietetic Intern