Ask the Nutritionist:
Answers to Your Questions

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What are some ways I can reduce my sugar intake?

The best way to reduce added sugar intake is by limiting foods and beverages high in added sugars by eating them less often, having smaller portions, or choosing lower sugar options.

You can now find added sugars listed on Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods and drinks. When choosing foods or drinks with Nutrition Facts labels, look for those that are 5% daily value (DV) or less, which means that food or drink is a low source of added sugars. Visit https://www.fda.gov/food/new-nutrition-facts-label/added-sugars-new-nutrition-facts-label for more information.

The biggest culprits to limit include desserts or baked goods, processed sweet snack foods, sugar-sweetened beverages (pop/soda, fruit drinks, and sweetened coffees or teas), and candy.

My 4 year old son refuses most foods I serve him. He nags me for snack foods from the cupboard (cheese crackers, peanut butter pretzels, snack bars) for the entire meal. I provide these foods at earlier times in the day, and I even include them as a side to our meals, but he still wants more and refuses new foods. I tell him “no, this is our meal, you can have more snacks tomorrow” and he is usually dissatisfied. I shift the conversation to something else and then we are right back to nagging. After the meal ends and I leave the table, and my husband gives him all the foods he nagged me about. My husband feels it’s better to give our son something he is willing to eat until he is full, even if it’s cheese crackers and pretzels. I worry what kind of message this is sending to our kid, and I worry even more that he eats no vegetables, meats, and only limited fresh fruits. He gets enough calories, but His list of foods is shrinking and I don’t know what to do. Any advice ??

It is very common for preschoolers to go through picky eating stages. This can make trying new foods hard and lead to times where they will only eat a handful of foods. These stages can be hard to navigate, but don’t lose hope! It’s wonderful that you are working hard to create positive food relationships for your family. Here are some more ideas to help ease tensions at mealtimes.

Making a family plan for how to manage meal and snack times can help set expectations and prevent meltdowns. Having scheduled meals and sitdown snack times can help ensure your child is hungry when meals are served.

A good way to encourage children to eat a wider variety of foods is to share family meals and snacks and model the healthy food behaviors you want them to mimic. Consistently serving a variety of foods at scheduled snack and mealtimes (including fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy or dairy alternatives alongside beloved snack foods) can help young children build confidence in trying new foods.

Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding is a great resource for creating positive mealtimes for the whole family. In this model, the parent/caregiver chooses what is served and when, being sure to include 12 foods that their child likes. The child chooses what to eat from the table and how much. Children can eat as much as they like of any food offered at the meal or snack. Allowing children to serve themselves and eat the amount of each food that they want (even if they only choose 1 food) helps them become more confident and independent eaters.

In this model, parents/caregivers offer a variety of foods many times, without pressure. Even praise for trying something new can be discouraging to a child. Instead, try focusing on pleasant family conversation and enjoying being together.

Growing healthy eaters takes time and kids will test boundaries. However, offering a variety of new foods many times, being positive food role models, and removing the pressure (both on the parents/caregivers and on the child) creates space for positive mealtimes. If you are worried that this is more than just a phase or picky eating, you may want to talk with your child’s pediatrician.


Why can’t I feed my baby honey?

While most people older than one year of age can eat honey without problems, babies under the age of one year shouldn’t have any raw honey at all because their digestive system isn’t fully developed. Raw honey can contain spores from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which can lead to a rare, but serious illness called infant botulism. It is generally recommended to avoid all honey for infants, even in processed foods, as Clostridium botulinum spores can be found even in cooked foods.

My kids will eat very few vegetables. How do I get them to eat more?

Most kids, especially young children, go through periods where they may become picky or cautious about food, especially unfamiliar foods. This can lead to refusing to eat new foods, eating only small tastes of foods, food “jags” where they will only eat one or a few foods for a period of time, or even rejecting previous favorite foods. Studies have shown that it may take trying a new food 8-10 times for your child to accept it. So, keep trying! But skip pressuring, as most kids will see through even sneaky pressure, such as bribes. Offer vegetables alongside favorite foods and encourage your kids to explore them with their senses, even if they don’t want to taste them yet.

The best way to promote eating veggies is by modeling that behavior for your kids. Eat and enjoy your own vegetables in front of them! Get your kids involved in the process by letting them help select recipes to try, including them in shopping for vegetables, letting them help prepare meals, and serving them vegetables at meal and snack times, even if they go untouched.

Lead by example, and your kids will assume “someday I will eat vegetables, too.” Visit www.ellynsatterinstitute.org for more information and childhood feeding resources.

How can I best balance my energy expenditure with obtaining enough nutrients from grains? For context I’m currently moderating my weight by averaging jogging 15 km a day but only eating ~ 2,100 kj a day worth of grains (1500 kj from whole wheat or whole oats as cereal, 600 kj from a wholemeal wrap). Fruit, veg, meat & dairy servings all seem to be in check. I’m told I should be getting around 3,000 kj a day from grains, but I’m not sure if this is just including a fudge factor in advice to the general public to account for the expectation that much of that will be from refined sources.

Kudos on your recognition of the contribution of whole grains to good nutrition. In general, most people in the US eat enough total grain foods but tend to miss the mark when it comes to whole grains.

Whole grains are foods made from grains like rice, oats, wheat, and barley that contain the whole grain kernel including the bran, germ, and endosperm. Whole grain food examples include brown rice, oatmeal, and whole-wheat flour. Refined grain foods have the bran and germ portions the grain seed removed before they are used in food products, examples being white flour and white rice.

Though the caloric value of whole grains is not significantly different than the caloric value of refined grains, whole grains are important to a healthy lifestyle because they contain more fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients than their refined grain counterparts. For more information on grains, visit myplate.gov/eat-healthy/grains.

Because a specific volume or caloric recommendation for the amount of grain foods you should aim to eat each day depends on your age, weight, sex, height, and physical activity level, guidelines for the general population do tend to be generalized.

Maintaining a healthy weight and achieving caloric balance with exercise are excellent health goals. To estimate the right amount of grains for your lifestyle, check out the MyPlate Plan.  You can read more about caloric balance in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025.

I am vegan, so I do not eat dairy. What foods can I eat that are included as part of the Dairy Group?

Fortified soy-based dairy alternatives like soy milk and soy yogurt, which have added calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D, are included as part of the Dairy Group because they are nutritionally similar to their dairy-based counterparts.

Other plant-based milk alternatives such as hemp, cashew, almond, oat, rice, or coconut may be calcium-fortified, but are not included as part of the Dairy Group because their nutrition profile is not like dairy milk or fortified soy milk.

If you are looking for additional sources of calcium that are not included in the Dairy Group, consider calcium-fortified juices, tofu made with calcium sulfate, tahini, and some leafy greens, such as collard and turnip greens, spinach, kale, and bok choy which all provide some calcium. It should be noted that the amount of calcium that you can absorb from these foods does vary.

Are beans, such as kidney beans, in the Vegetable Group or Protein Foods Group? How do I count them?

Beans, peas, and lentils are unique foods because they belong to two food groups. They are part of the Protein Foods Group, and part of the Vegetable Group.

People who regularly eat meat, poultry, and seafood generally count beans, peas, and lentils in the Vegetable Group. People who do not eat meat or seldom eat meat, poultry, or seafood count some of the beans, peas, and lentils they eat in the Protein Foods Group. Visit www.myplate.gov/eat-healthy/protein-foods/beans-and-peas for an example of how you can count beans, peas, and lentils.

How often can you cook with extra virgin olive oil and how much can you use daily without affecting your heart?

When it comes to oils, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends cooking and choosing foods with oils high in unsaturated fats, like olive oil, canola oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, etc., when possible. This strategy helps to limit excess saturated fats while providing essential fatty acids.  

When cooking with oils, it’s helpful to keep in mind that each oil has a different “smoke point”. When oils are heated above their “smoke point”, they begin to break down and can develop a foul odor or taste. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the “smoke point” for olive oil is approximately 410° F. For higher temperature cooking, choosing another oil high in unsaturated fats like canola oil (“smoke point” of 435°) or peanut oil (“smoke point” of 450°) may be beneficial.  

The amount of heart healthy oils recommended as part of a healthy eating plan varies depending on a person’s individual calorie needs. In general, an adult should aim for 5-7 teaspoons of oils daily. This includes oils in prepared foods, used during cooking, or as garnish on dishes. Aim to include more oils high in unsaturated fat, like olive oil, to help meet the dietary guidelines recommendation to limit saturated fats. Check out these tip sheets for more strategies on choosing heart healthy fat sources: Cut Down on Saturated Fat tip sheet & Rethink Fats tip sheet.  

I am 27 years old. I aspire to be a bodybuilder in the very near future that is vigorously active every day and eats a healthy, balanced 3,000 calories per day from fibrous foods, such as fruits, vegetables and nuts to give myself healthy energy and to build muscle mass. Based on my knowledge, if I am vigorously active every day as a bodybuilder 2,000 calories per day will not meet my needs. Would a diet of 3,000 healthy, balanced calories per day from fibrous foods, such as fruits, vegetables and nuts to give me healthy energy and to build muscle mass, be nutritionally appropriate? 

Great to hear your interest in a healthy approach to bodybuilding. Kudos to you for focusing on eating fruits and veggies as well! Choosing nutrient-dense foods like veggies, fruits, grains (at least half of which are whole grains), lean proteins, healthy oils like those found in nuts and fish, and low-fat or fat-free dairy can help you ensure an overall healthy dietary pattern.  

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans provides a chart with estimated calorie needs by age, sex, and physical activity level (sedentary, moderately active, and active). This can be a starting point for individuals to estimate their energy needs. 3,000 calories per day is the general recommendation for a 26-30-year-old male with an active lifestyle. An active lifestyle in the Dietary Guidelines is defined as physical activity equivalent to walking more than 3 miles per day at 3 to 4 miles per hour in addition to normal daily activities.  

Keep in mind that this is just a general recommendation and determining if this will work for you will depend on many factors. It may be helpful to ask for a referral to a Registered Dietitian specializing in nutrition for athletes. They could review your specific medical history and training plans and calculate your unique hydration, protein, carbohydrate, and fat needs for before, during, and after workouts to help you meet your goals. 

How can I get help with meal planning on EBT?

Meal planning is an excellent way to stretch your food dollars and make mealtimes less stressful because you have a plan for what you’re going to make each day.  

A good starting point is to do a quick inventory of what’s in your fridge and pantry each week before grocery shopping. Check to see what staple foods you might be running low on and which foods you need to use up in the next week before they spoil.  

Once you have a list of what you have on hand, think about what meals these foods can be used in. I like to have a list of 5-10 meals that I know my family likes and that use staple ingredients to make meal planning less stressful.  

Choose the meals you want to make for the week and then compare the ingredients to what you have on hand to make your grocery list. Fruits and veggies are key to building healthy, balanced meals, but remember that they don’t have to be fresh. Choose the most cost-effective variety of fruits and veggies that your family likes – fresh, canned, or frozen are all excellent choices! If you have access to multiple grocery stores, it can also be helpful to look at weekly ads to see if there are any good deals on foods you regularly eat.  

Using a meal planning template can be helpful to organize your ideas and keep you on track throughout the week.  

If you are looking for recipe ideas on a budget, check out the MyPlate Kitchen recipes, Michigan Harvest of the Month™, Eat Well on $4/Day – Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown, and Recipes for Healthy Kids: Cookbook for Homes. 

The Shop Simple with MyPlate app can also help you find budget friendly recipes as well as stores and farmers markets that accept EBT and offer fruit and vegetable reward programs and incentives. Some Michigan farmers markets also have food navigators who can help you make the most of your food dollars. Check out the Eat Well in a Snap Food Navigator directory to see if your local market has a food navigator.  

Lastly, if you have access, you can ask your doctor for a referral to a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who can help you dive deeper into meal planning that meets your lifestyle, health needs, and budget on a more personal level.  

I’m vegan but I’m concerned I’m not getting the necessary nutrients that animal products provide. So I decided to introduce eggs into my diet. How many eggs per week should I eat in order to get the full amount of micro and macro nutrients that I need?

Eggs are a nutrient dense food that can be a beneficial addition to a dietary plan. Eggs are a good source of vitamin B12 and contain protein, vitamin D, and small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, which are all nutrients that may be limited in a traditional vegan diet.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) 2020-2025 include a Healthy Vegetarian Dietary Pattern that lays out recommended servings to eat from the different food groups each day or week to meet individual energy and nutrient needs. The Healthy Vegetarian Dietary Pattern recommends 3 eggs per week across most energy levels. Historically, there has been some question about the link between eating eggs and heart health. The most recent studies suggest that up to one egg per day is unlikely to affect heart health for most people.

The Healthy Vegetarian Dietary Pattern in the DGAs includes eggs, but studies show that replacing eggs with vegetarian protein source like beans, peas, lentils, soy products, and nuts has minimal impact on overall dietary quality and meeting recommended nutrient needs.

Here is more information about some of the nutrients found in eggs and plant-based alternative options.

  • Protein – Eggs contain about 6g of protein per large egg. Plant-based protein sources include nuts, tofu, beans, peas, and lentils, whole grains, vegetables, and seeds.
  • Vitamin B12 – Eggs are a good source of vitamin B12. B12 is limited in a vegetarian or vegan diet and may require supplementation or careful planning to include food sources such as tempeh, nutritional yeast, or fortified foods like cereals or fortified soy milk to meet individual needs.
  • Vitamin D – One large egg contains about 6% of your daily recommended vitamin D. Vitamin D can also be found in fortified milk and milk alternative products.
  • EPA and DHA – EPA and DHA are omega-3 fatty acids that are found in eggs in limited amounts. You can purchase eggs that have been enriched with higher amounts of EPA and DHA. Flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, soy, and canola oil are also sources of these nutrients.

For a more in-depth dive into your individual nutrient needs and to develop a meal plan that is well aligned with your priorities and the foods you like to eat, ask your doctor for a referral to a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.

How long can I keep leftover food?

Depending on the ingredients and storage conditions, leftover foods can stay fresh for a range of time. In general, if a dish was cooked safely and then rapidly cooled and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, it’ll likely stay fresh for 3-4 days. If that same food was stored in the freezer, it is technically safe to eat indefinitely though will maintain quality for 3-4 months.

Be sure to reheat cooked leftover foods to a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. If reheating in a microwave, stir well and allow the food to rest for a few minutes after microwaving to ensure even heat distribution and prevent bacteria from hiding out in cold spots.

FoodSafety.gov is an excellent resource for food storage and safety information. Check out the FoodKeeper App for tips to help maximize the shelf life and for information on how to best store specific foods. You can also find guidelines for storing cold foods using their Cold Food Storage Chart.

For more information on food safety, visit the How to Prevent Food Poisoning page from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


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