The Heart’s Perfect Valentine

Love is in the air! Valentine’s day is a great way to share and spread the love to those who are close to us. During the month of February, the heart symbol becomes prevalent on front doors, in classroom settings, and even on food products.  It symbolizes the meaning of love and is also a gentle reminder of taking care of one of the most important muscles in our bodies, our heart.  Check out our heart friendly tips with some fun recipes to incorporate in your diet this February!

  1. Diet: Our diets can directly influence the activity and abilities of our hearts. Making small changes, such as incorporating more fruits, vegetables, fiber, and whole grains can go a long way in preventing chronic and inflammatory diseases. This Valentine’s day, check out one of our heart healthy recipes below!
  2. Get Moving: Just as making small changes to our diet can have a huge influence on the condition of our hearts, physical activity is also crucial and beneficial to our heart health. The physical activity guidelines for Americans recommends 150 minutes of a moderate-intensity exercise per week. Getting out for a walk, playing outside with kids, swimming, and biking are just a few of the ways to increase activity levels and get that blood pumping!
  3. Share the Love: Mental health is just as important as our physical health. There is a saying that if you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody. Sharing a recipe, a workout, or even just a phone call with a loved one can go a long way in decreasing stress levels and increasing happiness for you and your loved one.

XOXO Smoothie:

Created by: Emily Solis, Virginia Tech Dietetic Intern


1/2 cup of frozen strawberries

1 banana

1 tbsp nut butter (peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter)

2 tbsp cocoa powder

1 tbsp oats

8oz milk of choice

(add ice for increased thickness)


Add all ingredients to blender and blend until smooth.

Cupids Bean and Veggie Chili Recipe:

Created by: The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics


2 teaspoons canola oil
1 pound extra-lean ground beef or extra-lean ground turkey, or 1 10-ounce package frozen meatless crumbles, thawed
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 medium-size green bell pepper, chopped
1 medium-size red bell pepper, chopped
1 carrot, scrubbed and sliced thinly
1 15½-ounce can dark or light kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 14½-ounce cans diced tomatoes
1 6-ounce can no-salt-added tomato paste
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon black pepper
3 green onions, sliced thinly, optional
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro, optional
½ cup fat-free sour cream


  1. Combine the oil, meat (or turkey or meatless crumbles), onion and garlic in a large pot over medium heat.
  2. Cook and stir until the onion is wilted and the meat is lightly browned. About 6 to 8 minutes.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients except the optional ones and the sour cream. Stir well, cover and reduce heat; simmer gently for 20 minutes. Adjust the chili powder, oregano and black pepper to taste.
  4. Serve with green onions, cilantro and/or sour cream.

Sealed with a Kiss, Dark Chocolate & Strawberry Bark

Created by: Emily Solis, Virginia Tech Dietetic Intern


1 ½ cups dark chocolate morsels or baking chocolate

1 cup freeze dried strawberries


  1. Line a cookie tray with parchment paper
  2. Melt the dark chocolate on the stove stop, stirring frequently
  3. Pour the freeze-dried strawberries on top of the chocolate
  4. Let the chocolate sit either in the fridge or at room temperature for 1-2 hours
  5. Break into pieces and enjoy!

Have a healthy and happy Valentines Day!

Emily Solis is a Dietetic Intern with the Virginia Tech – Northern Virginia site. She enjoys running, gardening, and baking pies on Sundays.

Tips for Completing the DICAS Application Process

Sitting down to begin the DICAS (Dietetic Internship Central Application Service) process can be challenging, overwhelming, and frustrating to say the least. Sifting through what you need for each program on top of writing personal statements, resume crafting, and staying mentally sane is a lot, especially for those trying to finish strong in their Didactic programs. A few Virginia Tech Dietetic Interns provide advice on some of their tips for completing the application and what they found to be most useful.

Virginia Tech Dietetic Intern Caroline Best:

  1. Start early and pick something to accomplish every week. Set a goal to do something like request your transcripts or fill in your contact information. When you open DICAS and see all the components it can feel a little overwhelming. Breaking the application up into smaller tasks makes it feel much more manageable.
  2. Use your support network. Applications can be stressful and are a good time to lean on the support of friends, family, mentors, and/or teachers. Have people you trust read over your personal statement. Ask a professor/mentor to review your resume. Take a break and get coffee with a friend. Remember that you have people who are there to support you through the process.

Virginia Tech Dietetic Intern Amanda Vega:

  1. Work smarter, not harder. Use the generic DICAS script that most internships use. Once you choose the places you want to apply to, tailor the original personal statement to meet the requirements of each internship. Editing one paper for each internship is easier than creating them all at once. 
  2. Manage your time. You can start your DICAS application early without submitting or paying. Start by inputting all of your schools and classes once final grades are returned.
  3. Utilize your resources. Use your school breaks to complete your DICAS to-do list. Start backward from a date about 1-2 weeks before it’s due to complete it on time. Then split up the tasks evenly throughout the remaining breaks so you complete the process a little at a time.

Virginia Tech Dietetic Intern Shelley Palmer:

  1. Find your true homies. Find people you trust who will give you constructive feedback on your resume and personal statement.
  2. Making a list, checking it twice. Check, re-check, and triple check DICAS. Make sure your formatting is consistent (including bullet points, font type, and font size).
  3. Write down your accomplishments. Try to keep track of your work and volunteer experience with an excel document that will add up your hours, so you don’t have to go back and add everything later.
  4. Perseverance and persistence are key. Don’t give up! Many people don’t match on the first round. If you need to apply to second match and are financially able… do it!

Virginia Tech Dietetic Intern Emily Solis:

  1. Shine your YOU. Find what makes you, you. What stories have brought you to where you are today? What has fueled you or what have you experienced that may serve as gas to a good application? Find those situations, personal characteristics, or moments to add your unique flare.
  2. Quality over Quantity. As with most things in life, have a couple really amazing and great accomplishments or experiences is going to look much better than a long list of short stints. Commit your time to the things that matter most to you, stick with those things and share your experiences.

Good luck to all future applicants!

Emily Solis is a Dietetic Intern with the Virginia Tech – Northern Virginia site. She enjoys running, gardening, and baking pies on Sundays.

5 Tips for Staying Healthy During the Winter Months

Winter is right around the corner and with it comes cold weather that can lead to winter blues and put us into hibernation mode. However, just as the seasons change, we can adapt our routines to stay healthy and energized through the winter with a few simple tips. Read below for 5 tips to staying healthy and energized through the winter cold months!

  1. Hydrate – During the summer we may feel more inclined to drink more fluids due to the heat, causing us to sweat and producing a feeling of being thirsty. However, it is just as important to keep this up through the entire year. During the winter we may not sweat as much during the day, but we are still losing moisture and it is just as important to stay hydrated. Drinking more fluids throughout the day can prevent dehydration and increase energy levels.
    • Keep a water bottle with you throughout the day.
    • Keep it hot! Have some tea or warm lemon water to fight the cold.
    • Add fruit to your water to switch up flavors.
  2. Eat the Rainbow – As the cold begins to move in, so does the dreaded flu season.  It is important to keep a variety of fruits and vegetables in the diet as the winter months move in to help ward off unwanted bacteria. Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants which help support our immune system for defense against unwanted invaders.
    • Combine fruits with your morning oatmeal.
    • Buy frozen! If you don’t have time for the chopping and cutting, grab a bag of frozen fruits or vegetables.
    • Eat with the season! Winter is a great time for root vegetables which can be enjoyed roasted and as a side to our favorite protein sources.
  3. Warmth and Fiber – Oatmeal, rice porridge, cream of wheat, grits, are all great additions to your daily winter meals. Oatmeal contains fiber and has proven benefits for the cardiovascular system and blood sugar levels. Choosing a grain that is warm can lead to both satiety and satisfaction during those cold morning months.
    • Bake it! Oatmeal and grits can be baked to make savory or sweet meal options. Add in some fruit or herbs to enhance flavor and taste.
    • Overnight oats are a great option for those who like to plan ahead and grab and go.
    • Add a nut butter to your morning oats to increase protein intake.
  4. Get Physical – Cold mornings may not lend themselves to the typical early morning exercise routine. However, staying active during the winter can boost immune defenses and lower stress levels.
    • Walking indoors! Walking inside is just as beneficial as walking outside. Walk through your local mall or gym for daily activity.
    • Take the stairs! Choosing the stairs over the elevator or escalator can increase your activity levels and get your heart pumping.
    • Remember activities like raking leaves and shoveling snow are a form of movement!
  5. Vitamin D – Vitamin D is very important for bone health. During the summer months we are more inclined to spend time outside increasing our exposure to sunlight and potentially increasing our Vitamin D levels. However, during the winter, more time is spent indoors. It is important to make sure we are getting enough Vitamin D through the winter months to continue to support our bone health.
    • Be aware of the foods that are either naturally high or fortified with Vitamin D: Salmon, milk, tuna, mushrooms, soy, yogurt, orange juice, and eggs.
    • Get outside! Although this may be difficult during the cold winter months, find ways to be outside to increase sun exposure. Maybe its walking for 20 minutes, playing a sport with your kids, or raking the leaves.
Emily Solis is a Dietetic Intern with the Virginia Tech – Northern Virginia site. She enjoys running, gardening, and baking pies on Sundays.

Thanksgiving Traditions

With the holidays right around the corner, we decided to share some Thanksgiving traditions and favorites dishes of dietitians and dietetic interns living and working in Virginia. Whether you plan to stick to your personal traditions or feel like adding a new one to the table, read below for some tried and true favorites!

Courtney Bascom, a Charlottesville Virginia native, works for The University of Virginia Health System as an outpatient Oncology dietitian. She celebrates with family, food, and a special tradition for documented memories: “Chestnut stuffing is my all-time favorite, filled with delicious chunks of bread and hearty chestnuts. It is absolutely delicious! One of the traditions that has been taking place over the years is writing what we are all thankful for on a tablecloth with the date. This is so much fun as we can look back on what we said years ago!” Courtney Bascom, RDN

Amy LaFalace, the Director for the Virginia Tech Northern Virginia Dietetic Internship program has hosted Thanksgiving for the past 8 years, with a very large gathering, turkey cooking secrets, and after meal traditions. This year she states: “This year we’ll have our largest gathering yet with 17 people, including 7 children. My favorite dishes to serve are fresh cranberry sauce, roasted brussel sprouts, and of course a whole roasted turkey. Anything else can be delegated or swapped out from year to year depending on the preferences of our guests. My secret for a perfectly cooked, juicy turkey is a convection oven (along with plenty of melted butter and white wine!)  While I normally eat dinner with my kids, at Thanksgiving we let the kids eat first in the kitchen. Then we put on a movie for them so the adults can enjoy a leisurely meal together in the dining room. It’s one of the few times per year that I can actually talk with my parents and siblings over dinner!” Amy LaFalce, MS, RD, LD

Owner of Kath Eats Real Food, Katherine Younger, a blogger, entrepreneur, and dietitian, celebrated Thanksgiving 2018 with the joy of a brand-new baby. She enjoys the comfort of close family, local dishes from Charlottesville, and a favorite all-time favorite; sweet potato casserole. Check out her blog to find out how she will celebrate Thanksgiving this year:

Shelley Palmer, a Richmond VA native and current dietetic intern with the Virginia Tech Northern Virginia site, celebrates with a “Friendsgiving”. She celebrates with anywhere between 10-20 people and this year they will be smoking a pig!

What are some of your Thanksgiving favorites?

Emily Solis is a Dietetic Intern with the Virginia Tech – Northern Virginia site. She enjoys running, gardening, and baking pies on Sundays.

National Farm-to-School Month

October is National Farm-to-School Month, recognizing the efforts and value of a critical program for students nationwide. Virginia dedicates a week in October to celebrating the Farm-to-School program. During this week, students, farmers, growers, and distributors come together, to learn and explore the ongoing initiatives of the program. The Farm-to-School program provides a wealth of education about fresh produce, nutrition education, food and agricultural literacy, school gardens, and more, with students of all ages.

In 2007, Virginia was one of the first states to establish a Farm-to-School task force. It has only continued to grow since then, with hundreds of local schools, farms, and distribution centers taking part. Virginia is dedicated to continuing to grow the program. According to the 2015 USDA Farm-to-School Census, 1,319 schools participated in the program, supporting 886,775 students.

Fast Facts about Virginia’s Participation in the Farm-to-School Program in 2015:
– 92% of local fresh produce is being served during lunch
– 154 schools are participating in growing a school garden
– 65% of school districts are engaging preschool children
– 23% of school districts are using local foods in summer meals

In 2015, Loudoun County received the “One in a Melon” award for standing out as a participating school district in Virginia. In 2016, they were provided with a Farm-to-School planning grant. They have used the grant funds to grow their nutrition education, providing local foods to students, utilizing the cafeteria for sampling events, supporting field trips to local
farms, and connecting farmers with students. Some of their ongoing efforts for students include:

– Taste it Thursday: One Thursday a month for elementary students, seasonal produce is sampled in the cafeteria. A single fruit or vegetable is featured with taste testing opportunities.
– Fear Factor Friday: One Friday a month, seasonal produce is brought to middle and high school students to sample. A single fruit or vegetable is featured with taste testing opportunities.
– Field Trips: Teachers and parents are encouraged to participate in field trips to local Loudoun county farms, or a trip to Claude Moore Park. Students engage in sampling local produce, learning about sustainable farm practices, and farm-to-table efforts.
– School Gardens: Currently there are 52 active school gardens. Garden tool kits along with free garden supplies are offered to teachers for their classroom instruction. Hydroponic and herb garden towers are new additions to a handful of classrooms for the 2018-2019 year.

The Fairfax County Public School district was named as a recipient of a grant from the USDA in 2019, to create a pilot Farm-to-School strategic plan. A five-year plan is in the works to expand the reach of nutrition education and local produce being offered to students. More specifically, a major 5-year goal is to have salad bars in every elementary school.

Loudoun and Fairfax Counties are just two of the many school districts in Virginia participating in the Farm-to-School Program. For more information check out the following resources:

Virginia Farm-to-School

USDA Farm-to-School Census

National Farm-to-School Network

Emily Solis is a Dietetic Intern with the Virginia Tech – Northern Virginia site. She enjoys running, gardening, and baking pies on Sundays.