A Pumpkin Cheesecake Smoothie in a glass jar with a straw. The words "Pumpkin Cheesecake Smoothie, a sweet and healthy treat!" on it.

Want to enjoy something sweet AND healthy this Thanksgiving? Our pumpkin cheesecake smoothie recipe gives you lean protein and healthy fat – and is full of great fall flavor!

Pumpkin isn’t just a delicious holiday pie flavor. While pumpkin does add delicious flavor to many recipes, it also provides some key nutrients. Pumpkin is full of beta-carotene that helps promote healthy vision and immune function, and pumpkin is also a great source of fiber.

To top it off, adding heart-healthy oats will keep you fuller for longer and add even more heart-healthy fiber, and the low-fat yogurt and protein powder add plenty of lean protein.

“Pumpkin is an excellent source of Vitamin A, which is important to preserve vision, fight infections and maintain healthy skin,” said NCHPAD Registered Dietitian Emily McCallister. “Pumpkin is also a great source of fiber – a nutrient that helps stabilize blood sugar, along with potassium, which helps with muscle contraction, blood pressure and mineral balance within our cells. Be sure to purchase 100% pumpkin puree to receive all its health benefits without the added sugar.”

Watch the video below and check out the ingredients below the video.


1 cup canned pumpkin

½ frozen banana

1 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt

1 cup fat-free milk

½ cup old-fashioned oats

1 teaspoon ground flax seed

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 scoop vanilla protein powder

Sprinkle of nutmeg

Sheet pan with roasted veggies

For individuals with diabetes, reducing your carbohydrate intake and managing your blood sugar levels are vitally important. But what healthy meals are out there that are also delicious? For National Diabetes Month, we’ve got three sheet pan meals that are easy to make, packed with flavor and contain well-balanced portions – a key component to keeping a healthy blood sugar level.

“Lifestyle modifications like eating consistent meals throughout the day and having a balanced plate can help manage blood sugar,” says Lacey Gammon, NCHPAD Nutrition Coordinator. “A balanced plate contains half non-starchy vegetables, a quarter lean protein and a quarter whole grains or starchy vegetables.”

Each of the following recipes contains a balanced plate, including healthy carbohydrates, fats and protein. “When managing blood sugar, it’s important to choose carbohydrates that are fiber-rich, like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, peas and beans,” says Gammon. “Pair carbohydrates with a protein and healthy fat to slow digestion and prevent high spikes in blood sugar.”

All three recipes are also perfect for meal prepping, so try them out – and save the leftovers for later in the week!

Watch the video and check out the ingredients & instructions for each recipe below.

1) Chipotle Chicken, Veggies, & Brown Rice | Ingredients & Instructions

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 medium lime, halved, divided
  • 2 large sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds total), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 medium red onion, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 can of chipotles in adobo
  • Cooked brown rice, for serving
  • 1.5 cup broccoli
  • 1.5 cup sugar snap peas
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  1. Place the juice from the chipotle chiles, adobo sauce, garlic, oil, honey, cumin, juice of half a lime, and salt in a bowl and stir until smooth.
  2. Place the chicken, sweet potato, and red onion in a large zip-top bag and pour in the marinade. Seal the bag and shake to evenly coat everything in the marinade. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
  3. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 425°F.
  4. Place the chicken and the vegetables on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until the chicken registers 165°F in the thickest part of the meat not touching bone and the vegetables are tender and lightly caramelized, 30 to 35 minutes.
  5. Remove from the oven, squeeze the remaining lime half over the chicken and vegetables, and let cool for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with the cilantro and serve over rice.

2) Lemony Salmon, Asparagus, and Carrots | Ingredients & Instructions

  • 4 (6-oz.) skin-on salmon fillets
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice, for serving
  • ¼ cup low-fat, non-flavored yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
  • 1 ½ teaspoons lemon zest (from 1 lemon), divided
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • ¾ teaspoon black pepper, divided
  • ¼ cup panko (Japanese-style breadcrumbs)
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and halved crosswise
  • 1 (8-oz.) pkg. small carrots with tops, cut lengthwise
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Lemon wedges
  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Place salmon, skin side down, on half of prepared baking sheet. Stir together yogurt, mustard, dill, 1 teaspoon of the lemon zest, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper in a medium bowl. Spread over salmon fillets in an even layer; top with panko, and press lightly to adhere. Spray with cooking spray.
  2. Toss together asparagus, carrots, olive oil, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon each of lemon zest, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Place vegetables on empty side of baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven until salmon is cooked through and vegetables are tender, about 18 minutes. Serve with brown rice and lemon wedges.

3) Southwestern Sweet Potato & Black Bean Bowl | Ingredients & Instructions

  • 1 cup microwavable brown rice
  • 2 cans chickpeas
  • 2 cups broccoli
  • 3 cups sweet potatoes, chopped into 1” pieces
  • ½ red onion, chopped into 1” pieces
  • 1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained, rinsed and towel-dried
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Optional toppings:

  • Sauce: honey-chipotle or honey-dijon from previous recipes
  • Avocado
  • Salsa
  • Hot sauce
  • Cilantro
  • Lime juice
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Cook the rice according to package directions
  3. Combine the broccoli, sweet potato, red onion, chickpeas, black beans, olive oil and spices in a large mixing bowl. Gently toss together until evenly coated.
  4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, stirring once halfway through.
  5. To serve: place the roasted sweet potatoes and beans over a bed of brown rice. Top with any of the optional toppings. Enjoy!
Woman eating watermelon

You probably hear the terms inflammation and anti-inflammatory thrown around a lot, but what does inflammation mean – and how can it be managed or even prevented?

Inflammation is the immune system’s response to injury or irritation. There are two different types of inflammation:

  1. Acute inflammation. Examples include joint pain, headache, wounds, sore throat, ingrown nails and skin irritation.
  2. Chronic inflammation. Examples include disability, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and bowel disease.

Our bodies have a natural inflammatory response, which is our body’s way of protecting itself from illness and infection by producing more white blood cells. SOME inflammation is a good thing.

Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is at the root of several illnesses such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

On the bright side, inflammation can be controlled through healthy lifestyle behaviors including the following:

  • Healthy eating
  • Moving more
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Limiting alcohol intake
  • Resting
  • Taking medications as prescribed

Having a high intake of anti-inflammatory foods will also help you in increasing these healthy habits.

“Inflammatory foods create byproducts during digestion that raise inflammatory compounds in the body,” says Emily McAllister, Registered Dietitian here at NCHPAD. “Anti-inflammatory foods contain higher levels of antioxidants and other protective compounds which help fight against inflammation.” Here are some examples of both.

Anti-inflammatory foods:

  • Salmon/tuna
  • Fruit
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Blueberries
  • Walnuts
  • Olive oil
  • Whole grains

Inflammatory foods:

  • Fried food
  • Soda
  • Red meat
  • Sugar
  • Highly processed food/meat
  • White flour products

There really isn’t one “diet” out there you must follow to prevent or manage inflammation. The goal is to maintain a healthy lifestyle for overall wellness.

Click the links below to learn more about several different healthy, flexible diets and see how they are similar by emphasizing foods full of antioxidants while limiting highly processed foods.

Meal prepped food

Meal prepping is a great way to save time in the kitchen. Anyone can do it: it doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming.

Meal prepping also saves time without sacrificing nutrition or flavor. It promotes nutrient rich ingredients that can be individualized to your taste, ability and cooking skills. Follow these steps to get started with meal planning and prepping for the week.

  1. Find your “why.” Understanding why you want to prepare meals for the week will guide you to a starting point. Do you want to focus on eating breakfast? Eating more vegetables? Limiting salt? How much time do you have to dedicate to preparing your meals? Do you need meal prep to be fast and simple, or do you have time for more complex recipes that require extra cooking time?
  2. Plan your meals. Planning a week at a time will ensure you have a variety of nutrients from different food groups, and the ingredients you prepare will not go bad. Pick a day to plan, review recipes and browse your pantry to make note of what ingredients you already have. Stick with familiar foods and recipes if you’re just getting started.
  3. Make a grocery list. Making a list is a great way to make sure nothing is forgotten. This also avoids additional trips to the grocery store for one or two ingredients. Create a list by using a pen and paper or app on your smart phone, verbally recording your list, or by asking for assistance from a friend or care partner. Lists can also help you stay within your budget and avoid purchasing impulse items.
  4. Go shopping. Select what grocery store you like to use and plan your visit. If you need assistance in getting to the store, ask family/friends or utilize delivery options and store employees. Remember most whole foods are sold around the perimeter of the store (so start here) while the packaged foods are in the center aisles. Also consider bulk buying foods to save money if you plan on eating a specific item a lot. Meat, grains and legumes are some examples of foods that can often be cheaper if you buy them several pounds at a time. Don’t forget to include reusable food storage containers to your list if this is your first time.
  5. Slice and dice. Once all the ingredients have been purchased, it is time to prepare them for each recipe. This step includes the following processes:
    • Wash all firm produce. Slice or chop them as the recipe calls for.
    • When washing delicate produce like lettuce or fresh berries, make sure they are completely dry before storing. This prevents them from becoming soft and watery.
    • Cook whole grain items, like rice or pasta, ahead of time. Cook at least 2-3 portions worth to use for multiple meals.
    • Drain and rinse canned vegetables.
    • Cook any fresh protein sources, such as chicken or fish.
    • Label prepared ingredients to make sure you know which meals they should be used for. Include the date they were prepared so you know when they go bad.
  6. Take shortcuts to save time. Utilize precut, pre-sliced, frozen, canned or ready to use ingredients to cut down on the prep time. Commonly used items like garlic and onions can be found already minced or cut and ready to buy. Other examples include:
    • Dry spices and herbs to add flavor without adding salt.
    • Microwavable brown rice to quickly incorporate whole grains.
    • Canned chicken or fish to save on cooking time.
    • Prewashed, bagged salad to use throughout the week.
    • Prechopped broccoli, baby carrots and snap peas.
    • Frozen vegetables that don’t require cooking.
    • Cookware, like slow cookers, can also be a time saver for larger meals.
  7. Cooking and Storage Tips.
    • Separate foods that reheat well from those that don’t:
      • Most grains, lentils, meat, beans and cheese reheat well.
      • Some vegetables like leafy greens, whole/sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, etc. may wilt when heated.
    • Freeze some of the meals that may be eaten later in the week so they stay fresh.
    • Adjust the recipe to the amount you need. Take your favorite recipe and double it.
    • Glass or microwave safe plastic containers are best for reheating in microwaves.
    • Multicompartment containers make it easy to pack multiple foods into a small, easy to carry container.
      • Smaller containers can be filled with dressings, sauces, dips and toppings.
  8. Food Assistance Resources –
Lacey Gammon

In this week’s edition of our blog, we caught up with Lacey Gammon, NCHPAD Nutrition Coordinator, who has been with NCHPAD since late 2019.

Lacey’s primarily role with NCHPAD is with MENTOR, where she teaches an inclusive online nutrition and basic cooking skills class to adults with physical disabilities. She also provides one-on-one nutrition counseling, writes disability-specific nutrition resources and provides general nutrition expertise.

In addition to these roles, Lacey serves as a preceptor for dietetic interns and helps develop nutrition-related partnerships.

Tell us about your background & education. What brought you to NCHPAD?

I graduated from the University of Alabama in 2013 with a degree in food and nutrition, then went to Samford University for my dietetic internship and Master of Public Health in 2016.

My interest in this field of dietetics started during my internship when I was at the Sparks Clinics in Birmingham and at Children’s Rehabilitation Services (CRS) at the Alabama Department of Public Health. I got to work with incredible dietitians who taught me about inborn errors of metabolism, autism, Rett syndrome, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury and spina bifida. This led me to getting my first job at CRS in Montgomery leading a feeding clinic where I provided nutrition assessments for children with disability and unique health care needs. I loved it, but I missed living in Birmingham, so I moved back to work at NCHPAD.

How long have you worked with people with disabilities?

Six years.

 A quote about Lacey's work experience
What program or programs do you work with? How long have you worked with that program?

I’ve worked in the MENTOR program the whole time I’ve been here at NCHPAD.

What is your favorite thing about MENTOR?

I love getting to know people from other parts of the country and learning about their culture and ideas around food and nutrition.

I also try to facilitate a welcoming space where people can share their experiences and learn from each other.

What’s your favorite NCHPAD resource or video series?

I love our Snack Meals resource. It’s a simplified way of eating healthy by incorporating whole foods with minimal prep. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be time consuming or complicated.

I’m also really proud of our NutriLab Cooking videos. These recipes incorporate healthy foods that are proven to help prevent chronic diseases. Chef J is super entertaining!  

Share a success story. Tell us about a time when you really saw your program working in the life of a participant.

I’m always thrilled to hear how participants have made small changes that make a big impact on their health. Here’s some written feedback I’ve received from people who have completed MENTOR:

“Nutrition was where I needed the most help. I have never really been a ‘healthy’ eater. But since this class, my husband and I have re-evaluated our food habits and are now making much wiser choices as to what we eat.”

“I not only learned about how to maintain a healthy diet, but I’ve also learned a lot of delicious healthy recipes that I have actually added to my diet since.”

“The explanation and use of adaptive kitchen tools was useful for seeing what might help me in the kitchen.”

“I enjoyed the classes from start to finish. I liked learning how to adjust my diet to make it healthier. The recipes were easy to prepare and surprised me how good they tasted.”

“I realized that I don’t have to feel bad about taking short cuts to eat healthier. I can buy produce that’s already chopped or use frozen vegetables.”

The last week of the program, I challenge participants to share a recipe that summarizes what they have learned in the class. It’s been fun to see what participants come up with and applying what they’ve learned.

What hobbies do you have outside of work?

I play beach volleyball and host frequent ping pong tournaments at my house. I love living in Birmingham and attending food festivals, concerts and going to local breweries. I also enjoy entertaining and hosting casual dinner parties and game nights with friends.

What’s your favorite food, favorite thing to cook or favorite recipe?

Over the past few years, I’ve been experimenting more with plant-based cooking. My favorite recipe is a veggie lasagna from Cookie and Kate. It combines all my favorite things, pasta, a creamy sauce and perfectly cooked vegetables.

Quote about what Lacey likes to cook
What’s your favorite music, movies or tv shows?

Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls is my favorite movie. I know all the words. “And you must be the monopoly guy…Thanks for the free parking!” I also love scary/horror movies. They’re not just for spooky season. I could watch them year-round.

I really enjoy music from the 1970s that my parents grew up listening to. I recently discovered a new playlist on Spotify called “Tailgate With Your Dad,” and it’s incredible.

The TV show Ghosts is hilarious. But it has to be the British version!

What’s the last book you read? How was it?

It had to be a children’s book, I’m sure! My niece loves when I read to her. I’m more of an audiobook listener. The last book I listened to was The Maidens by Alex Michaelides. It’s about a woman who investigates the murder of her niece’s college roommate who was involved in a private student group called “The Maidens.” It’s a mystery thriller with a surprising twist at the end – my favorite kind of book.

Who or what inspires you?

My students. I am a preceptor for dietetic interns in the Birmingham area. They inspire me to be knowledgeable about the latest diet trends. They get me out of my routine of daily tasks to think creatively about how to incorporate nutrition education in a fun and engaging way. They bring fresh ideas and excitement to the profession and are a wonderful reminder to not lose my passion and excitement for what I do.

What’s your favorite quote?

My favorite quote is actually a Bible verse that was used as our class motto in grad school. It”s Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

It’s a reminder that no matter what plans I have for myself, God’s plan is bigger. It’s a reminder to have faith.

If you could switch careers for a day, what would you choose?

Before starting in nutrition, I strongly considered becoming a wedding planner. I have a Type B personality with Type A tendencies. I love to plan and organize events. Either that or a professional cat-petter, whichever comes first!

Dr. Christine Ferguson

In our latest blog, we caught up with NCHPAD Nutrition Research Coordinator Dr. Christine Ferguson, a Registered Dietitian and researcher who has been with NCHPAD since August 2021.

Christine’s primary role with NCHPAD is with the MENTOR program, but she is also involved with a weight management program called State of Slim Everybody, and she is also in the process of creating a healthy grocery shopping program and video materials for people with disabilities and diabetes.

When she’s not at work, Christine loves reading and spending time with her family outside – especially helping her daughter “make a fun mess” while painting. Read our full interview below.

Tell us about your background and education. What brought you to NCHPAD?

I am a Registered Dietitian (RD) by training, and I received my degrees from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

At the end of my PhD Program, I learned about NCHPAD’s MENTOR program, and I immediately knew I wanted to be involved in such a beneficial program that also had a focus on the importance of nutrition.

How long have you worked with people with disabilities?

I’ve worked with people with disabilities at every job I’ve had since I was 16. As a dietitian, I started working with people with disabilities in the clinical setting about six years ago.

What program or programs do you work with? How long have you worked with that program?

I primarily work with the MENTOR program, and I am involved in the development of a specialty weight management program for people with disabilities after they complete the MENTOR program called State of Slim Everybody. I am also working on creating healthy grocery shopping program and video materials for people with disabilities and diabetes called NAVIGATE.

What do you do with MENTOR?

For NCHPAD, I am on the program evaluation side. We have excellent RDs who deliver MENTOR, so I am behind the scenes monitoring attendance, questionnaires, areas for quality improvement and more.

Quote on Christine's expertise
What expertise do you bring to MENTOR?

My expertise is in inclusive nutrition for people with disabilities. I enjoy working with people to make practical lifestyle changes that can improve their health and wellbeing.

What is your favorite thing about NCHPAD or MENTOR?

One of the many wonderful things about NCHPAD is that it has the unique ability to help people across the entire United States. My favorite thing is talking directly with MENTOR participants and hearing about their experience with the program and the impact it has made on their life.

What’s your favorite NCHPAD resource or video series?

I really enjoy NCHPAD’s recipe series on YouTube. The ones I have used the most involve pesto because I always seem to have extra greens at the end of the week, and I love pesto pasta!

What are you most looking forward to in this program?

I have heard from so many participants that they wish MENTOR was longer or if there was something they could do afterwards to keep the motivation going. I am really excited about the specialty programs that will soon be available for participants after the MENTOR program that will be more specific to their needs and/or interests.

Share a success story. Tell us about a time when you really saw your program working in the life of a participant.

I taught the nutrition classes for a cohort of MENTOR participants last year, and I had a participant who attended every class and was engaged by asking questions. We had great discussions as a group about adapting the kitchen space to be more accessible, and she said by the end of the program that she was spending more time actively preparing meals, which allowed her to have more control over making healthy substitutions.

She reached out a couple months after the program and said that she learned so much from the program and is feeling better too!

What hobbies do you have outside of work?

I enjoy reading and spending time with my family outside. My daughter is interested in painting, so I enjoy joining her and making a fun mess 😊 .

A quote from Christine
What’s your favorite food, favorite thing to cook or favorite recipe?

It’s not surprise I love food – it’s one of the many reasons I pursued nutrition and dietetics. If I had to narrow it down, I would choose sushi or Korean BBQ.

I also grew up baking with my grandmother, so my favorite recipes are any I’ve made with her like pecan pie or Mississippi mudcake.

My staple recipes I use almost on a weekly basis include balsamic roasted vegetables, guacamole and NCHPAD’s Whatever Greens you have Pesto.”

What’s your favorite music, movies or tv shows?
  • Music: I like a variety of music, but lately I have been enjoying WILLOW, Chance the Rapper and Remi Wolf.
  • Movies: I am a sucker for romantic comedies, and I could probably watch The Proposal a hundred times and still laugh.
  • TV Shows: My favorite has to be New Girl!
What’s the last book you read? How was it?

I just finished Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir, and it was great science fiction novel.

Who or what inspires you?

Professionally, I am constantly inspired by NCHPAD’s director, Dr. James Rimmer, to think outside the box and exude passion for the work we do with people with disabilities. Personally, I am inspired by Michelle Obama and her family for many reasons. It stuck with me when she said, “For me, being Mom-in-Chief is, and always will be, job number one,” as I work through balancing my own career while being a mom.

What’s your favorite quote?

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” – Hippocrates.

If you could switch careers for a day, what would you choose?

In another life, I would love to open my own coffee shop!

What’s one thing (not related to your job) that you could teach someone else how to do?

I enjoy (easy) gardening, and I can teach someone to propagate succulents.

A bowl of pesto pasta, image from unsplash

Are you looking for a quick, easy way to add healthy flavor to your diet? Pesto is a delicious, versatile sauce that tastes great with everything from pasta and vegetables to salmon and chicken.

Pesto is traditionally made with basil and pine nuts, but don’t worry – there are many, many different delicious variations. Start out with our “Whatever Greens you have Pesto” recipe (written below), and then check out our delicious NutriLab video featuring whole grain pesto pasta with veggies.

“Whatever Greens you have Pesto”
  • 2 cups of your favorite greens (spinach, arugula or kale)
  • ½ lemon (or 1 tablespoon of lemon juice)
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon milk (or milk alternative like almond milk)

Put everything in a blender or food processor. Mix until well blended. Add salt and pepper if you would like – but otherwise, use this green pesto as a dip for your favorite vegetables, a spread on a sandwich or a sauce for whole grain pasta!

Eat More Veggies with this Fresh Pesto Pasta Recipe


  • 2 cups whole grain pasta
  • ¼ cup sliced carrots
  • ¼ cup broccoli
  • 2 oz. spinach
  • ¼ cup sweet onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ¼ cup sliced beets


  • 1 cup basil
  • ½ cup spinach
  • ¼-½ cup oil
  • 1 Tablespoon almonds
  • ¼ lemon juiced
  • 1-2 Tablespoons shredded parmesan


1. Cook pasta according to package directions.

2. Slice vegetables ¼ in. thick, place in bowl and set aside.

3. To make the pesto, put basil, spinach, almonds, lemon juice and parmesan in blender.

4. Blend while slowly pouring in oil. Blend until smooth.

5. Place pan on medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil. Once hot, carefully add vegetables and stir. Continue cooking for 5-7 min.

6. Turn heat off and season with salt and pepper. Add 2 tablespoons of pesto into pan and toss to coat vegetables.

7. To plate, swirl pasta onto center of plate. Place vegetables on and around pasta. Garnish with parsley or parmesan (optional).