Every year in March the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics sponsors National Nutrition Month. The campaign aims to get people thinking about eating food with an eye to health and connect them with local experts who can share tips on developing a balanced diet.

That's where people like Lauren Wagner, of Brigantine, come in. A registered dietitian, Wagner is a consultant for Cape Regional Medical Center in Cape May. She meets with people serious about "developing a personal nutrition plan tailored for their unique needs," and works with them over time to form healthy habits.

Wagner practices what she preaches, and finds it helps her come up with suggestions for her clients. For example, she loves artichokes, which are in season now, only not grown locally in New Jersey. But you can find frozen ones in the supermarket and steam them in a basket or saute them with eggs or pasta.

"Foods are definitely more nutrient-dense when you're eating them in season. They contain more vitamins and mineral nutrients, whereas foods that have been transported a long distance lose that," she says. "But the nice thing about frozen produce is it's flash frozen, so it doesn't lose its nutritional value."

Other produce in season now includes arugula, which is good in salads and on top of a pizza, avocados, asparagus, beets, broccoli, carrots, Brussels sprouts and cabbage - for the Irish in you. Citrus fruits including lemons and limes, grapefruits, mandarins and oranges are nature's answer to flu season, and strawberries will soon be coming into season. You should incorporate produce into your meals as often as possible, Wagner says. Asparagus, for example is great in a frittata with onions and low fat cheese, she says. Just use equal amounts of whole eggs and egg whites, to cut down on cholesterol.

While nutritionists often recommend cutting down on dining out, Wagner says that's mostly because restaurant portions tend to be large and the food served rich. However, practicing portion control (not eating everything on your plate just because it's there) and using websites such as healthydiningfinder.com can help people eat healthy while visiting restaurants.

She also recommends making time to prepare healthy meals for yourself and taking a walk after each meal when possible. And you should invest in a healthy cookbook, such as Ellie Krieger's "So Easy" or "The Food You Crave." Wagner loves to use "So Easy" because it's broken down into sections including breakfast, lunch and dinner. The book distinguishes between on-the-go meals or those better suited to a long weekend.

"'The Food You Crave' is more your naughtier foods, like chicken parmesan, mac 'n' cheese or chicken pot pie," she says. "She shows you can prepare it with very low calories but it still tastes super good."

Wagner also works as an out-patient counselor and weight management counselor for Holy Redeemer hospital group's operation in Egg Harbor Township and AtlantiCare's Fit for Life program.

Participants "learn different nutrition habits to incorporate into their every day life and we talk about making small changes each week," she says of the program, which includes meeting with a personal trainer three times per week and a nutritionist weekly in a group setting. "That's where the real challenge is, in changing your lifestyle versus going on a 200-calorie diet."

A healthy tip for reducing weight is to eat a few snacks with lean protein and a fiber source each day. A good goal is 8 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber per snack, for a total of 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day and about 60 grams of protein, depending on your body weight.

Recommended snacks include an apple with peanut butter; an 8-ounce glass of milk with 1/2 cup of cereal or 1/2 cup of boiled, shelled snow peas seasoned with sesame oil, red pepper flakes, cumin and sea salt. For grains, Wagner recommends Ezekiel 4:9's sprouted grain bread, Thomas's light, multi-grain English muffins and Fiber One bran products.

Contact Felicia Compian:

609-272-7209

Scrumptious Scramble

Ingredients:

•1 teaspoon olive oil

•1/2 cup red onion, diced

•1 cup tomato, cored, seeded and diced

•4 whole eggs

•4 egg whites

•2 tablespoons water, optional

•1 tablespoon fresh dill, finely chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried dill

•Salt and pepper

Directions:

In a medium sized, non-stick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes, stirring once or twice. Add the tomatoes and cook for 1 minute more. Transfer the onion-tomato mixture to a bowl and set aside.

In a medium bowl lightly beat together the whole eggs, egg whites and water, if using. Pour the egg mixture into the skillet and cook over a medium-low flame, stirring frequently, until the eggs are almost set. Drain any excess water from the tomato mixture and stir the mixture gently into the eggs. Toss in the dill, season with salt and pepper, and serve.

Serving suggestion: Serve with a piece of whole-grain toast spread with 1/8 of an avocado, instead of butter.