Question: I do most of the cooking in my house and try to make sure that the meals I prepare are both good tasting and healthy. However, I am in a rut when it comes to healthy food ideas. Do you have any suggestions on any clever, tasty ways to add more fruits and veggies to my family’s diet?
Answer: The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommends that people make half their plate fruits and vegetables. That includes eating whole fruits – fresh, frozen, dried or canned in 100 percent juice and eating fresh, frozen or canned vegetables either raw, steamed, sautéed or roasted. Make sure to include dark green, red and orange vegetables as well as legumes such as beans and peas and starchy and other vegetables.
Why is this important?
People should eat more fruits and vegetables because they are major contributors of several nutrients under-consumed in the U.S. — vitamins A, C and K, potassium, fiber, and magnesium, according to the Produce for Better Health Foundation. Fruits and vegetables are also associated with reduced risk of many chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.
But, only one out of 10 Americans meets the recommended daily allowance of fruits and vegetables, according to a 2015 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Less than 9 percent of Americans eat two to three cups of vegetables daily while 13 percent were reported to eat one and a half to two cups of fruit daily, the study found.
One way to increase your fruit and vegetable intake is to get creative in how you prepare them. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers the following suggestions:
Use vegetables like broccoli, spinach, green peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms and zucchini as pizza toppings.
Make a breakfast smoothie with low-fat milk, frozen strawberries and a banana.
Make a veggie wrap with roasted vegetables and low-fat cheese rolled in a whole-wheat tortilla.
Grill colorful vegetable kabobs packed with tomatoes, green and red peppers, mushrooms, and onions.
Add color to salads with baby carrots, grape tomatoes, spinach leaves, apples or mandarin oranges.
Keep cut vegetables handy for mid-afternoon snacks, side dishes, lunch box additions or a quick nibble while waiting for dinner. Include red, green or yellow peppers, broccoli or cauliflower florets, carrots, celery sticks, cucumbers, snap peas, or whole radishes.
Keep a bowl of fresh whole fruit in the center of your kitchen or dining table.
Get saucy with fruit. Puree apples, berries, peaches or pears in a blender for a thick, sweet sauce on grilled or broiled seafood or poultry, or on pancakes, French toast or waffles.
Turn any omelet into a hearty meal with broccoli, squash, carrots, peppers, tomatoes or onions with low-fat sharp cheddar cheese.
Add pizzazz to sandwiches with sliced pineapple, apple, peppers, cucumber and tomato as fillings.
Make a habit of adding fruit to your morning oatmeal, ready-to-eat cereal, yogurt or toaster waffle.
Top a baked potato with beans and salsa or broccoli and low-fat cheese.
Add grated, shredded or chopped vegetables such as zucchini, spinach and carrots to lasagna, meat loaf, mashed potatoes, pasta sauce and rice dishes.
Make fruit your dessert: Slice a banana lengthwise and top with a scoop of low-fat frozen yogurt. Sprinkle with a tablespoon of chopped nuts.
Stock your freezer with frozen vegetables to steam or stir-fry for a quick side dish.
Cook fruit on the grill: Make kabobs with pineapple, peaches and banana. Grill on low heat until the fruit is hot and slightly golden.
While making healthier food choices is always a good idea, with March being National Nutrition Month, now is a good time to think about making healthy food choices an everyday event. One way to do that is to remember to “put your best fork forward” — which is the theme of National Nutrition Month this year. Even small changes in your eating habits and food choices can help you make strides in improving your health overall.
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