We hear nutrition advice to “Eat more plants” often, and there is much to be said for the nutrients plants add to our diet. Many people will have made a New Year’s resolution to “Eat Better.” One of the best ways to do this is to focus on what you want more of in your diet, not less. The answer to that for most of us is fruits and vegetables. Think about how you can make the healthy choice the easy choice in your home, workplace, travel, and life. Keep that thought in mind as you read these suggestions and come up with others to suit your lifestyle.
First, you need to know how much you should have. The average adult should have roughly 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables each day. What do those numbers mean to you? Think about what that looks like. Think of a small size apple, pear, or orange as 1 cup. With cut or small fruit such as melons, grapes or berries, measure out a cup and see what it looks like in your bowl. Lay out the day’s worth of fruits and vegetables all at once, at least once so you can see how much it is. For specific serving amounts visit: www.choosemyplate.gov
Now you need to prepare for getting that amount in your diet. How many apples/peaches/pears/oranges/bananas and other whole fruit do you need for the week for you and your family? Do the math. If each person is going to eat one piece of whole fruit a day, and you grocery shop once a week, how many whole fruits do you need to have in the house? If blueberries are in season, and that’s going to be your morning fruit on cereal, how much do you need to buy or pick? Change it out every few weeks and look for in-season fruit to keep it interesting. Keep frozen vegetables without sauce in your freezer. Whether you freeze your own or buy them, they’re handy, quick, and ready to fill half your plate at a moment’s notice. Not everything needs to be fresh all of the time. Frozen is a great time saver and you’re able to keep them on hand.
Make it fun. Fruits and vegetables are not the foods most people think of when it comes to celebrating. But as we move away from sugary, processed treats, we see that there are many ways to make healthy food fun for kids and parties. A simple web search on the topic will lead you to some highly creative and healthy presentations. Get the family involved and have a great time with a new take on celebrations.
Or make it easy. Of course, if all of that fuss is not your thing, then think of fruits and vegetables as the original “fast food”. Many are ready to grab and go out the door, while others need just a little prep to be ready to go for the week. You can find fun containers for carrying or storing and making sure you have them handy.
Now you have to eat it every day! Some with every meal and snack is a good way to look at getting enough in your diet. Much of the food we grab in the grocery store or at home is out of habit. Make a point to have a fruit or vegetable at least a part of what you are eating.
Fruit in the morning.
Think of ways to include fruit in your breakfast every morning such as on your cereal, in your oatmeal, or on the side. Eat the whole fruit, not just the juice. It will keep you full longer and you’ll get the benefits of the fiber. Vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, or tomatoes, can be added to omelets, and avocado toast with an egg is a favorite of many!
Fruit/Vegetables for a snack.
Off to work you go. That mid-morning hunger strikes and what do you grab? Be prepared with a piece of fruit, some ready to eat vegetables such as carrots, celery, broccoli or whatever you like to munch on. If you’re at home, the same rules apply – have that mid-morning snack ready to go in your fridge. Get into the habit of having your snack always include a serving of fruit or vegetable.
Fruit/Vegetables for lunch.
This should be an easy one. A salad for lunch can cover a lot of your vegetable servings for the day. If the salad is your main meal, add lean protein. If it’s a side, try out the addition of cut raw green beans, shredded cabbage, or even salsa as your dressing. Get creative, look up recipes, and go gourmet if that’s your thing. Add lettuce, tomatoes, or sliced avocado to your sandwich. Shop for your ingredients at the beginning of the week so you have what you need. You may find your co-workers envious of your colorful, healthy lunch.
Vegetables for Dinner.
A good way to get in some filling fiber and added veggies is to make half your plate vegetables. The other half gets the protein and starch. Fire up the grill and throw on the veggies or boil, broil, roast, stir-fry or steam them to mix things up!
Fruit for dessert.
A little topping of yogurt, some coconut, or maybe a bit of chocolate and a fancy serving dish makes this a welcome addition to the menu. Get colorful and creative.
As with anything, keeping information that reinforces your goals in front of you can make a big difference in your success. Find what fits into your lifestyle to help keep this in focus whether it be reading food articles, inspirational or motivational topics, or social support to stay on track. Build into your life what works for you.
Karen Bracey works in family living, youth development and 4-H nutrition with Penn State Cooperative Extension.