Vegetables and fruits – get plenty every day:
“Eat your fruits and vegetables” is one of the tried and true recommendations for a healthy diet. And for good reason. But what does “plenty” mean? If you don’t count potatoes, the average American gets a total of just three servings of fruits and vegetables a day. I’ve been reading that the latest food guideline from the USDA increased the number of servings to eight to thirteen servings of fruits and vegetables a day! That’s 2½ to 6½ cups per day, depending on how many calories you need. For a person who needs 2,000 calories a day to maintain weight and health, this means nine servings or 4½ cups per day (2 cups of fruit and 2½ cups of vegetables).
I’m just going to talk about vegetables this week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that 1 cup refers to a common measuring cup (the kind used in recipes). In general, 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or 100% vegetable juice, or 2 cups of raw leafy greens can be considered as 1 cup from the vegetable group.
The CDC also gives some tips that might be helpful as you plan your meals. Buy fresh vegetables in season. They cost less and are likely to have their best flavor. Stock up on frozen vegetables for quick and easy cooking in the microwave. Buy vegetables that are easy to prepare. Pick up pre-washed bags of salad greens and add baby carrots or grape tomatoes for a salad in minutes. Use a microwave to quickly “zap” vegetables. White or sweet potatoes can be baked quickly this way. Vary your veggie choices to keep meals interesting. Try crunchy vegetables, raw or lightly steamed.
To get the most vitamins and minerals, select a rainbow of colors. Have vegetables with more potassium often, such as sweet potatoes, white beans, tomato products (paste, sauce, and juice), beet greens, soybeans, lima beans, spinach, lentils, and kidney beans. Cook your vegetables in as little water as possible so you are not throwing out the good vitamins in the water.
Sauces or seasonings can add calories, saturated fat and sodium or salt to vegetables. Be careful to know what you are getting. Prepare more foods from fresh ingredients to lower the sodium intake. Most sodium in the food supply comes from packaged or processed foods. Buy canned vegetables labeled “reduced sodium,” “low sodium,” or “no salt added.” If you want to add a little salt it will likely be less than what was in the regular canned food.
Plan some meals around a vegetable main dish, such as a vegetable stir-fry or soup. Then add other foods to go along with it. Try a main dish salad for lunch or dinner but go light on the salad dressing. Include a green salad with your dinner every day. Shred carrots or zucchini into meatloaf, casseroles, quick breads and muffins. Include chopped vegetables in pasta sauce or lasagna. Use mashed, cooked vegetables such as potatoes to thicken stews, soups and gravies. These add flavor, nutrients and texture. Grill vegetables kabobs as part of a barbecue meal. Try tomatoes, mushrooms, green peppers, and onions.
Make vegetables more appealing by serving with a dip or low-fat dressing. Try a low-fat salad dressing with raw broccoli, red and green peppers strips, celery sticks or cauliflower. Add color to salads by adding baby carrots, shredded red cabbage, or spinach leaves. Include in-season vegetables for variety through the year. Include beans or peas in flavorful mixed dishes, such as chili or minestrone soup. Decorate plates or serving dishes with vegetable slices. Keep a fresh bowl of cut-up vegetables in a see-through container in the refrigerator. Carrot and celery sticks are traditional but consider red or green pepper strips, broccoli florets, or cucumber slices.
Children learn from their parents and other family members so set a good example for them by eating vegetables with meals and as snacks. Let children decide on the dinner vegetables or what goes into salads. Depending on their age, children can help shop for, clean, or peel vegetables. Allow children to pick a new vegetable to try while shopping. Children often prefer foods served separately. So rather than mixed vegetables, try serving two vegetables separately.
And finally, rinse vegetables before preparing or eating them. Under clean, running water, rub vegetables briskly with your hands to remove dirt. Dry with a clean cloth or paper towel after rinsing. Keep vegetables separate from raw meat, poultry and seafood while shopping, preparing or storing.
Commit to increasing the number of vegetables you eat every day. Choose Health!