New dietary guidelines have increased the recommended number of fruit and vegetable servings from five to nine. If you thought eating five a day was tough, you may feel overwhelmed by the increase. While the health benefits fruits and vegetables provide are undisputed, many Americans find it difficult to get enough of them. It doesn’t need to be this hard. Here are a few tips for adding more of nature’s best products into your diet.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and adding fruits and vegetables to this meal is probably the easiest tip of all. Ditch the donuts and muffins and instead go for some of these options:
• Try eggs scrambled with shredded zucchini, onions and mushrooms and smothered with fresh salsa. Serve with a side of veggie sausage links. These vegetable based sausage links can be found in the frozen food section of the grocery store and actually taste pretty good.
• Slice apples into your pancake batter and substitute the maple syrup with berry flavored applesauce.
• Toss in a handful of dried cranberries into your cereal.
• Make a smoothie using yogurt, orange juice and frozen strawberries and bananas. For even more of a nutritional boost, add pureed carrots to the smoothie as well. Freeze the leftovers in a small cup with a popsicle stick in it for a frozen smoothie treat later.
• Drink a glass of vegetable or fruit juice instead of water.
A morning snack will get you through until lunchtime. Make it a healthy one and you’ll be smiling all day.
• Dip fresh fruit into yogurt.
• Eat a frozen chocolate-dipped banana.
• Nibble on dried fruit.
Lunch provides numerous opportunities to eat more of your favorites. Here are some ideas that go beyond the standard “eat a salad” advice:
• Grow your own alfalfa sprouts in a seed sprouter found at most nurseries. Add a big fistful of sprouts to any sandwich or salad desired.
• Use mashed avocado as a sandwich spread. Top with spinach leaves, cucumbers, tomatoes, sprouts, mushrooms and your favorite cheese. Add a touch of vinaigrette and you have a yummy veggie sandwich.
• Instead of hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken patties try the vegetable substitutes. These are usually made of soy or mushrooms and other vegetables. Top vegetarian hot dogs with bean chili and onions. Make “garden burgers” or chicken sandwiches using the veggie patties topped with tomatoes, lettuce, onions and pickles etc.
• Have a piece of fresh fruit or a dill pickle instead of chips.
• Make your own baked French fries using fresh potatoes or sweet potatoes.
• Have a bean tostada topped with lettuce, tomatoes, olives and plenty of fresh salsa.
Take advantage of the afternoon snack time and get in an extra serving or two.
• Serve artichokes with a dipping sauce.
• Celery stuffed with peanut butter or cream cheese.
• Baby carrots with fat free ranch dressing make a nice snack.
• Hummus and baked pita chips are a tasty, healthy alternative to chips and dip.
• Serve cheese and crackers with sliced apples.
• Roast a bunch of your favorite veggies and puree them in a food processor with cream cheese or yogurt. Serve with crackers or use as a sandwich spread or dip.
• Instead of sour cream based dips, serve guacamole and tortilla chips. Avocados are loaded with monounsaturated fats, the “good” fat and make a delicious alternative. Toss some chopped tomatoes and onions in for good measure. You can even sneak in other veggies such as chopped spinach into the guacamole.
• Freeze grapes, blueberries and melon balls for a cool afternoon treat. Freeze them individually on a cookie sheet so they don’t stick to each other then once frozen, transfer to a zippered baggie. Eat them straight from the freezer or use them in smoothies.
When making dinner, try a few of the following ideas:
• Sneak pureed carrots into macaroni and cheese and into sauces such as spaghetti sauce.
• Add shredded zucchini into meatloaf, breads, casseroles and muffins.
• Use spinach in recipes such as lasagna, quiche and even tostadas.
• Make your salads count. Instead of boring iceberg lettuce, try baby spinach leaves and load the salad up with a variety of vegetables.
• Keep a container of sun dried tomatoes handy and use in all kinds of dishes. Chop them up and mix them in with couscous or rice, sprinkle on salads, top a quiche with them. They also make great snacks.
• Try roasting vegetables instead of steaming or boiling them. Simply coat with olive oil and a touch of balsamic vinegar and roast them in the oven or on the grill.
• Sauté mushrooms and onions and serve over steak or burgers. It smells great and adds a nice touch.
• Load up pizza with extra veggies such as mushrooms, olives, tomatoes, bell peppers and artichoke hearts.
• When serving a Mexican meal, toss a banana or two in the oven until the peel turns black. Plantain bananas are more authentic but a regular banana works fine too. The warm, mushy banana taste makes a nice compliment to the meal.
• Sweet potatoes and yams aren’t just for Thanksgiving. Eat them year round. Try mashing cooked sweet potatoes with a little butter and a can of crushed pineapples.
Dessert is the last chance of the day to reach your fruit and vegetable consumption goal.
• Try a slice of angel food cake topped with fat free whipped cream and strawberries for a strawberry-shortcake like dessert.
• Have a scoop of frozen yogurt with banana slices or your favorite type of berry.
• Have a banana or zucchini muffin.
• Remember the leftover smoothie you froze at breakfast? Have a smoothie popsicle.
Women are encouraged to shoot for seven servings a day and men should try to get nine servings. Head out to the farmer’s market and load up on your favorites. Try to get two to three servings at each meal and supplement with snacks. Your body will thank you.