Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tips for Making Half Your Plate Fruits and Veggies

Most everyone knows that fruits and vegetables are good for them. No news there. But actually eating enough of them is a different story! Why? Some clients have told me that they're just not as easy and convenient as other foods. Or they take too much time. Or they're wasted (have you ever brought home bags of fresh produce, only to find them rotting in the fridge a week later?).

To me, these excuses don't hold up! You just have to make it easier on yourself.

Fruits and veggies should make up a large part of our diets. I'm not saying you have to be a vegetarian to be healthy, but a diet rich in plant foods definitely has its benefits. That's why the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, represented by MyPlate, recommend that we make half our plate fruits and vegetables at meals. And what better time to start using MyPlate then National Nutrition Month?! Fruits and veggies are loaded with nutrition: vitamins, disease-fighting antioxidants, fiber and energy, while low in calories and fat-free. How can you beat that? But to be successful in making half you plate fruits and veggies, you have to make it convenient and you have to be conscious of what you're eating at your meals. You might have to do a little rearranging. For instance, swap those chips or fries for a salad or crispy cucumbers.

Here's my biggest tip for making half your plate fruits and veggies:

Use a "one-every-time-you-eat" approach. The meaning of that phrase is just as it sounds; make sure to include at least one fruit and/or vegetable with each meal and each snack. If you eat 3 meals per day and 2 snacks, you'll have eaten at least 5 fruits and veggies! Sounds easier already, right? Here are some examples included in a one-day sample menu:
  • Breakfast: Cereal with banana and walnuts
  • Morning Snack: Yogurt with berries
  • Lunch: Turkey sandwich with avocado, a side of sliced bell peppers, whole grain crackers and pineapple
  • Afternoon Snack: Apple, carrots and peanut butter
  • Dinner: Chicken breast, broccoli roasted in olive oil, and a baked potato with butter
  • Evening Snack: Dried cherries or strawberries (they're sweet like candy :))
See how easy that was? We totaled NINE in a snap (TEN if you count the avocado). P.S. This menu adds up to about 1800 calories.

In order to fulfill your "one-every-time-you-eat" mission, use some of the following tips:

Prepare.
If you're in a hurry at mealtime and look in the fridge only to find bags of unprepared produce, the extra 5-10 minutes it will take to prepare them may be daunting. So imagine now that you look in the fridge and see containers of cut peppers, zucchini and broccoli. Better! That's the power of being prepared. When you get home from the grocery store with bags of fresh produce, take the time (I bet it's 20 minutes max) to wash and cut your produce; then store it in airtight containers. You'll be thanking yourself come mealtime when all you have to do is open a container and grab the veggies, ready to go.

If you're really looking to minimize the time you spend in the kitchen, buy pre-cut produce (and also proceed to the next tip). Yes, it costs more. But if you're willing to pay the price tag to save yourself some time, it might be worth it to you. Some veggies that come pre-washed and cut include salad, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery and green beans. Check your grocery to see what's available.

Freeze.
Keep frozen fruits and veggies on hand in the freezer at all times! They don't spoil as rapidly and will be there if you're out of the fresh stuff. You can even buy steamable bags of veggies that can be popped directly in the microwave in portion-controlled servings.

Here are veggies you'll always find in my freezer and how I add them easily to dinners:
  • Frozen peas: Toss them in the same pot as the pasta you're boiling for dinner. Strain together and top with olive oil and herbs.
  • Frozen corn: Make a Mexican taco filling. Saute chicken breast in a skillet, add black beans, frozen corn and diced tomatoes. Wrap in a taco shell or spoon on top of a salad.
  • Frozen green beans: Place green beans, still frozen, in a skillet filled with about 1/4 cup of water. Cook on medium heat. As the water evaporates, add olive oil and seasonings, and saute until desired tenderness.
  • Frozen broccoli: Steam in a pot or in the microwave, then top with a sliver of butter.

Dry or dehydrate.
Stock different types of dried fruits in your pantry; they also come in handy when fresh fruit isn't convenient or available. If you have a dehydrator, you can dry extra portions of fresh fruit for a healthy snack later. My staples are golden raisins, dried cherries and wild blueberries. I love:


Can.
Canned fruits and veggies are also great to have on hand as a backup; just make a wise selection since canned foods can be a source of extra sodium or sugar. Opt for low-sodium vegetables or those labeled, "no salt added." In the fruit aisle, choose fruits that are canned in their own juice or water.

Pack.
This is one of the most important parts. Once you've got all your produce prepared, you have to eat it! If you're at home during the day, you'll have easy access to whatever you need. Just abide by the "one-every-time-you-eat" approach. If you pack your lunch for work or school, fill a large, airtight container with fruits and veggies to eat throughout the day at your meals and snacks. {Click here for an example.}

The key to eating healthy is being prepared. It may take you a few more minutes on the front-end, but will save you time and headache (plus calories, of course) during the week. Give it a shot and let me know how you do!

Photo: FreeDigitalPhotos.net