Understanding that when it comes to improving your nutrition for better health, there is a LOT of advice being offered from a variety of sources, I’ve designed a stepwise series of Nutrition Challenges to guide you to incorporate healthy nutrition habits into your lifestyle one at a time. We’ll start by looking at something that has many health benefits and is a refreshing focus of what to add to your diet rather than what to avoid.
Nutrition Challenge # 1 is simply to see how many servings of fruits and vegetables you can include in a day. The goal is not to exclude other healthy foods like whole grains and lean proteins, but to work towards creating a healthy balance. The USDA recommends Americans eat at least 5 servings of fruits & vegetables per day (combined). Seems easy, but that most Americans fall short of this goal. Much of the blame goes to our insatiable desire for convenience, our lack of planning, and just plain old habits that die hard. In my experience, by simply paying attention and purposing to include fruits and vegetables in daily meals and snacks most people can do so without much difficulty. To determine what counts as a serving follow this link to the Fruit & Vegetable Lists
Tips to get you started:
- Plan where you will put fruits & veggies into your meals and snacks to create regular patterns. For example, you may plan to include fruit in your breakfast everyday (fresh, frozen, or dried), and to have vegetables with both lunch and dinner. If you have a plan of when you will eat them, it is more likely to happen.
- When reaching for a snack, think “fruit first.” We often have a tendency to grab crackers or breads for snacks before reaching for fruit. While there is nothing wrong with eating foods from the grain group, they often end up usurping fruits and veggies. If you are still hungry after eating the fruit, you have permission to add something else to your snack, consider making fruit your first choice. (T o add some protein and make the snack a little more substantial, mix or dip fruit in yogurt, spread it with nut butter or add a string cheese to your snack.)
- If you eat sandwiches for lunch, add a good portion of vegetables to them and consider varying the type of veggies you put on your sandwich. Here are some suggestions: Tomatoes, spinach, cucumbers, fresh bell peppers, purple onions, radish sprouts, cilantro, or grated carrots. Be creative and use leftover cooked vegetables too (like grilled zucchini or egg plant).
- When assembling a salad make it more substantial by adding a variety of colorful vegetables, and add the lettuce last.
- Also consider adding fruit to your salad (slices or chunks of apple, pear, mango, pineapple, oranges or grapefruit; dried cranberries,or fresh berries)
- Center your meal planning around the vegetables. Make them the focus of your meal instead of the afterthought. When shopping, start in the produce isle and consider what type of protein (meat, fish, poultry, tofu, etc.) will go well with the available fresh vegetables.
- When cooking vegetables, combine 2 or more for added flavor and nutrition. In general, the greater the variety of color, the greater the variety of nutrients. Examples: green beans, tomatoes & purple onions; broccoli, garlic & red peppers; carrots, snow peas & green onions. It doesn’t have to be complicated; just put them together in the same pot.
- Plan ahead. Shop with your meals and snacks in mind to be sure you have what you need to feed you and your family for the week. If you intend to eat 2 pieces of fruit a day buy at least 14 pieces for the week…. and consider how much friends and family will eat too!
- Let us know what tips and tricks help you meet your fruit and vegetable goals!