Take A Produce Stand and vegetables. Study after study is making the link between diets high in fruits and vegetables, and lower incidences of many ailments and even the recent nutritional guidelines set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommend, on average, two cups of fruit and 2½ cups of vegetables per day for those on an average 2000-calorie diet.
It seems there’s an unending stream of reasons to get more greens—and oranges, and yellows, and reds—into our diet. But sometimes, all the research in the world still isn’t enough to get the broccoli onto our plates. Lack of familiarity with the different varieties, tastes, and preparation methods for produce can turn us away. If we haven’t tasted it before, or aren’t quite sure how to cook it, it just doesn’t make it into our grocery cart. Or, even if it does, we still fall into a rut of eating the same one or two items that we’re familiar with. But there’s so much more just waiting to be had!
When it comes to your choices in the produce aisle, think about mixing it up a little. Expand your options and uncover some new things to eat. With a little know-how, and some gumption to ask around, your menu can become as colorful as the local farmer’s market.
Try some of these ideas for”produce”-ing a well-rounded diet:
1. Take your time in the produce aisle.
Next time you’re at the grocery store, instead of whizzing through the produce aisle grabbing one bag of baby carrots, stop for a few minutes and look around. Head toward those leafy things you’ve never noticed before, or stop in front of the organic herb section. Nowadays even the smallest stores have a variety of offerings, complete with point-of-purchase nutrition labels and sometimes even recipe or cooking instructions nearby. Look for these things. And if you don’t see them, ask for the produce manager. She’s familiar with her stock and can offer a whole host of suggestions, from flavor and taste recommendations to cooking and prep ideas. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for a sample. Many stores willingly offer samples and will even cut up a piece for you to taste on the spot—you just have to ask.
2. Go to the organic or health food grocery store in town.
You’ve probably passed by it at one time or another—that health food grocery store in the strip mall by your house. Some Saturday morning, why not stop by? You may be amazed not only at the foods you’ll find but also by the ideas and information you can gather there. Again, poke around and don’t be afraid to ask questions. At these stores, you may even find a class going on, or a list of ones for which you can sign up, to teach you everything from how to grow fruit and vegetables, to unique ways to cook and serve them up.
3. Head to your local bookstore.
If grocery stores aren’t your resource of choice, why not head to the local bookstore or library and do a little research on not-so-common fruit and vegetables? Or log on to the web and hunt down some great cookbooks or fruit and veggie guidebooks— there are plenty to choose from. Hone up on those items you see in the produce aisle but don’t recognize, and learn just how to prepare them for your family. Consider it a treasure hunt of sorts…as you uncover more about products, you may just discover one of your all-time treasured and favorite foods.
4. Try new things when dining out.
Why not order something different, like a vegetarian dish, the next time you’re out? Go for that food on the menu that has ingredients and vegetables you just can’t pronounce, and see how the best chefs serve it up. It may seem like a risk, but remember, nothing ventured, nothing gained!
5. Check out the local farmer’s market.
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, fresh is best, so nothing beats your local farmer’s market or local farm or apple orchard. Whether it’s summertime tomatoes and strawberries, or squash and apples in the fall, the local Saturday morning farmer’s market has great things. Buying what’s in season throughout the year will also assure that your diet gets great variety, month after month.
6. Try fresh, frozen, and even canned.
Although fresh is best, sometimes fresh isn’t, well, really”fresh.” At some grocery chains, the”fresh” produce has often been picked weeks ago, and been on the road or sitting in distribution centers many days before you see it. Sometimes, if you can’t find locally grown produce in your stores, frozen and canned options are good alternatives. Contrary to popular belief, many canned options contain equal nutritional value as their fresh counterparts, and sometimes canning even makes the product’s nutrients easier to absorb. You just need to read the label carefully and watch the sodium content of canned items. Also, consider not rinsing or draining their liquid—the brine can contain many valuable vitamins and minerals and should be used in recipes and for serving. Frozen vegetables are also a great choice, and come in very handy in the kitchen. Ready to use at any time, frozen produce is usually processed within hours of harvest, locking in key nutrients until you’re ready to unlock them.
7. Mix it up.
Variety doesn’t just apply to what you buy; it’s also important when it comes to preparing your fruits and veggies. Get creative. There’s really not much you can do to harm produce, besides maybe overcooking it a little, and even then, it’s still edible. Combine, marinate, slice, dice and chop to come up with your own unique ways to serve it up. Grill, broil, microwave, or steam and see what you can create. Slice up some eggplant and throw it on the grill; stir-fry a frozen bag of oriental vegetables in three minutes flat; finely chop some sprouts or parsley and add it to your favorite NS dinner entrée—the possibilities are endless.
The key to getting your fruit and vegetable servings in really lies in being open to trying new things, and resolute about shopping and keeping fresh produce on hand at home. So take a stand today—a fruit and vegetable one—and commit to giving your body exactly what it deserves (and may actually come to love) all year round.
A Variety of Vitamins
When it comes to fruit and vegetables, all varieties are not created equal. Some have a good amount of Vitamin A; others boost your Vitamin C levels; still, others are a great source of fiber. So when you’re choosing products to complete your meal plan, it’s important to get a wide variety.