Many Americans are not eating enough fruits and vegetables even though it is well known that they are important components of a healthy diet. Some common excuses for skimping on fruits and vegetables include inconvenience, unpalatability, uncertainty or unfamiliarity of preparation methods, frequent dining out, quick spoilage, and high costs of fresh fruits and vegetables. Excuses aside, Americans should be eating 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Fruits and vegetables contain a lot of important vitamins and minerals that can help prevent illnesses and diseases. Eating them can also help with weight loss and weight management. Fruits and vegetables can also add more color, texture, and flavor to meals and snacks as well. Even with busy lifestyles, the rising prices of groceries, and extensive availability of fast dining options, fruits and vegetables can be an easy part of every person's daily routine.

There are several ways to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat every day that are simple, tasty, and practical. If you are unsure how many fruits and vegetables you should be eating daily, a good rule of thumb is to make them half of your plate at each meal or eat at least 2 cups of fruit and 2 ½ cups of vegetables daily. There are several websites that can also guide you. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a Fruit and Vegetable Calculator, available at http://cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/fruitsvegetables/howmany.html. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) also has a food tracker that will give you a personalized recommendation for daily servings of fruits and vegetables, available at http://choosemyplate.gov.

Including fruits and vegetables at every meal is an easy way to get the amount of daily servings you need. Vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, bell peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, squash, and zucchini are colorful additions to favorite recipes and foods such as pizza, casseroles, salads, sandwiches, and soups. Fruits make delicious toppings on cereal, oatmeal, French toast or waffles, yogurt, sandwiches, and salads. They are also are great for smoothies. Fruits and vegetables also make simple and enjoyable snacks that require little to no preparation. Here are some quick snack ideas that are around 100 calories or less:
• a medium-size apple (72 calories)
•a medium-size banana (105 calories)
•1 cup steamed green beans (44 calories)
•1 cup blueberries (83 calories)
•1 cup grapes (100 calories)
•1 cup carrots (45 calories), broccoli (30 calories), or bell peppers (30 calories) with 2 tablespoons hummus (46 calories) or light honey mustard dressing (50 calories)

Vegetables can be prepared in different ways, such as grilling, steaming, sautéing and baking, and there are a lot of different seasonings available in the spice and herb aisle that can add different new flavors to vegetable dishes. Try experimenting with new recipes and go meatless for dinner or other meals. Another great way to add more vegetables is to chop, grate, or shred them and add to rice, pasta, mashed potatoes, bread, muffins, meat loaf, or marinara.

Some people may not know how to cook or do not have a lot of time to cook, but this should not hinder them from including fruits and vegetables at every meal. A simple solution for people who don't know how to cook or have limited time is to keep their freezer stocked with frozen vegetables that steam in the microwave or cook quickly on the stovetop for side dishes. Fruits such as grapes, apples, and bananas can be quick and easy additions to any meal or snack and do not require cooking or preparation. Salad greens and salad fixings such as carrots, bell peppers, mushrooms, olives, shredded cabbage, tomatoes, and onions do not take much time to prepare and make a great side dish or main entrée on busy nights. Buying a cookbook or taking a cooking class can provide easy ideas and instruction on different ways to cook with fruits and vegetables.

For people who frequently eat out, this should not be a deterrent from including fruits and vegetables at meals eaten away from home. More and more restaurants are offering healthy substitutes and options; instead of ordering that side of fries, choose the fruit cup or side salad instead. Many menu items can also be ordered with additional fruits and vegetables by simply asking.

Cost and quick spoilage cause many people to hesitate from buying fresh produce. If the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables is an issue, one easy way to include these into the grocery budget is to buy produce that is in season. The website Fruits & Veggies More Matters includes information on what fruits and vegetables are in season throughout the year, available at: http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/what-fruits-and-vegetables-are-in-season. Purchasing fruit and vegetables that are frozen, dried, or canned, as well as fruit and vegetable juice, can cut down on costs as well. Fresh fruits and vegetables can spoil quickly but properly storing them can help slow this. Buying smaller quantities of fresh produce every few days and using it within a couple of days can reduce the amount that spoils and has to be thrown out. Frozen fruits and vegetables can be kept much longer than fresh and can easily be substituted into recipes.

If lack of motivation is what is stopping someone from eating fruits and vegetables, they should consider of all of the health benefits they are missing out on. Fruits and vegetables may help reduce the risk of certain cancers, cardiovascular disease (e.g. heart disease and stroke), and diabetes. They are also naturally low in calories and fat, which can assist in weight loss and weight management. It's important to eat enough fruits and vegetables because they contain nutrients such as fiber, folate, potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C that promote good health.

Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. Eating enough every day can help prevent chronic disease, as well as aid in weight management and overall wellness. They make great healthy snacks, additions to favorite recipes, and they can be prepared in many different ways. Increasing the daily amount of fruits and vegetables is as simple as substituting them for less healthy options when eating out, stocking your freezer and buying fruits and vegetables that are in season, packing a quick snack, and preparing them with different spices and herbs. With these easy tips, eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily is simple, tasty, and feasible.

Page last updated Thu January 31st, 2013 at 00:00