Saturday, August 27, 2011

Fruits and Veggies - Did I Eat Any Today?

I just planted a BUNCH of broccoli and cabbage. Right about now is a good time to plant for a fall harvest in my neck of the woods. Growing your own fruits and veggies is a great frugal way to get more produce in the house and in your belly! But do you know how many servings of fruits and vegetables you should eat each day?

These foods contain important vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, fiber and antioxidants and are usually low in calories.

Munching on more fruits and vegetables is advocated by The American Heart Association, The American Cancer Society, The American Diabetes Association, is advocated in the blue zones for longevity and is supported by many diet programs like Jenny Craig for weight loss. In order to help promote longevity, stave off obesity, help prevent cancer, diabetes and heart disease - head to the produce department! One stop shopping to help prevent a number of concerns!

I even read an article the other day about some doctors turning to vegetable prescriptions to stave off diabetes and obesity - imagine that! Nutrition over prescription becoming a focus in the doctor's office! It's about time!

The standard recommendation is 5 half cup servings per day. The USDA has recently replaced the classic food pyramid with their MyPlate program for dietary recommendations. Now they recommend filling 1/2 your plate with fruits and veggies (but they also break down daily needs in terms of cups too). This makes it much easier!

The CDC has also specified how many cups of fruits and veggies an individual should have in a day, based on gender, age and activity. Check out their calculator here and see how much you should get. It says I personally need to eat about 1.5 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables throughout each day. Awesome. Now what does a cup look like on my plate??

What it looks like has a great visual pdf that I recommend you check out here. For me, a cup of fruit ends up being approximately how much I can completely cover/hold using both my hands. 2 plums, 8 strawberries, 1 bell pepper, 1 tomato, 1 ear of corn, a portion of cucumber the length of your smart phone, a couple medium carrots (they almost cover a $1 bill - for visualization). For cooked or chopped veggies at home, go ahead and pull out the measuring cups. It's not weird!

Put it into Action
Now the question is, how do I work that into my day?? It may or may not sound easy to add much fruits or vegetables to your daily diet but I have been surprised as to how often I can go without having had a single serving of fruit or vegetables in a day.

And though it's tempting to count it - I personally wouldn't make my count using deep fried veggies, veggies absolutely smothered in cheese or fruit totally coated in corn syrup.

Ideas that help me:
  • Buy the individual cups of applesauce (natural style - no corn syrup please) to throw in your lunch bag, or to munch on with breakfast. Going frugal? Buy the larger economical container and portion into reusable containers ready for grab-and-go.
  • When eating out, keep in mind which dishes contain more veggies as you make your decision. Plus you can often ask for steamed vegetables as a side instead of whatever comes with the dish you've chosen.
  • Smoothies! My favorite is toss in 1 cup frozen blueberries, 1/2 cup orange juice and 1/2 cup vanilla yogurt into the blender, then blend, baby blend!
  • Sunsweet Ones prunes - individually wrapped so you can throw some in your bag and munch anytime. Just 5 = a serving!
  • Add veggie purees to dishes you cook at home - see The Sneaky Chef - doing things like adding pureed carrots to the mac n cheese makes fitting in a few extra ounces of veggies delicious and kid approved!
  • Juice! There is a slight debate over the nutrient quality of pasteurized juices vs. fresh-made juices, however I think that if you're just trying to get in the habit of having more fruits and vegetables throughout the day - convenience is key. Once it becomes second-nature to look for these nutrition jewels throughout the day, it could be time to consider the fresh juice option for yourself. Just make sure that when you get pre-made juice that it's 100% juice.
  • Keep snack-sized fruit and veggies in a bowl at eye level in your fridge. That way when you're just looking for something to munch on, or maybe something sweet, those baby carrots or juicy strawberries might tempt you into another serving!
  • Make one of your daily snacks a fruit
  • Have a glass of 100% fruit or vegetable juice with a meal
  • I love to make Virgin Mary drinks - tomato juice and celery with a few seasonings makes a delicious couple servings of veggies!
  • Add 1/4 cup of dried fruit to your salad (which is already about a cup of veggies!) topped with light dressing or vinaigrette of course.
My personal thought is err on the side of more. If your wondering if that is enough steamed broccoli on your plate, grab another florette. Is that enough juice in my glass? Add another splash. Just do it. Your body will love you for it.

I'm always looking for great new recipes to try, looking for fun and unique meal ideas. However, in a pinch (one of those 'what do you want to eat?' 'I don't know, what do you want to eat?' kind of nights) our house tends to gravitate toward a meal of grilled meat, steamed vegetables and some rice/potato/pasta/whatever I can find. My favorite places to find great new vegetable recipes for free is either online or at the library. Search for vegetarian recipes and cookbooks, or search by food item to score a great recipe that features a particular vegetable!

If you're looking to lose a little weight, but aren't sure where to start, my personal recommendation is to start looking at the quality of what you eat - before you start thinking about cutting out entire food groups or heading for 'diet' box meal items. A great start is to see how much produce you really are squeezing into every meal. They aren't always calorie free, but they are usually more worth the calories they do provide plus they are loaded with nutrients!

Stay tuned to see how, or if, my garden grows!



  1. Keep us updated on the progress of your garden! What are you going to cook with the first batch of broccoli from your garden?

  2. Thanks! Steaming much of the broccoli is a must! But I may try making cream of broccoli soup from scratch - good whole ingredients! Yum!