When you think about what to make for dinner, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Chicken? Fish? Pasta? I think many of us have been trained by generations before us to think of the protein on our plate as the star of the meal each night when we sit down to dinner. Maybe it’s time to change that and make fruits and vegetables the star. I’m not saying we all become vegetarians, but why should meat always be the focus of what’s for dinner?
Do you remember the commercial from the 90’s?: “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner.” Well yes, it is one option, but there are many other items on that plate that are just as important for your health as the protein that sits next to it. If you start with a beautiful piece of produce, and work around that as you plan your meal, you will find that you’re eating more vegetables with much more enthusiasm. Whether you like them steamed, raw, stir-fried, or roasted, you should aim to have half your plate consist of fruits and vegetables. Our bodies need the phytonutrients to thrive!
In 2011, the USDA created “my plate” as a guide for how the American plate should look at each meal. This visual has been around for five years, but do you actually do this? My guess is many of you serve half your meal as a protein, with the rest as vegetables and grains or starch. Many restaurants don’t follow this plan either, especially the fast food options and the many chain restaurants that exist in our culture. If you let fruits and vegetables shine their way to take up half that plate, you will be on a better path to eating better overall.
The current recommendation for number of servings per day in a 2,000 calorie diet is 2 1/2 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit, per person. A variety of fruits and vegetables is recommended, as the different sub-groups are responsible for different nutrients needed by the body. Amounts can very depending on weight, age, and physical activity level. If you choose to eat more than the recommended amount, kudos to you! You are with the minority of Americans, but keep it up! In 2010, the CDC conducted a survey which indicated that only 33 percent of adults met the recommendation for fruit consumption and 27 percent got the recommended servings of vegetables. The numbers for teenagers are even lower.
I challenge each of you to start thinking of how your plate is going to look before you plan your next meal. If you visualize it before you go to the grocery store, before you cook, or before you order in a restaurant, chances are you will be more successful in adding in more fruits and vegetables to your diet.
Here are some tips to help the fruits and vegetables shine on your plate:
- Eat lots of fresh salads.
- When eating out, share an entree with a friend or family member, and each order an extra vegetable side or green salad. This will help balance out your plate.
- Choose fresh, local produce when available. Let local and in season ingredients inspire your next meal. This is easier to do in the summer when the bounty is fuller, but you can also cook root vegetables in the winter, or buy from the year-round selection at the grocery store.
- Have a supply of frozen vegetables in your freezer. These vegetables are frozen at their peak ripeness, so they can sometimes be fresher than items that travel on a truck or sit on a grocery store shelf for a few days.
- Keep fruit on hand that can be sliced or peeled, and added to a meal for a nice treat. This works especially well with children.
- Make a “stir-fry” night each week. You can use the vegetables you bought at the farmer’s market and grocery store, or you can pull something out of the freezer if you don’t have anything fresh on hand. Add in your favorite protein like pastured chicken, wild-caught fish or organic tofu. You can change up the protein and veggies each week, so you don’t get burned out on eating the same thing over and over. If you have picky children, this is a great way to put a colorful meal in front of them and let them pick the vegetables they want to eat, and eventually build up to eating the whole dish.
- Try roasting vegetables. I like to use a healthy oil like coconut oil or avocado oil, and roast chopped vegetables in a 400 degree oven for about 10-15 minutes. Roasting brings out the flavor of vegetables, and is also delicious reheated the next day in a skillet.
- Keep cut up vegetables in your fridge for snacks, and to put on the plate when you are in a hurry. This is also a good idea to do if you have picky eaters who don’t like the texture of many cooked vegetables. I give my kids raw vegetables almost every night with dinner and they gobble them up!
- Try having a veggie night each week. There is no need to scour the internet for vegetarian recipes – just cook what’s in season and put it all together on a plate. Let your family have input, and let the children help you prepare them. In the summer, my favorite combination is corn, tomatoes, black-eyed peas and steamed okra. Yum! In the winter you could try a pasta dish with pureed vegetables in the sauce. Many times the extra vegetables just give the sauce more depth of flavor, and can create a sweetness that enhances any tomato sauce.
- Create delicious winter soups that are loaded with vegetables!
- Try a veggie pizza with toppings like mushrooms, peppers, onions, spinach and fresh tomatoes.
- Be careful of pre-seasoned canned or frozen vegetables, as the seasonings or sauce can add extra calories, saturated fats, sodium and sometimes even MSG (a big no-no!)
- Look into adding a whole food fruit and vegetable supplement to fill in the gaps where your diet may be lacking. Contact me for more information on this.
Use these tips to help you with your fruit and vegetable intake. If you are still struggling, you may want to try and measure out the proper serving sizes until you get a feel for how much is enough for you each day. It may take some time to change old habits, but keep adding in more until you reach your daily goal on a regular basis.