Source from Everyday Health, Written by Julie Davis, Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
Almost all of us can benefit from including more fruits and vegetables in our diet. In fact, the American Cancer Society recommends that most adults eat at least two and a half cups of vegetables and fruit per day to help lower cancer risk. So how can you pick the best produce and incorporate it into your family’s meals?
Picking and Handling Produce
Your first rule of thumb when buying produce is to make sure it’s fresh. Next, avoid any fruits or vegetables with blemishes, cuts, bruises, or other soft spots. Any cut fruits or vegetables should be sold from refrigerated displays in your market.
Fruit will ripen at room temperature. Most vegetables and already ripe fruit should be refrigerated to stop the ripening process and prevent spoiling. Wash produce under cool running water before eating or cooking; use your hands or a vegetable brush to clean them off well.
The Fruit and Vegetable Habit
“I try to look at a person’s diet and find ways to throw in a fruit or a vegetable to make a habit of it,” says dietitian Julia Hincman, MS, RD, LDN, of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. She gives her patients food associations to get them to rethink how and what they eat: If you’re having cereal, slice a banana on top. If you’re running out with a granola bar, take an apple, too. “I encourage people to have patterns of frequency, so that they’re thinking, ‘I wake up in the morning and this is what I do,'” explains Hincman.
Find ways to make a gradual shift to eating more vegetables and fruits, like adding a lettuce leaf and a slice of tomato to a sandwich. “If you usually have crackers with dip, switch to half crackers and half carrots or celery,” Hincman suggests. “Have yogurt, but never eat it without fruit. Every other day, switch an apple for chips with your sandwich. Start dinner with a side salad.”
Hincman believes it’s okay to make fruit and vegetable choices based on convenience. Frozen vegetables, for example, are easy to work into your diet, especially if you are cooking for only one or two. Always keep vegetables in the freezer, so you can quickly throw them in the microwave for a quick meal or side dish.
Healthy Cooking Techniques for Fruits and Vegetables
To preserve the color, taste, and nutrients of vegetables, the best cooking methods are the quickest ones and those that use the least amount of water (nutrients can leech out into the water and be lost). Steaming in a rack above simmering water, grilling, microwaving, and quick sautéing or stir-frying — using a small amount of a healthy oil, like olive or canola — are all great options. Experiment with herbs rather than butter to add flavor to vegetables. Roasting dense vegetables, like potatoes, often brings out their flavor better.
Baking, poaching, and stewing are techniques that best bring out the fruits’ flavors — with little effort. Try an easy recipe like Pomegranate Poached Pears, with fruit cooked in dessert wine for a sophisticated taste. Baked Apples With Dried Fruits and Walnuts mixes a few different fruits with spices to create a delicious dessert that satisfies a sweet tooth.
Enriching Recipes With Fruits and Vegetables
If your family turns away from vegetables as a side dish and resists eating a plain piece of fruit for dessert, it’s time to make these foods part of the main dish. Here are 10 ideas to get you started:
- Adapt a favorite recipe to include vegetables in addition to or instead of some of the meat. In vegetarian recipes like Vegetable Lasagna, layering in veggies with sauce and pasta is a snap.
- Use pureed potatoes instead of cream to thicken cream-style soups, filling enough to be a meal in itself with a side salad.
- The next time you order or make a pizza, have it sprinkled with chopped olives, bell pepper rings, broccoli buds, and sliced mushrooms.
- Expand recipes with a cup or two of diced or chopped vegetables. Try adding carrots, peas, and cut green beans to most packaged or homemade soups and sauces. Fold shredded carrots or zucchini into the batter for loaf cakes and muffins. And use extra beans, dried peas, and lentils in hearty stews and vegetarian recipes like meatless chili.
- If your family resists vegetables cooked the usual way, try broiling or grilling zucchini, bell peppers, eggplant, mushrooms like portobellos (which have the firmness of steak after cooking), and tomatoes just until they are seared or their edges blacken. An easy recipe is to skewer veggie chunks as you would meat kebabs — cover them lightly with oil-based spray and put them over the heat.
- Making kebabs of fruit is a fun way to serve melon, pineapple, pears, and apples — raw or grilled for a few minutes to heighten their taste. You can serve vanilla or lemon yogurt on the side as a dip.
- Get the kids involved in healthy cooking. Try a fun dessert like Blueberry Mango Upside Down Cake; they’ll enjoy placing the fruit in a pattern on the bottom of the baking dish, and the whole-wheat pastry flour and fat-free milk boost the recipe’s nutrition benefits even further.
- Fruit easily lends itself to many breakfast dishes — create a happy face on hot oatmeal with blueberries or banana slices or fold berries into pancake or waffle batter. For a fresher fast breakfast, stir your own sliced or diced fruit, like strawberries or peaches, into thick plain or vanilla zero-fat yogurt.
- Chicken salad tastes even better with halved grapes, apple cubes, and some chopped red cabbage. For tuna salad, add a dice of red pepper, celery, and onions. Both can be served in lettuce leaf wraps instead of on bread, a great way to get in some extra leafy greens.
- Think of a vegetable- or a fruit-based salsa instead of a fattening sauce or gravy as an easy topping for chicken, meat, or fish.
Breakfast, lunch, or dinner — any meal can get a nutritional boost from fruits and vegetables — all it takes is a little ingenuity.