In June 2011, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced MyPlate as its new nutrition guide. Both MyPlate and the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans promote integrating more balance into the American diet, while adding emphasis to eating more plant foods by making half of the food on American's plates fruits and vegetables. Likewise, experts suggest that we eat 5–9 servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
Despite the concensus that Americans need to eat more fruits and vegetables, a 2013 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), showed that only 13.1% of Americans surveyed actually do eat the recommended amount fruits and vegetables every day. But...why?
While there is no one single answer, health professionals suggest that many of us simply don't know how to put these health recommendations into practice. We're cooking less, eating out more, and are frequently eating on the run. What we need are the tools to make eating more fruits and vegetables quick, convenient, and easy. Try these ideas to help you add more fruits and vegetables into your daily routine—quickly and easily.
Shopping & Storage Strategies
- Choose fresh fruits and vegetables that keep well for a week or more: apples, grapefruit, oranges, artichokes, beets, cabbage, carrots, celery, kale, onions, parsnips, potatoes, squash, and sweet potatoes.
- Look for produce that is locally grown (in New Jersey, that's "Jersey Fresh"). Fruits and vegetables that are grown locally do not travel as long and are typically fresher and tastier than foods transported long distances.
- Shop with a friend in mind. Share a bunch of celery or a melon. Split a bag of peppers or apples. Sharing gives you variety without the waste.
- Buy frozen fruits and vegetables in bags, rather than boxes. You can use as much or as little as you want. Then, tie up the bag to preserve flavor and store what is left for another time.
- Store unused portions of fresh veggies (like peppers, onions, celery, and mushrooms) in plastic freezer bags or small containers to use later in pastas or stir-fries.
- Mix leftover pasta with chopped vegetables and low-fat salad dressing for a tasty pasta salad.
- Stop by the salad bar at your local grocery store and make a nice salad with a variety of different fresh fruits and vegetables. You get variety without buying large amounts of many vegetables and fruits. And, you don't spend time cutting and chopping.
- Buy extra salad and roll it in a whole wheat tortilla for lunch or the following day's dinner. For extra flavor, add beans, chicken or shredded cheese.
- Add some greens to your burger. Thaw a box of frozen chopped spinach; squeeze out the water. Add to ground beef or ground turkey and make your burgers more nutritious.
- Use starchy vegetables like potatoes as thickeners for soups, stews and gravies. Just puree and add it in.
- Pair cucumbers, carrots, and celery sticks with hummus or salad dressings, as a healthy snack.
- Incorporate frozen berries or shredded carrots/zucchini to bakery items and breads you prepare at home.
Give Prepared Foods a Boost
- Lightly sauté fresh vegetables such as broccoli, onions, mushrooms, peppers, carrots, and eggplant, and add to jarred pasta sauce. Serve over whole wheat pasta.
- Perk up take-out or frozen pizza with pineapple, chopped tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, broccoli, onions, or other favorite vegetable.
- Pair pizza with a salad or steamed vegetables for a wholesome, healthy meal.
- Top frozen whole-grain waffles with peanut butter, and fresh or frozen fruit.
- Like Mexican food? Warm canned pinto beans or fat-free/reduced-fat refried beans in the microwave. Add low-fat or non-fat cheese, vegetables, and salsa, and roll mixture in a whole wheat tortilla.
- Add raisins or other dried fruit (dried cranberries or cherries work well), chopped walnuts, and celery to prepackaged salad. Top with reduced-fat dressing or balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
- Create your own special soup. Add chopped vegetables to tomato, lentil, bean, or chicken noodle soup.
- Pick up a fresh fruit cup at the local grocery store or convenience store. Pair it with low-fat or non-fat cheese and crackers, yogurt, or cottage cheese for an on-the-go snack or meal.
- In a blender, combine yogurt, ice, milk, and your favorite fruit and vegetable (strawberries, bananas, pineapples, mangoes, blueberries or peaches; avocados) to create a tasty smoothie.
- Add vegetables—such as onions, peppers, mushrooms, or tomatoes—to chicken or beef skewers when grilling for added color and flavor.
For More Information
Family and Community Health Sciences (FCHS) works with families, schools, and communities to promote healthy eating and active lifestyles. Visit njaes.rutgers.edu/fchs for information on all of our programs, and learn how to bring them to your school, worksite, or community organization. Visit these websites for more ideas on adding more fruits and vegetables to your daily routine:
- The USDA's resource list for yummy recipes and helpful tips to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into meals. choosemyplate.gov/recipes-cookbooks-and-menus
- The Produce for Better Health Foundation's website features recipes, meal planning ideas and suggestions on how to reach out to kids. fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org
- FCHS' Get Moving - Get Healthy New Jersey website outlines encourages a healthy lifestyle, especially healthy eating and physical activity, thorough educational programs. getmovinggethealthynj.rutgers.edu
Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
Source: The White House Recipes cookbook.
- 1 lb. penne (wheat)
- 1 cup milk (2% or skim)
- 1 lb. shredded cheddar cheese
- ½ head cauliflower florets
- ¼ cup parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- salt and pepper to taste
- Bring salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente. In the meantime, cook the cauliflower until soft and transfer in a blender to puree.
- In a medium sized pan, transfer the pasta and pour the cauliflower puree in. Add the milk, cheese and season to taste.
- Sprinkle chopped parsley.
- Serve immediately.
Serves 6 or more.
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For more information: njaes.rutgers.edu.
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