I am in my second year as an invited Produce for Better Health Foundation volunteer Fruit and Vegetable Ambassador. In this role, I promote the fun, flavor and benefits of produce in a variety of ways every month. This is my January contribution for which I received no financial compensation.
For many folks, kicking off a new year means making resolutions, often admirable but frequently difficult to maintain. In fact, just 40% of us stick with them for 6 months and a mere 19% for 2 years according to University of Scranton psychology professor John Norcross, PhD, who has studied compliance to New Year’s resolutions,
One strategy that may help is making resolutions more achievable. Aim for evolutionary change, not revolutionary change. Making small steps will add up to big changes over time. This makes them less daunting.
As a registered dietitian nutritionist, one of my goals is to find ways to encourage people to eat well-balanced, nutrient-rich meals and snacks they will enjoy. We all know eating fruits and vegetables is good for us but it’s still where most people fall short. And this is confirmed in the new 2020 – 2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which say 75% of Americans are not eating enough fruits and veggies.
But how can we boost fruit and veggies in our meals so it’s less of a challenge and more of an easy and natural part of everyday life? First, don’t think of them just for their health benefits but focus on the fun, flavor and fitness potential they also provide. Then find easy, tasty ways to do that.
While the Dietary Guidelines recommend 2 ½ cups of veggies and 1 ½ cups of fruit a day, you don’t need to achieve this the first day. Instead, start slowly and make just one change each month over the next year. Rather than resolutions that go by the wayside, create “plant-entions” that are easy to stick with. Here’s a month-by-month guide with ideas.
January: Add a fruit or veggie at breakfast. This can be as easy as drinking a 6-ounces of 100% orange, grapefruit or tomato juice or adding banana, raisins or another fruit to your cereal.
February: Add a fruit or veggie at lunch. Layer a sandwich with lettuce and tomato or add sliced pears to a grilled cheese sandwich, opt for a small salad with your meal or grab a piece of fresh fruit for dessert.
March: Add a fruit or veggie at dinner. Double up your veggie intake by topping a baked potato with steamed veggies and cheese or a heaping helping of salsa. Or how about a green salad with fresh or canned peaches or pineapples slices topped with cottage cheese?
April: Eat a fruit or veggie for a snack. Keep small boxes of raisins in your desk drawer at work or stuff celery sticks with spreadable cheese or peanut butter.
May: Sneak in a fruit or veggie at breakfast. Scrambling up some eggs? Stir in canned diced tomatoes and green chilies for added color and flavor. Or spread your English muffin, bagel or toast with mashed avocado in place of cream cheese or jelly.
June: Sneak in a fruit or veggie at lunch. Add diced celery or apple to tuna or chicken salad or zap a half cup of frozen blueberries or other frozen fruit in the microwave at 50% power for 45 seconds and combine with yogurt.
July: Sneak in fruits and veggies at dinner. Cooking chicken or steak on the grill? Cut the meat into chunks and thread on a skewer for kabobs with cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, squash, pineapple, bell pepper and more. Or pour your spaghetti sauce over spiralized veggies. Don’t have a spiralizer or want to go to the trouble? No problem. You can buy frozen spiralized zucchini and carrots that cook in the microwave in minutes.
August: Sneak in fruits and veggies at snacks. Dip tortilla chips, sliced carrots or cucumbers in a vegetable-based dip like guacamole, salsa or hummus. Or instead of a package of nuts, make your own snack bags with nuts plus raisins or dried cranberries.
September: Add fruits and veggies when dining out. Produce is not always front and center on restaurant menus. Whether it’s a casual cafe, ritzy restaurant or the fast food drive-through, you can find options to add to your meal. Add a side salad to your meal if that’s a choice. Also, peruse the sides on the menu and select a green or yellow veggie to go with your entree. Finally, look for a dessert with fruit as an ingredient or ask for a fruit plate if it’s not on the menu.
October: Boost the taste appeal of fall produce. Fall brings an array of delicious vegetables like Brussels sprouts, acorn and butternut squash, turnips and carrots. To truly bring out their natural sweetness and flavor, try roasting them in the oven. This recipe for Pan Roasted Root Vegetables can be used with other veggies, too.
November: Add fruits and veggies to beverages. Bored with plain old water? Jazz it up a bit by making a juice spritzer with half juice and half sparkling water. For a more substantial snack or a quick breakfast on-the-go, whip up a smoothie with yogurt, banana, frozen mango and orange juice. And for holiday drinks, try a Cranberry Sour or Holiday Rosé.
December: Boost fruits and veggies in holiday meals. From appetizers like Mini Quiches to Apple Cranberry Stuffing, Mandarins & Beet Holiday Salad, Herb-Topped Beef with Roasted Cauliflower and Apple Pie, there’s not an item on the menu that can’t include fruits and veggies!
Remember that life is a marathon, not a sprint. Change takes time and so do results. By taking small, simple steps each month, you’ll be sure to have a happy, healthy 2021!
For more information plus fun and flavorful ways to add more fruits and veggies to your meals and snacks, check out https://fruitsandveggies.org
MS, RDN, LD, FAND
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