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There are many good reasons to eat more fruits and vegetables.

I always say, “it’s not a meal if you don’t have a fruit or vegetable,” as a good reminder to include them as part of a meal or as a snack. The plate method can help you visualize a healthy meal. One-fourth of your plate should be protein; one-fourth should be grains or a starchy vegetable such as potatoes, corn or peas; and one half your plate should be other vegetables and fruit.

Fruit and vegetables add fiber, color, texture, flavor and many key nutrients to your diet. Natural antioxidants are found in fruit and vegetables that help prevent cancer and defend against diseases. They help keep your body healthy when eaten as part of a balanced diet. Start by eating one fruit or vegetable each day and gradually increase to three to five (or more) servings daily.

Here are 10 ways to boost your nutrition with fruit and vegetables:

1. Have a fruit smoothie

Blend fresh or frozen berries, mango or other fruit mix with a frozen banana, milk or juice and yogurt. A little liquid will help it blend better. Add ice or ice cream as desired for a frozen treat.

2. Try a salad

Toss fresh strawberries, blueberries, pineapple and mango in with your salad. Use fresh spinach greens in your salad mix for more nutrients. Toss with a light raspberry vinaigrette dressing or poppy seed dressing. This is also good with pecans and grilled chicken added for balance.

3. Add to a casserole or pasta dish

Vegetables will add flavor and fiber to your meal. They fill you up on very few calories. Add broccoli, peppers or onions to your alfredo pasta. Top with diced tomatoes. Double the vegetables in your casserole recipe.

4. On the grill

Use the grill (or oven) to roast some vegetables such as asparagus drizzled with olive oil and add a little of your favorite seasoning. Try red potatoes, sweet potatoes (sliced or diced) with mushrooms, green peppers, onion and carrots wrapped in tin foil covered with a little olive oil and your favorite seasoning, and grill until tender.

5. Add to breakfast

Try adding peppers, onions, tomatoes or spinach to your omelet or eggs while cooking. Make a breakfast burrito with whole wheat tortilla and add sautéed onion, pepper, diced tomatoes and grated cheese topping. Serve with salsa.

6. Make your own salsa

Combine fresh diced tomatoes, cilantro, onions and green peppers (dice and mix together with some seasoning such as garlic powder, pepper) for a fresh dip.

7. Eat seasonally

Fresh peaches are great in July and August. Apples are ripe in September. Eat them whole or sliced for a snack.

8. Try a stir-fry

Add a little oil to your pan and sauté some sliced chicken breast. In another pan, sauté fresh or frozen stir fry vegetables or make your own blend (pea pods, broccoli, carrots, etc.). Add your favorite seasoning or stir-fry sauce. Serve over brown rice.

9. Add vegetables to a sandwich

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Try a whole wheat wrap or pita pocket with leftover sliced chicken, roast beef or pork. Add sliced or diced cucumber, tomato, lettuce, green peppers and light ranch or your favorite dressing.

10. Check out the farmers market

Farmers markets are a great place to find vegetables and fruit you’ve never seen or tried before. Some vegetables that are in season now include beets, summer squash, eggplant, cucumbers, broccoli and kale.

Broccoli salad

Makes: 8 servings

Ingredients

  • ½ cup plain low-fat yogurt
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. honey
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 4 cups broccoli florets (about 2 crowns)
  • ¼ red onion, cut into thin strips
  • ⅓ cup dried cranberries, chopped
  • ¼ cup roasted unsalted almonds, chopped

Directions

Prepare the dressing by stirring together the yogurt, mayonnaise, vinegar, honey, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Place the broccoli florets in a colander and rinse with cool water. Drain well.

In a large bowl, combine the broccoli, red onion, cranberries and almonds. Pour the prepared dressing over the top and stir until everything is coated in dressing. Let the salad marinate for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Nutritional analysis: Per serving: 90 calories, 4 g fat, 3 g protein, 13 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 150 mg sodium

Color wheel salad

Makes: 10 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch spinach, chopped
  • 1 bunch red leaf lettuce, chopped
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 1 mango, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 lb. strawberries, hulled and sliced in half
  • 1 red pepper, sliced into thin strips and cut in half
  • 2 bosc pears, thinly sliced
  • Fresh lime, optional
  • Dressing of your choice (such as honey mustard or lemon poppyseed)

Directions

Mix spinach, lettuce and cilantro in a large bowl. Top with mango, strawberries and red pepper. Arrange fruit and red pepper in wheel pattern if desired.

Dress individual servings with lime juice and salad dressing to taste.

Nutrition analysis: Per serving (salad dressing not included): 70 calories, 0 g fat, 2 g protein, 16 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 20 mg sodium

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Angie Kohlwey is a Gundersen Health System registered dietitian.

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