Category Archives: Fruits and Veggies

Better Health in Your Own Backyard

Anyone who has ever eaten a freshly picked fruit or vegetable will agree: there is nothing as satisfying or delicious as garden-fresh produce. And with spring finally here, there’s no better time to start a vegetable garden so that you too can enjoy the fruits of this season’s bounty.  To learn how to pick, plant, and prosper from your very own vegetable garden, just follow the tips below.

Step 1: Choose plants for your climate.  When deciding which produce to plant, consider what foods will thrive in your climate. Most seed packets state the climate the plant prefers, so pay close attention. Generally, plants prefer to grow in warm, moist soil with plenty of water. In California, however, water is a scarce commodity, so plants that require little water are an ideal choice. Onions, lettuce, potatoes, or even apple and orange trees are tasty examples that grow well in a variety of soils and climates. If you don’t have the space or desired climate for an outdoor garden, you can always opt for an indoor garden. Smaller plants such as tomatoes, peppers, and herbs, are wonderful low maintenance, indoor options. Just remember to place them in a well-lit area and water them a couple times a week.

Step 2: Prep your planting site. To begin, start by picking a planting site. This site should be in a well-drained and level area that receives a large amount of sunlight on a daily basis. Next, it’s important to ensure that you have nutrient-rich soil in order to grow a healthy and successful garden. Start by clearing your planting site of all weeds, sod, and debris. The size of the area that you clear will depend upon the amount of space your garden needs. Once this is done, you’ll need to loosen the soil to aerate it so that oxygen can reach the plant’s roots more readily. This is also a good time to incorporate compost or fertilizer into the soil to add more nutrients. If your soil is beyond repair, considering building raised beds or opt for a hanging garden.

Step 3: Plant your garden.  When all of the prep work is completed, you can finally plant your garden. Most seeds have planting instructions on the back of the packet, but if not, plant your seeds 1/4-1/2 inches in the ground leaving a 1-2 inches in between.  For larger plants that have already started growing, place them in a deep enough hole to cover the starter soil. Cover all holes with fresh soil and water liberally to initiate nutrient uptake in the roots. Then, wait for your plants to grow and in a few months you’ll be able to enjoy the fruits (and veggies) of your labor.

Gardening Tools

Here’s a list of five essential tools any gardener should have.

  1. A gardening spade and shovel are a definite must for gardening. A good quality shovel allows you to move soil quickly, while a spade ensures perfect sized holes for all your fruits and vegetables.
  2. If you’ve ever tried gardening, but forgot to remove the weeds first, then you know how indispensable a weeding tool is. Weeds are devious creatures that work to destroy your garden by choking out the plants you’re trying to grow, so it is of utmost importance that you remove as many of them as you can. Don’t forget to remove the small pieces, too. Weeds multiply quickly, so even the smallest piece can cause damage.
  3. A wheelbarrow is another handy tool to have while gardening. It saves your back the trouble of carrying heavy bags of soil around and helps to organize your mess.
  4. While plants thrive in ample amounts of sunlight, too much can be harmful to us. A sun hat is highly recommended to wear while gardening. Protecting your face from the sun’s intense rays will stave off future headaches and allow you to enjoy the beauties of your garden.
  5. Kneeling to plant and care for your garden can take a toll on your knees. Invest in a padded knee mat for a much more enjoyable gardening experience.

For tasty recipes ideas that use common vegetable garden items, check out these links:

Written with assistance from nutrition intern, Natasha Fowler.

Make Room on the Grill for Fruits and Veggies

A guest post from the Produce for Better Health Foundation.

Summer and grilling go together perfectly! Cooking outside on the grill offers plenty of advantages that make mealtime easy, convenient, and tasty. Preparation is simple, it requires minimal clean-up, and the kitchen stays cool. Add variety to meals and lighten up the menu by tossing some healthy fruits and vegetables on the grill.

There are several great reasons to grill fruits and veggies. USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommends filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal and snack. Grilling is an easy, and tasty, way to fulfill that recommendation. Fruit naturally contains sugar and, when combined with the heat of the grill, it caramelizes, making the fruit taste even sweeter. Grilled vegetables are delicious, healthy, easy to cook, and they offer countless options from which to choose. Once you grill fruits and vegetables, their wonderful flavor will have you doing it again and again.

There are hundreds of different grilling ideas for fruits and vegetables. Grill peaches and nectarines then dice them and make a salsa by adding fresh herbs, chili peppers and lime juice. Grill corn on the cob by husking it, sprinkling on a mix of seasonings such as oregano, pepper, chili powder and salt with a touch of butter, then wrap in aluminum foil and grill until tender. Or grill your dessert! Slice pealed bananas in half lengthwise and sprinkle with cinnamon and brown sugar, place on aluminum foil flat side down, and let it sizzle. It’s unexpected and delicious!

Eating a colorful variety of fruits and veggies provides a wide range of valuable nutrients like fiber, vitamins and potassium, and most Americans aren’t eating enough of them. Grilling is a delicious and fun way to add more fruits and vegetables to your summertime meals.

The Fruits & Veggies—More Matters website, www.FruitsAndVeggiesMoreMatters.org, has even more tips on grilling fruits and vegetables and advice on gearing up for the grill. There you’ll also find user-friendly advice on how to add more fruits and vegetables to your diet; including, recipes, nutrition information, tips for getting kids to eat fruits and vegetables, and even videos. Check out the videos that discuss grilling peaches and nectarines, asparagus, watermelon, avocados, bell peppers, and even canned fruits & veggies!

Spaghetti Squash: Healthy, Easy, Fun!

I have a new love… spaghetti squash.  This nutrient-rich vegetable can replace pasta in any of your favorite recipes.  It adds a little color, a slight crunch, and will leave you feeling light and energized, because it has 1/4 the calories of regular pasta.

Here’s a quick and easy way to cook it in the microwave:

  1. Cut the squash in half.  This is the hardest part.  Use a good knife and a little force.
  2. Scoop out the seeds and toss.
  3. Place the squash halves cut-side down on a plate and microwave, for about 6-7 minutes per half.  (So if you do both halves together, it willtake about 12 minutes.)
  4. Allow it to cool, and then use a fork or spoon to tease out the spaghetti-like strands.
Top with your favorite pasta sauce and enjoy!  I really loved this recipe from AllRecipes.com.

Cut Calories by Eating More Fruits & Veggies

A guest post from the Produce for Better Health Foundation.

According to a new study from the International Food Information Council, 50 percent of respondents consider themselves overweight, yet only nine percent keep track of how many calories they eat in a day. Research shows that people who pay attention to how many calories they’re eating lose more weight than those who don’t. So why aren’t more of us keeping track of the calories we eat?

Study respondents said that keeping track of calories is extremely difficult, and that they lack interest in or knowledge about how to count calories. Some even said they aren’t convinced that counting calories matters.

One way to lower the amount of calories in meals without counting them is to substitute extra fruits and vegetables for some of the other items on your plate. Cut back your meat and starch portions and add extra veggies. Skip that fatty, baked dessert, ice cream, or candy, and have a piece of fruit instead.

Fruits and vegetables offer more nutrition per calorie than other foods and eating them is an important part of any weight management program. Eating more fruits and veggies is a simple way to cut down on the number of calories you consume each day without any complicated math. The USDA’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables at every meal or snack as a way to make sure you are eating enough of these healthy, low-calorie foods.

Extreme Zucchini is one of many kid-friendly recipes you’ll find on the Fruits & Veggies—More Matters website. These recipes make it easy to add more fruits and vegetables to meals and snacks in new, delicious ways.

The Fruits & Veggies—More Matters website, www.FruitsAndVeggiesMoreMatters.org, has a wide array of tips and advice for eating more fruits and vegetables, along with a database of over 1,000 recipes, many of which can be made in 30 minutes or less. There is a Video Center with videos about fruit and vegetables selection, storage, and preparation, and a planning and shopping section with tips for eating healthy on a budget.

The Fruits & Veggies—More Matters website also has a Weekly Healthy Menu Idea and a Recipe of the Week. Pivonka adds that, in addition to reading them online, consumers can sign up to receive them via email every week.

Increase Children’s Fruit & Veggie Consumption with a Smile

A guest post by the Produce for Better Health Foundation.

A study, published in the journal Obesity, suggests that if parents smile while eating something that they want their children to eat that those kids are more likely to try it. Researchers found that how much children wanted to eat a particular food was influenced by emotions displayed by people eating that food.

These results build on a study published in late 2008 in the journal Preventive Medicine suggesting that parents can increase the amount of fruits and vegetables their children eat simply by eating more themselves. In this study, researchers found that when parents increased their own consumption of fruits and veggies, their kid’s consumption rose as well.

Parents have a tremendous influence on what their children eat. These studies demonstrate that this influence extends from simply making fruits and vegetables available for their children, to modeling their own enjoyment of eating a healthy diet.

Shape your kid’s eating habits and help them develop a healthy attitude toward food by making sure they see you eating plenty of nutritious, delicious, fruits and vegetables.

Here is some good advice for parents:

  • Show kids how enjoyable healthy foods can be with comments like “Wow, that tastes good!” or “Look how colorful!”
  • Set an example by being a good role model. Eat the way you want your child to eat. Choose a variety of healthy foods from all the food groups, eat in moderation and make exercise part of your regular routine.
  • Don’t ban foods. Kids will encounter cookies, chips and other treats when they’re away from home. Allow them to explore, but at the same time teach them what their bodies need. The goal is to enjoy a varied healthy diet, which allows for occasional indulgences.
  • Get kids in the kitchen. From an early age, involve children in preparing food. Children love being involved; they love feeling like they’re helping. If they feel they’re part of the process, they’re more likely to try the finished product.

Try making Crazy Curly Broccoli Bake for dinner. It’s one of the kid-friendly recipes you’ll find on the Fruits & Veggies—More Matters website.

More ways to get children to eat more fruits and veggies can be found at the Fruits & Veggies—More Matters website, www.FruitsAndVeggiesMoreMatters.org. Parents will also find a database of over 1,000 recipes, many of which can be made in 30 minutes or less, and tips for eating healthy on a budget. The entire website was designed to help the whole family easily fit more fruits & veggies into their meals and snacks.

Eat Right with Color

imageMarch is here, and that means it’s officially National Nutrition Month®!  I love this year’s theme, Eat Right with Color.  A wonderful way to boost the nutritional quality of your diet and improve your health is to add more colorful fruits and vegetables to your meals and snacks.  Different colored fruits and vegetables contain different types of cancer-fighting antioxidants, which is why we should eat a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables.  Additionally, eating more fruits and vegetables is a great tool for weight control, because fruits and vegetables fill you up for relatively few calories!

How many fruits and vegetables should we eat each day?

imageThe slogan used to be “5 A Day for Better Health,” but now we’ve discovered that’s not enough for most individuals to experience the maximum health benefits.  Today, the Produce for Better Health Foundation’s slogan is “More Matters,” because most people will improve their health by increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables they eat.  The new 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables at every meal and snack.  This will help ensure you’re eating enough nutrients and it will help prevent overindulging in higher calorie foods.

Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables.  Now, that’s Eating Right with Color!image

Roasted Winter Vegetables

imageI never thought roasted winter vegetables could make my mouth water.  But, as I continue to experiment with new recipes, I continue to find new passions for foods I thought I disliked.  Take beets, for example.  The unwelcome canned beets I occasionally found on my salad at restaurants led me to believe I disliked all beets.  But fresh, oven-roasted beets, with their mildly sweet flavor and crimson crunch, I love.  You, too, might find you like them if you’re willing to give them a try.

Roasting vegetables is very simple, and practically fail-proof.  Here is the recipe I used today:

Ingredients:

  • Vegetables of your choice, chopped into bite-sized pieces.  (I used about 5 cups of carrots, parsnips, beets, and apples today.  Apples, while not a vegetable, roast quite nicely too.)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons olive oil or canola oil
  • 1 Tablespoon honey
  • 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped herbs, like rosemary and sage

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Mix all ingredients in a baking pan or cookie sheet.  Spread out in a single layer.
  3. Cook in the oven, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes or until desired tenderness.

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Celebrate the Season with Fruits & Veggies

A guest post from Produce for Better Health Foundation.

imageThe arrival of the holiday season means it’s time for celebration. At this festive time of year a person can find themselves eating on the run, skipping meals, eating too much, or too often. Don’t neglect your health! Fill your belly with the fruits and vegetables of the season for a happy, healthy holiday.

Here are some tips for incorporating delicious and healthy fruit and vegetables dishes into your holiday.

  • Start every meal with a festive salad; top mixed greens with your favorite veggies, then add sliced apples or pears, dried cranberries, mandarin orange segments, or shiny pomegranate seeds. Delight your palette with unexpected salad ingredients like jicama or avocado. For another beautiful salad option, slice a variety of citrus fruits such as tangerines, grapefruits and naval oranges, top with torn fresh basil leaves, then drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
  • Soup makes a great beginning for a meal and it’s a wonderful way to fill up without adding many calories, as long as you stay away from the cream-based type. A broth-based soup containing red bell peppers, orange carrots, yellow corn and green peas is warm, satisfying, and colorful.
  • Vegetable medleys make an attractive side dish expanding the meal’s flavor. Try adding a small amount of chopped nuts or fun shaped pasta to mixed veggies to make them more special than your average weeknight dinner fare.
  • Fruit can serve as the centerpiece at mealtime and then be passed around when it’s time for dessert. Slice off the leafy pineapple top, place it in the center of a platter and surround it with a combination of pineapple chunks, strawberries, grapes, kiwifruit, orange sections, apple slices or other fruit. Sprinkle with lemon or lime juice and toss on a handful of dried fruit or your favorite nuts.

There are other ways to incorporate fruits and vegetables into your holiday celebrations besides just on the menu.

  • Put out festive baskets or bowls filled with a beautiful arrangement of seasonal fruits & veggies as decorations at your next holiday get-together. Unlike flowers or other decorative displays, they can be eaten as part of post-party meals saving you the trouble of disposing of flowers.
  • Teach your child the spirit of giving by helping you donate non-perishable fruits & veggies to a local food pantry or homeless shelter. You can also suggest that they donate old clothes or toys they no longer play with as a way to make room for anticipated holiday gifts. This helps others while teaching your child a valuable lesson by letting them feel the joy of giving.

There are many wonderful recipes that feature winter fruits and vegetables. Balsamic Citrus Carrots and Crazy Curly Broccoli Bake are two festive side-dishes that will add a beautiful combination of colors and fun to the holiday table. If you’re looking for a few fun, yet educational gift ideas, surf over to www.pbhcatalog.com for some inexpensive items that make great stocking stuffers or gift exchange presents for all the young children and teachers on your list. More seasonal fruit & vegetable inspiration can be found online at www.FruitsAndVeggiesMoreMatters.org.

Happy Holidays to you and your families.

Healthy Holidays and Honey Roasted Parsnips

A guest post from Produce for Better Health Foundation.

ParsnipsNovember is here and winter celebrations are on their way. No matter what the holiday, the dining room table always seems to be the center of festivities. While everyone enjoys their traditional family recipes, it can be fun to incorporate new dishes to the meal and the options for delicious, healthy dishes are endless.

Some of the season’s best, like parsnips (pictured), turnips, and winter squash, are prefect additions to stews, soups and roasts. Other in-season items, like sweet potatoes, cranberries and pumpkin, are traditionally associated with celebratory meals.

Even if your families’ favorite fruits & veggies aren’t in season you can still enjoy them for the holiday because All Forms Count! Canned, frozen and dried fruits and vegetables can be less expensive than their fresh counterparts and are just as nutritious because they are processed immediately after harvest.

Fruits and vegetables may help reduce the risk of many diseases, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and some cancers. They are naturally low in calories and they provide fiber that helps keep your digestive system working well. Fruits and veggies are rich in vitamins and minerals that your body needs to feel healthy and energized. Everyone can benefit from eating more fruits and vegetables, so pledge to fill at least half of your plate with them!

Make the season come alive with the vibrant colors of fruits and vegetables. Before the meal, offer a vegetable tray that includes blanched asparagus or green beans, red and green bell pepper strips and your favorite colorful raw veggies. Serve a couple different flavors of low-fat dressing, hummus, or guacamole as dips. A variety of dips to choose from keeps everyone happy. Keep seasonal fruit on hand for delicious and nutritious snacks.

There are many wonderful recipes calling for autumn produce that can make an appearance on the holiday table. Sweet Potato and Pear Soup makes a delicious meal starter, and Honey-Roasted Parsnips are a great seasonal side dish. If you’re in search of help for hosting that big meal, look at our autumn entertaining hints, and check out our other recipes online at www.FruitsAndVeggiesMoreMatters.org too!

Meal Planning Can Help Ease Crunched Schedules

A guest post from Produce for Better Health Foundation.

image Autumn is officially here. School has started and our schedules are tight. Some evenings it’s difficult to gather the entire family for a meal, much less find the time to prepare one! How do you ensure that healthy eating stays on top of your priority list?

Serving healthy meals and snacks can be easier than it seems – even for the busiest household. With a just a little planning, you can stay prepared for those last-minute meals and snack attacks that might otherwise send you running for the drive-thru. Planning ahead for snacks and meals that are both nutritious and delicious is the key to success.

Making a weekly menu and shopping list is the best way to plan for healthy meals that include fruits and vegetables. Before heading to the store, plan out and write down what you and your family will be eating for the next week. It’s helpful to have the calendar with all the family member’s activity schedules within reach because this will dictate which day’s meals need to be made (and eaten) quickly.

imageWrite out a menu plan of what you want to eat and when. Then write down any  ingredients for those dishes that you don’t already have at home and you’ve just filled out your shopping list! Choosing all the meals and snacks in advance will enable you to make sure that everything you need to fix these dishes is purchased, saving you time by avoiding extra trips later in the week.

Don’t forget about all the work that the store can do for you to save you time on meal prep at home. A fresh cut veggie tray can be reapportioned into smaller containers once home to go in packed lunches for the whole family. A fresh cut fruit salad makes a great addition to breakfast, or buy a bag of assorted whole fruits for grab-and-go enjoyment. A bagged salad is quick to portion out. Add a rotisserie chicken and dinner’s almost complete!

Take advantage of extra time when you have it. Make a double batch of a veggie-packed casserole recipe or lasagna, then freeze half for a quick meal another day. Cook more ground beef or turkey than your recipe calls for, and then use the surplus to save time the next day.

If you’re looking for some new (and healthy) recipes to spice up your routine, check out the recipe section of www.FruitsAndVeggiesMoreMatters.org. Beef StroganoffThere is even a special section of recipes that can be made in 30 minutes or less! Here are two great recipes calling for autumn produce to get your meal planning started, Apple Chicken Stir-Fry and Beef Stroganoff.

Visit www.FruitsAndVeggiesMoreMatters.org for user-friendly advice on adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet; including, recipes, nutrition information, tips for getting kids to eat fruits and vegetables, and even videos. Follow Fruits & Veggies—More Matters on Facebook or Twitter to get the latest fruit and veggie news.