Extension Educator, Nutrition and Wellness
Let's be honest. Eating healthy isn't easy. I admit, even I struggle to eat enough fruits and vegetables during the colder months. As challenging as it may be, though, making the effort can pay off. The high fiber and water content of produce fills you up and keeps you fuller for longer, so working in the fruits and vegetables can help with that New Year's resolution to lose weight. And as I've mentioned before, fruits and veggies are rich sources of vitamins A, C, and E – all critical to keep the immune system running strong.
There are plenty of tasty seasonal fruits and veggies at the grocery store right now, waiting to be loaded into your cart. Clementines are bursting with juicy, sunny flavor and kiwifruit offer an exotic, tropical twist to your plate. Mainstays like apples, bananas, and pears are available, and you may also see great deals on blackberries and strawberries. Fruits are great for snacking or dessert if you need something sweet after dinner. They also make great toppings for breakfast items like cereal, yogurt, pancakes, or waffles.
Some of my favorite vegetables include winter squash, sweet potatoes, and dark leafy greens like kale. Roasting root vegetables is an easy, delicious way to add color and nutrition to dinner. Just cube up your favorites like potatoes, onions, carrots, turnips, or parsnips and then toss in olive oil and a bit of salt, pepper, rosemary, and thyme. Roast at 400° F until softened and caramelized (about 45 minutes).
While fresh produce is great, going for dried, canned, and frozen varieties can be a convenient and cost-effective way to get your fruits and veggies. The nutritional value of preserved produce can be just as good, if not better, than fresh. This is because preserved produce is processed just after picking, while fresh fruits and vegetables can lose nutrients during shipment to the grocery store.
There are a few things to keep in mind when buying these options. Canned vegetables can be very high in sodium, so make sure to look for no-salt-added or reduced sodium versions. You can also thoroughly rinse and drain the contents to decrease the sodium by up to 20%. For fruits, choose varieties that are canned in their own juice or water, as those canned in syrup can be loaded with extra sugar and calories.
In the freezer aisle, vegetables are often packaged with seasonings or other add-ins like rice, cheese, or sauces. These can add significant amounts of sodium and fat to an otherwise healthy food. Choose plain vegetables most of the time and season them yourself with a pinch of salt, freshly ground pepper, and other herbs and spices. Use just a bit of olive oil, butter, or margarine for additional flavor.
Frozen fruit can be used in smoothies, as a topping for yogurt, or just eaten plain when thawed out. Try using a bag as an ice pack when brown-bagging your lunch and enjoying the fruit for dessert or an afternoon snack. As with canned fruit, remember to watch out for products that are pre-sweetened.
While we await the bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables that accompany the warmer months, there are still plenty of ways to incorporate these superfoods into your diet while Old Man Winter is around. Take your mother's (and the dietitian's) advice and eat your fruits and vegetables. They'll fill you up, not fill you out -- just what you need to keep going strong on that resolution.