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Fruits and Vegetables- Eat your colors! By Devon Brownlee, MS, RD, LDN

  • September 5, 2019

Both fruits and vegetables are two of the five essential food groups included as part of MyPlate, an easy guideline supported by the USDA for basic overall nutrition and wellness. By following MyPlate, individuals of all backgrounds are able to implement balanced eating patterns in adopting healthier lifestyle behaviors. Introducing more fruits and vegetables throughout the day offers countless benefits, such as weight management, reduced incidence of several chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and several cancers, improved digestion, as well as increased satiety. Choosing a variety of produce not only adds a fun pop of color to your plate, but also offers various health benefits. By opting for white vegetables such as cauliflower, these pigments may help reduce total cholesterol levels as well as blood pressure, lowering the risk for advancement towards cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. Choosing red fruits and vegetables such as bell peppers or strawberries may discourage the onset of diabetes while improving skin quality. Fruits and vegetables offer a great depth of flavor and texture when incorporated into your favorite dishes. Here are a few ideas and tips to get you started!

  • Toss veggies into grain or pasta dishes (try substituting spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles for pasta), soups, rice, and omelets.
  • Mix it up! Make smoothies with greens such as spinach, cucumber, or kale, add berries, avocado, and unsweetened Greek yogurt for a little extra creaminess and fiber.
  • Dip raw veggies such as cucumbers, red bell peppers, celery, or carrots into prepared hummus dip or your favorite nut butter for easy snacking. For a sweeter snack, try apple slices dipped in a mix of 1 cup unsweetened Greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon maple syrup, sprinkle of cinnamon, along with 2 tablespoons of natural peanut butter.
  • Wrap two or three large, leafy greens such as Bibb lettuce, romaine, red lettuce, cabbage, or radicchio and pile on the fixings for a quick lunch to go. Swap the bread and enjoy the added crunch alongside your favorite wrap or sandwich fillings.
  • Stock up on frozen fruits and vegetables for smoothies, stir fry, soups, or any of your other favorite dishes. Produce is picked when ripest, then flash frozen to preserve many key vitamins and nutrients. Frozen produce lasts far longer than fresh, making for a more cost-effective choice.
  • Start the day with a serving of fruits and vegetables alongside breakfast. Cooking up scrambled eggs? Toss in a one to two handfuls of spinach, mushrooms, onions, or other vegetables of choice. Grabbing a spoon for yogurt? Toss in some berries. Dishing out oatmeal? Top with pears, apples, or bananas. Choosing a serving of fruits and vegetables in the morning will promote feelings of satiety, offering a quick energy boost to tackle the day.
  • Swap your sweets for more natural sources of sugar. Desserts tend to be regarded as a sweet treat for special occasions, however a fruit-based dessert can be a light, refreshing ending to a satisfying meal offering the added bonus of an extra fruit serving. Try blending fresh fruit with ½ cup low-fat yogurt or 100% fruit juice for easy fruit popsicles.
  • Go meatless at least one day each week. The ‘Meatless Monday’ trend offers a wonderful opportunity for the whole family to prepare and try new recipes incorporating a variety of fresh vegetables. If swapping out meat for a whole day feels like a big start, focus on just one meal of the day. This is a fun way to try new flavors as well as to encourage family time in the kitchen. Provided below is an easy, quick, kid-friendly recipe for lunch or dinner.

Roasted Vegetable Quesadillas

Recipe courtesy of Taste of Home

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium zucchini, chopped
  • 1 medium sweet red pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 4 whole grain tortillas (10 inches)
  • 1 cup shredded Mexican style cheese blend
  • Guacamole, salsa, or plain unsweetened Greek yogurt for topping

Let’s Make It!

  1.  In a large bowl, combine the vegetables, olive oil, and cumin, toss to evenly coat. Arrange in a single layer in an ungreased 15X10X1-in baking pan. Bake uncovered at 425 degrees for 10-15 minutes, or until tender. Reduce heat to 350 degrees.
  2. Divide vegetable mixture evenly between two tortillas. Sprinkle with cheese. Top with remaining tortillas. Place on an ungreased baking sheet; bake for 8-10 minutes or until cheese is well melted.
  3. Cut each quesadilla into six wedges. Top as desired!
  4. *Try unsweetened, plain Greek yogurt as a healthier alternative option to sour cream