A nutritious diet is important for brain functioning, mental alertness, and overall energy! Whether you are working or headed back-to-school, there is no time like the present to prepare your mind for the work ahead.
With summer in full swing, there is an abundance of fruits and vegetables. Research indicates that a fruit and vegetable plentiful diet has many health benefits including lower risks of difficulties with blood pressure, weight management, digestive problems, heart disease, and chronic disease. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), less than 40% of adults in the U.S. consume two or more fruits or three or more vegetables each day.
While nationally, we are not doing well meeting healthy fruit and vegetable consumption guidelines, your family does not have to be part of the statistic. First, the amount of daily fruits and vegetables required varies based on a person’s age, gender, and level of physical activity. The National Fruit and Vegetable Program has an online calculator that can tell you the requirements for your family.
Next, know that you do not have to spend a fortune at specialty markets to provide your family with fresh (and/or organic) produce. Here are 7 ways that you can provide yourself and your family with nutritious fruits and vegetables – meeting federal recommended guidelines, without spending a fortune!
- Purchase fruits and vegetables that are in season. Seasonal fruits are cheaper, and there are often promotional sales alternating weekly at grocery stores for these items. View the weekly circulars for your local grocery stores online, to see which stores have the best deals that week.
- Shop Ethnic Stores. Many ethnic stores (e.g. Latino, Korean) carry a wide selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, as they are a staple ingredient in multiple recipes of the culture. While the everyday costs of these items is often lower than the local chain grocery store, these stores often have promotional sales on items, making the cost even more affordable. Recently, I compared the price of bananas advertised in the weekly circular for three local chain grocery stores and saw the price range from $0.65 to $0.75 per pound. The same week, the circular for a local ethnic store had the price of bananas listed at 3 pounds for $1 ($0.33 per pound).
- Farmer’s Markets/Produce Stands. If you live in or near an agricultural area, this is a great way to support local business owners. Without the overhead of shipping to local stores, the cost at these locations tends to stay lower than your local grocery stores and specialty markets. This is a great way to get organic produce for less. Another bonus of these locations is they often stick to carrying produce, and not some of the unhealthier food that we are often tempted to buy.
- Pick Your Own. Some farms have the option of allowing you to harvest your own fruits and vegetables. In addition to being a healthy and affordable option, it also provides an opportunity for an outdoor family activity. If you have children, you may consider incorporating science lessons. PickYourOwn.org is a website that provides a listing of farms across the country and internationally where you can harvest your own produce. Additionally, the website contains helpful information for those new to picking their own fruits and vegetables (e.g. picking tips, preservation instructions).
- Co-Ops. This is a subscription option, where a “box” of in-season fruits and vegetables is delivered to your home or workplace directly from a local farm on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis. “Boxes” vary in size, and thus price, and the items vary from week to week depending on what has been harvested. Many of these co-ops guarantee that the food is delivered to you within 24-hours of leaving the farm. If you feel that even the smallest “box” is too large for your family, consider splitting the cost and the produce with a friend. Not only will you save money, but you will be working towards creating two healthier families!
- Grow Your Own. While this option requires more upfront costs and ongoing work on your part, your plants may provide you with an abundance of food, making it potentially less expensive in the long-run. If you are interested in this option, you may try researching online or asking for assistance at your local nursery to get the supplies needed to get started.
- Frozen Foods. Frozen vegetable are often inaccurately thought of as unhealthy. Purchasing frozen vegetables is actually a great way to obtain nutrients from vegetables that are currently out-of-season. Look for packages that are marked with a “USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Grade A” logo. This indicates that the produce has met a standard for size, color, tenderness, and lack of blemishes. Be sure to follow the directions on the package for thawing, heating, and storing. You will want to eat them sooner, rather than later as the nutrients can degrade over time. Also, consider microwaving or steaming the vegetables, as opposed to boiling them to minimize the loss of water-soluble vitamins. The USDA produces a brochure entitled “How to Buy Canned and Frozen Vegetables” that may be of interest to you, if you would like to explore this option.
Our mental health often increases when we are physically healthy and vice versa. These are just a few of the many ways that you can continue to ensure that your family maintains a healthy diet that is full of fresh produce and rich in nutrients. Consider making your family a goal to not just meet the national guidelines for fruit and vegetable consumption, but to exceed it!