When mom said “eat your fruits and vegetables,” an under-the-breath comment about rabbit food was never far behind. As it turns out, mom was right. These natural convenience foods are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. According to the Centers for Disease Control, most adults don't eat enough fruits and veggies, but it's easy to get your daily dose by following the guidelines for recommended servings and serving sizes.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that women between 31 and 50 years old eat 1.5 cups of fruit a day. One cup of fruit equals 1 small apple, 32 grapes, 8 large strawberries or 1 cup of 100 percent juice. Due to its compact size, a half-cup of dried fruit counts as 1 cup of your daily fruit servings. If you don't want to keep tabs on your fruit servings all day, knock out your requirement first thing in the morning. Just grab one large banana and 1/2 cup of orange juice on your way out the door, and you'll meet your 1.5 cups of fruit before morning rush hour.
If you want seconds at dinner, go for an extra serving of veggies. Women need 2.5 cups of vegetables each day. Cooked or canned vegetables and vegetable juices can be measured by the cup, but 1 cup of raw leafy greens counts as 1/2 cup. To meet your vitamin needs, mix up the colors of your vegetables. You need the vitamin K in green leafy vegetables for blood clotting, but red peppers, carrots and other red and orange vegetables provide vitamin A for vision health. As far as your dinner plate is concerned, more color is always better.
Beans and Peas
Beans and peas contain many of the same nutrients as other vegetables, but they are also rich sources of protein. Depending on your needs, these foods can count as either a vegetable serving or a protein serving. The USDA recommends that women eat 5 ounces from the protein food group each day. If you meet these needs by eating meat, chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds or soy, then count your beans and peas as a vegetable. If these legumes are the meal’s main protein source, such as a lentil soup or a bean burrito, then count them as part of your 5 ounces of protein
According to the USDA, fruits and vegetables should take up half your plate. Instead of planning a meal around your meat, plan it around fruits and veggies. Replace some of the meat in your favorite recipe with an extra scoop of vegetables. Puree carrots, onion and spinach and add to spaghetti sauce. Add a can of pumpkin to chili for an extra vegetable boost. For breakfast, throw frozen fruit in the blender with a banana for a quick and delicious smoothie. Fresh, canned, frozen, dried and juices all count toward your daily requirements, so mix it up, and enjoy every color of the rainbow.
- USDA: How Much Fruit is Needed a Day?
- USDA: What Counts as a Cup of Fruit?
- USDA: How Much Vegetables are Needed Daily or Weekly?
- USDA: What Counts as a Cup of Vegetables?
- USDA: Beans and Peas are Unique Foods
- Fruits and Veggies More Matters: Adults and Adolescents are Not Eating Enough Fruits and Vegetables
Jennifer Dlugos is a Boston-based writer with more than 10 years of experience in the health-care and wellness industries. She is also an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter who teaches screenwriting and film production classes throughout New England. Dlugos holds a master's degree in dietetics.