Monday, March 7, 2011

How to Eat Groceries - Five a Day or "Eat your vegetables!"

Fruits and Vegetables
The mindset of eating vegetables and fruits in the 1960's and '70's was very different from what I see in today's world...In fact, I think if you surveyed any household (including my own!) you'd find many meals are woefully low in good vegetable and fruit content.  I see this even in reading the Woman's Day menus which have become so streamlined that I wonder just where good nutrition comes into the normal diet! 

Remember I am the owner and reader of many issues of vintage homemaking magazines.  In the 1940's Woman's Day began offering up monthly menus based upon income.  Lower income, thrifty menus were based on grains and seasonal fruits and vegetables and less meat and fresh dairy.  The regular economy menu offered up one or two servings of meat daily and more vegetable/fruit servings.  Typically the magazine offered menus for three meals per day and I promise you that the full number of servings was incorporated into those menus.

In comes the 1970's and early '80s when I began homemaking.  Menus for that era were usually  for evening meals only, which included one meatless meal each week.  An entree, two or three servings of vegetables and fruits and a dessert were typical.  I assume the magazine worked with the theory that most people got some fruit and vegetable at breakfast or lunch.

Now the 2010's menus tend to be an entree and single vegetable... Considering what I know of modern diets, few people have any fruits in the morning, and unless we count potato chips or french fries as a vegetable serving (technically they are but nutritionally not so much) that puts us down to a woeful two servings per day, despite government nutritional guidelines and the rules of good nutrition.

Do we need as many calories as our 1940's counterparts needed?  No, we don't. Our work is less physically demanding.  What we do need is the same vitamins and nutrients that insure good health...and sadly, all too many people are willing to take that in supplemental pill form.

All whole foods, including meat and dairy, provides some nutritional value.  Our goal should be to insure that our families eat as healthy a diet as possible.  You've heard it all before: less sugar, more whole grains, more fruits and vegetables, higher in fiber.  These days the 'five a day' slogan is passe.  It's suggested we eat somewhere nearer nine servings daily, seven at the least.

When eating on a budget, the best possible way to insure your family remain healthy is to eat seasonally.  Each item available in season has a nutrient base that is ideal for that season's dietary needs.  It's no secret that citrus fruits are most readily available in the cold/flu season.  That vegetables such as asparagus and green onions and lettuces become available in Spring.  Summer is really a sort of excessive buffet of fruit/vegetables/melons but these foods contain nutrients and vitamins that build immunity for the winter months.  Apples and nuts and squashes/pumpkins are autumn's offerings, as are cranberries and in northern states, blueberries.

Budget wise, you cannot go wrong to eat fruits and vegetables in season.  Charts abound on the internet to help you learn what is available, but if you are still uncertain (because different regions have different schedules of availability, then check the local farmer's markets and look for the lowest priced items n the produce section.  Seasonal items are almost always the lowest priced item in the produce sections of markets.  And let's go one step further and look at another budget caveat with our produce: you'll fill your family up faster with good old fruits and vegetables bought in season for low prices than you'll ever fill them on a bread and meat diet.  So your family is not only getting the vital nutrients and minerals required to maintain good health but they feel you see what a huge savings this is to a household?!

I grew up in a gardening family.  We ate heavily of fresh produce in the production months and canned or froze vegetables to eat throughout the winter but these were used as supplements to the seasonal foods, not as replacements. 

Now how do you eat all those fruits and vegetables?  Five a day is probably a huge stretch for most of us, and nine just seems ridiculous doesn't it?  And better yet, how do you AFFORD all those fruits and vegetables?

Let's look at serving sizes and portions first.  Are you aware that most apples, bananas, pears, and oranges should be served by halves, not a whole piece of fruit?  Did you know that a serving of grapes is just 20 grapes and a serving of strawberries is usually about 5?  Remember a few months ago I said I bought 5 Brussels Sprouts each for Chance and I?  That was a single serving.  Most vegetables should be served by the 1/2 cup portion, with the exception of lettuces which typically should be 1-2 cups of loosely packed greens (that means you don't push it down but just pile lightly into a measuring cup).  Do you see now how five a day might just be possible?  That truly seven and nine servings aren't too big a stretch after all when spread over three meals?

Save your budget and buy only what you need to provide a serving per family member.  Skip the big bulk purchases the manager packed up just especially for your convenience (and incidentally will sit and spoil in the fridge because it proved far too much to consume).  If you do choose to buy a three headed crown of broccoli, ask yourself how much will it take to serve the family one meal...and what will you do with the leftovers?  This is an important question and follow-up is equally important.  I know what I'd do: serve steamed broccoli for one meal, serve broccoli spears with cheese sauce over a baked potato for a quick supper, shred the stalk for slaw or slice into sections and use in a cream of broccoli soup or stir fry dish.  That's disposed of all three heads and the stalks.  I've gotten my money's worth and we've fleshed out the week's menu rather nicely.

And that's the second thing: you don't need to eat all these foods at one meal.  Stretch them out over three meals and two snacks daily. 

Naturally mornings one might think of fruit.  Seldom do we see a vegetable on the table for the first meal of the day.  However, I find tomatoes and peppers are quite good for breakfast, in an omelet (a very willing base for many vegetables: mushrooms, onions and peppers, asparagus, etc) or sliced and served as a side.  Hash browns or potatoes O'Brien are equally good for breakfast as well. 

Four ounces of  juice is also a serving of fruit. It makes up in easy consumption for what it lacks in fiber.  But let's look a bit closer here because smoothies, which are hugely popular at the moment, can easily become a drinkable breakfast.  Frozen bananas, mangoes, peaches, berries, melons are all excellent in a smoothie.  I keep reading how high calorie smoothies are, but my own homemade drinks are definitely not high calorie.  I keep them simple: frozen fruit, homemade yogurt, perhaps a little splash of orange juice or apple juice or a spoonful of juice concentrate.  Protein powder may be added but I've never bothered with that, though I do add a spoonful of peanut butter to banana smoothies.  Now whirl in the blender and pour into a glass.  Voila!  A serving of fruit (or two!) for breakfast.

Another favorite way of having fruit at breakfast is to slice apples, peaches, pears or banana and serve atop nut butter on toast. 

With one serving of fruit or vegetable safely disposed of for breakfast, we move on to snacks: peanut butter with  apples, pepper strips, carrot and celery sticks with ranch or blue cheese dressing, cream cheese or peanut butter stuffed celery. 

Once upon a time I had a 3 inch binder filled with recipes.  Imagine my shock to find I had loads of meat and bread and dessert and soup/salad recipes but nothing but fruit pies and potato recipes to cover the fruit/vegetable category.  Now I specifically look for recipes that are fruit or vegetable based.  That has led to some very tasty vegetarian recipes that serve as sides or entrees, as well as many new salad recipes.  This week my menus feature a salad with strawberries and almonds as an accent.  I recently took a green salad to a pot luck dinner that had Gala apple slices and craisins tossed into the mix, along with toasted walnuts.  That salad bowl came home clean! 

When planning meals don't just think of vegetables as sides, but plan meals that contain vegetables as an ingredient.  My family loves a spinach and cream cheese stuffed chicken breast recipe I made up one night.  I could serve with a tomato based sauce and there would be two servings of vegetables right in one entree.  Ground vegetables (onions, celery, peppers, carrots, tomatoes) used to go into meatloaf and burgers and sometimes spaghetti sauce when my children were young picky eaters. 

Having discussed the 'eat five a day' and how to incorporate them, there's always the question of which is best: frozen or canned or fresh?   Unless you have a garden or are dealing with farmer's or organic markets the likelihood that the vegetables we're eating are truly fresh is slim.  Buying in  season  does help to insure the products are closer to being fresh but note country/state of origin (now available on most foods). 

The theory that canned or frozen vegetables are more than likely freshest is, in my opinion, faulty.  If you garden then this is true.  If you can or freeze produce bought at the farmer's market the day you purchase it, it might be true.  Having lived next door to a frozen foods plant, and having been told the same practices prevail at a cannery, the odds of getting strictly fresh commerically frozen/canned foods is about equal to the produce you purchase in the produce department of the grocery store. 

The crops are harvested by combines and long trailers are filled with the crop which then goes to the plant, often miles away and sits in the sun for hours until the plant is ready to pack that particular item.  Then the food goes through a long series of washings, being picked over and cleaned and if necessary shelled or pared etc.  Odds are good that the green beans picked on Monday aren't frozen until Tuesday or Wednesday.  Some loss of nutrients result due to the delays in processing. 

If you find a product that you particularly like and which seems fresher and better tasting than another, then buy it.  I prefer to buy some items fresh and some items frozen and a few items canned.  Let your family's likes and dislikes be your guide for best value for your money.

So there you have it!  Now go eat those vegetables!


lislyn66 said...

I'm horrible at this because basically I don't care for that many veggies. In fact my kids like more veggies than I do, go figure. Gonna give it a go though! I have been buying more fruit, and the girls are loving it. Guess Mom should eat the fruit too huh?

Michele said...

I am the same as lislyn66, I don't really care for veggies much.I grew up in the age of fast food. I am finding that my kids are now eating less veggies than they have in the past. I always say that we are picky but the truth is we have never really tried many veggies. Corn, green beans, and peas with a salad here and ther are pretty much the standard in our house. This is something for me to consider. Thanks for the great information!

Rhonda said...

I don't understand why people don't like veggies. They are my favorite part of the meal, next to the dessert anyway :)
Our meals almost always include either 2 cooked veggies, 1 cooked and a 1 big salad, and I really like entrees with veggies in them, like my goulash has lots of tomatoes and homemade pizza has a couple of cups of veggies on top.

preach on! people need to eat more fruit and veggies. and less fast food and meat

MotherHen said...

I grew up eating all kinds of veggies & fruit, I use to love going to my grandparents farm in the summer my grandmother would tell us to go out to the gardens & pick which veggies we wanted for dinner, we always thought that we were cool, lol. I love veggies & fruit but I didn't know how many servings or what a serving size really was, thanks for this post :-)