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By Jessica Miller

Six ways to eat your daily portion of fruits and vegetables

Trying to eat the daily recommended amount of fruits and vegetables can be intimidating. It doesn’t have to be. There are several ways that people can incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their diets with little effort. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) created “MyPlate” in 2011 as a way to recommend portions for daily food groups. Vegetables and fruits make up half of the plate, with the former being the larger section. Depending on age and exercise level, it is recommended that women eat two to two-and-a-half cups of vegetables and one-and-a-half to two cups of fruit per day. It is recommended that men eat two-and-a-half to three cups of vegetables and two cups of fruit daily. That is a lot of fruit and vegetables and can be intimidating.

Purchasing fruits and vegetables for the week

Buying fresh local produce is the best choice whenever possible. Vegetables begin losing their nutrients right after harvest. Finding fresh local and affordable produce can be difficult, especially during the winter months. In that case, frozen and canned vegetables are a good alternative. The University of California-Davis published a study in 2007 reviewing 75 years of research literature comparing the nutritional value of fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables. In some kinds of vegetables, frozen and canned versions may actually contain more of certain nutrients.

Blend them into a smoothie

A straightforward and simple way to eat enough fruits and vegetables is to drink them in a smoothie. This is a great way to get all the available nutrients. Blend kale, green apples and a banana with some yogurt or flax seed oil for breakfast and get more than half of your daily allotment of fruits and vegetables. Or make a smoothie with frozen blueberries, carrots and beets to start your day off with a good dose of fruit and veggies.

Add vegetables to spreads and dips

Make hummus using steamed carrots instead of garbanzo beans, or substitute half of the garbanzo beans with steamed carrots. Puree white beans with garlic, lemon and kale, then season with salt and pepper. Eat sliced carrots, celery and cucumbers with these dips for a solid vegetable portion for a lunch or snack.

Make vegetable-based sauces

Roast tomatoes, onions and garlic, then blend them together for a fresh pasta sauce. Use arugula in addition to basil for a pesto. Make a vegetable chutney using cauliflower, green beans and carrots. This would be a great accompaniment to roast chicken. A roasted vegetable tapenade made with Greek olives, roasted peppers, and zucchini would perfectly complement a loaf of sourdough bread.

Substitute vegetables for grains

Zucchini noodles (zoodles) have been gaining in popularity. Yellow squash, carrots and beets can be spiralized to create noodles. No spiralizer? A julienne peeler or potato peeler make great noodles. Simply chopping and oven roasting one or a combination of zucchini, yellow squash, cauliflower or broccoli is a delicious substitute for pasta.

Add vegetables to favorite dishes

Most home chefs have their specialties; enhance the nutrition of your favorite dishes with added vegetables. Add fresh, frozen or canned vegetables to casseroles and soups. Add a medley of frozen cauliflower, broccoli and carrots to a shepherd’s pie or chicken pot pie. Combine pureed cauliflower and sweet potatoes with homemade macaroni and cheese. Supplement baked goods such as muffins, bread and pancakes with shredded carrots, zucchini, apples and berries. Enhance the flavor of meatloaf and meatballs with finely chopped bell pepper, onions, squash and carrots.

Eat fruits and vegetables for dessert

Dinner is over, but your fruit and vegetable requirement was not met for the day. Don’t worry, make up for it with dessert! Enjoy a blueberry and beet sorbet, or banana “ice cream” using pureed frozen bananas. Or try an ice cream where the main ingredient is frozen peas. Blend ripe avocados with maple syrup and cocoa powder for a nutrient-rich chocolate pudding. Combine dates, shredded carrots and walnuts in a food processor and roll into bite-size treats for a dessert with both fruits and vegetables.

These six methods for including more fruits and vegetables into meals should make it painless to eat the daily recommended portions. Start the day out with a fruit-and-vegetable-packed smoothie. Snack on some cucumbers with carrot hummus for lunch. Then enjoy a vegetable-filled pasta sauce on a bed of zoodles for dinner. Finish the day with a pineapple sorbet for dessert.

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