Although we know that fruits and vegetables contain essential nutrients and antioxidants that fight against chronic disease like hypertension, diabetes and certain forms of cancer, most of us do not consume enough of them to meet the World Health Organization’s recommendation of 400g a day.
If you are one of the many people struggling to meet the recommendations, here are some simple things you can do to get yourself on track.
1. Grow a garden
Guerilla Gardener Ron Finley once said that “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.” He was absolutely right. Growing a garden is a surefire way of saving money with the added advantage of providing easy access to a few of your favorite fruits and vegetables.
2. Be a regular at your local market or farmer’s market
One of the most fabulous things about visiting local markets/farmer’s markets is the availability of fresh, local, seasonal fruits and vegetables at reasonable prices. Beyond that, these markets, especially those in Africa, can be a great source of indigenous (sometimes called “exotic”) fruit such as agbalumo/udara, and iyeye which carry the added benefit of being chemical free.
3. Make it accessible
Want your children to eat all the fruits and vegetables that you bring into the house? Make it easy for them! Start by always having produce within sight and reach. Wash shelf stable fruit and place it in a bowl on the counter. Cut up pineapple, melons and other large size fruits and bring them out in portions that you think your children can consume. Provide a healthy dip for them to snack on crunchy vegetables and if safe to do, permit them to go into the garden to chomp on produce as they play.
4. Make it a family affair
Get your family involved in the meal planning process and allow each member to choose which vegetables should make it to the family table. Since children that help in the meal preparation process eat more than those that do not, engage the children in washing the produce and putting it into various containers.
Once the fruits and vegetables are in the home, ensure that your family eats them by incorporating these tips:
1. Make sure that you always have a vegetable at each meal. Start your morning right by adding vegetables such as bell peppers, broccoli, mushroom, zucchini and spinach to your eggs or omelet and topping them with a tomato-onion salad or avocado for a yummy serving of healthy fats!
2. Dump the chips and cookies for snack and pick a fruit or crispy vegetable like celery, carrots or cherry tomatoes instead. They will add the nutrients to your diet without the empty calories and harmful fats and sodium.
3. Blend a few of your favorite veggies with a fruit for a dash of sweetness. Add water, yogurt, almond, soy or coconut milk and voila, you have a delicious shake for a blast of antioxidant heaven.
4. Stew them, puree them & add them everywhere. Spice up your meals by adding extra servings of vegetables to stews and other dishes. Have a picky eater? Sneak in vegetables by pureeing them and adding them to their favorite foods. For example, pureed carrots can easily be hidden in spaghetti sauce and mincemeat while cauliflower can hide in mashed potatoes and cheesy dishes.
5. More vegetables, less fruit. Let’s face it; most of us prefer the sweetness of fresh fruit than the crunch of fresh vegetables. However, fruits contain almost twice as many calories per serving than most non-starchy vegetables. For weight control, aim for no more than 2 servings of fruit per day.
Add these simple steps to your family’s diet and before long you will all be consuming the recommended minimum for better health.
Here’s to your health!
Cordialis Msora-Kasago is a Registered Dietitian (R.D) and a pioneer in the discussion of modern day healthy lifestyles in Africa. She is the founder of The African Pot Nutrition - an organization that improves the health of African people through sustainable diet and lifestyle programs. Follow her on twitter @africadietitian.
Alexandra Fiman Maul, MPH