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18 ways to get your 9 a day

"Are you kidding?” was the reaction in late January 2005 when the federal government boosted recommendations for vegetables and fruit from five to nine daily servings for a person consuming a 2,000-calorie diet. That’s a tall order, since at last count the average American ate only about three servings of vegetables a day.

But growing evidence about the disease-fighting benefits of eating a wide variety of produce makes the nine-a-day dietary goal worth striving for. And serving sizes are small: one-half cup for most vegetables. For leafy greens, a serving is a cup. For fruit, it’s a medium-sized piece of whole fruit. A serving of fruit or vegetable juice is 6 ounces.

We asked dietitians to provide some tips for bulking up, and diversifying, the produce content of your diet and overcoming three common barriers to eating more vegetables.

The Taste Barrier

Eat ‘em young and sweet. Baby vegetables, like baby carrots, for example, are often less bitter than mature ones. Or add a sprinkle of sweetener to cut a perceived bitter taste.

Disguise the taste. Add vegetables to dishes you already like, such as pasta, stews, and pizza. In a casserole recipe, try substituting vegetable juice for water. Use applesauce or sliced bananas on a peanut-butter sandwich instead of jelly.

Add some sizzle. The new dietary guidelines call for getting 20 to 35 percent of calories from fat; why not use some to flavor up your vegetables? Sauté vegetables in a little olive oil, or melt cheese on top. Add toasted almond slivers to steamed green beans or asparagus.

Change the texture. Prepare soup with pureéd broccoli or cauliflower. The smoother texture might increase the appeal. Add low-fat milk for a creamier texture.

Fire up the grill. Vegetables, or fruits like mango and pineapple, will absorb the smoky flavor when grilled in slices or on kebobs, alone or with meat or fish.

Remember salsa. Spoon it on top of broiled chicken, fish, and other plain fare. To make your own, combine chopped red or green peppers, black beans, corn, scallions, cilantro, lime juice, red-wine vinegar, cumin, salt, and hot peppers if desired. Stir and chill.


The Waste Barrier

Avoid the waste of spoiled produce by stocking up on less-perishable veggies. Carrots, cabbage, and some squashes keep well. So do dried fruits. And don’t forget beans: They count as vegetables, and dried or canned ones have a long shelf life.

Don’t hide it. Put perishable items in clear containers. You’re more likely to use what you can see.

Freeze what’s left. If you need just part of a pepper or onion, chop up the rest while you’re at it and freeze it for an easy add-on to a future cooked dish.

Use frozen. Fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables are all healthful. Add frozen broccoli, spinach, or mixed veggies to cooking pasta about 2 minutes before it’s done. Drain and sprinkle with a little olive oil and Parmesan cheese for instant pasta primavera.

Frittata.Don’t forget breakfast. Add vegetables you have on hand to scrambled eggs or omelets, or bake a frittata. Use up fruits by mixing with yogurt or cereal.

Beans, beans. They count as vegetables, and dried or canned beans have a long shelf life. Eat them atop salads, with pasta, or in soups. Or, pour pureéd beans into ice-cube trays and freeze. Use the cubes as a soup-thickener instead of flour.


The No-Time-to-CookBarrier

Bag it. Put baby carrots, grape tomatoes, or celery sticks in a sealable bag and snack on them at work or while running errands. Or make a trail mix with your favorite dried fruits. (Note that the serving size for dried fruit is only one-fourth cup.)

Zap it. Many vegetables will cook in just a few minutes in the microwave. Try putting fresh asparagus in a little water with a squeeze of lemon; cover and cook on high power for 2 to 3 minutes or to desired tenderness.

Buy ready-to-eat. Look for packaged, already-cut fruits and vegetables at the store, or bring home sliced veggies from a salad bar to snack on instead of cheese or chips. Buy bagged greens for easy salads or sandwich toppings (but give them an extra wash just in case, even if they say they’re already washed).

Drink your produce. Trade a soda for a can of tomato or vegetable juice, or a smaller amount of fruit juice, which has more calories. Or have a fruit smoothie with low-fat milk and plain yogurt for breakfast.

Order a veggie sandwich. Or add a couple extra vegetables to the standard lettuce and tomato on any sandwich. Roasted peppers, avocado, sprouts, onions, grated carrots, spinach leaves, or sliced black olives all work well.

Speak up. Ask if the restaurant will let you substitute mixed greens or a vegetable for another side dish, or add a small side salad. Just because it’s not on the menu doesn’t mean they don’t have it.





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