Planning is key to eating more fruit and vegetables

Eating the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables continues to be a challenge for many Americans but planning can help.

MSU Extension's Lori Trailer eat carrots in her office.
MSU Extension's Lori Trailer snacks on vegetables at work to improve her produce intake.

Most people know vegetables and fruits are part of a healthy diet. Regular consumption of vegetables and fruit can help people reach and maintain a healthy weight, has shown to reduce risk for diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. 

Vegetables and fruit are colorful, low calorie, nutrient powerhouses.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate reminds us to “vary our vegetables” and “focus on fruit.” In addition to helpful images like MyPlate that remind us what healthy meals are comprised of there is even a national campaign aimed at “getting the world to eat more fruits and vegetables.” Team FNV, or fruits ‘n vegetables, gets the help of celebrities to endorse featured fruits and vegetables. Cindy Crawford, Michelle Kwan, and Cam Newton are among the roster on Team FNV promoting fruits and vegetables as the go-to food.

So how are we doing with getting our daily dose of fruits and vegetables? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 12 percent of American adults are getting the recommended intake of fruit and only 9 percent are consuming the recommended amount of vegetables each day. Produce consumption among youth is also low. Approximately 9 percent of American high school students meet the fruit guideline, and only 2 percent meet the federal vegetable recommendation.

What can we do to increase our intake? How can we work to meet the daily recommendation for adults of 1.5-2 cups of fruit and 2-3 cups of vegetables? There are a lot of things individuals and communities can do.

The CDC 2018 State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables outlines several successful policy initiatives states can consider when thinking about improving the likelihood fruits and vegetables are accessible and affordable where Americans live, learn, work and play. For example, the Ohio Department of Health collaborated with other state agencies to implement healthy food and beverage policies for childcare settings. The strategy positively impacted over 1,600 sites and 8,000 Ohio children.

What about the individual and family level? There is no shortage of tips and recommendations for how to get our recommended intake. The American Heart Association has a number of suggestions to consider. Some tips include the following:

  • Keep frozen vegetables and fruit on hand to add to a meal in a hurry
  • Add spinach, peppers or mushrooms to common dishes such as scrambled eggs or pasta salad
  • Enjoy fresh fruit for dessert
  • Keep a bowl of fruit on your kitchen counter or office desk

Find ways to increase your intake that work for you

A few months ago, I noticed my office colleague Lori eating a colorful array of vegetables for her midday snack. I asked her a few questions and learned she has been consciously making an effort to eat more produce each day.

Sarah: What made you start working towards a goal of eating more produce?

Lori: I wanted to be healthier and eat less processed food.

Sarah: How many servings of produce were you typically eating and how many are you eating now?

Lori: Prior to making a change, I was rarely getting more than two or three servings in a day. Now, I’m eating five to seven servings most days.  

Sarah: Any advice for someone looking to increase their produce intake?

Lori: I’m able to meet my goal if I take time to prepare on the weekend for the upcoming work week. On Sundays, I take some time to prepare and pre-portion lunches at home for the week ahead. I always make an effort to fill my lunch meal with at least one cup of vegetables.

Sarah: What’s your favorite summer produce item?

Lori: My husband’s homegrown tomatoes!

Michigan State University Extension offers a variety of resources and educational programs promoting health and wellness. Contact your local MSU Extension county office to find a class near you.

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