Turns out that Mom and Dad, regardless of their threats to take away TV time if you don't eat your broccoli, aren't so good at swallowing their own advice.
The pitifully low amount of produce adults eat earned them an "F" in a report card released last week by the National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, a federal, industry, and consumer partnership. Compared to five years ago, adults aren't much closer to embracing the number of servings of fruits and veggies recommended by the latest federal Dietary Guidelines. Teens flunked, too, and younger children got a D. The grades were based on data collected by a market research organization, says Elizabeth Pivonka, cochair for the NFVA and president of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, a consumer-education nonprofit group. Food diaries kept by families in 2,000 households from February 2003 to February 2004 were compared with diaries from another 2,000 households that kept them from February 2008 to February 2009.
Big surprise, right? Experts say most people know they don't eat nearly enough fruits and vegetables (Find how much the government says you should be getting here.) And they know about obesity, cancer, diabetes, and heart problems that await the unhealthy. So why do they shun plants?
"People just don't know how to cook anymore," says Pivonka. "I think that is the crux of the problem." Some wrongly assume they don't like asparagus or cauliflower when in fact they don't like the way it was prepared, she says. Many vegetables, among them green beans, carrots, and sweet potatoes, become family favorites when drizzled with a little olive oil and roasted in the oven. And fruits and vegetables can disappear if tucked into dishes the right way. Here are a few tricks from dieticians to get more produce into meals:
1. Use them in sauces, chili, soups, and casseroles. They're great at camouflaging zucchini, squash, carrots, or corn. Grate and sauté them or pulse them in a food processor until they're smooth. But they don't have to be hidden to taste good. Pasta sauces or toppings on meat dishes are other veggie vehicles. Grab a can of butternut squash soup and cook gnocchi in it—it's "super yummy," says Andrea Giancoli, a registered dietician and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. Smother your chicken in ratatouille—an assortment of seasoned, sautéed veggies—or top sea bass with tomatoes, capers, and olives or perhaps a mango salsa.
2. Bake them into muffins, breads, and pies. Yes, you can enjoy pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving relatively guilt-free, so long as it's not topped with a huge dollop of Cool Whip. Carrot cake, zucchini bread, and banana muffins are a few more possibilities. Many recipes call for applesauce instead of all or some of the butter or oil, and it brings just as much moistness. "It can definitely be an awesome way to get your more nutritious substitutes to replacing high-oil, high-fat baked goods," says Sarah Krieger, a registered dietician and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
3. Drink them. Naked Juice, low-sodium V8, and homemade smoothies can get you a couple of servings in just a few gulps. You can even hide veggies like carrots in the kids' fruit smoothies without risking a coup. But we tend to underestimate calories when we drink them rather than eat them, Krieger says. Slow down, she advises. Let these fiber-loaded drinks tell you when you've had enough.
4. Dip them. Spinach-artichoke dip can be made with low-fat ingredients like fat-free plain yogurt or light sour cream—avoid Paula Deen's mayonnaise-heavy version—so you can guiltlessly snack your way through several servings of veggies. Try a variety of colorful peppers with a flavored hummus. Low-fat yogurt is good for dipping fruit. You could even make a healthy fruit pizza if you tried hard enough, like making your own dough sweetened with a little honey instead of sugar and using reduced-fat cream cheese for the topping.
5. Make them dessert. How about angel food cake with strawberries, or a yogurt parfait with hazelnuts and a mixture of berries? Fruit can be a "party for our mouth," says Giancoli. "But sometimes you need to add a bit more fiesta." Krieger's favorite dessert combo is a few pear or apple wedges dipped in melted chocolate (dark, the healthier variety). "You will not be disappointed," she promises.