Peggy, Week 4: We Won The First Challenge!

“Winning is not everything, but the effort to win is.” – Zig Ziglar

As you may have already guessed, we believed we had lost the first challenge. We had a lot going on this month. The challenge began as Amanda and I left for a week-long trip in London visiting my middle daughter, Katie, who had the week off for spring break. She is doing her first year of college abroad. (Christina, my eldest daughter, spent her spring break in London as well. Our last night, was her first, and we all went to see Wicked on the West End).

the avaglianos at wicked

My husband, Peter, and my son, Michael stayed home to work on the set for a high school’s production of the musical, Into the Woods. (Michael desires to be a Broadway set designer). Michael helped Peter design and build this year’s set. Each character came out of their fairy-tale books. One of Michael’s design contributions was the pop-up book for the bakery. This set pops up from the central book pictured below the bridge in the first photo.)

into the woods set

into the woods set

Although we added fresh fruits during the trip, and my husband brought fruits and vegetables to the theater to snack on, we were not incredibly strict on our diet.

Once we were home, and the show opened, more small changes occurred on a daily basis. We added salads to our pizza nights, and fresh vegetables with dinner. Amanda began to make smoothies for dessert using berries, yogurt and ice, and to dip fruits in chocolate. Michael’s favorite: the chocolate covered bananas. Peter started to eat apples or carrots and celery, with peanut butter or ranch dressing for dipping, instead of chips on his road trips related to work. In the end, small changes, in my case swapping bagel sandwiches for 3 cup salads I brought from home, pushed us into victory on the challenge.

Our prize: a T-Fal gift card worth $250! T-Fal makes pots and pans that are reasonably priced. A full set of pots and pans for induction cooking costs under $145; this leaves plenty of opportunity to get a big stock pot. The company also makes AirBake cookie sheets, and small appliances such as toasters and bread makers. I discovered that the factory for T-Fal is here in New Jersey. I plan to shop at the factory store, once I have a free day! (Maybe when Christina and Katie are home).

Bottom line, small changes make a difference.  In my next post I’ll share our winning secrets. In the meantime, post a comment and tell me about some small changes you’ve made this month.

Challenge #1, Eat More Fruits and Vegetables: The Winners Are…

Avagliano family

The Avaglianos!

Apples. Bananas. Broccoli. Carrots. Chances are you know you need to branch out from these usual suspects—not to mention eat more produce in general—but you don’t know where to start. So this month’s mission was to see which Challenge family, the Avaglianos or the Lehmans, could make the greatest improvement by adding nature’s bounty to their lives. Each week they received a shipment from Melissa’s/World Variety Produce, the largest distributor of specialty produce in the U.S. By the end of the challenge, they’d been introduced to 49 types of fruits and veggies, dropped pounds and boosted their energy. Here’s how they gave their meals a makeover and how you can too!

How the Avaglianos Won

Pre-challenge: “Planning was our biggest obstacle in terms of eating more produce,” says Peggy. With both Peggy and Peter working long hours and Michael and Amanda being busy teens, the Avaglianos often eats on the go. As a result, fruits and veggies aren’t top of mind. But in their best week, the Avaglianos quintupled their fruit consumption and quadrupled their veggie intake to win the challenge. Peggy lost 8 pounds and Peter, a diabetic, stabilized his blood sugar. “My levels were less like a roller coaster,” he says. Michael began eating breakfast (like a mango or strawberry smoothie) and bringing his lunch rather than grabbing pizza.

Their Top Quick Tips
Pack It Up. “It only required a little thought in the morning to put carrots, grapes or sliced apples in a cooler,” says Peter, who doesn’t have a fridge at work. The key, explains their nutritionist, Elizabeth, is to make fruits and vegetables easy to eat without much prep. “Fruits like melon should be seeded, sliced and stored in a lidded container,” she says. “With crisp veggies such as jicama, wash and store them in resealable bags.”
★ Shop Smarter. The Avaglianos were surprised to find you can buy healthy foods in quickie marts. “I’ve been eating chicken Caesar wraps and subs from the same convenience stores for years,” says Peter. “But it wasn’t until this challenge that I realized these places sold options like celery or carrots with peanut butter.”
★ Redefine Dessert. “I missed that indulgence less when I had sweet alternatives like berries or yogurt-covered raisins,” says Peggy. Amanda found out how delicious chocolate-covered strawberries and bananas could be, and Michael  discovered a love of blackberries. “It was just as satisfying and still felt like a treat to have grapes while watching TV instead of a bag of chips,” adds Peter.

What They Won: The Avaglianos received a $250 gift certificate from T-fal to go on a cookware  shopping spree.


the Lehmans

How Did the Lehmans Do?

Pre-challenge: The Lehmans were in a produce rut. “I really thought we were being healthy with, say, an orange at lunch and green beans with dinner,” says Tiffany. But their food journals, which revealed they were eating less than half the number of servings needed per day, also confirmed that they needed to shake up their intake.

Then Melissa’s Produce introduced some new food favorites, including jicama, sliced peppers and lentils. In their best week, the Lehmans ate four times the amount of fruit and three times the amount of vegetables they usually do. Both Tiffany and her husband, Andy, felt stronger during their workouts and no longer experienced a late-afternoon energy nosedive. Even more impressive: Tiffany has trimmed 4 inches from her waist, her BMI went down nearly 7% and she shed 8 pounds. Andy lost 11 pounds and buckles his belt on a tighter notch. And Anna has more energy for exercise.

Secrets To Their Success
★ Get Grid-Locked. “If you don’t make a plan for eating fruits and vegetables, you tend to buy fewer, use less and waste some,” explains Stephanie, the Lehmans’ nutritionist. She had the family make a one-page grid showing each day of the week and write down where they would include fruits and vegetables.
★ Go Meatless. Save cash and calories by cooking a weekly vegetarian dinner. “A stir-fry helps you eat a lot of different veggies at once and is a great way to use up leftovers,” says Stephanie. The Lehmans’ favorite meatless meal was quinoa tacos, which combine this rich source of protein with black beans, taco seasoning, baby spinach, salsa and shredded cheddar cheese.
★ Snack Smarter. “I felt full on less when I ate red peppers with Greek yogurt dip rather than granola or other ‘healthy’ bars,” says Tiffany. “Plus, the crunch factor helped me mentally wake up.”

How did you incorporate more fruits and veggies into your diet? Share your success in the comments below.

How To Skip Your Daily Multivitamin

Colorful fruits and vegetables

Variety is the spice of life when it comes to eating fruits and vegetables. It’s also one of the first tips I gave the Avagliano family at the start of the fruit and vegetable challenge. Sure, you can eat grapes every day. But it’s even better to eat a variety of fruits–apples, oranges, berries, mangoes and bananas–since they all provide different benefits to your body.

Eating fruits and vegetables at meals and snacks and getting variety means you can probably skip your multivitamin. A medium red pepper contains 74% of your daily value for vitamin A and more than 200% of your daily value for vitamin C. Instead of swallowing an expensive flavorless pill you can enjoy the delicious tastes found in iron-rich spinach and folate-rich strawberries.

There’s more than just vitamins and minerals in produce. There’s fiber that helps keep us full longer and makes sure our bowels are regular. And there are disease-fighting antioxidants. Scientists continue to discover different antioxidants so even though blueberries were considered one of the top foods to eat, all fruits and vegetables are good for us. Vary your intake by aiming to eat different colors of the rainbow!

Do you have a go-to dish you make when you’re trying to add more fruits and vegetables to your plate? Post a comment and tell me what it is!  

Registered dietician Elizabeth Fassberg runs Eat Food, a New York City-based company that designs and delivers custom food and nutrition programs for businesses, organizations and individuals. She’s coaching the Avagliano family through the six-month Healthy Family Challenge.

So What Is A Portion Size of Produce?

Apples and peanut butter

You know an apple is a serving size of fruit. But how many pineapple chunks or string beans do you need to eat for a serving size? And how many servings do you need in a day?

Let this chart from be your starting guide. It breaks down how much produce you need based on age and activity level.

When you find your number, it may seem like a lot. But if you look at what actually makes up a serving (five to nine will usually hit the mark) and how easy it is to sneak in a cup here and a half a cup there, you’ll see it’s doable.

So what’s a serving?

  • 1/2 cup of cut fruit
  • 1 medium piece of fruit
  • 1/4 cup of dried fruit
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) of 100% fruit or vegetable juice
  • 1 cup of leafy vegetables
  • 1/2 cup of chopped vegetables, cooked or raw

Trying to visualize the serving sizes?

  • 1 medium apple or orange = the size of a tennis ball
  • 1 cup vegetables or fruit = the size of a baseball
  • 1 medium potato = the size of a computer mouse
  • 1 cup of lettuce = about 4 leaves

Do you struggle with determining portion sizes? Post a comment and let me know.

Registered dietician Elizabeth Fassberg runs Eat Food, a New York City-based company that designs and delivers custom food and nutrition programs for businesses, organizations and individuals. She’s coaching the Avagliano family through the six-month Healthy Family Challenge.

Peggy, Week 3: Shaking Up My Shopping List

Armed with my shopping list and my coupons, my weekly trip to the supermarket is all about three things:

  • getting in
  • getting out
  • and occasionally, getting a great deal by combining a coupon with a special sale.
kiwi berries

photo via

I have never lingered in the produce aisle to check out fruits or vegetables I have not previously tried. I simply gravitate to the bananas, grapes and apples—with perhaps a brief glance at a product I don’t really recognize. On an adventurous day, I might grab a different type of apple, such as a gala or rome instead of red delicious. But I never would have glanced at sunflower chokes; let alone bring them home to try. (Just so you know, sunflower chokes came in the weekly produce package we get from Melissa’s Produce as part of the Healthy Family Challenge. You cook them as you would a potato).

Some of my family’s favorite arrivals from Melissa’s include:

Kiwi berries. They are the size of grapes and do not have a fuzzy skin. You simply rinse them off and eat them. They are bite sized and a great snack after a long day. Amanda loves them.

Pomegranate seeds. These seeds are both sweet and sour at the same time! Put a teaspoon in a salad for a great burst of flavor. They also make a good snack when you want to eat sweets! The seeds arrived vacuum sealed and separated from the pomegranate, making them a very convenient. Although I never noticed them before, I now realize they’re in my local supermarket. )

Baby cucumbers. They’re just the right size for a single salad. All you have to do is rinse and slice.

Mini sweet peppers. They add a little fun color to any dish you would use peppers in.

So, linger a few minutes in the produce aisle, and pick out one new thing this week for your family that is a little more adventurous than a different type of apple. Leave a comment and let me know what you’re going to try!