Challenge Yourself: Eat More Fruits and Veggies

Grilled Peaches, Beans And Arugula With Warm Bacon Dressing

The first challenge is over! While the Avaglianos emerged as the winners, both families were ultimately victorious in getting healthier and losing weight.

You, too, can follow their lead. Use these tips as your guide to working more fruits and veggies into your meals:

How to Get Your Fill
★ Put it on top. Puree fruit to use on pancakes and waffles in place of syrup, and mash fresh berries to spread on toast instead of store-bought jam.
★ Bake it in. Mix frozen berries into muffin, pancake and quick-bread batters.

★ Refresh old meals. Put a new piece of produce, like chopped clementines or kale, into a familiar dish, such as your favorite salad.
★ Get saucy. Dipping veggies in low-fat “sauces” makes produce more appealing—especially to kids. Try marinara, vinaigrettes, low-fat ranch or slightly sweetened yogurt.

★ Follow the half-plate rule. If you have a choice of two sides when you’re out for dinner or lunch, opt for two veggies rather than one veggie and rice, bread or pasta.
★ Start on Sunday. Roast large amounts of veggies on the weekend and use them as no-fuss side dishes for dinner throughout the week.
★ Bring fruit to the dinner table. Make a fruit salsa with mangoes or peaches to serve with grilled meat. (Get our recipe for the grilled peach and bacon salad, shown above, here.)

Fruit and Vegetable Daily Serving Guidelines
Confused about how much produce to feed your child or yourself? Here, the latest recommendations for those who average less than 30 minutes of activity per day:

Fruit Guidelines
Kids (9–13 years old): 1.5 cups daily
Girls (14–18 years old): 1.5 cups daily
Boys (14–18 years old): 2 cups daily
Women (31–50 years old): 1.5 cups daily
Men (31–50 years old): 2 cups daily

Vegetable Guidelines
Kids (9–13 years old): 2 to 2.5 cups daily
Girls (14–18 years old): 2.5 cups daily
Boys (14–18 years old): 3 cups daily
Women (31–50 years old): 2.5 cups daily
Men (31–50 years old): 3 cups daily

What’s been your most effective way to work fruits and veggies into your diet? Share in the comments below.

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.

Is It Ever Okay To Drink Your Calories?

Kiwi-Honeydew Smoothie

After reviewing the Lehman family’s food journals the past few weeks, I’ve found that they get more fruit servings a day when they drink a smoothie for breakfast. Their smoothies usually contain a banana, a cup of berries and orange juice—3 servings of fruit! Sometimes they put spinach in their smoothies, adding a serving of vegetables.

Although smoothies can be a healthy drink, some are better than others. In fact, I usually tell people to eat, not drink, their calories. I say this because beverage calories add up quickly and for many of our favorite drinks–sodas, caramel lattes, shakes, energy drinks, cocktails–those calories come in the form of sugar.

Plus, it’s easy to forget those calories and not count them. In fact, drinks are often left out even when people keep a food journal. When I review logs and ask people about their beverages intake, they are shocked to find out how many calories they’ve been drinking each day.

So if you want to jump on the smoothie bandwagon, here are the top two smoothie do’s I shared with the Lehmans:

Do Ask How it’s Made. Smoothies sold at shops or health clubs may be comprised of sugary mixes rather than real fruit. Ask about the ingredients before ordering or, better yet, make your own smoothies at home so you know exactly what’s in them.

Do Add in Protein. That makes it more filling. To boost the protein, pour in some regular milk, soy milk or plain Greek yogurt.

Go here for more smoothie do’s and dont’s.

What’s your favorite smoothie combination? Post a comment and tell me!