Although we like to "eat locally" and understand the many benefits of doing that, I confess that we also sometimes savor fruits and vegetables that are out of season in Florida and are grateful for them. We are also aware of the people right here in the United States who are not able to afford this healthful bounty for their families. The Second Harvest Food Bank in our part of town, where we serve periodically, has some tireless volunteers who make extra trips every week to gather donated fresh produce (usually near its sell-by date) for the families we serve. They have brought in everything from lush heads of broccoli to juicy fresh strawberries and raspberries. It is a joy to be able to provide these treats to our hard-working neighbors who need them.
For those of us who may at times enjoy too much food, fruits and vegetables are varied, flavor-filled, satisfying treats we can enjoy almost without limit. I remember a Woman's Day magazine article several years back that recommended an "eat more" plan to control one's weight during the treacherous November-early January season. I think it was a six-week plan with a particular food group to add to menus each week from mid-November on. Fun idea, no?--adding food instead of self-deprivation. Each week's food group was healthful and filling so that it would be easier to avoid over-eating the rich treats of the season. I tried it and actually lost a couple of pounds while feeling that I was eating more than usual--much more pleasant than trying to deny myself during the holidays! Although I don't remember the entire program, the first week called for increasing the number of vegetable and fruit servings every day. Then in subsequent weeks, one added more servings of whole grains, lean protein foods, low-fat dairy, and two other categories I have forgotten (it's unlikely I followed the entire program--it was too much food for me!).
I know that sounds pretty much like current basic dietary recommendations, but was an innovative program when it was published. Even though our family eating habits had been relatively healthful before then, I enjoyed the plan and certain changes became a permanent part of life after that. And we have never felt better, maintained our weight more easily, or enjoyed meals more.
The difficulty for many of us is finding the time for cooking "from scratch". I don't have much wisdom to share in that regard because I truly enjoy planning and cooking meals and have always found a way no matter how many other tasks I juggled. Having sons accustomed to doing their part (when they were younger and lived with us) and a husband who always cleans up the kitchen after me has lightened the cooking load, too. And, yes, I know how fortunate I am to have their help. For what they are worth, I'll share a couple of tips from my veggie-loving kitchen: keep a platter of colorful raw vegetables with a clear cover in the refrigerator and form a habit of snacking on them often, plan meals not by thinking of the entree first but by checking the produce bins and using each fresh food at its peak, cook up a big vegetable dish like ratatouille when you have time and freeze portions for busy nights in the future, and finally, (a habit the boys still tease me about--although I think they secretly enjoy it) serve as many natural colors as possible each day since they each have different essential nutrients.
Question of the day: What is your favorite vegetable dish? What is your newest vegetable discovery (a delicious food you had not eaten until recently)?