How many servings of fruits and vegetables have you had today? Four? Two? One?
The USDA recommends five a day. If you don't eat that, you're not alone--over half of Americans don't eat enough of the foods we need every day for good nutrition. Even gardeners don't always get enough, and when they do, their families might not, shunning fresh-from-the-garden foods in favor of junk.
The truth is, eating right is not as hard as you think. After all, the Food Pyramid makes nutritional sense: eat more foods from the bottom (grains, veggies and fruits) and fewer from the top (meat, fats, sweets and oils).
"But my family WON'T," you say.
That's when guerilla tactics are called for. Put on your camos, raid the garden and head for the kitchen, because it's time for some sneaky nutrition.
Your mission: better nutrition. Imagine the James Bond theme playing in the background as you stealthily slip more veggies into your family's food. Special agent (insert your name here) is on the job.
All this sneaking. . .is it. . .well, ethical? That depends. Remember: the nutrition you provide your family now can increase or decrease their quality and LENGTH of life later.
If that's not enough guilt to convince your conscience, tell your family what they've eaten afterwards and ask them if they noticed the difference. They might even like it.
These sly maneuvers are easier than you think, because we don't often eat plain servings of most foods, we eat them in combinations. That's where sneaky nutrition really shines. A meatloaf, for example, normally has meat, eggs, vegetables (onions) and grains (bread or cracker crumbs). Boost the nutritional value by adding a little nonfat dry milk to increase calcium, some shredded carrots for betacarotene and whole wheat bread or even oatmeal for the bread crumbs. They'll blend right in and you're on the way to completing your mission.
You can also camouflage the flavor of vegetables that are unpopular in your house by hiding them in other foods. A serving of fruits and vegetables is only 1/2 cup, so it's easy to sneak some in. In addition to the meatloaf trick, you can also grate a couple of carrots into spaghetti sauce and lasagna or quick breads and muffins to provide your family with a painless extra serving of vegetables. Heck, even an extra PARTIAL serving is better than none at all, because (are you sitting down?) you don't have to eat five DIFFERENT servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Get creative: you can mix and match them. Eat 10 half-servings or three full servings and four half servings or. . . .you get the idea.
For instance, chop apples over your cereal to add fiber, flavor and vitamins. Toss in a handful of raisins for iron and potassium and together, you have a serving of fruit.
Even salsa can be a vegetable serving (after all, it's main ingredients are tomatoes, onions, garlic and peppers). Eat it instead of cheese dip. You can even serve it as a sauce for chicken and fish.
Mince some broccoli--a good source of Vitamin A, C and fiber--and sprinkle it on a pizza or simmer it in the sauce. Steam cauliflower on top of the potatoes you're boiling and mash them all together. The flavors and colors blend seamlessly.
As for fiber, we all know we need more--it lowers the risk of heart disease and some cancers. It can also help you lose weight, because fiber-rich foods make you feel full faster so you eat less. To add fiber to your diet, eat foods from the bottom of the pyramid, particularly whole grain breads (look for "whole wheat flour" as the first ingredient to make sure you're getting the whole grain).
Frosted whole-grain cereals are another good source of fiber. They soothe your sweet tooth and can provide up to a whopping eight grams of heart-healthy fiber in a serving.
Try tossing kidney beans into salads, soups, stews or stir-fries. Even bean burritos are a better choice than meat-filled ones. Why? A quarter cup of most beans has one-tenth the fat of the same amount of beef, 10 grams of fiber, a good dose of folic acid, around 16% of your daily iron and (surprise) more protein.
Desserts are prime candidates for sneaky nutrition. Make your own pudding pops by freezing homemade pudding in ice-pop molds; these are a good source of calcium for kids and adults alike and they're better for you than ice cream. By the same token, fruit-juice frozen pops are easy to make and healthier than the sugar-water versions.
You can also buy plain, unflavored gelatin and make it with fruit juice to boost the vitamin content and get more fruit into your family--kids love it.
For apple pie flavor without the fat-filled crust, stuff cored apples with brown sugar, cinnamon and granola (a sneaky bit of fiber), then cover and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
Well, you're on your own now, 007. This should be enough to get you started. That's right, you've earned your license to fill.
(Your theme music fades in: Bah-duhduhduh-dum, bah-dah-dah-bah-duhduhduh-dum, bah-dah-dah, bah-duhduhduh-dum, bah-dah-dah-bah-duhduhduh-dum, bah-dah-dah WAH WAAAHHHH wah wah WAAAAAAAAAaaaaahhhhhh. . .)