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The new food plate unveiled by the Department of Agriculture today (June 2) sends a clear message: eat more fruits and vegetables. Chances are, you've heard this message before. And chances are, you're guilty of not heeding it. But meeting the daily requirement for fruits and vegetables need not be such a struggle.
Here are six easy ways to get more of these important foods into your diet, according to Heather Mangieri, a nutrition consultant and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
To get in the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, start eating them early, with your morning meal, Mangieri said. This could mean adding bananas to your cereal, berries to your yogurt or vegetables to your omelet, she said.
Don't hide the fruit
Make fruits and vegetables visible to encourage everyone in your family, including yourself, to eat them, Mangieri said. Set out a fruit bowl in the kitchen or have carrot sticks available for snacking. Take some time to prepare the fruits or vegetables, if needed, so they are ready to eat.
Frozen is good
Frozen vegetables, such as peas and carrots, are a great way to make sure you always have vegetables in the house, Mangieri said. They are easy to prepare and keep for a long time. Mangieri recommended steaming them and adding them to casserole dishes. And frozen vegetables are usually just as nutritious as fresh ones , according to Keri Gans, who is a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
At mealtime, think of the veggies first, not the protein
The new guidelines recommend half of your plate be filled with fruits and vegetables. Try to approach your meals by basing them on what vegetables you'll have, and then think of the grains and protein to go with it, Mangieri said.
You can drink your fruits and veggies, to a point
Look for labels that say "100 percent" fruit or vegetable juice, because those can be a way to get a serving of fruit, according to the USDA. However, you have to be cautious about portion size and make sure you know how much a serving is. You don't want to end up consuming extra daily calories from juice. In addition, whole fruit also provides fiber, which is part of a healthy diet.
Have fruit with your sweets
"Fruits are nature's natural candy," Mangieri said. She recommended pureeing berries and adding them as a sauce to desserts such as ice cream. While the ice cream is not good for you, a fruit sauce without added sugar is better than something else you might add to your sundae, such as chocolate sauce, she said. Portion control is key with desserts, she said. Desserts are OK now and then if you're meeting your nutritional needs from other foods and exercising to make sure your calories in equal your calories out.
You can also use fruits to make a smoothie. Mangieri recommended using yogurt and no added sugar. "We have this heightened sense of sweetness just from overdoing it on sugars," Mangieri said. We should try to get back to basics and let fruit be sweet enough for our taste buds, she said.
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Follow MyHealthNewsDaily staff writer Rachael Rettner on Twitter @RachaelRettner.