Put produce on your plate (for less dough)

Put produce on your plate (for less dough)

Do you eat enough fruits and vegetables every day? According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans should fill half their plate with fruits and vegetables. Most people don't come near that amount.

In fact, nearly 90 percent of Americans fall short of the recommended daily servings of vegetables and 80 percent fall short of daily fruit servings. But it's easier — and more delicious — than you might think to make healthy food choices.

Starting now, make a New Year's resolution to make healthier food choices. Here are ways you can put good-for-you produce on your plate and also save money, winter, spring, summer or fall.

Choose versatile veggies. Pick up versatile veggies that can be prepared in different ways, such as potatoes, squash, broccoli and zucchini.

Protect your produce. Carefully place fruits and vegetables in the shopping cart where they won't get bruised. Bruising speeds spoilage. At the check-out, make sure produce is packed on top or in separate bags. If you and your family eat bananas, consider investing in a "banana hanger." Hanging bananas allows for air circulation, which keeps them fresh longer. There's also special reusable bags available that extend the life of produce and cut vitamin loss. Check with your grocer.

Think canned and frozen. Did you know that frozen or canned produce (without added sugars or sauces) can be just as nutritious as fresh produce? It depends on the item somewhat but as an example, canned pumpkin provides 540 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A, while fresh pumpkin only provides only 26 percent. Round out your fruit and veggie shopping with convenient canned or frozen choices low in salt and sugar.

Involve the whole family. Bring the kids to the store to help pick out their fruits and veggies. They're more likely to eat them if they had a hand in selecting them.

Shop at discount grocers. ALDI, a grocery retailer, regularly offers produce prices that are significantly lower than traditional grocers. In addition, it offers produce "Picks of the Week" for greater savings each week. A store locator on its website says they have more than 50 stores across North Carolina. Visit www.aldi.us for more.

For more resources for healthy eating, visit www.choosemyplate.gov. It has a wealth of information on healthy diets and balancing calories, provides searching tools to learn more about a food and downloadable tools like meal tracker sheets.

—Family Features.com

Ratatouille

Here's a delicious, aromatic recipe to jump-start your healthy eating goal. (You can cut the prep time by buying canned tomatoes and frozen bags of the chopped vegetables such as peppers and squash.) (Prep Time: 15 minutes; Cook Time: 30 minutes; Total Time: 45 minutes)

6 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound yellow onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 pound zucchini, chopped

1 pound yellow squash, chopped

1 pound green pepper, chopped in ½-inch cubes

½ pound red bell pepper, chopped in 1/2-inch cubes

½ pound yellow bell pepper, chopped in ½- inch cubes

1 whole bay leaf

¾ cup tomato juice

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon dried basil

Salt and pepper to taste

1 pound ripe tomato, seeded, skinned and chopped

In one large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and sauté onions for 5 minutes. Add garlic, reduce heat to low. In another large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil, sauté zucchini until brown. Add browned zucchini to skillet with onions and garlic, toss.

In now-empty skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil, sauté yellow squash until brown. Add browned yellow squash to pan with onions, garlic and zucchini. Repeat with all remaining vegetables, except tomatoes. When vegetables are in same skillet, increase heat to high. Add spices and tomato juice and stir. Bring to slight boil.

Cook uncovered on low for 20 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook 10 minutes. Stir and serve.

Serves: 6 to 8

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