March is National Nutrition Month. This is the perfect time to reflect on the food that we are putting into our bodies and feeding our families. It is the beginning of spring; a time of new beginnings and rebirth.

This year’s theme from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is “Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day.” The idea is to encourage healthy eating habits that are individualized. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Food preferences, cultures, and lifestyles can all impact our food choices. You can find your own way to incorporate these choices into the Myplate guidelines.

CSA Share of Vegetables Berlin MD Ocean CityMyplate is a simple reminder of good foods to eat and focuses on portion control and eating a balanced meal of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and dairy. Half of the plate should consist of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants important in disease prevention and overall health. The Academy suggests that your goal should be 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of veggies per day.

Eating more fruits and veggies can seem daunting with picky eaters or budget and time constraints. There are many ways to include them in your own way…

First, you have to get the stuff. Ideally make it fresh, but frozen is your next best bet. Canned fruits and veggies often have added sodium, sugars, and have been nutritionally compromised during the canning process. If you have to eat canned, rinse anything before cooking to remove some of those added ingredients. Here are some ways to get access to fresh produce:

  • Choosing local, seasonal produce is usually less expensive and contains more nutrients because it is picked closer to consumption. Farmer’s markets are open year round throughout the shore. Check out the MD State Farmer’s Markets website to find a market in your area.
  • You could also become a member of a CSA this year. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. You pay a fee at the beginning of the season to help support the farmer and they provide you with a variety of produce throughout the season. You can even usually go to the farm and help with the growing process. You can split the share with a friend to make it more affordable. Some places even have half-shares. Ask your local farmer if they participate in a program like this or visit the Maryland Agriculture website to find one in your area or to learn more.

Once you have the stuff, find creative and fun ways to incorporate it into your diet…

  • Grilling is a great way to add flavor to your food and get outside.
  • Soak corn in their husks in water and place them right on the grill. This steams them and cuts prep time from the pesky process of shucking.
  • Cut veggies into long strips or discs and marinate in Italian dressing. Put these directly on the grill to cook. The oil from the marinade helps them to not stick and imparts great flavor. This works great for zucchini, squash, asparagus, onions, potatoes – anything, really. Just be careful because few will make it inside for the meal. They are just too irresistible alone. These veggies can be added to wraps, salads, tossed with pasta, olive oil, fresh basil, and Parmesan cheese, or layered in lasagna. The possibilities are endless.
  • Chop up veggies and make kabobs for the grill. Who doesn’t love something on a stick? Be creative and don’t forget about fruits. Pineapples, peaches, and apples are all delicious on the grill and would be a great addition to any kabob. This is also fun because every eater can be accommodated. The vegetarian, the carnivore, and the no-onion guy can all have their own meal that didn’t mingle with anyone else’s. A perfect compromise.

Some other quick and easy ways to add more fruits and veggies…

  • Leave a bowl of fruit out on the table for constant awareness and easy reach.
  • Keep a bowl of grapes in the fridge at eye level, cleaned and ready to go, for those times when you are surveying for a snack. This will be the first thing you see and will be easy to grab to satisfy your sweet tooth. Frozen grapes are great, too. Take them off the stems first though and use seedless grapes (I learned the hard way).
  • Pair fruits and veggies with dips. Be creative. Yogurt, applesauce, peanut butter, and hummus all work great.

However, you do it, just do it! Make your choices colorful to incorporate the widest range of vitamins and minerals. Find ways to follow Myplate guidelines in your own way. Support local farmers by making your choices fresh and local. Happy National Nutrition Month!

*National Nutrition Month is a registered trademark of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.