By: Suzanne Havala Hobbs
Most people think of the New Year as the best time to clean up their diets. But I know of an even better time.
Why? Because the foods that will best help you meet your diet goals are in greatest abundance from now through early October.
Starting now, begin a big push to add considerable quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables to your meals and snacks. They’re low in calories, high in nutrients, and they push low-fiber, higher-calorie foods out of your diet.
Here’s your three-pronged strategy:
• First, you’ve got to have the ingredients on hand.
Make regular stops at farmers’ markets and roadside produce stands. Buy locally grown fruits and vegetables when you can.
• Then, make it easy to use them.
A good way to ensure fresh foods don’t go bad is to set aside time to pre-prepare. Choose a time when you are relaxed and can spend half an hour or so washing, peeling and chopping. Put on some music, or park a friend or family member nearby and gab. But do it. Store pre-prepared veggies in plastic bags and airtight containers in the refrigerator so you have them on hand, ready to use, when you are in a hurry or don’t want to fuss.
• Now, incorporate those ingredients into every meal:
Use them in entrees. Toss wilted greens or chopped broccoli, mushrooms, carrots and onions with cooked pasta and olive oil — and fresh herbs – to make pasta primavera. Chop and grate fresh vegetables such as lettuce, carrots, green peppers, and cucumbers and use them to fill pita pockets. Add a scoop of hummus or a sprinkling of reduced-fat grated cheese and vinaigrette salad dressing.
Add them to salads. Slice strawberries in half and toss them with broken walnuts, baby spinach leaves and poppy seed dressing. Slices of papaya, mango and avocado are also good with salad greens.
Garnish with them. Sliced bell peppers, parsley, grated carrot, daikon radish, tomato slices, purple cabbage and wedges of melon add color and flavor.
Snack on them. Set out sliced vegetables with dip — black bean, low-fat salad dressing, hummus or salsa — and they’ll disappear. Berries, pineapple and melon chunks go well with vanilla yogurt.
And plan ahead for the many times you won’t have the time or inclination to cook. Keeping cold salads on hand is an especially good idea. Not only are they more appealing in hot weather, but many salads can be served as a one-plate meal.
Just as you pre-prepare fruits and vegetables for other uses, plan to set aside time on a regular basis to fix fresh salads, too. Use whatever you have on hand.
Some good combinations:
• Cucumber and tomato salad with diced red onion (best if eaten within two days).
• Greek salad (also best eaten within two days).
• Melon salad. Add mint from the garden.
• Green bean and boiled potato salad. Steam fresh beans. Toss with vinegar and olive oil. You can add chopped pimentos or roasted peppers.
• Vinaigrette coleslaw. Add onions and grated carrots and red cabbage. Try a variation using dill from the garden.
One of my all-time favorite salads is an endless combination of summer garden vegetables — romaine, green onions, red cabbage, carrots, radishes, tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumber — minced finely and tossed with garbanzo beans, croutons and creamy Italian dressing. It keeps in the refrigerator for several days and with a couple of pieces of Italian bread is a meal in itself.
Get into these habits through the growing season — then carry them right through the year.
The May 12 column referred to a shopper’s guide, created by the Environmental Working Group, ranking pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables. EWG identified 12 with the highest residue levels of those examined, for consumers who want to avoid even low levels of pesticide residues. For 11 of those, the group says it used USDA data based on foods that had been washed or peeled before being tested. For red raspberries, EWG says only FDA data from unwashed samples were available. Foods were ranked based on a composite score of several variables, and EWG says the net result still placed red raspberries in the top 12.