My fellow Americans, the state of our union is strong, but the state of our dinner plates leaves something to be desired. Specifically, we’re not eating fruits and vegetables as often as recommended. For example, an analysis of NHANES survey data found that less than 10% of American meets the MyPyramid fruit & veggie recommendations. And because everyone was glued to the TV awaiting nutrition news updates this past fall (Right? It’s not just me, right?), you probably remember the CDC’s dismal report that Americans fall far short of the Healthy People 2010 targets for fruit and veggie consumption.
This makes for a great topic to kick off a semi-regular series, The Missing Week, in which I’ll discuss deficiencies (the “missing” part) in the average American’s diet and feature recipes (the “week” of recipes part) that help fill the gap. But why should we care about this particular deficit in our collective average diet? Long story short: plant-derived foods are generally nutrient dense and calorie light, and people who eat proportionally more fruits and vegetables are at lower risk of many diseases.
To get started, I was curious where you all stood on the fruits and veggies issue. The highly unscientific results from a poll I recently posted are in, and they suggest you’re an above-average group: almost half of respondents eat the recommended daily servings of fruits and veggies most of the time.
(Are you in the “what the heck are the recommendations in the first place” group? There’s a quick calculator from the CDC here.)
But for those in the other half (or in the general population, the other pretty-much-everybody) who are having trouble reaching the recommended minimums, what are some ways to increase fruit and veggie intake? Thankfully, teh internets are ripe (har!) with content on the subject, such as here, here, or here. I’m not going to parrot all those ideas back, because I assume you’d like to stop reading this post sometime before next week, but I encourage you to check those out & google around for more.
Here’s my contribution to the library of tips: get two-for-one by preparing recipes with both fruits and vegetables. It’s a great way to pack multiple servings into a single dish, while exploring some novel flavor combinations. For example, take the fruit, goat cheese and spinach salad:
For someone of my size and activity level, one serving of this salad provides my entire daily fruit allotment (2 cups) and makes a nice dent in the daily vegetable goal (2.5 cups). Or consider the broccolini, grapes and Italian sausage recipe, which delivers at least half of both my vegetable and fruit servings for the day. Another option is curried apricot and sweet potato soup:
Granted, it only nets me about ½ a fruit serving along with 1 vegetable serving, but it’s so tasty that I just had to include it.
Ready to go win the fruit future, or land on the vegetable moon, or achieve some other State of the Produce Union goal? Then here’s this week’s recipe list:
- Curried apricot and sweet potato soup, from Serious Eats (here)
- Eggplant and apple curry, from Serious Eats (here)
- Broccolini, grapes and Italian sausage, adapted from Serious Eats (here); my version of the recipe follows below.
- Fruit, goat cheese, and spinach salad (recipe follows below)
And although these don’t fit neatly into my “two-for-one” theme, here are a few more plant-centric recipes that I like:
- Eggplant lasagna, from Southern Food (here)
- Spiced couscous and kale, from Cold Cereal & Toast (here)
Broccolini, grapes and Italian sausage (text file here)
This recipe is adapted from Serious Eats (here). I found the original too process-intensive (lots of boiling then cutting then sautéing then removing from pan then back in the pan then I’m tired just writing this), so I streamlined it a bit. Also, I like broccolini more than I do broccoli rabe, so I swapped the former in for the latter.
If you use a turkey sausage rather than beef or pork Italian sausage, you’ll shave about 50 calories off each serving.
This can also be prepared with a meat substitute (tofu, eggplant, others). Just add Italian sausage seasonings – recipe here – when you start sautéing the not-meat.
(2 servings, approx. 390 calories each)
2 sweet Italian sausages
2 cups grapes
2 bunches broccolini
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 Tbs olive oil
Ground black pepper to taste
Cut the broccolini (including stems) into small pieces. Chop the Italian sausage into bite-size pieces.
Put a medium saucepan of water on high heat. Just before the water reaches a boil, put a large non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat and add the olive oil.
When the water in the saucepan is boiling, add the chopped broccolini and cook for 3 minutes. Meanwhile, add the sausage to the frying pan once the olive oil is heated up.
Drain the broccolini when it is done. Add it and the garlic to the frying pan, and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally and until the sausage is nicely browned.
Add the grapes to the frying pan and cook for about 1 minute, just enough to warm the fruit up.
Remove from heat and divide between two large bowls. Sprinkle with fresh ground black pepper and serve.
Fruit, goat cheese and spinach salad (text file here)
This recipe is for main-dish portions, but you could easily divide it into 4 or 6 side salads.
(2 servings, approx. 430 calories each)
4 cups spinach
1 grapefruit (pink or white)
2 oz goat cheese, crumbled
½ cup raisins
2 Tbs sliced almonds
½ Tbs olive oil
½ Tbs balsamic vinegar
Divide the spinach into two bunches and place each in a large salad bowl.
Peel each of the fresh fruits – apple, orange, grapefruit, mango – and core if necessary. Cut each fruit into small (1/2-1 inch) pieces, and combine in a medium bowl.
Add half of the fruit mixture to each salad bowl. Top each salad with half the goat cheese, half the raisins, and half the almonds.
In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil and vinegar together briefly to combine. Pour half over each salad and serve.