Five a Day

Most of the advice I internalized in 1991 was probably flawed.

For instance: If your distant cousin arrives at your Chicago apartment straight of the boat from the fictionalized island of Mypos, you should absolutely bring him on a double date with the girl you want to marry. No wacky antics with ensue; no way, no how.

Likewise: If your wife dies and leaves you raising three young girls alone, the best solution is to invite her playboy brother, your comedian friend and his beaver puppet to come live in your San Francisco basement. Totally sound parenting advice.

(Clearly, most of my formative memories were made on Friday nights on ABC.)

But while the Foster-Lambert model of how best to integrate a blended family under one roof may not be worth simulating in your own post-divorce reality, at least one piece of advice I gleaned in the early 90s still holds true today:

Eat five fruits and vegetables a day.

(You may be asking yourself: did I need such a long-winded reference-laden lead-in to that statement? Did Feeney need to apply for a high school principal vacancy the same year Cory and Shawn graduated middle school? I rest my case.)

The concept of five-a-day has been drilled into us since the launch of the 1991 ad campaign, and yet, I’d venture a guess that at least three-quarters of my adult friends don’t hit that mark. (Wikipedia says more than 90-percent of Americans don’t reach the recommended intake, but I’m giving more of my friends the benefit if the doubt.)

And at the most basic level, I understand why. You can order in a bacon-egg-and-cheese bagel, but try ordering in a seasonal fruit salad and you’re going to find yourself with a cup of grapes and out six bucks.

But with a little planning and creativity, the 5-a-day challenge is absolutely within reach. And more importantly: it’s worth the effort. Not only does it keep Michelle Obama off your back, but it helps keep you feeling full and hydrated, since fruits and veggies are jam packed with water and fiber and vitamins and goodness. In fact, with running, I attribute my commitment to eat more fruits and veggies with my ability to maintain my 30-pound weight loss, and that’s no small feat.

So without further ado, here’s my advice on how to get your daily plant count to five:

  • Start early. Muffins and bagels and cereal are the stuff of most American breakfasts, but if you’re waiting until noon to initiate your vegetable count, you’ve already lost 6 hours of possibilities. Instead, aim to add at least one serving of fruits or vegetables into your morning routine. For example, if you’re an oatmeal eater like I am, rather than just adding sweetener and milk and calling it a day, add a mashed banana and tablespoon of peanut butter (plus sweetener and milk, if you like your oatmeal like I like mine), and BAM – by 6 a.m., you have a delicious bowl of banana-nut goodness and only four more servings to go. You can even sneak veggies into that same bowl of oats. This morning, for example, I added a half-cup of canned pumpkin (not canned pumpkin pie filling, but the pure-pumpkin stuff) to my oatmeal, plus a hearty dash of pumpkin pie spice and some milk/sweetener, and I suddenly had a breakfast that tasted like Thanksgiving AND earned me a vegetable point. Other possibilities include adding frozen or fresh berries to yogurt or cereal, stacking sliced tomatoes on your egg sandwich, dropping a heaping cup of greens into your smoothie, or – if you demand a muffin – making your own. I’ve been known to make a batch of these bad boys over the weekend and enjoy them all week, and while one carrot-raisin muffin may not include a complete serving of fruits and veggies, it will certainly bring you closer to your goal than a slice of coffee cake would have.
  • Snack early and snack often. A constant grazer, I need multiple snacks a day to maintain my energy, and I’ve found this is the best way to supercharge my veggie count, particularly at work. An apple at 10 a.m.? One down. Baby carrots and hummus at 2:30 p.m.? We’re at two. If my options are walking to the vending machine in my building or venturing outside to the grocery store for a snack, the lazy girl inside me is inclined to opt for the former, so I make sure to stock my desk drawer and office fridge with a number of options first thing Monday morning that will last me all week. Tip: if you buy five apples on Monday, you’ll be inclined to eat one a day simply so you don’t have to worry about what might happen to them if left at work over the weekend. Having fruits and veggies within reach at home is also key. I know a smart woman (not me) who chops up bell peppers and celery and carrots on Sunday nights and stores them in an airtight container in her fridge all week. That way, when she gets home from work and is aching for a snack, it’s actually easier to grab a handful of pepper strips and dip than it would have been to open a box of Thin Mints.
  • Make your vegetables delicious. If you grew up in the 90s (and I assume you did, or else you wouldn’t have made it past the first 100 words of this post), you probably ate a lot of frozen peas, steamed lima beans and microwaved broccoli florets. That’s what people ate during our childhood, and that’s why we all grew up thinking vegetables were vile. Fast forward to 2012 and the offerings of locally grown fruits and vegetables have simply skyrocketed. Case in point: I had never heard of kale in 1994; I made baked kale three times this week. Brussels sprouts were little more than a punch line in 1996; last week, I ordered them as a side dish to my Stella at a NYC bar. If you try to reach your 5-a-day chowing down on celery sticks, you’re going to burn out fast, but if you get creative with sourcing and seasoning and a couple well-placed slices of pancetta, you’re going to be much more likely to see this challenge through.

How do you sneak fruits and veggies into your diet? And can we all agree Dinosaurs was a strange addition to the TGIF line-up?

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2 Responses to Five a Day

  1. Peter says:

    If only more blogs opened with a Perfect Strangers reference, everyone would be a lot better off. Also, pumpkin oatmeal = brilliant.

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