Seasonal fruits, vegetables abundant, lower in cost
MANHATTAN, Kan. – Snacks provide energy between meals, and that’s why a Kansas State University nutrition specialist suggests planning snacks to include health-promoting fruits and vegetables that will complement, rather than compete, with meals.
Why the emphasis on fruits and vegetables?
“People of all ages fall short of meeting the five-to-nine servings of fruits and vegetables recommended for optimum health,” said Sandy Procter, K-State Research and Extension nutrition specialist.
Procter noted that she likes to keep cut fruits (melon chunks) and vegetables (carrot, celery and pepper strips) in a container in the refrigerator to make them easy to eat, and provide an easy way for family members to add one or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
“Give fruits and vegetables equal opportunities,” said Procter, who noted that fresh berries, peaches, pears and plums are at their peak during summer months and are naturally sweet and appealing.
Fruit can usually stand alone, but pairing it with low-fat milk as a smoothie or topping for yogurt is an easy way to make a health-promoting snack that will likely be a hit.
While frozen grapes can be a hit with teens and adults because they’re “cool,” they are not recommended for younger children for whom they present a potential choking hazard, she said.
Making vegetables appealing need not be a chore, said Procter, who typically keeps a variety of vegetables ready to eat so that she can assemble a veggie tray (with optional low-fat dip) for the family to snack on prior to the evening meal.
Be willing to try new, or less familiar, fresh fruits and vegetables in their peak availability, said Procter, who encourages shopping at this season’s farmers markets, fruit and vegetable stands, and produce departments.
Summer markets are a lot like opening a new box of crayons. It’s hard to know which color to choose first, she said.
While rich reds and blues, many shades of greens, sunny yellows, sparkly peaches, bright orange or a regal purple may attract buyers, Procter noted that shoppers may not realize that the pigments responsible for producing the color are key to health-promoting qualities in the foods they choose.
And, by eating a variety of colorful foods, consumers can benefit from several vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, which are plant-based substances that offer health-promoting qualities, she said.
For example, fruits and vegetables containing vitamins C and E as well as beta carotene, possess antioxidant properties that reduce inflammation, prevent cells from aging, and reduce risks from chronic disease and some cancers.
Fruits and vegetables also are high in fiber, which, in addition to cleansing the body, promotes a full – or satisfied – feeling that helps to manage the appetite and weight, Procter said. Fruits and vegetables also have a high water content to help keep the body hydrated and provide a refreshing, cooling effect.
Summer-fresh fruits and vegetables are abundant and also lower in price during peak growing season.
Many fruits (apples and bananas) and vegetables (carrot or celery sticks) can qualify as ready snacks, and these foods make healthful, filling choices that parents can offer when hunger strikes, Procter said. “Typically, as adults, we need to offer vegetables and fruits more often, and remember to eat them ourselves.”
Procter also reminded parents and others providing food for children and teens that the younger generation models adult behaviors.
That’s reason enough to think beyond pre-packaged snack foods that are typically higher in calories, fat and sugars, and make fruit and vegetable snacks available, said Procter, who also is Kansas’ coordinator for the USDA’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education and Family Nutrition Programs.
More information about choosing and using foods for nutrition and health is available at K-State Research and Extension offices and online at Human Nutrition.