In Savannah, March is recognized for St. Patrick’s festivities, one of the largest parade’s in the nation and everything green, including many of its fountains. While donning the green and planning your family gatherings start thinking about “Putting Your Best Fork Forward.” This is the theme of National Nutrition Month® which is celebrated each March. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics promotes this nutrition education and information campaign by focusing attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.
Each of us have unique food likes and dislikes, but everything we eat and drink matters. So how do we know what we should eat and the quantities required for a healthy lifestyle? How can we “Put Our Best Fork Forward?” Our nutrient needs can be different depending on our age, gender, activity, and health. One way to learn more about healthy eating is MyPlate. This represents the five food groups and provides guidance for making healthy choices. There are resources available in Spanish and English at https://www.choosemyplate.gov/multilanguage-spanish or https://www.choosemyplate.gov I often refer to this website and its diverse nutrition information. It is also a great resource for recipes which are available in multiple languages.
Here are some tips to help you and your family “Put Your Best Fork Forward”. Vegetables are important and it is recommended that you eat some every day. Most adults should eat at least 2-3 cups daily. Beans and peas are not only considered vegetables, but they can also be good sources of plant-based protein. This is especially important for people who follow vegetarian or vegan diets. Surveys in the U.S. indicate that most people fall short on vegetable consumption. The most common vegetables are potatoes and tomatoes, and often they are prepared in unhealthy ways. For children French fries are the most consumed vegetable.
Vary your veggies:
• Plan meals to include different colored vegetables throughout the week.
• Remember to choose vegetables from each of those subgroups (i.e., dark green, red and orange, beans and peas, starchy, and other)
• Experiment with different vegetables when preparing healthy soups and salads.
• Make a point to buy different vegetables, depending on what is in season. Chances are they will be more affordable, too.
Increase variety of fruits:
• Pack a variety of different colored fruits as snacks.
• Whole fruits, such as apples, bananas, and oranges are really convenient, but individually packaged and already cut up fruit works, too. Just be sure to look for ones with 100% fruit juice and no added sugars.
• Try new recipes that call for fruits, such as a mixed salad with sliced apples or pears. You can also add fruit, like berries and bananas, to oatmeal, muffins and even pancake batter.
• Enjoy fruit in place of sweets for dessert more often.
Vary your grains, while increasing your intake of whole grain sources:
• Try preparing a whole grain that is new to you, such as brown rice instead of white.
• You can also experiment with other grains, like wild rice or quinoa.
• A number of rice blends are available today, too. Or you can make your own, only the cooking times will likely be different.
• Switch to a whole grain bread or wrap for sandwiches – there are so many different varieties available today to choose from. Just be sure to look for a whole grain flour of some type listed as the first ingredient (as opposed to an enriched one).
• Another option is to look for ready-to-eat cereals, and even snacks, that are made with whole grain flours.
• You can also add whole grain flour to muffins, quick breads, and batters to make pancakes or waffles. (Up to half of the amount of flour that is called for in a recipe can be substituted with a whole grain flour. The amount of leavening may need to be adjusted, though.)
Change your protein routine:
• Substitute plant-based proteins in recipes, such as a mixture of beans in chili.
• You can make the recipes without any meat or substitute some of the beans in place of some of the meat, if you’d like.
• Another option is to try meatless dishes when you eat out.
• Many different cuisines offer foods made with beans and lentils.
• Experiment with seafood by grilling or baking fish in place of some other protein food for dinner two times per week.
The “What’s Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl” is a great online resource for recipes: http://www.whatscooking.fns.usda.gov Spanish https://whatscooking.fns.usda.gov/es
Start with small changes…. “Put Your Best Fork Forward” to make informed food choices, develop sound eating and physical activity habits. When preparing meals at home or making selections when eating out, planning ahead will help you make the best choices. Remember to talk positively about eating healthy foods with your family, your kids are listening. Model healthy eating habits one forkful at a time. For more information on nutrition contact your local Extension at 1.800.ASK.UGA1.