a bounty of fruit and vegetables shaped in a rainbow

A great variety of fruits and vegetables are in the markets now and ripening in our home gardens. So much advice on healthy eating tells us to eat more fresh produce, but we get stuck in our old habits–the turkey sandwich we always get at lunch is usually devoid of anything grown in the ground except for maybe a tiny bit of iceberg lettuce. 

We are encouraged to eat a more plant-based diet which is similar to the tried and true Mediterranean diet. It means that the diet is based around plants and is one that consists mainly of minimally processed fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. So, a big part of this kind of healthy eating is adding more fresh fruits and vegetables to every meal. 

Here’s my video with two yummy plant-based recipes straight from my Italian Grandmother’s kitchen. 

Planning Ahead, Shopping, and Yes, the Chopping

It is easy to get carried away in the veg aisle or farmer’s market and overbuy. It’s discouraging to have your nice produce wilt and turn into a science project before you can use it. Here’s an idea: Try planning four meals ahead. This is a good idea now with our new Covid-19 lifestyle; no more skipping out to the store every day. Leafy greens like spinach, arugula, chard, and lettuces go bad first, so just buy enough for two or maybe three days of meals. 

When you get home:

  • If the inside of the bag is wet, then wrap the greens in a paper towel and transfer to a dry bag
  • Better still, rinse and spin dry the greens in a salad spinner before bagging so they are ready to use. 
  • You might also tear or chop the greens and portion them out into separate bags so they are ready to go
  • When I need a quick salad, I empty one of those bags of prepped greens into a big bowl, toss in some cherry tomatoes, chopped cucumbers and shredded carrots and have a quick salad.
  • Use a good sharp knife, a quality peeler, a sturdy cutting board, and veg prep will not be such a chore. 
  • Chopping can actually be satisfying and meditative. 
  • Pre-cut some for snacking or get ahead and chop for two meals. And, of course, you know there’s also lots of pre-cut fresh vegetables available in stores. 

Broccoli, cabbage, carrots, beets, celery and the like will last a lot longer, so you can work those into your menus throughout the next four days.

The Invisible Veggie

Disguising vegetables in children’s and resistant teen’s food is, of course, a highly valued parenting skill. And, can be used on partners who might be skeptical about changing old habits. Here are a few ideas:

  • Pumpkin or carrot puree in pancakes or French toast batter 
  • Blending a little spinach into your strawberry smoothie
  • Pureed carrots and/or zucchini added to spaghetti sauce
  • Extra parsley and minced cooked kale in meatballs and chicken nugget balls
  • Soup is a good veggie hider – pureed or not
  • Mostly veg meatloaf – half the meat, way more roasted veggies 
  • In the mac ‘n’ cheese – pureed cauliflower, squash or carrots
  • Muffins and quick breads with added zucchini, pumpkin or squash
  • Finely chopped precooked veggies on pizza

Other ideas

These are a few tried and true tips and tricks I learned from my late brother-in-law Phil Alfano, a CIA-trained chef who worked at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National park:

  • For people who love cheese, make a quick gorgonzola cheese sauce by warming up ½ cup of half and half, crumbling in gorgonzola, stirring and drizzling over green beans, spinach or broccoli, it’s a crowd pleaser
  • Take a bulb of fennel, cut into quarters, wrap in prosciutto and bake for 40 minutes at 375 or until tender. The fennel loses its licorice taste and it melts in your mouth
  • When roasting vegetables, peel and chop parsnips and beets into your typical mix of potatoes, onions and carrots
  • Make your own lettuce cups from red or green leaf lettuce or butter lettuce. Fill these little boats with chicken or tuna salad, sliced turkey or any leftovers that seem compatible with lettuce and skip the bread
A person posing for the camera

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Phil Alfano

Growing Your Own

Those who tend a home garden know the thrill of harvesting that first shiny, beautiful zucchini, plucking cherry tomatoes or the delight of picking a handful of blueberries for breakfast. And we all know that a ripe home-grown tomato is a completely different experience than the pale, tough, so-called tomatoes found at the supermarket. Not to mention that gardening is good for your mental and physical health. Being outside and in touch with nature, soaking in the green and listening to the wind and birds is nurturing. Digging, pruning, and hauling soil around is also a workout, so it’s a win-win!

Put Them in Everything

More fruits, vegetables, and greens can be added to pretty much anything you make to eat. 

  • Apples, raisins, blueberries are all good in a salad
  • Fresh fruit on yogurt, cereals, pancakes, waffles
  • Add sautéed or leftover veggies to all sandwiches 
  • Omelets, frittatas, and scrambled eggs all cry out for added vegetables and greens 
  • Add vegetables to any recipes that are meat-centric
  • Make some kind of salad for lunch and dinner to up your vegetable intake
  • With chicken or tuna salad – add more chopped fruits or veggies such as celery, grated carrots, cucumber, apples, grapes, pineapple
  • Add banana or apple to a peanut butter sandwich
  • Guacamole! Enough said.

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