Taste the Rainbow

I posted this photo on facebook a couple weeks ago, and it spawned an interesting, unexpected discussion among my friends and family. I took this photo of my grocery cart because, well, to be honest, I was proud of myself. I was proud because I’ve finally graduated out of the processed foods aisle (did anyone else live off of Easy Mac in college?) to the produce section, and can actually say I’m enjoying it.

But the discussion that ensued was fascinating. The photo sparked a lot of curiosity, a few passionate speeches from vegans and healthnuts, and some humble, honest remarks from others who haven’t yet figured out how to make the switch to a healthier diet, mostly because of cost. Simultaneously, side conversations about pregnancy cravings got me thinking even more; as one who only wanted bagels, cheeseburgers and pizza for the first 13 weeks, I myself was totally averse to anything that resembled a leafy green until the second trimester. I get it. Eating healthy – specifically eating more fresh vegetables – is difficult sometimes. I don’t yet have a family of 5 that look to me every night to have dinner ready and waiting, and I am not in the business of preaching that there is only one path to health and longevity. I know that wallets are tight, and I empathize with my preggers counterparts who vomit a little in their mouth when they think about eating a salad. But what I DO know is this: eating a robust, healthy diet including fruits and veggies is uber important for everyone, especially that little baby you’re growing. And I also know that small, simple choices here and there can make a BIG difference in the long run. My mother always told me there are lots of paths to the same destination… you just have to find the one that is right for you.

So without further ado, here are a few ideas to set you on the path to tasting the rainbow, while making it affordable and palatable.

Simple Steps to Make Veggies More Affordable

1)  Check out your local CSAs.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. When you buy a share of a local CSA near your home, you are buying a share of the harvest of a local farmer. Once each week during the season you either pick up your produce at a designated location, or maybe it gets dropped off to your door. Each organization’s fees are different, but paying a one-time flat fee in the spring is more than likely a lot cheaper than trying to buy organic, locally grown produce from your grocery store. Bonus: you are also supporting your community, your local farmers, and eating the freshest produce you can get. Your make-it-work moment: you won’t always have a choice in what produce you get, so you will need to keep an open mind, and look up a few new recipes along the way (how many ways can I use a peach…?) To find CSAs in your area, visit http://localharvest.org.

2) Trade In, Opt Out

Take a look at your grocery list next time you go shopping. What are some of the items that aren’t so healthy, but you buy every time? Hubby has a hankering for frozen apps during every football game? Try making those jalapeno poppers from scratch with a quick recipe found online. Opt out of the frozen box, and put the same amount of money that you would have spent on it towards a healthy alternative in the produce section. If you do this with one thing on your list at a time until it becomes habit, before you know it you will have a healthier diet and an arsenal of homemade goodness.

3) Frozen vegetables are still vegetables

True story. Just cause they are frozen doesn’t make them any less nutritious. But the way you cook them does. Avoid boiling your vegetables, as that zaps the nutrients. The best ways to cook your veggies include steaming, stir frying (with a healthy oil like olive or canola), microwaving, or grilling. The less water, the better. And when you serve them, they should be brightly colored and tenderly crisp – not soft, mushy and brown like the school cafeteria.

4) Grow your own

Yep, that’s right. Grow them yourself (I said this was how to make eating fresh veggies more affordable, not less time consuming…). If you have a green thumb and even just a little plot of land – or even a patio with some big terra cotta pots – you can grow your own tomatoes, herbs, peppers… you name it. It does take some time, some dedication, some sun and some water. But where there’s a will, there’s away.

5) Choose your organic produce wisely.

Again, it’s all about choices. Yes, organic is often more expensive, so if you can’t buy all, buy some. My rule of thumb is, if I’m going to eat the skin (apples, berries, leafy greens), I’ll try to buy it organic. If I’m not going to eat the skin (bananas, avocados, etc) then I might save myself the cost.

6) Eat in season

Produce that is being harvested right now is much cheaper than produce that is grown out of season, to feed the masses. If it’s fall, apples and squash will probably be cheaper than they will in the summer. And if it’s berries you need, July is your month. This comprehensive list from Frugal Living tells you when your favorite items are in season: http://frugalliving.about.com/od/foodsavings/tp/Cheapest_Produce.htm

Simple Steps to Make Produce More Palatable

1) Invest in a juicer

For me, the thought of eating my veggies in the first trimester was not appealing. But drinking them was another story. I noticed early on that liquid was easy on my nauseous stomach, and I was thirsty all the time. I would even go to bed with juice next to me, so I could drink it first thing before rising, to quell the morning sickness. So, we thought long and hard, saved our pennies, and did our research, and then…. ta-da!! We bought a shiny new masticating juicer from Omega. It is amazing. And pretty tasty too. I found most of my juice recipes on Pinterest, and started adding juice in as a snack a few times a week. Disclaimer: pregnant women should not fast on juice alone. While there are lots of people out there who will promote juice fasts and cleanses, pregnancy is not the time to do heed their advice. Think of juicing as a snack or meal supplement, but continue to eat at least 3 balanced meals per day.

2) Make smoothies for breakfast

So a juicer is a little expensive for you, but you have a blender? Perfect. Make a smoothie. This is how I do it: some low-fat vanilla yogurt, some milk and/or OJ, some fresh fruit (usually berries and bananas), some frozen fruit to give it consistency (usually peaches, mangoes, or pineapple), blend and waa-laa…. deliciousness in a glass. You can also include protein powder, flax seed or oil, immunity boosters, even some green veggies like spinach, whose mild taste will be hidden by the fruit. Jamba Juice gets expensive – give yourself a calcium and antioxidant boost from home.

3) Season your veggies to suit your cravings

For some unknown reason, I have not been able to get enough lemon to save my life these last three weeks. Lemon in my water? Check. Lemon in my tuna fish? Check. Lemon in my veggies? BRILLIANT. As a result of my overwhelming urge to consume all things lemon, I’ve consumed more kale in my pregnancy than I ever have in my entire life. Mmmmm… just talking about it makes me want to eat some. Here’s my favorite way to prepare it:

  • wash the kale and remove the stems with a knife
  • chop the kale coarsely
  • put it in a saute pan alone, sans oil, cover and steam over low heat for about 2-4 minutes, until it starts to shrink down and turn bright green
  • add a touch of olive oil, a clove or two of fresh crushed garlic, and the juice of one lemon – stir
  • saute for about 5 minutes until it cooks down, taking it off heat before the color disappears and before the leaves wilt fully

4) Take them off the side

Add your veggies into your entrees every chance you get. It will help you eat more of them, but also help you mask the taste or texture when it’s not appealing to you. Making lasagna for dinner? Add some broccoli into the dish. Cheesesteaks? Add mushrooms to your peppers and onions. Having a sandwich? Choose spinach over iceburg lettuce. Remember: small choices go a loooong way.

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