March is Nutrition Month: Eat right with color

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By Melissa Hight, County Extension

March is National Nutrition Month, focusing on the importance of nutrition for health, happiness, and overall well-being, and is celebrated every year by the American Dietetic Association (ADA).

This year’s theme is “Eat Right with Color” and aligns with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans released on Jan. 31. Consumers are encouraged to include a colorful variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and dairy on their plates every day.

The recently released 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend an increased focus on a plant-based diet. This combined with lean meats, fish and poultry, and low-fat milk and dairy products, creates a rainbow of colors on the plate that serve as the foundation for a healthful eating plan. 

All Americans are encouraged to take time during National Nutrition Month to look at their eating patterns and start making small improvements that will add up to significant health benefits over time. To get the most nutrition out of your calories, choose foods packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients—and lower in calories. Color is one helpful guide to eating a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods every day. Be aware of portion sizes because even low-calorie foods can add up when portions are larger than you need.

Ready to add some nutritious and delicious color to your diet? The following easy ideas will help you enjoy more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy:

1) Use a variety of vegetables as pizza toppings. Try broccoli, spinach, green peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms and zucchini.

2) Puree berries, apples, peaches or pears for a thick, sweet sauce on grilled or broiled seafood or poultry, or on pancakes, French toast or waffles.

3) Mix up a breakfast smoothie made with low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt, frozen strawberries and a banana.

4) Add chopped apples, nuts and cinnamon to leftover whole-grain rice.

5) Roll roasted vegetables and low-fat cheese in a whole-wheat tortilla.

6) Enjoy crunchy vegetables instead of chips with your favorite dip or low-fat salad dressing.

7) Grill flavorful vegetable kabobs packed with tomatoes, green and red peppers, mushrooms and onions.

8) Update the banana split: top a sliced banana with a scoop of low-fat frozen yogurt. Sprinkle with a tablespoon of chopped nuts.

9) Add color to salads with baby carrots, grape tomatoes, spinach leaves or mandarin oranges.

10) Prepare instant oatmeal with low-fat or fat-free milk in place of water, and then top with dried cranberries and almonds.

11) Turn any omelet into a hearty meal with broccoli, squash, carrots, peppers, tomatoes or onions with low-fat sharp cheddar cheese. 

12) Add pizzazz to sandwiches with sliced pineapple, apple, peppers, cucumbers and tomato as fillings.

13) Wake up to fruit. Make a habit of adding fruit to your morning oatmeal, ready-to-eat cereal or yogurt such as apples, dried cranberries, bananas, etc.

14) Top a baked potato with beans and salsa or broccoli and low-fat cheese.

15) Microwave a cup of tomato or vegetable soup for a quick afternoon snack.

16) Add grated, shredded or chopped vegetables such as zucchini, spinach and carrots to lasagna, meat loaf, mashed potatoes, pasta sauce and rice dishes.

17) Stuff a whole grain pita with ricotta cheese and Granny Smith apple slices. Add a dash of cinnamon.

18) Make your main dish a salad of dark, leafy greens and other colorful vegetables. Add chickpeas or edamame (fresh soybeans) and top with a low-fat dressing.

Veggie Bean Wraps

2 green, red, or yellow bell peppers, seeded and chopped 

1 onion, peeled and sliced 

1 (15-oz) can low-sodium black beans, drained and rinsed 

2 mangos, chopped (may substitute tomatoes, peaches, or other fruit) 

Juice of 1 lime 

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro 

1 avocado, peeled diced 

4 (8-inch) whole-wheat tortillas 

In a nonstick pan, sauté bell peppers and onion for five minutes over medium heat. Add beans; stir well. Reduce heat to low and simmer about five minutes. In a small bowl, combine mangos (or other fruit), lime juice, cilantro and avocado. Reserve 1/2 mixture for topping. 

Fill warmed tortillas with 1/4 bean mixture and 1/4 mango mixture. Fold ends of the tortillas over. Roll up to make wraps. Top veggie bean wraps with remaining mango mixture. Makes four wraps.

Nutritional value of one wrap: Carb: 61 g, Calories: 350, Dietary Fiber: 15 g, Total Fat: 8 g, Sodium: 580 mg, Calories from Fat 20.5 percent, Protein: 11 g, Calcium: 111mg

Source: New Hampshire DHHS DPHS Fruit and Vegetable Program