Nothing beats fresh, locally grown produce from a farmer’s market, but let’s face it; very little of the produce we consume is actually grown close to home. Some stores offer virtually hundreds of choices from growers around the world. It’s easy to get carried away, but keep this rule of thumb in mind when shopping for fresh produce: Purchase only as much as you can reasonably consume within four to five days. The longer fruits and vegetables sit in the crisper drawer, the greater the nutrient loss. (There are a few exceptions; apples and citrus fruits keep well in the refrigerator for several weeks, for example.) Shop again in the middle of the week for a few more fruits and vegetables, or rely on frozen and canned produce until your next trip to the store. Here are some additional tips:
- Convenience/precut items may be more expensive but are worth every penny if they enable you to increase your fruit and vegetable intake. Try getting recipe-ready vegetables right off the salad bar!
- Lettuce and leafy greens—the darker, the more nutrient rich (that is, romaine, endive, kale, and spinach contain more nutrients than iceberg lettuce).
- Prepared salads are convenient and may decrease waste. Check the expiration date and look for fresh, crisp greens with no sign of wilting or discoloration. Be sure to wash them (even if they say “triple washed”) before digging in—increasing numbers of people are getting sick due to bacterial contamination of packaged produce.
- Enjoy seasonal fruits and vegetables and try different varieties of the same item. If you love fresh berries, purchase them on sale and freeze on cookie sheets for use later in the year.
- Fruit juice versus fruit drinks—fresh fruit is best in terms of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, but 100% fruit juice can help you meet your nutrient needs, too. Try calcium and vitamin D fortified juices if you find it difficult to get the recommended number of daily dairy servings. Fruit drinks contain little in the way of real juice or nutrition and should be an infrequent choice.
- Potatoes—Try red, sweet, or new potatoes. Top baked or microwaved potatoes with salsa, plain yogurt, low-fat cheese, cooked vegetables, chili, spicy beans, or cottage cheese.
- Remember: Wash, chop, and place prepared vegetables in airtight bags right when you get home from the store!