By: Leah Hollenberger
Earlier this year, I attended a meeting that discussed food security in our community. Access to good, nutritious food is important because eating lots of fruits and vegetables can help prevent chronic conditions and diseases. Lots of numbers and statistics were shared at the meeting but one that jumped out was that 70% of Lamoille County residents don’t eat the recommended daily 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables.
Think about that. Out of 10 people, 7 of us do not eat the recommended daily 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables. I say us because I admit I have had to work at getting 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables into my meals every day.
Lamoille County has outstanding resources to increase access to food, so perhaps access is not the only issue preventing so many from eating the recommended servings. Perhaps it is a combination of access, budget, time, and awareness. In other words, sometimes it is a lack of time to cook, other times it is a lack of planning meals in advance (which helps save money), sometimes it is because we’re eating out and not making good choices, and sometimes we’re just trying to make a meal out of what is left in the refrigerator or pantry.
How can we change that statistic? It’ll take a variety of approaches, but individually we can each start by cooking at home more and being more mindful of eating more fruits and vegetables.
After making note of what I ate every day for a couple of days, I realized that I typically ate 2 vegetables at dinner if it was cooked at home and a fruit at lunch or as a snack. As empty nesters, my husband and I were definitely cooking dinner less often and eating out more which was also affecting our budget. What I ate for lunch sometimes got me up to 5-6 servings, but not consistently. So I decided to set three goals. The first goal was to eat at least one fruit at breakfast and one fruit and one vegetable at lunch. My second goal was to try to eat more meals prepared at home and if we ate dinner out, to include at least two vegetables. My other goal was to keep it simple: simple ingredients, simple prep. Who wants to spend a lot of time cooking or cleaning up?
That means breakfast is a cup of Greek yogurt with fresh berries or a cut-up peach, or two scrambled eggs followed by an apple, or peanut butter on wheat toast with a banana. For my husband, it means a whole grain cereal with fruit on top. Using fruit that is in season saves money, but you can also compare the cost of using frozen or canned fruit (packed in its own juice), or applesauce to stretch your budget.
For lunch, Copley Hospital’s Café offers a vegetarian entrée – often using locally-sourced, farm fresh vegetables – as well as a well-stocked salad bar. To encourage its employees to make healthy choices, they give employees one free fruit each work day. That helps me with my goal of keeping it simple. If I pack my lunch, it is usually leftovers from last night’s dinner, along with carrots or half a red pepper cut into strips. My husband usually eats beans and rice for lunch. (Yes, he eats the same thing for breakfast and lunch every day. He makes a big pot of beans and rice every weekend and eats from it all week.)
For dinner, I discovered that pre-planning really helped us cook more at home. I tend to be the planner of the family, so I’ll make a large meal like pulled chicken or vegetarian chili in the crock pot on the weekend and plan several meals out of it. For example, we’ll have chili with cornbread one night; the second night, chili over baked potatoes; and the third night scrambled eggs with chili or chili with grilled cheese sandwiches. Stir-frys are fast and easy and, with so many different sauces one can make, along with using different vegetables, it is hard to get bored with them. Omelets with spinach, tomato, and mushrooms; tuna salad with red pepper and onion served on fresh spinach leaves; Mexican restaurant style black beans with ground turkey tacos are just a few of the quick meals we routinely cook. Since I’m not one to eat the same thing day after day for dinner and our schedules change constantly, I try to plan 3-4 dinners for the week at a time, using the supermarket sale flier, and try not to repeat any from the week before so we’re not eating the same few meals. Purchasing fruits and vegetables that are in season keeps costs reasonable but we also use frozen vegetables like corn, green beans, peas, carrots and broccoli and canned beans because they are easy and you can buy extra when they are on sale.
We have a couple of go-to resources we use for recipes. These include EatingWell.com, Skinnytaste.com, and Mark Bittman’s cookbook “How to Cook Everything.” I also check out cookbooks from my local library and Copley Hospital’s Medical Sciences Library, which is open to the public. If we find one we really love, I’ll write it down and file it in our 3-ring binder for recipes.
Other resources to help you reach the recommended 5-9 servings of fruit and vegetables include:
- Healthyinasnapvt.org: A great website from the health department with tons of tips for everyone on stretching the food dollar.
- 3SquaresVT: Call 1-800-479-6151. You can get 3SquaresVT benefits even if you do not get any other benefits from the state. If you get 3SquaresVT benefits, you will not be taking them away from others. 3SquaresVT is an entitlement program which means everyone who is eligible for 3SquaresVT benefits has a legal right to get them.
- Johnson/Lamoille Valley CommUNITY Meal: United Church of Johnson, 100 Main Street, Johnson. 802-635-143.
- Lamoille Community Center Community Meal: 24 Main Street, Morrisville, VT. 802-888-4302.
- Meals on Wheels of Lamoille County: 24 Upper Main Street, Morrisville, VT. 802-888-5011.
- (Free) Breakfast On Us: M-F, 7am-9am, First Congregational Church, 84 Upper Main St, Morrisville, VT. 802-888-2225.
- Lamoille Community Food Share: M-F, 9am-11:30am; Sat 9:30am-11am. 197 Harrel St, Morristown, VT. 802-888-6550.
- Johnson Food Shelf: Tues. & Fri, 9am-12noon. 780 Railroad St. 802-635-9003.
- Call 2-1-1 and ask about food and nutrition resources available to you or check out the link for a list. The list includes WIC, summer meals programs, emergency food shelves and community meal sites, the Learning Kitchen and UVM Extension’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program.
Leah Hollenberger is the Vice President of Marketing, Development, and Community Relations for Copley Hospital. A former award-winning TV and Radio producer, she is the mother of two and lives in Morrisville. Her free time is spent volunteering, cooking, playing outdoors, and producing textile arts. Leah writes about community events, preventive care, and assorted ideas to help one make healthy choices.