Everyone knows that eating fruits and vegetables is good for you, but new studies show eating enough of them may actually improve your mood, and the same is true for kids. Researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand tracked the eating habits of 281 young adults and found a direct correlation between the amount of fruits and vegetables (juice doesn’t count) and positive moods and feelings. “On days when people ate more fruits and vegetables, they reported feeling calmer, happier and more energetic than they normally did,” says researcher Dr. Tamlin Conner.
How much makes a difference? According to Dr. Conner, ”young people would need to consume approximately seven to eight total servings of fruits and vegetables per day to notice a meaningful positive change. One serving of fruit or vegetables is approximately the size that could fit in your palm, or half a cup. My co-author Bonnie White suggests that this can be done by making half your plate at each meal vegetables and snacking on whole fruit like apples.” A Harvard study suggests that the same is true for adults, citing a connection between feelings of optimism and the amount of serum antioxidants in the blood. Those can be found in deep green and orange foods like spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, broccoli, kale and apricots.
While fresh fruits and vegetables can be high in price and low in flavor during the winter months, food guru Mark Bittman reminds us that frozen fruits and vegetables have the same nutrients as fresh, as long as you don’t boil all of the vitamins out of them.
It’s easy to say that we all need to eat more fruits and veggies, but how do we make it happen? My kids much prefer cold veggies to hot, even in winter, so our dinner table usually includes a plate of cut vegetables – carrots, cucumbers, red and yellow peppers, and grape tomatoes. We also leave out a bowl of apples and pears, which have good flavor in winter. Our salads always have deep greens like spinach and arugula buried in them, and I add a little goat or grated romano cheese to counter the bitterness they can have.
But if the salad and plain fruits and veggies don’t appeal, here are ten winter food to try that might tempt kids and adults alike:
- Winter fruit salad: cut sections of blood orange, clementine, ruby grapefruit, pomegranate seed and red grapes. If you are daunted by seeding your own pomegranate, here is an easy way to get to those seeds without turning everything in sight pink.
- Roasted root vegetables: scrub parsnips, carrots and Yukon Gold potatoes and cut into chunks. Coat with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes, or until fork tender.
- Carrots in sweet butter: peel and slice carrots very thin – matchsticks or circles. Blanch in boiling water for 1 minute, drain, and then saute with a little unsalted butter just before serving. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Mashed sweet potatoes with garlic: peel and boil sweet potatoes. After you drain the potatoes return the pan to the stove and add a little butter or olive oil, add 1 clove minced garlic and saute for a minute or two, then return the potatoes to the pan and mash until cream. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Roasted Tomatoes: fresh winter tomatoes have terrible taste and texture, but roasting them brings back their summer flavor. Halve and seed 8 plum (Roma) tomatoes, put them on a rimmed sheet pan, season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil. Roast them at 450 degrees for 15-30 minutes, or until they have shrunk and wilted but not burned. You can eat them plain, or put them on salads or pizza. They are even better the next day if you don’t put them in the fridge. For a slightly more complicated but delicious version with basil and balsamic vinegar, click here.