In June, the United States Department of Agriculture unveiled MyPlate, the new food icon to help people make healthful choices about their diets. MyPlate replaces the familiar food pyramid as the way to visualize healthful eating. MyPlate still uses the same five food groups: fruits, vegetables, dairy, protein foods and grains.
The key messages of MyPlate include filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables, making half your grains whole, unprocessed grains and switching to fat-free or low-fat milk.
In the summer in Maine, filling half of your plate with local fruits and vegetables will provide you with a variety of delicious and nutrient-rich options. Whether you grow your own fruits and vegetables in your backyard, visit your local farmers markets or have a share in a Community Supported Agriculture garden, using seasonal, local Maine produce can help you meet your nutrient needs with high-quality foods. Eating a varied diet has long been the foundation of traditional health recommendations — locally grown foods have the added benefit of strengthening the local food system and the local economy.
Many early vegetables can be harvested throughout the summer, and greens are a great example of this. There are several types of greens that add different flavors to your plate. Greens are a great source of vitamin A and also contain vitamin C and calcium. Many greens such as spinach, kale and chard can be steamed, boiled or eaten raw. Stronger-tasting greens such as collard, mustard and turnip greens should be blanched before cooking or adding to soups or stews in order to remove traces of bitterness. Greens also can be preserved for later use, with freezing being the easiest method.
As we move into late summer, more produce is at its peak and ready to be eaten or preserved. With the increased variety, think outside the salad bowl. Try grilling fresh sweet corn instead of boiling or steaming. Also, try grilled, mixed vegetable kabobs at mealtime or for barbecues. When the weather is too hot to cook, try a cold vegetable soup like gazpacho or cold fruit soup made with fresh melon or frozen local berries. Desserts don’t have to be filled with refined flour and sugar. Use fresh, local fruit as a perfect ending to a great meal.
Filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables doesn’t have to happen only when the sun is shining during harvest time. Preserving the produce you have grown or received as part of your CSA is a great way to keep eating local foods during the winter. If you are unable to preserve your harvest, buy produce from a farmers market or farm stand or purchase food at your grocery store that is identified as locally grown.
For recipes and fact sheets on fruits and vegetables and information on food preservation, visit the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s website at www.extension.umaine.edu.
Registered Dietitian Kate Yexa is an educator with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.
Easy Vegetable Kabobs
Makes 8 kabobs
1 small yellow summer squash, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 small green zucchini, cut into 1-inch pieces
16 cherry tomatoes
1 small onion, cut into 1½-inch pieces
1 medium orange or yellow pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
¼ cup low-fat Italian dressing, homemade or commercially prepared
On metal or soaked bamboo skewers, alternate squash, zucchini, tomatoes, onions and peppers. Brush vegetables with dressing. Grill uncovered over medium heat for 15-20 minutes or until vegetables are tender, basting and turning occasionally.
Serving Size: 2 kabobs. Per Serving: 79 calories; 2.8g fat; 0g cholesterol; 127mg sodium; 12.7g carbohydrate; 3g fiber; 2.7g protein.