Add more vegetables to your family's meals

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According to the Dietary Guidelines, it is recommended to eat 2 1/2 cups of vegetables every day, based on a 2,000-calorie diet. You may need to eat more or less, depending on your calorie level. This amount may seem like a lot, but remember that vegetables are very nutritious. They're rich in fiber and nutrients while being low in fats, sugars and total calories. In addition, vegetables are cholesterol free.

Eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruits as part of an overall healthy diet may reduce your risk for stroke, coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, kidney stones and bone loss.

What counts as a cup? One cup of raw or cooked vegetables, 1 cup of vegetable juice or 2 cups of raw leafy greens are considered a 1-cup equivalent. For example, 1 cup of cooked spinach counts as 1 cup of vegetables, while 2 cups of raw spinach are equivalent to 1 cup of vegetables. Other one-cup equivalents are: 3 spears of broccoli (raw or cooked) about 5 inches long, two medium carrots or about 12 baby carrots (raw or cooked), one large ear of cooked corn (8 to 9 inches long), one large bell pepper raw or cooked (3 inches), or one large raw tomato (3 inches).

Deeply colored vegetables and fruits contain the most vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. This includes all dark green, deep red, purple and bright orange or yellow plant foods. Eat more dark-green veggies like broccoli, spinach and greens. Include more orange vegetables, such as carrots and sweet potatoes, in your diet, as well as legumes (dry beans and peas).

To keep meals and snacks interesting, vary your veggie choices. Favor the dark or vividly colored vegetables, but continue to eat and enjoy the lighter-colored vegetables to add variety to your diet.

Storing vegetables: When stored in the right temperature and humidity, most fresh vegetables retain top quality only for a few days. Green, leafy vegetables quickly wilt and change flavor as water evaporates from tissues. Other vegetables such as corn, beans and peas lose sweetness within a short time as sugar converts to starch.

Most fresh green vegetables keep well and stay crisp if put in covered containers or plastic bags and stored in the refrigerator. If you wash lettuce, celery and other leafy vegetables before storing, drain thoroughly because too much moisture can cause decay. Always sort your vegetables before storing. Discard or use at once any bruised or soft vegetables; do not store them with firm vegetables.

Cooking vegetables: To ensure the best flavor, color, texture and food value in vegetables, cook them only until they are tender. Vegetables cooked whole in skins retain most of their nutritive value. To shorten cooking time, cut, slice, dice or coarsely shred vegetables.

The amount of water used in cooking is important - the less water, the more nutrients retained in the cooked vegetables.

Pressure cooking: When cooking vegetables under pressure, follow the directions that came with your cooker (don't be afraid to use the pressure cooker), but learn to adjust cooking time to suit the quality of vegetables being cooked. Very young, tender vegetables may require a shorter cooking time than is recommended. Even 1 or 2 minutes of extra cooking can cause undesirable color, changes in texture and loss of nutrients.