Don't let good health take a holiday this summer. It's easy for families to eat poorly at festivals, ballgames, and tourist sites. Luckily, summer offers a bumper crop of opportunities to increase fruit and vegetable intake. For the freshest food possible, plant a garden at home. It's economical, nutritious and promotes a closer tie to the environment.
Garden produce offers a cornucopia of benefits. Here are some common fruits and vegetables, and ways they boost health.
· Red Peppers -- Sweet rather than spicy, red peppers provide vitamin A for bones, skin and teeth, and also provide as much vitamin C as an orange. Vitamin C helps promote a healthy immune system.
· Tomatoes -- The "fruit of summer" offers lycopene, a powerful protection against certain cancers. Tomatoes also contain potassium and vitamin C.
· Watermelon -- Another source of lycopene, watermelon also reduces the risk for certain cancers, especially prostate. It can also decrease the chance of developing macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in people over age 60.
· Strawberries -- This sweet fruit is rich in vitamin C, calcium and folic acid.
Make It to the Market
For those who would rather not seed and weed in the backyard, farmers' markets offer bushels of thrifty "slow food" produced locally.
Take menu cues from what's in season, making gazpacho from cucumbers and tomatoes, and adding corn kernels from fresh ears of sweet corn to salsa. Make a tossed salad by combining a little of everything you bring home from the market.
Once there, try a new fruit or vegetable. Stroll through the rows of vendors and buy food of five different colors, as a way to get a variety of nutrients.
Ask the vendor his or her favorite way to prepare a particular type of produce. Many have recipes to share. Also ask for tips on storing and preparing locally grown produce.
Check if there are any special events offered at the farmers' market. Many have cooking demonstrations, tastings and entertaining activities for kids.
For a summery, light burst of flavor, try this salad recipe.
Cannelloni Bean Salad
1 large sweet red pepper
1 can (15oz.) white kidney or cannelloni beans, rinsed and drained
1 medium red onion, sliced and separated into rings
1/4 cup minced fresh basil
3 Tbsps. red-wine vinegar
2 Tbsps. olive oil
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Cut the pepper in half and remove the seeds.
Place the pepper halves cut-side down on a rack in broiler pan. Broil 4 inches from heat until skins blister, about 8 minutes.
Immediately place the pepper halves in a bowl, cover, and let stand for 15 to 20 minutes.
Peel off and discard charred skin. Cut the pepper halves into strips and place in a large bowl.
Add beans, onion and basil.
In a jar, combine the vinegar, oil and black pepper. Cover with tight-fitting lid and shake well.
Pour mixture over the beans. Toss to coat.
Yields 8 servings of one-half cup each.
Courtesy of TOPS Club, Inc. (Take Off Pounds Sensibly). To find a local chapter, call 1-800-932-8677 or visit: www.tops.org .