Eating fruits and vegetables is important for maintaining good nutrition. But did you know that eating plenty of fruits and veggies can also protect your bones, maintain healthy cholesterol level and keep your blood pressure under control? Actually fruits and vegetables are responsible for keeping all your organs and body systems healthy! The question is how much is enough? The recommended amount is 5 – 9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Sounds like a lot, but here are some easy tips to help get you there! 1. Set a goal. Try by eating one extra fruit or vegetable a day. Once that becomes routine add another one until you reached your personal goal! 2. Sneak them in. Adding finely grated carrots, onions or zucchini to pasta sauce, meatloaf, meatballs, chili, or a stew is an easy way to get extra servings of vegetables in without even noticing. 3. Be adventurous . Next time you are at the grocery store purchase a more exotic fruit or vegetable, to help avoid getting bored of the usual fruit/veggie intake. Try a kiwi, mango, fresh pineapple, jicama or some of the more exotic choices now found in many grocery stores. Don’t be intimidated! Ask your grocer about the item and what to do with it! They will be happy to answer all your questions! 4. Drink your fruits and vegetables. A smoothie is an excellent way to sneak in a few extra fruits and vegetables into your diet. It doesn’t have to be an all fruit smoothie either! Try adding some spinach or kale to make a delicious green smoothie for a change. 5. Dip Away. Try dipping vegetables into hummus, salsa, bean spread, some spiced yogurt, or a bit of ranch dressing. Or slather some peanut butter on a banana or slices of apple. 6. Get a head start. Try adding fruits and veggies early! Make an omelet with onions, peppers, and mushrooms. No time to cook? Add some fruit to your morning cereal like a handful of strawberries, blueberries, or dried fruit. 7. Turn up the heat. The grill isn’t just for burgers! Cut up onions, zucchini, asparagus, turnips — whatever you have on hand — and throw them on the grill. Grilled veggies are delicious in sandwiches or as side dishes. Don’t let veggies have all the fun, grilled fruit like pineapple or peaches work well in savory dishes or as dessert. 8. Minimize prep time. If you are pressed for time, but still want to eat healthy, take advantage of the increasing selection of ready prepared produce like ready-made salads, pre-cut veggies, frozen stir-fry mixes and sliced fruit for days when you are on the run! 9. Add your own flavor. Give vegetables another flavor profile by adding balsamic vinegar, olive oil, flavored oil, toasted or chopped nuts, spices or even a little Parmesan cheese. 10. When in doubt, add chocolate. Have a sweet tooth? Try your favorite fruit dipped or drizzled with dark chocolate, which is loaded with lots of healthy antioxidants. Who knew dessert could be so healthy! Elaine Secilmis, RD, CD.