5 a Day: Serving Good Health


We are all dedicated to serving our communities the best food possible, but I have to wonder if we are doing everything we can. I recently read these alarming statistics on the “5 a day” website, www.5aday.com :

  • Obesity rates have doubled in children and tripled in adolescents over the last two decades, with one in seven young people now obese and one in three now overweight.
  • An estimated 64 percent of U.S. adults are either overweight (33 percent) or obese (31 percent).
  • Physical inactivity and unhealthy eating contribute to obesity and a number of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. In addition, the prolonged illness and disability associated with many chronic diseases decrease the quality of life for millions of Americans.

On the upside, simply improving dietary practices and increasing physical activity can play a major role in preventing many of the most common chronic health problems, such as heart disease, cancer, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

Who gets the right stuff?

The new Food Pyramid, www.mypyramid.gov, which combines a nutritious diet high in fruits and vegetables along with moderate exercise, was put together to be a good resource guide for people trying to lead a healthier life and provide a good example for their children. But apparently many folks that have tried to use it have found it difficult to navigate. A new report published in the Archives of Internal Medicine backs this up. According to the study, just 3 percent of us get the pyramid requirements completely right. That sounds kind of minuscule.

Here is a breakdown of what the study found:

  • 23 percent eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day;
  • 22 percent exercise for at least 30 minutes daily;
  • 76 percent don’t smoke;
  • 40 percent maintain a healthy weight (25 or less body mass index).

What does all of this have to do with our co-ops and us? Our customers are healthy, right? They buy bulk, organic, fair trade, so how can studies like that in the Archives of Internal Medicine represent the customers we serve? They must be talking about the mainstream customer. You could be partially right, but it may help to remember also that this mainstream group is where most of our growth is coming from.

With our country getting heavier and people eating less of fruits and veggies, we may need to be more proactive in our efforts to encourage eating at least five serving of fruits and vegetables a day. Actually, five a day is the bare minimum, the recommendation for the average man is nine servings and average women is seven.

How much is enough?

Where do we come in? Let’s look at things we can do right away to help our customers eat more fresh organic produce. The first question we might ask is, “Why is it so difficult to eat the right amount of produce?” One main reason, I think, is the general lack of understanding of what a serving is. Most people will say, “I can’t eat five pieces of fruit and five servings of vegetables a day, let alone the nine or 13 which is optimum.” Well, the reality is they don’t have to.

One serving of fruits and vegetables is a lot smaller than most people think. One serving should fit within the palm of your hand. If we help them think along those lines, they may realize just how easy it can be. Let’s look at some typical servings.

If you measure it out, one serving is:

  • a small glass of 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice (3/4 cup or 6 ounces)—that’s one of those dinky restaurant glasses that you can drink in a few sips;
  • a medium-size piece of fruit (an orange, small banana, medium-size apple);
  • 1 cup of raw salad greens;
  • 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables;
  • 1/2 cup of cut-up fruit or vegetables;
  • 1/4 cup of dried fruit;
  • 1/2 cup of cooked beans or peas.

Looking at these examples, you can see that there really isn’t much in a serving; in reality a typical portion is often more than one serving. For example, a large salad can comprise two to three servings.

What co-ops can do

With this in mind, following are some suggestions for helping your customers eat better.

The first thing would be to make sure our staff understand what a serving is, so they can promote how easy it is to eat five a day.

Next, make it easy to eat more fruits and vegetables. People are busy; many have full-time jobs and families on the go. Offer prepackaged organic fruits and vegetables. This can be as simple as making sure you have half and quartered melons for easy grabbing during your peak hours. Or, if you have a bigger department, offer precut melon, pineapple, and fruit cups. Some stores I work with are starting to offer cuts of fruit bars from a refrigerated end cap and are seeing great results.

  • If you don’t carry bagged salads, baby carrots, and spinach in microwavable bags, consider doing so.
  • Try putting out a display of precut broccoli and cauliflower.
  • Make signs showing hands with a small portion in the palm and saying, “A handy way to 5 a day.”
  • Make a kids’ section to display small pieces of fruit for 25 cents each, every day.
  • Create premade “5 a day” fruit or vegetable bags.
  • Hand out easy recipes and demo them during dinner.

Now that we have customers thinking about eating more produce, how are we going to broach the topic of making sure these choices are organic and that organic is affordable?

  • Teach your customers to learn the peak produce seasons. Organic produce is at its best value when it is seasonal: best price, best taste, etc. You could even start an “At Its Peak” labeling campaign to highlight these items each week.
  • Always have some staples and some exciting items priced at a value. This will make it an easy impulse to eat more produce.
  • Suggest that customers buy in bulk when produce is at its peak. I used to encourage my customers to buy in bulk and had very good results. I made sure they knew the price up front; they had to have their order in on time; had to leave a deposit on orders over two cases; and in return, they got a bulk price that included a 10 percent discount. This also opened the door to offer or let them know where they could attend canning, freezing, and drying classes.
  • Don’t be afraid to suggest that families consider a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) during the summer. They can visit www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/csa/ and see if there is a local organic CSA program available from a farmer in your area. Many stores I have worked with allow their facilities to be drop-off sites and have found that it brought in people who hadn’t shopped there before. This also encouraged these customers to buy bananas and other produce they use everyday that the CSA didn’t carry.
  • Encourage them to visit the farmers’ market. You are probably thinking, “Are you crazy—why would I send my customers elsewhere?” Once again, this can be an opportunity for you to work with local growers and carry their products in your store. You can put up signs at the market and your store that say, “If you need farmer Joe’s produce on nonmarket days, you can find it here seven days a week.”
  • Get the whole store involved! The bulk department can point out that a quarter-cup of dried organic apricots is a serving and only costs 99 cents. Or how about the deli? That sesame seed and organic kale salad you sell at $5.99/lb. is only $1.50 a serving.
  • Put a basket of pears or apples by the soup as an alternative to chips. Promote your salad bar as a great way to get to five a day.
  • In grocery, put up signs showing that the 8 oz. can of kidney beans or 10 oz. frozen green beans in grocery is two servings. While it’s not fresh, these items are perfect for busy lifestyles and help achieve the goal.
  • The front end can get in the act as well. Put fresh fruit up near the registers to remind customers on their way out. Even a small basket of organic oranges or bananas individually priced can reinforce the impulse to have a healthy afternoon snack.
  • Offer your community room for discussions about how to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into the school menu.
  • Encourage healthy-food fundraisers with organic fruits and vegetables rather than candy bars and baked goods. Make it known that you are willing to donate fresh produce for such events.
  • Offer community tastings to help people get over their produce fears. Organic produce can often change the way people feel about eating produce, because it tastes better.

If you’d like more ideas or info, go to www.5aday.com. Perhaps by encouraging “5 a day” and taking the advice of my friend Amanda Archibald, we can “change the way America eats, one bite at a time.”


Mark Mulcahy is an organic produce educator, now working at New Leaf Community Market in Santa Cruz, California ([email protected]).

Add comment

Log in or register to post comments