June brings sunshine and plants love those golden rays! As the growing season is in full swing, it’s not surprising this month is National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month. With an abundance of fresh produce available in the gardening boxes at Sonoma Hills Retirement Community, this observation won’t be hard to celebrate!

Taking on the “job” as Sonoma Hills Gardener is resident, Steve White. He made sure plenty of vegetables were planted in the gardening boxes this spring, and he continues to care for the crops daily. Almost any time of the day, you will find Steven tending to the garden boxes. He has planted tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, onions, carrots, celery, assorted lettuces, green beans, radishes, and cucumbers. Fresh herbs, such as oregano, rosemary, and chives are also in abundance. Sonoma Hills also has many fruit trees around the grounds — figs, peaches, oranges, apples, plums, and lemons, which are used in the kitchen for our residents’ meals.

While the community at Sonoma Hills has a variety of fruits and vegetables to choose from, most Americans don’t consume enough fruits and vegetables in their diet. Statistics show that less than 30% of Americans – that’s seven out of every ten people – are failing to meet the recommended daily allowance of fruits and vegetables. A great source of calcium, fiber, folate, iron, magnesium, potassium, sodium, Vitamin A, and Vitamin C, it’s hard to understand why many are reluctant to add these healthy foods into their routine. A diet filled with fresh fruits and veggies may help lower the risk of heart diseases, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure while decreasing bone loss and protecting against some cancers.

If you find yourself resistant to eating more leafy greens and hearty vegetables, there are many easy ways to “sneak” these foods into your meals. Mix chopped vegetables into your scrambled eggs, or add them to muffins. Throw pumpkin or squash puree into your pancake or waffle mix. Stir spinach, mushrooms, or broccoli into spaghetti, or better yet, use a spiralizer to make zucchini noodles and skip the pasta altogether! Finely shred vegetables like carrots, squash, or kale and fold them into casseroles or ground beef for a healthier burger. A surprisingly awesome stand-in for bread or tortilla wraps — large leaves of lettuce! When making soup, toss in a can of puréed tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes, and carrots to increase the number of vitamins and minerals while creating a thicker and more delicious dish!

If none of those options appeal to you, what about hiding vegetables in chocolate? Who doesn’t love chocolate? When grated or chopped finely, almost any vegetable can be added to a brownie mix or a chocolate cake base. We bet you can’t tell the difference! Try it! Mix carrot or sweet potato purée to chocolate chip cookies for a tasty treat with hidden health benefits. Another veggie-packed delight? Zucchini bread! A great way to get in a serving of vegetables while satisfying your sweet tooth.

You can also drink your nutrition with a juice or smoothie. Each week, the residents at Sonoma Hills get to sample the latest concoction, as we mix together many different fruits and vegetables for Juice It Up. Nothing goes to waste as the leftover pulp from juicing is saved and will be incorporated into recipes for the residents at Sonoma Hills.

I’m sure most of us remember our mothers telling us, “Eat your vegetables!” Well, Mom was right! There is no excuse why we can’t meet the recommended daily amounts of fruits and vegetables — especially since we can “sneak” them in, making food more enjoyable and our lifestyle healthier.