What's old is new again: Eat your vegetables!

Next time you're eating dinner, take a look at what's on your plate. Is half of it covered with fruits and vegetables? If not, you've got some work to do.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has traded its trademark pyramid for a new plate model, which suggests that half of your meal-time real estate be dedicated to fruits and vegetables. Vegetables and fruits can help lower your risk for chronic disease, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer. If that's not enough to sway you, consider that vegetables, in particular, are naturally low in calories and fat, so filling up on these at meal times is a boon for your bottom line.

Whether it's a banana or blueberries for breakfast, an apple for lunch or a handful of grapes with cheese for an afternoon snack, fruits are the sweeter deal. It's the vegetables that trip us up.

If you're single, do it for your health. If you've got someone special, do it for their health, too. And if you're a parent, children's bodies need all the nutrition they can get to grow into healthy adults. Besides - they're not likely to eat their vegetables if you don't set the example.

Take heart. Vegetables come in a variety of colors, textures and tastes. If broccoli isn't your thing, try bok choy or beets. Can't stand cabbage? Consider collard greens or corn. Wince at wax beans? Try a little lentil love. And if your family can't stand the sight of vegetables, get crafty. Give the cook in your house a challenge by helping him find new and interesting ways to incorporate vegetables into your meals:

  • Get savvy with your sauce. Add cut-up vegetables to plain tomato sauce. If some of the people in your house have an aversion to chunky-style, puree carrots, corn, zucchini and green beans for a smoother option.
  • Put it on pizza. Go ahead and order pizza - with extra veggies, and hold the pepperoni. Peppers, onions, tomatoes and artichoke hearts, oh my!
  • Go green. Make salad your dinner, and fancy it up with a variety of vegetables. Add salmon, tuna or lean chicken. Toss with a little olive oil and vinegar, grab a modest wedge of whole-grain bread from the loaf, and enjoy.
  • Go meatless or go for less meat. Create vegetable-dense sandwiches. If you can't hold the meat, top lean turkey and low-fat cheese with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, pepper slices, bean sprouts and anything else you can fit between two slices of whole-grain bread.
  • Bake in the vegetable goodness. Shredded carrots and zucchini are a wholesome addition to muffins and quick breads, and as an added benefit, they keep your baked goods moist.
  • Mix up your mashed potatoes. Blend sweet potatoes and white potatoes for a twist on the traditional, or try cooking and mashing cauliflower with some grated cheese and milk for a creamy consistency.

Spinach on the sly only goes so far. Both adults and children need to at least try to make the acquaintance of asparagus and brave the Brussels sprout. Researchers have found that children may need to see a vegetable between 10 and 15 times before they'll try it. Creating a palatable plate may take some time, but nature's palette has much to offer. The rest is up to you.