A new mantra is making the rounds in nutrition and health circles: “Variety, variety, variety.”

No longer content with exhorting us to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, scientists now say that consuming a broad and varied range of produce is where it’s at.

Variety really is the spice of life — and health. Even the most balanced meals eaten in moderation may not provide optimal nutrition. For example, if you eat a picture perfect plate of chicken, broccoli, and brown rice every day, you will still not get the full complement of nutrients available.

Only by consuming the broadest-possible range of vegetables and fruits can we obtain the widest-possible spread of nutrients. Rather than limiting our vegetable and fruit intake to the ever-popular potatoes, corn, iceberg lettuce and bananas, we should expand our meal choices by adding a wide variety of different foods to our diet.

To give you some ideas to get started, the Ellis County Extension Office will host the free educational program “Fixing Funky Foods” at noon Tuesdayat the Extension meeting room, 601 Main, Hays. Donna Krug, Barton County Extension agent, will explore several less-familiar fruits, vegetables and grains to expand our menu choices.

This lesson will cover a variety of foods that date as far back in history as Babylon in 3000 BC. Included for each food are the nutritional benefits, preparation methods and history or interesting facts. The goal of this program is for participants to add variety to their diet by choosing nutritious foods that were not familiar before the lesson.

The program is free, but please register in advance at (785) 628-9430 to ensure adequate materials and supplies. Bring a lunch to enjoy during the program if desired.

Fruits and vegetables are the main source of antioxidants, helping to repair cell damage and reduce a person’s risk of cancer, cardiac disease, cataracts, and diabetes. You’ll learn that produce of similar colors represent a similar nutrient profile of vitamins and minerals. Each color of fruit and vegetables represents a different nutrient profile, so variety is key. There really is science behind eating all the colors of the rainbow.

Eating a variety of foods will maximize the amount of nutrients in your diet. A wide range of foods also appeals to all of your senses, satisfying unique textures, tastes, and smells to make mealtime adventurous.

Plan to join us at the Ellis County Extension program “Fixing Funky Foods” at noon Tuesday to broaden your dietary horizons and expand the variety of your daily meals.

Linda K. Beech is Ellis County Extension agent for family and consumer sciences.