It isn’t just beef that’s for dinner – you need your fruits and vegetables, too, says a cattle industry trade association.

In addition to tips on preparing steaks and burgers, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Web site offers suggestions on ways to “beef up your fruits and veggies.” Included is a recipe for Szechuan beef stir-fry using crushed red peppers and another for beef, mango and barley salad.

“Pairing produce with a favorite food like beef can entice people to eat more fruits and vegetables” and meet government dietary recommendations, the cattlemen’s association says on its Web site. For more on “beef up your fruits and veggies,” go to:

The Cattlemen’s association added “beef up your fruits and veggies” to the “fact sheet” section of its site in 2008, said Meghan Pusey, a spokeswoman for the Centennial, Col.-based organization. The fruits and vegetables material is part of the association’s broader nutrition outreach program, which includes distributing information to dieticians, hospitals and schools.

“We’ve always supported an active lifestyle fueled by a balanced diet,” Pusey said. “The pairing of beef with other nutrient-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products has long been the foundation of our efforts to promote a healthy and balanced lifestyle.”

It’s unclear whether the Cattlemen’s association has had any impact on fresh produce demand. But the “beef up” suggestions have taken on greater resonance recently amid what term America’s “obesity crisis,” as well as First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to fight childhood obesity.

Additionally, the cattle industry for several years has increasingly touted “leaner” products as part of efforts to boost eroding demand and fight critics, as many consumers shunned beef in favor of chicken.

Americans will consume about 83.3 pounds of chicken per person in 2010, compared with 79.6 pounds in 2009, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. U.S. beef consumption is projected to decline to 59.7 pounds per person from 69.2 pounds.

“Dietary surveys show that Americans don’t eat enough fruits, vegetables and whole grains, but the majority loves the taste of lean beef,” Pusey said. “By combining these foods, beef becomes the perfect anecdote to help Americans enjoy healthier, more balanced diets.”

The Cattlemen’s association funds its programs through the Beef Checkoff, a mandatory, $1 per-head assessment each time an animal is sold through its lifetime.

In 2009, the association collected $41.6 million in checkoff revenue, down from $42.9 million in 2008, according to the group’s financial statement.

Pusey said there are no plans to expand the fruit- and vegetable-related information beyond what the association is already doing, and she declined to provide specific figures on how much is being spent on nutrition promotion efforts.

Encouraging healthy diets that include beef remains the overarching goal, she said.

“With Americans suffering an obesity crisis, it is increasingly important to educate health professionals and consumers about the beneficial role beef can play in promoting a healthy and balanced diet – one that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables,” Pusey said.

Source: Bruce Blythe, Vance Publishing