Fewer than one-third of Americans are cooking their evening dinners from scratch, according to a survey conducted by the Institute of Food Technologists.

It’s not too surprising. Time grows increasingly precious during the crazy-busy fall season, courtesy of packed schedules, shorter days and less time to make dinner.

You can liven up family meals with easy dishes that include mushrooms, a produce powerhouse that adds essential nutrients and the elusive fifth flavor known as umami. Prominent chefs like Mario Batali have long known about umami, which means “savory deliciousness” in Japanese. He credits mushrooms as one of his hidden treasures for adding umami to dishes.

“Mushrooms add a burst of rich, savory flavor that makes food taste good from the first bite to the last,” says Batali, author of numerous cookbooks, including the recently released Italian Grill and Spain…A Culinary Road Trip (coauthored with actress Gwyneth Paltrow). “Whether I’m cooking at home or the restaurant, mushrooms give that ‘something special’ quality to any dish.”

Mushrooms are also part of a healthy diet. According to the Journal of the American Heart Association, only 10% of Americans have optimal blood levels of vitamin D. This is more problematic as sunlight becomes less available in the fall and winter. One serving of mushrooms contains 4% of the recommended daily value of vitamin D and may be a natural solution for getting more of the “sunshine vitamin.” (A serving is defined as 4–5 white button mushrooms.)

White button mushrooms have an antioxidant capacity similar to tomatoes, zucchini and carrots, while the antioxidant capacity of brown (crimini) and Portabella mushrooms is comparable to green beans, red peppers and broccoli. They’re also a good source of several B vitamins.

White button, Portabella and crimini mushrooms are the leading source of the antioxidant selenium in the produce aisle. To top it off, mushrooms are low in calories, fat- and cholesterol-free, and very low in sodium.

Tune in tomorrow for Batali’s recipe for Portabellas with Arugula and Parmigiano, which appears in Italian Grill. All of the ingredients should be available at your local natural and organic food store.

Photo courtesy of the Mushroom Council

Additional Mushroom Recipes on Organic Authority