“Eat your veggies!” – we’ve all heard it. The ringing nag from our mothers… And we know she’s right; there’s no doubt that eating more fruit and vegetables is hands down, the number one way to get healthier. But having salads all the time just to fill our “half your plate veggies” isn’t exactly the most appealing… so how can you continually include more fruits and vegetables on a daily basis in a way that is not just endless sides of steamed carrots and peas ? (As much as they go so well together, there’s gotta be some way to include more variety!… Afterall, we’ve got such a diverse group of food to choose from.)
Aim to add an extra serving every couple of days a week. Nutrition guidelines suggest to aim for 7-10 servings of fruit and vegetables daily, but serving more than what you are currently having has its benefits!
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Add a banana or a cup of berries in your breakfast cereal, oatmeal or Greek yogurt in the morning. Not only gives it an extra punch of flavour, but it’s a quick and easy way to add a serving of fruit in your day.
- Boost your breakfast by adding a half cup sliced mushrooms, chopped spinach and peppers into your morning omelette to add fiber and colour to your plate.
- Stuff your sandwich and get creative! A sandwich is a blank canvas waiting to get stuff with colour, jazz your regulars up with sliced apples, cucumber, zucchini, sprouts, spinach or grated carrots. Half a cup of this colorful combination scores you an extra serving.
- Double the veggies. Take your regular soups, pastas, casserole or homemade pizza recipe, and double the vegetable portions. You are already doing the preparation work, so a little extra chopping can take your vegetable intake a long way. Plus, an extra dose of vegetables can enhance flavour and nutritional value.
Where it all begins
It all starts at the grocery store…
- Never go hungry, and try to stick to the perimeter of the store. That’s where you’ll find the minimally processed foods such as: fresh produce, dairy products, and protein etc.
- Choose seasonal eats. They cost less and are likely to be at their peak flavour. Food tastes best when it is in season, and if it tastes good? Well, we’re more likely to keep eating!
- Explore your options and expand your vegetable and fruit horizons by trying one new fruit or vegetable each week. There are SO MANY! Start with watercress, bok choy, swiss chard, kale, sprouts, fiddleheads and endives if you aren’t acquainted with them already.
- Make meal planning easier by stocking up on some frozen vegetables for easy cooking in the microwave. They’re just as nutritious as fresh.
Buy vegetables and fruits that are easy to prepare and pack. Wash and slice them up in advance, and store in a transparent container at eye level in the refrigerator. Store the potato or corn chips and sweet treats in a harder to reach cupboard ….
out of sight, out of mind!
- Swap the usual munchies for some crunch-tastic vegetables. Sliced bell peppers, baby carrots, celery sticks, cucumbers or raw broccoli with dip – they’re hearty and can satisfy that crunchy craving. Try using dips to spice things up! (See our Dill-icious Tzatziki and Roasted Carrot and Cumin Hummus recipe)
- Apples, pears, peaches, nectarines and mandarin oranges are a few easy grab n’ go snacks. Keep a stock of these fresh fruits visible on the kitchen counter or dining room cupboard. Any of these will add an extra serving in your day.
- For a more satisfying snack, include some protein! Frozen fruits are easy, require minimal preparation time and store well so you can buy in bulk at affordable prices all year round. Add a cup of frozen fruit to a ¾ cup of plain Greek yogurt (can even sprinkle in some nutty granola for some extra crunch, flavour, fibre and protein) to your lunch pack the night before for a satisfying mid-morning or afternoon snack.
Choose your sides wisely! Or plan your meals around a main vegetable dish such as stir-fries, or soups. Then add protein and your grains to complement it.
- Slurp your soup. Purchased soups can be a big source of sodium, increasing the likelihood of having high blood pressure. Make your own and loading it up with vegetables which are great sources of potassium can combat high blood pressure. Plus, soups are a great way to use up leftovers. Be daring and try some new varieties like Italian style, Creole gumbo, Russian borscht, Thai coconut cauliflower, wintery pumpkin or squash soup, or miso vegetable and tofu soup.
- Say “Yes” to Salads. Pick up pre-washed bags of greens, and grape tomatoes to throw a salad together in minutes. Eat salads first before you start the main entree can ensure you get your vegetable servings in first, rather than leaving it to the end where you may be too full to enjoy it. Get creative: one cup of leafy greens + half a cup of chopped fruit or vegetable toppings to add two extra servings in your day.
Grate your Way to Goodness
A great way to use up some of the older produce at the end of the week is to shred ‘em, grate ‘em or puree. This is a sneaky way to make them versatile and an easy addition to a variety of dishes.
- Secret sauce… Make a mean marinara loaded with vegetables. Add mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant, onions, pepper, squash and carrots to your traditional tomato sauce base. This versatile sauce can be used in multitude of ways to add flavour and tally up your vegetable servings in your day. Spoon it over noodles, mix into lasagna, start it as a soup base, spread it over pizza, or use as a dipping sauce!
- Shred or grate fruits and vegetables down to add to your protein dish such as burgers, meatloaves and meatballs. Pureed apples, mashed bananas, grated zucchini or carrots can be mixed into the batter of your quick-breads and muffins. Not only does it add fiber and a variety of nutrients, but also provides moisture.
- Puree cooked cauliflower, winter squash, red peppers and mix them into sauces, mashed potatoes, pot pies, your mac n’ cheese or soups to thicken and bind it together.
- Shred an extra half cup of red cabbage, beets, carrots or slice up some bell peppers to add some colour in your salads or stir fries. Don’t underestimate the importance of presentation. Seeing and smelling food are the first components of enjoying a meal, so have fun with the flavours of the rainbow produce has to offer (speaking of rainbows, see my post on Taste of Rainbow for the science behind why having a colourful plate is good for your health)!
What is your favourite way to use vegetables?