We’ve all been told countless times to eat more fruits and vegetables. We know it’s healthy to include more of them in our diet – they provide vital nutrients and fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals. But, despite our best intentions we sometimes come up short.
We are always hearing things about how “easy” it is to include more fruits and vegetables in our diets – so why aren’t we all doing it already?! The answer is that it’s not always easy and it takes effort to make changes, but with some planning and some creative ideas it can get easier to eat healthy and get those five fruits and vegetables in every day.
Have a plan to add fruits and vegetables
As a dietitian, I often hear patients talk about wanting to eat more produce, but hating to waste food and money if they don’t get around to using what they buy. This is why planning is so crucial! Taking a little time each week to make a plan around what vegetables and fruits you will use can make all the difference. Planning doesn’t have to mean spending hours looking up new recipes, it can be as simple as thinking about what you feel like eating that week and what fruits and vegetables might fit into those meals. Also, don’t be afraid to use frozen fruits and veggies. They last much longer, so you can always have them on hand to add to any meal and if something comes up and your meal plans change, they will still be fine to use the following week.
Bring home more
Whatever you surround yourself with you will eat more of – whether that’s cereal and chips or apples and carrots. Try buying fewer snack foods and more fruits and vegetables so the healthy foods are the ones that are most accessible. Your home environment has a huge impact on your health and diet – you will use more fruits and vegetables if they are what are available instead of less healthy items which are very hard to resist if they are right there. Even the way you store the produce can impact your intake. Always make fruits and vegetables visible in your kitchen and fridge. You will be more inclined to eat them – kind of like the opposite of out of sight, out of mind.
At lot of people eat at least five times per day – 3 meals and 2 snacks. Just try to get one serving of fruits of vegetables in each time you eat to meet the 5-a-day goal. A sliced peach in your morning cereal or yogurt, a cucumber, tomato and red onion side salad at lunch tossed in olive oil and vinegar, bell peppers or carrots with hummus for a balanced afternoon snack, salad or steamed or grilled vegetables at dinner and a evening snack of berries topped with a drizzle of honey or maple syrup.
Encouraged your family but focus on yourself
I probably hear at least once a week that kids or partners refusing to eat vegetables or fruit is a barrier to including them more in meals. We know that repeated exposure is crucial to acceptance of foods, especially with children. That is why I recommend offering them over and over, encouraging the family to at least try the food. But in the end, you can still eat more vegetables and fruit even if your family wont. Cut up a cucumber, pepper or carrots and have them with dinner in addition to the meal you prepare for the family. Make a salad or cooked vegetable and have the leftovers for lunch the next day if nobody else partakes. Leading by example is the best way to get your family on board!
Include the family
Speaking of getting kids to eat more vegetables, one proven way to do that is to include them in the growing, selection and/or preparation of the vegetables. Ask your kids what they want to grow if you have a garden and let them get dirty helping you plant and water. Or, at the store, allow your kids to pick out a fresh or frozen vegetable – its best to present a few choices that are acceptable to you and let them choose between them. Then, have your kids help prepare the vegetable or pick out a recipe. When they have a vested interest in the process they are much more likely to try new things and eat foods that they otherwise may reject.
Try something new
We all get in food ruts, routines and habits. I find this to be especially true of vegetable preparation and its part of why we may not be eating enough vegetables – we’re just bored with how they are prepared. So try incorporating vegetables in new ways – spiralize zucchini to make “noodles” or grill vegetables that you don’t usually grill – like broccoli or cauliflower. Toss chopped vegetables in a new herb or spice blend like herbs de Provence or lemon pepper and bake in the oven instead of just steaming them like usual. Look up some new recipes that incorporate your favorite vegetables. A little change can be a good – and good for you – thing!
We love sharing recipes for healthy eating with you. View our Recipe Collection by clicking here.
Bridget Shea, RD, is a clinical dietician at The University of Vermont Medical Center.