“Eat your vegetables” is more than just dinner table advice. The vitamins and antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables are the foundation for a healthy life. Such healthy foods can help stave off cancer, are naturally high in fiber, have a high water content to keep you hydrated, and decrease your risk for heart disease, stroke, and hypertension. The only question is, why don’t we eat more of them?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), two-thirds of Americans do not meet their daily requirements for fruits and vegetables – just 33% of adults meet their recommended daily fruit consumption, and only 27% eat the suggested amount of vegetables. The CDC tailors their recommendations based on age and sex. For example, women aged 19 to 30 need two cups of fruit and two and a half cups of vegetables per day to sustain a healthy lifestyle, while men aged 19 to 50 should have two cups of fruit and three cups of vegetables.
Adding More Produce to Your Diet
In a culture that celebrates meats and grains and treats vegetables like second-class citizens, meeting your daily requirements can be a challenge.
Eastern cultures like Japan take the reverse approach: Vegetables and a light protein, such as fish or seaweed, are the stars of the meal. Grains are eaten as a side dish, and sugary sweets are often avoided for dessert. Instead, fresh fruit and a cup of green tea finish the meal. It’s no surprise then that Japan has the lowest rates of obesity and disease in the developed world. In fact, only 3.6% of Japanese citizens are obese, compared to nearly 36% of adult Americans.
Your goal should be to eat as wide a color palette as possible: Purple eggplant, orange carrots, red bell peppers, and green spinach are all ideal candidates. The more colors you eat in a day, the healthier and more well-rounded your diet will be. The good news is that you don’t have to transform your habits overnight. Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to changes that stick long-term.
1. Always Keep a Bowl of Fresh Fruit Around
Out of sight usually means out of mind. But if you keep a clear bowl full of oranges, apples, and bananas on the table, you’re far more likely to remember your goal of eating healthy and grab a piece of fresh fruit instead of a sugary snack. Researchers at St. Bonaventure University have shown that when fruits and veggies are left out in a clear bowl, they are far more likely to be eaten.
2. Add Fruit to Your Breakfast
Eating fruit in the morning is great because the high fiber content not only helps you feel full, but it keeps you energized until lunchtime. Try slipping a banana, some strawberries, or blueberries into your cereal, or add them to oatmeal or yogurt. You can also make a quick smoothie using soy milk, almond milk, and any other fruits you love.
Don’t be afraid to rethink what constitutes breakfast food either. For example, a typical Japanese breakfast often features a salad and a bowl of miso soup loaded with mushrooms, bok choy, and daikon radish.
3. Snack on Veggies
Potato chips are a go-to snack food, but you’ll consume far fewer calories and more fiber and vitamins by reaching for veggies instead. Add some extra flavor by dipping them in a light ranch sauce, or whip up an Asian sauce with sesame oil and light soy to drizzle over carrots and broccoli florets.
Also, simply not buying packaged snack foods, such as chips and candy, can go a long way toward eating more vegetables. If it’s not in the house, you won’t eat it.
4. Go Half
Make a rule to fill half your plate with fruits and/or vegetables at lunch and dinner. No matter what, I make sure to eat a big salad before eating anything else at lunch. I toss arugula with carrots, cucumber, avocado, grape tomatoes, and any other veggies floating around my kitchen. Not only does this load me up with vegetables, it ensures that I’ll eat less bread and other snacks when I’m done.
5. Build a Better Pizza
Instead of piling meat and cheese onto your homemade pizza, make it veggie. Add more tomato sauce, take away some cheese, and throw on onions, spinach, mushrooms, and red peppers. Voila, pizza that’s actually healthy!
6. Just Add More
When I’m making soup or stew, I add more vegetables than the recipe calls for. This is a simple way to get more veggies per bowl, and since you’re already doing the prep work it doesn’t take much extra effort to chop up the rest of that pepper or tomato.
You can also puree a variety of veggies to add to sauces (think marinara sauce with puréed eggplant, carrots, and mushrooms) and breads (like zucchini, olive, or fennel bread). And if you’re eating dessert, skip the chocolate or caramel sauce on your ice cream or pie. Instead, pile on strawberries, peaches, or mangoes. Frozen fruit also makes a great topping for desserts, and it’s just as healthy.
7. Join a CSA
When you join a CSA (community supported agriculture), you essentially buy a share in a farm’s produce. Each week throughout the growing season (usually April through November), you get a box full of fresh produce. Plus, you might be able to get organic eggs, honey, and other local items, in addition to fruits and vegetables.
Although CSAs may have high up-front costs (it often costs several hundred dollars to join), the savings can be impressive over time. In fact, many people report saving at least 30% on their grocery bills throughout the growing season. If you join an organic CSA, you’ll save even more. Visit LocalHarvest.org to find a CSA in your area.
The key to eating more fruits and vegetables is to make it easy, tasty, and fun. If typical fruits and veggies sound too bland and boring, start experimenting. Try dipping fruits into melted chocolate or caramel, or liven up vegetables with organic hummus or spinach dip.
Once you make a change, give it time. It won’t take long before you notice a higher energy level and a slimmer waistline. And once you’ve acquired the fruit and veggie habit, you may never want to go back to your old ways.
How do you add more fruits and vegetables into your and your family’s diet?