Fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients that boost your body's health in so many ways. But you already knew that, right? Yep, most of us know that we should spend more time in the produce aisle of the grocery store and a little less time in the chips and snacks aisle. But somehow we have a hard time eating the recommended amount of produce.
So how do you learn to eat more veggies each day? How do you remember to eat more fruit instead of grabbing baked goods or other sweets? Believe it or not, you can up your intake with tricky little hacks that make fruits and veggies the easy choice when deciding what to eat.
How to Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says we should eat five servings total of fruit and vegetables a day, and a serving is usually about a cup. Sounds simple, right? It should be, but the truth is that most of us aren't meeting our quota.
The key to eating more fruits and vegetables every day is to remember to do it. If fruit and vegetable snacks are the first thing you see when you walk into the kitchen or open the fridge, you're more likely to eat them more often. Follow these simple hacks to remind yourself to eat your quota.
Use Clear Storage for Prepped Produce
Put two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables in clear storage bins, and reserve a spot on your refrigerator shelf for the bins. Then you'll see them right away when you browse for food. Clear bins work great so you can see what's inside! If you want to pre-assemble a salad using three servings of vegetables, this is a great way to have it ready to go for a meal later.
Create a Bowl Challenge
Fill a bowl with the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables and challenge yourself to finish it each day. You could include whole pieces of fruit that are easy to grab on the go (oranges, bananas, or apples). Or grab a zipper baggie and place a serving of leafy greens, berries, grapes, or tomatoes and add it to the bowl.
If you're choosing fruits and vegetables that don't require refrigeration such pears, apricots, peaches, kiwi, or tomatoes, you can opt to keep your bowl out on the counter. Otherwise, store your bowl in the refrigerator.
This works great as a challenge for kids, too. Choose a different color bowl for each child, fill the bowl with their favorite fruits and vegetables, and challenge them to empty it every day.
Use Dried or Canned Fruits and Vegetables
Dried and canned fruits and veggies are a convenient and cost-effective way to meet your recommended fruits and veggie intake. Keep in mind though, that the nutrition may vary slightly from fresh produce. Some canned varieties may include added sodium or sugar. And the sugar in dried fruit is more concentrated due to the drying process. Read labels if you are trying to watch your sodium or sugar intake.
Set the cans themselves out on your counter to remind yourself to eat them. Once you open a 15.5 oz. can that contains two servings, keep the leftover serving in a bin or zipper baggie in the refrigerator, and mark it to note that it contains one serving. With dried fruit, try setting aside your one-half cup servings in re-usable zipper baggies.
Stock Up on Frozen Produce
Frozen produce is another budget friendly option, especially if you find that fresh produce goes bad in your house. One portion of frozen fruits or vegetables is 1 cup or one fist-size amount. You can save time by pre-portioning your frozen fruits and vegetables in zipper baggies and storing them in a clear container in the freezer. Make it a goal to empty your container every day. Let frozen fruit thaw slightly, then it in smoothies, add it to sparkling water, or stir it into yogurt.
Use a Scale, Instead of Cups
If you don't like the idea of measuring your produce with cups, then grab a scale. EC Synkowski is a certified nutrition specialist, licensed dietician nutritionist, and a CrossFit coach. She advises her OptimizeMe Nutrition clients to measure 800 grams of produce each day, set it aside in a bowl or bag, then commit to eating the entire amount throughout the day. Give it a try, then brag about your accomplishment on social media using the hashtag #800gramchallenge.
How to Get 5 Servings of Fruits and Vegetables Daily
If you're not sure how to incorporate more fruits and veggies into your daily meal plan, we've got you covered. These are different ways to get the recommended five servings each day for four days.
Day One Serving Ideas
- Lunch: Enjoy 20 grapes (one serving).
- Snack: Eat one medium apple with some nut butter (one serving).
- Dinner: Make a salad with four cups of spinach and 15 halved grape tomatoes, and toss with your favorite dressing (three servings).
Day Two Serving Ideas
- Breakfast: In a blender, combine a small banana, 20 raspberries, yogurt, a little orange juice, and some ice cubes for a breakfast smoothie (two servings).
- Dinner: Chop one medium tomato, one medium bell pepper, and one small cucumber and toss with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a dash of salt and pepper. (three servings)
Day Three Serving Ideas
- Breakfast: Toss one-half cup of dried apricots in your morning cereal or yogurt (one serving).
- Lunch: Combine a 15.5 oz can of stewed tomatoes with some canned chickpeas (rinse and drain), a little olive oil, some balsamic vinegar and a shake of oregano and basil (two servings).
- Snack: Enjoy one cup steamed broccoli (one serving).
- Dinner: Include one cup of canned pineapple chunks with dinner (one serving).
Day Four Serving Ideas
- Lunch: Make a smoothie with one cup of frozen blackberries, one cup frozen mango, Greek yogurt, a dollop of honey, a few drops of vanilla extract and some ice cubes (two servings).
- Dinner: Heat three cups of frozen California-style broccoli, cauliflower, and carrot mixture OR one cup each frozen broccoli, cauliflower and carrots. Toss with a little olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper and enjoy.
During the other days of the week, repeat your favorite fruit or veggie recipes or come up with combinations of your own.
Tips for Choosing the Best Fruits and Vegetables
Almost anything goes when it comes to fruits and vegetables. Have a kid who only eats blueberries and corn? Go ahead and serve them up! Maybe you're picky and hate anything green. No problem, choose the produce you do like.
As you get comfortable including fruits and veggies in your daily meal plan, start to experiment with new varieties. Talk to the produce manager at your local market and find out what is local and seasonable. Try to fill your grocery basket with as many colorful fruits and veggies as possible.
Non-starchy vegetables are typically lower in calories and carbohydrate than starchy vegetables. These include vegetables such as broccoli, sugar snap peas, cauliflower, leafy greens, bell peppers, onions, carrots, cabbage, zucchini, tomatoes, green beans, artichokes, turnips, and beets.
For people with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, it's important to account for carbohydrates throughout the day. Starchy vegetables, including peas, corn, and potatoes, contain more carbohydrates than their non-starchy counterparts. A quick note to all the french fry-lovers. Although fries are made from potatoes, fried foods aren't the healthiest way to enjoy produce. Try baking your "French-fries" instead.
All fruits make an excellent and nutritious addition to a meal or snack, and they all provide different vitamins and minerals. The key to getting the most bang for your buck out of fruits is variety. Try to include many types of fruits in your diet, and you'll give your body the gift of a wide range of nutrients.
Fruits don't have to be fresh to be healthy. Frozen fruits are usually picked when ripe and quickly frozen to preserve nutrients. Dried fruits also pack a nutrient punch---just watch for added sugar. You can even enjoy 100% fruit juice, just limit it to eight ounces per day. Juice provides the sugar in fruit (and many vitamins and minerals) but they do not provide fiber.
It doesn't matter whether you choose fresh, frozen, dried, 100% juice, or canned fruits and vegetables, they are all healthy options. Shop for the fruits and vegetables you like, find a way to set aside your produce and this can ensure you get your five servings in every single day.