Fruits and vegetables. We know they’re good for us. We know we should be eating more of them. But for some reason, getting all of those daily servings of greens is harder than it sounds.
Those greens are pretty important for providing nourishment to our bodies -vital, really. They help lower blood pressure and cholesterol; maintain healthy skin, hair, and vision; strengthen bones and teeth; boost immune systems; promote healthy heart and brain function. Furthermore, the World Cancer Research Fund reported that 30-40 percent of all cancers are diet related. Consuming proper amounts of fruits and veggies can significantly decrease that risk. For the average adult, the amount is about 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables daily, according to the American Heart Association.
While we may want to up our green intake, realistically we know it doesn’t always happen. We’re holding down jobs, pursuing educations, raising families and fulfilling obligations. So here are evelen realistic ways incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your current eating routine.
1. Start with 100% fruit juice
Many “fruit juices” being sold contain little actual fruit juice –meaning you’re not much better off drinking certain juices than if you just drank soda. The FDA now requires manufacturers to list the total percentage of actual fruit in juices on nutritional labels, so check to make sure you’re getting 100 percent rather than 30, 10 or even 0 percent of actual fruit content.
2. Top cereal, waffles and pancakes with fresh fruit
Should these foods be the staples of your breakfast routine? Probably not. They tend to be more like desserts than balanced meals. But remember, we’re being realistic. If you’re going to eat them, you might as well make the simple improvement of adding some sliced fruit while you’re at it.
3. Add veggies to omelets and burritos
Same concept as before –if you’re already doing it, improve it. These are also great ways sneak some green in if you’re a picky eater. If you aren’t crazy about vegetables but they’re hidden in some cheesy eggs or a tortilla and hot sauce, they’re easier to gobble down.
4. Use spinach or romaine lettuce over iceberg
Iceberg lettuce has no nutritional value. You may think you can use it in a salad to cut out some extra calories, but ultimately rob yourself of the opportunity to gain some of those veggie servings. Raw spinach is packed with nutrients, tastes essentially no different and one cup is about seven calories. Romaine lettuce isn’t as nutritious as spinach but is still better than iceberg.
5. Add fruit to yogurt, pudding and ice cream
Once again, we’re being realistic. We all know yogurt is typically the healthier option over the other two –but that doesn’t mean we’re always going to choose it. Nonetheless, you can still choose to improve any of them by adding some fresh fruit.
6. Get Sneaky
Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do -like these cauliflower mashed potatoes. I’ve slipped these past many a picky eater (young and old). If they can’t see it or if it’s mixed in well enough, they don’t think about it. So throw some veggies into those rice and pasta dishes. You don’t have to be Martha Stewart here either –I’ve shamelessly thrown bags of mixed frozen vegetables into many meals.
7. Embrace the Zoodle
Pasta-lovers should like this quick little switch. Zucchini noodles are an awesome way to both sneak in an extra serving of veggies and cut back if you’re counting calories (they’re about 42 calories and 10 carbs per cup compared to 221 calories and 43 cards in regular cooked pasta). They offer the same look and essential texture of pasta that comfort-eaters enjoy and when you slather these babies in your favorite spaghetti or pasta sauce and some cheese -magnifico. They’re great in wraps and salads too.
8. Add veggies to soups, stews, and casseroles
Vegetables can add a lot more body to your soups and stews, not to mention flavor and texture (squash soup is my go-to comfort food on a rainy day). They’re also great for lazy days in the kitchen –you can usually toss them in a pot and forget about them for a while. Casseroles are another one of those dishes that veggies can jump into and hide from picky eaters.
9. Use raw veggies instead of chips for dipping
I’m that person who brings a vegetable tray to football parties. At home or in social settings, it’s a great way to give yourself an alternative to snacking on guilt-evoking, empty calories. Is it technically better to eat raw veggies plain? Usually, depending on what you’re using for dip. But if the only way you or your kids will eat that carrot stick is with some Ranch, that’s okay. The positive effects outweigh the negative here.
10. Get blending
Smoothies are quick, tasty and a great way to pack a big nutritional punch. They’re perfect for breakfast and busy mornings on the go when you just need to toss some stuff into a blender, grab a cup and be on your way. You can add so many healthy extra tweaks into them along with your fruit and yogurt and not even notice they’re there -like spinach, flaxseed, protein powder, nut butter, coconut oil or meal supplements. Try sinking a spoon into thicker smoothie bowls and banana ice cream for a delicious, healthy sweet tooth fix.
Healthier snack decisions help lead to healthier meal decisions later and vise versa. Trying to simply “resist” mid-morning or afternoon munchies without an action plan typically dissolves into a binge. Keep fresh, wholesome foods accessible throughout the day to set yourself up for success by providing your body with real energy and nutrition. That way you can start saying goodbye to “oh darn -I just blew my willpower on a brownie, so I might as well give up for the rest of the day” moments.
All writing and images copyright © 2015 Rachel Elise Weems Woods