We all know we should eat more veggies, but most Americans don’t come close to getting their recommended servings in. I’m breaking down the top reasons why most people skimp on veggies and giving you a master list of simple, actionable tips on how to work through each one.
How Many Veggies Do I Actually Need?
Each day, we should aim to fill half of each plate we eat with fruits and vegetables, which should amount to 5 or more veggie servings per day. (A general rule of thumb for a serving size of veggies is one cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked.)
What Benefits Will I Get if I Eat More Veggies?
Do you still need some convincing? This is just a handful of the goodness that’s packed into our friend broccoli:
- Fiber – helps lower cholesterol, control blood sugar, and improve digestion
- Vitamin C – aids in wound healing and the maintenance of healthy gums
- Folate – plays an important role in making DNA and metabolizing amino acids (especially important for women who are pregnant or may become pregnant)
- Potassium – promotes healthy blood pressure
- Calcium – crucial component of bones and teeth
- Vitamin A – (includes the phytonutrient beta-carotene) improves immune function and vision
- Sulforaphane – a sulfur-containing compound that may help prevent cancer
What Keeps Us From Getting Our Veggies In?
It all comes down to perception. We think:
- They’re too expensive
- They don’t taste good
- We can’t make them the star of our plates
- It takes too much time to prepare them
- They go bad too quickly
I’m not saying any of those perceived barriers are invalid. It totally makes sense that people feel that way, but – with a few simple tips, I bet I can get even the biggest veggie-haters out there to eat more veggies.
- Try the farmer’s market. If you’re lucky enough to have a farmer’s market near you, go to it! It’s amazing how affordable fresh, in-season produce can be when you buy it directly from the farmer. Finding inexpensive and new vegetables at the farmer’s market can also encourage you to eat more veggies.
- Shop seasonal. Fruits and veggies are often cheaper when they’re plentiful and in-season.
- Shop sales. Check your favorite store’s weekly ads and plan recipes around produce items on sale.
- Consider frozen and canned. Keep your mind open to veggies all over the store. Fresh, frozen, canned, it’s all good. (Seriously.) Just make sure to check the labels and check for added salt and sauces. You can rinse canned veggies two times in cold water to drastically reduce the sodium.
Think Veggies Taste Bad?
- Herbs and spices are your friends. Learning about the flavor profile of vegetables can help you match them with herbs and spices. One example I can bet you’re familiar with is sweet tomato and aromatic Italian basil. Need a veggie-packed recipe? This Roasted Veggie Bowl is one of my favorites.
- Choose the right cooking method. Choosing the right cooking method can also enhance your veggie-eating experience. You can mask bitterness and bring out the natural sweetness in veggies by using dry heat! Roasting, pan-frying, and sauteing are my favorite methods. An example from personal experience – I hate, hate, hate beets. (I know, I’m a dietitian, I’m supposed to like all things healthy, but I can’t with beets.) Up until a year ago, I had only tried the slimy purple kind from the can. I’m not sure how she did it, but a friend of mine convinced me to try a roasted beet dish when we were out to dinner. You guys… I cleaned that plate. Before you swear off of any veggie, give a different preparation method a chance!
- Pair them with foods you already like. Instead of going for a full plate of veggies, try mixing in broccoli florets with your mac-n-cheese.
- Get saucy. Repeat after me, “A ranch-covered veggie is better than no veggie.” (I think I’m gonna have to put that on a t-shirt.)
- Sneak them in. Adding pureed veggies is an awesome way to do this. Need some inspiration? My Instant Pot Cauliflower + Potato Mash is a great dish to start with.
Having Trouble Making Veggies the Star?
- Rethink your basic ‘meat and potatoes’ meal. Many of us are used to planning our meal around a protein source (usually meat) which can leave little room on our plate for veggies. I wrote a whole post about this topic you can read here.
- Use the plate method. My clients swear by this formula: 1/2 plate veggies + 1/4 plate starch or grain + 1/4 plate protein. Usually, that half plate of veggies will help you get two servings in. You can also squeeze in an extra serving by adding a plant-based protein source (like beans) or a starchy vegetable (like sweet potatoes).
- Look for inspiration. Search for recipes using your favorite veggie online. You may find a new way to prepare it deliciously. I have a whole Pinterest board devoted to tasty ways to eat veggies and make them the star of any dish! Find it here.
Think Veggie Prep is Too Time-Consuming?
- Try pre-cut and pre-washed vegetables. Many grocery stores have a cooler full of veggies that are chopped in store (think broccoli, onions, zucchini, etc.) You may spend a little more for this option, but you’ll save a lot of time. You can also find pre-cut and pre-washed vegetables near the salad cooler (think salad kits, greens, green beans, cabbage, carrots, radishes, etc.)
- Don’t knock the frozen and canned stuff. Frozen and canned veggies will already be chopped and ready to use. All you’ll need to do is rinse canned veggies (when applicable) and thaw the frozen veggies in the microwave.
- Speed up your meal prep routine. Making meal prep more efficient makes veggie prep less of a pain in the butt. Find my faster meal prep tips here.
Think Veggies Go Bad Too Quickly?
- Again, frozen and canned foods are your friends. Frozen mixed veggies, stir fry mixes, and canned beans are some of my favorites. These options can be kept on hand so much longer than the fresh stuff can.
- Make grab and go veggie snacks. No one opens their fridge when they’re hungry and says to themselves, “Yeah, I really want to cut up those carrots.” Make your veggie snacks visible (aka out of your crisper) and you’re much more likely to reach for them before they go to waste. The goal is to make the healthy choice as easy as possible.
- Cut your veggies up as soon as you get home. Getting your veggie prep out of the way can streamline your meal prep routine and ensure that you waste less food.
- Utilize your freezer. Many veggies can be frozen before they go bad. Examples include spinach, kale, carrots, celery, onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms.
- Have a plan for the veggies you buy. Ahh we’ve all bought “aspirational veggies” before, haven’t we? That pretty crown of purple cauliflower, that exotic-looking watermelon radish, the bagged salad that we feel like we “should” eat this week – all of these options look pretty in our cart, but if we don’t have a plan for how we’ll be eating them, they’ll probably end up slimy and forgotten in the back of the veggie crisper. Try planning out each meal before you shop, then making a shopping list from your planned meals and sticking to it at the store.
For more ideas and inspiration on eating more fruits and veggies: http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/