Decades of research has proven time and again how important fruits and vegetables are in a nutritious, balanced eating plan. Studies have shown that 7 servings of fruits and vegetables per day has the greatest effect in preventing chronic diseases. If you're someone who can barely eat a small salad, that probably sounds pretty overwhelming!
How much is enough?
Here is a guide to define a serving of fruits and vegetables:
1/2 cup cooked vegetables
1 piece of medium sized fruit, such as an apple, orange, or peach
1 cup salad
1/2 cup cooked beans, peas or lentils
1 cup diced fresh or ½ cup canned fruit
1 medium potato
2 pieces smaller fruit, such as an apricot or kiwi
1/2 medium sweet potato
I want to start by saying you do NOT have to start aiming for 7 per day. Any increases are going to have positive effects, so don't feel like you have to substitute your rice for radishes forever. Think of it as an opportunity to find areas for improvement.
Pump Up the Volume
When you start adding vegetables to your meals, you're not only adding vitamins and minerals, you're also adding fiber. The fiber in those vegetables will make you feel full longer, meaning you'll likely eat less overall. They also add bulk to the meal itself, making you feel like you've eaten more food and giving you more bang for your calorie-buck.
Below are some tips I not only recommend to my clients, but that I often use myself.
• Swap your BLT sandwich for grilled Portabella mushrooms caps topped with tomato on whole grain toast.
• Include vegetables, such as baby spinach, in pasta sauces and risottos. Stir through at the end of cooking for a little extra color and nutrition.
• Replace fruit juices with whole fruits. Freeze oranges, bananas, grapes, and strawberries for an icy treat.
• Have vegetable sticks, such as carrots and celery, ready for an on-the-go healthy snack. Dip them in hummus or tomato salsa to add another vegetable serving.
• Grate or dice onion, carrot, zucchini, and corn into a scrumptious muffin, or take the savory path and pickle the mixture.
• A stir-fry with lots of vegetables is another great way to include a variety of colors to your dinner. Use carrots, snow peas, and baby corn. Adding pre-shredded cabbage increases the yield and adds even more nutrients and fiber.
• Dried fruits make an easy to-go snack. Add a handful into a baggie and throw into your work bag.
• Place cut-up, ready-to-eat vegetables and fruits in see-through containers in a visible place in your refrigerator as a reminder to have your daily fruits and veggies.
Every little bit helps, so even adding a serving or two every day is a step in the right direction. You can make a goal of adding another serving every week, or more over time. Try new recipes with the family, incorporating whatever produce is on sale at the grocery store. Plant sources of protein, such as beans and lentils, are less expensive than animal protein so they'll easily fit into your budget. Plan your menu ahead of time so you're more likely to quickly use what you buy, reducing waste. You can also check out my blog on my website for new recipes to try.
So how many servings will you have today?