Chances are you weren’t allowed to leave the dinner table as a child until you ate your fruits or vegetables. Vegetables, especially, tend to get a bad rap with people both young and old. Many people have a tendency to revert back to their inner child and can remember those long nights at the table, choking down peas or broccoli, before they could be excused. While it may have seemed like torture at a young age, it was for good reason!
As we age, we become more and more susceptible to a variety of health issues including, but not limited to, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, GI issues, depression, and a weakened immune system. Produce serves as a top source of vitamins, fiber, and other nutrients that help to fuel our bodies and ward off diseases. Cruciferous vegetables help to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Fibrous fruits and vegetables, such as peas, broccoli, artichokes, pears, apples, and raspberries aid in improving our gut health and digestion. Fruits and vegetables can also assist in lowering blood pressure, protecting against some cancers, and lowering our caloric intake.
As society advances, it seems as though our diet gets farther and farther away from nature, when in fact, it’s exactly what we need. Processed foods have replaced many farm fresh fruits and vegetables, making it difficult to get in the recommended 4-5 servings per day. If you’re struggling to meet this goal, here are some clever ways to ensure you’re getting enough produce in your diet.
- Meatless Monday
Try skipping out on the meat as the main course of your meal and substituting it with vegetables instead. Not only is this a wonderful budgeting trick to help cut the cost of your meal, but it’s also a great way to make sure your meal is packed full of vegetables. Try trading the chicken enchiladas for black bean enchiladas or grilling a portobello burger served with all the traditional burger toppings. Pasta primavera is a colorful way to fill your plate with an assortment of vegetables.
- Grab & Go!
Take a few extra minutes at the beginning of the week to prep some of your favorite fruits and vegetables. Chop up a ripe cantaloupe or pineapple and store it in the refrigerator for a quick and easy snack. Wash, peel, and cut celery, cucumbers, or carrots so they’re ready to enjoy on their own or with your favorite dip. Rinse fresh berries and store them in clear containers so they’re visible and appealing to the eye, making it so you’re more likely to reach for them. Keep a few apples and bananas on the countertop to grab on your way out the door.
- To market, to market…
Make a special outing to your local farmer’s market to check out the fruits and vegetables. The benefits of doing so are plentiful. First and foremost, you’ll be buying seasonally fresh produce that’s fresher, tastier, and more nutritious than out of season foods. Secondly, a trip to the farmer’s market supports your local farmers and helps to boost your local economy. As a hidden benefit, you’ll also enjoy getting out for an affordable activity where you can mingle with others. Many farmers markets have live music, local crafts, plants, and other goods to browse and enjoy.
- Grow a Garden
What could be more fun and rewarding than growing and harvesting vegetables from your own garden? Add a few fruit trees to the mix and you’ll be able to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables year-round! While it may be a bit more work than shopping at the grocery store, it can also double as a fulfilling hobby; gardening is a wonderful source of exercise and is also known for improving both physical and mental health.
- Fluff up your Favorites
We all get stuck in our same ol’ meal rut, or perhaps it’s just that we revisit our tried-and-true favorites. Try adding vegetables into these meals to ensure that you get the recommended number of servings each day. Do you love tacos or spaghetti and meat sauce? When browning your ground meat, add riced cauliflower before proceeding with the rest of the recipe. Again, you’ll stretch your meat a bit further, getting more bang for your buck, without sacrificing flavor. Is baked chicken a staple on your menu? If so, throw in some carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, and zucchini while it bakes. When your chicken is finished, you’ll have a side dish ready to go as well!
- Fruit-filled Treats
Blend up a smoothie filled with all of your favorite fruits (and even sneak in a handful of spinach) for a nice cool treat on a hot day. These can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, dinner… or anywhere in between! Another sweet treat that’s packed with nutrients is a yogurt parfait. Begin with a bowl of Greek yogurt for a healthy serving of protein, and then add a sprinkle of granola and loads of fresh fruit.