You hear it all the time – Eat more fruits and vegetables! Why? Fruits and vegetables are some of the most nutrient-dense foods around. They’re loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, all the good things you need for vibrant health.
Not only are they delicious, but eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can also help you lose weight, protect you against certain types of cancers and reduce your risk for heart disease, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes.
The USDA recommends at least 9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Now you may be thinking that 9 servings sound like a lot. So what exactly constitutes a serving?
Fruits: 1 serving is 1 piece of whole fruit like an apple or pear which is the size of a tennis ball, ½ cup berries, or half a cup of juice. While fruit is a nutritional powerhouse, it does contain sugar, so limit it to two servings per day and stick to whole fruit instead of juice. It’s more filling and you get the benefit of the fiber.
Vegetables: 1 serving is half a cup of cooked vegetables, one cup of raw leafy greens, or a half cup for vegetable juice. When choosing your vegetables, focus on the non-starchy types such as broccoli, green beans, zucchini, leafy greens, and carrots. You really can’t have too many of these non-starchy vegetables so go crazy and fill up your plate!
As you can see, 9 servings are not that much, but it will require some planning. First things first…In order to eat them, you’ve got to buy them.
Since produce is highly perishable, plan on picking up the majority of what you’ll need on the weekend, with a quick mid-week grocery store stop to replenish your inventory.
When you get home, wash whole fruits like apples, grapes, and pears so they are ready to grab and go. Cut up berries, melons, or pineapple and store in clear bowls front and center in the fridge.
Wash and chop vegetables so they are ready to steam, roast, or stir fry.
Wash and prep a huge bowl of salad that can make an appearance at lunch and dinner for a few days.
Don’t shy away from frozen fruits and veggies either. They are picked and frozen at their peak of freshness. Frozen fruits are economical and frozen vegetables are great for soups and adding to sauces. Read the bags though and choose organic whenever possible.
So how do you work these 9 servings into your day?
1 to 2 servings of fruit in a day is easy. Eat a piece of whole fruit or add a ½ cup of berries to your yogurt, steel-cut oats, or smoothie for breakfast. Have another piece of whole fruit as part of your mid-morning or afternoon snack.
Vegetables are nutritional superstars and a couple of servings can be worked into every meal and snack, simply and deliciously. For example:
Add a handful of spinach or kale (remove the stems) to your morning smoothie. I promise you will not taste them. Cucumbers and celery are mild-tasting and add more fiber and bulk to your smoothie.
Warm up some leftover vegetables from last night’s dinner or sauté a couple of handfuls of spinach with olive oil and garlic and serve with your scrambled eggs.
Bake a veggie-packed frittata – broccoli, onions, mushrooms, peppers - and enjoy it for breakfast over several days.
Make a “kitchen sink” salad using all kinds of veggies: raw, steamed, and roasted. Having a meal-sized salad can knock out 4-6 servings of veggies in one shot. Start with about 3-4 cups of greens - spring mix, arugula, and romaine, whatever your heart desires. Add some carrots, red cabbage, cucumbers, peppers, onions, radishes, and mushrooms. If you have leftover cooked vegetables, throw those in too. The mix of textures makes it more interesting. Add some protein like leftover chicken, tuna fish, or beans, top with some raw nuts for a little crunch and you’ve got a complete and satisfying meal. If you’re bringing your salad to work, bring your salad dressing in a separate container and toss when you’re ready to eat. Or you can top your salad with ½ an avocado, a pinch of sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and the juice of half a lemon. Mix until the avocado turns into a creamy, delicious dressing.
Add veggies to your sandwich. Instead of the old standby of iceberg lettuce and tomato, try arugula, spinach, or red lettuce. Spinach, sprouts, and julienned red peppers are a tasty combo and look pretty inside a wrap. Leftover roasted vegetables like onions, zucchini, and peppers will elevate your sandwich to a gourmet meal.
Always start your dinner with a salad. Get the BIGGEST bowl you can find and make a large raw salad that will take you through several lunches and dinners. For dinner, just grab a few handfuls, put them in a separate bowl, and toss them with your favorite dressing.
Roasted vegetables are great as a side dish. They are sweet, tasty, and easy to make. Chop up vegetables in similar sizes and types so they cook at the same time. For example, hard vegetables like carrots, turnips, sweet potatoes, and parsnips work great together, or you can combine softer vegetables like broccoli, zucchini, and green beans. To make roasted vegetables, drop the veggies on a large sheet pan taking care not to overcrowd them so the veggies will roast, not steam. Drizzle with some olive oil, mix well, sprinkle some sea salt and black pepper, and roast in a 425-degree oven for about 15 minutes for softer vegetables, 20 -30 minutes for harder ones. Prick with a fork to test for doneness. You don’t want them completely soft (there should be a little give). Make a lot of these because the leftovers are great reheated or turned into vegetable soup.
To make a soup with leftover vegetables, warm up 3-4 cups of organic, low-sodium veggie or chicken broth and add 2-3 cups of leftover roasted vegetables. When heated through, use an immersion blender to create a creamy vegetable soup. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Steamed vegetables drizzled with a little olive oil or topped with a pat of grass-fed butter and a pinch of salt and pepper are a delicious side dish and only take a few minutes. To steam, bring a few inches of water to boil in a pan with a tight-fitting lid. Add vegetables to a steamer basket or place right in the water, cover the pan, reduce the heat to simmer, and let steam for 5-8 minutes, depending on what vegetables you’re steaming. Prick with a fork to test for doneness. Again, you don’t want them completely soft, there should be a little resistance when you prick with a fork. Make extras as steamed veggies taste great added to raw salads.
Add a bag of frozen vegetables to your pasta sauce or to a quart of veggie or chicken broth with a can of beans for a quick and hearty soup. Snacks
Use carrots, celery, peppers, and cucumbers as dippers with hummus, guacamole, or salsa.
A piece of whole fruit like an apple or banana or a fruit salad is sweet, easy to make, and portable.
And there you have it! Nine servings aren't that difficult after all.
Try new vegetables, or revisit one you thought you didn’t like. Tastes change and evolve so experiment and enjoy.