Experts recommend we eat five to 13 servings of vegetables and fruits a day, but say that only one in 10 Americans eat the minimum five servings.
Trying to eat enough fruits and veggies, and get our family members to eat them, can be overwhelming! A certified nutritionist says that planning, shortcuts, and convenience are necessities. This article offers easy ways to eat more fruits and vegetables daily, regardless of your cooking skills and busy life.
What is a Serving and How Many Do You Need?
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends a minimum five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, 60% vegetables and 40% fruit. A serving is one cup of raw fruits or veggies, a half cup if cooked, or two cups of leafy greens.
Some diets like the Wahls Protocol recommend almost twice as much, at least nine cups of veggies and bright-colored fruits a day, but that’s considered a therapeutic diet says Karen Kennedy, a certified nutritionist practicing integrative and functional nutrition. The Wahls Protocol was developed for people with chronic autoimmune conditions and isn't the goal for most of us. According to statistics, many of us need to start with a goal to eat the minimum five servings.
“We want people to eat a bunch of vegetables and not worry about it,” Kennedy says. “If we don’t have a serious problem, we still might need to step it up, but maybe we don’t have to step it up to a therapeutic level.”
Your needs depend on your health, goals, and starting point, she adds. Not everyone’s body can tolerate a super high dose of fruits and vegetables. For example, if you’re prone to kidney stones, consuming too much oxalate, an anti-nutrient that our bodies make and is found in these foods may make you feel poorly. If you have specific health concerns, please talk to your doctor before drastically changing your diet, even when adding tons of good foods.
Shopping shortcuts, meal formulas, and realistic weekly meal planning for convenience can help us get more fruits and veggies in our diets without stressing out about it, she says.
Shopping Shortcuts for Fruits & Veggies
We need to first find easy ways to ensure more fruits and veggies get into our homes. We can’t eat food that’s not on hand. Vegetable delivery services, community-supported agriculture (CSA) shares, and shopping by categories like onion, cruciferous, and bright-colored foods are some shortcuts that work for Kennedy and her clients. She gets fresh microgreens once a week to have handy for salads and sandwiches. You might inspired by buying local, seasonal foods. You need to do what’s easiest for you!
“For me, walking around a farmer’s market, walking through the garden and seeing what’s fresh helps me get inspiration. It becomes an art and a creative process. But I like to cook,” Kennedy explains. “Some people come to me and they’re foodies who need some guidelines. But most people who come to me, food is not their medium.”
Meal Formulas for Ease & Choice
Once you have fruits and vegetables on hand, you need to get them on the menu. Meal formulas provide a loose plan, offer variety, and allow family members to add or omit vegetables and carbohydrates, Kennedy explains. Her favorite meal formulas are crudités, bowls, and soups. These work great for busy schedules and accommodating everyone's preferences.
A crudité doubles as lunch and afternoon snacks at Kennedy's house. She puts a ton of fruits and veggies on the table and lets everyone take what they want. Throughout the afternoon, they get nibbled. This also works great for an office lunch or days when you’re on the go. Whether it’s for you or the whole family, make the presentation appealing and don’t forget the dip!
Grain, noodle, and salad bowls are extremely popular and versatile. The bowl formula is a base of grains, noodles, or greens + protein + veggies, raw or steamed. Like the crudité, Kennedy recommends allowing everyone to assemble their own bowl so they can customize the meal with little hassle.
“In real life, people are eating with others and always having to compromise. Moms especially say, ‘I need to be able to eat what my family is eating,’” she says. “This way, if you’re on a keto diet, you just skip the rice or grain.”
If you need inspiration for bowls, here are 10 healthy bowl ideas. Whichever you pick, don’t forget the sauce, Kennedy stresses. Sauces tie the ingredients together and add seasoning to fresh ingredients.
While she enjoys making her own sauces, you may prefer to buy them. Remember, this is about what’s easiest for you!
Soups are nourishing and can help you sneak vegetables to unaware picky eaters. A meat and bean soup like minestrone offers a yummy array of vegetables. But you can add vegetables that may not be everybody’s favorite, like kale, to a blended soup and it won't be obvious.
Blended soups are also a great way to use vegetables before they go bad. Kennedy’s favorite blended vegetable soup, “The Soup of Good Intentions,” utilizes all the veggies that haven’t been eaten yet that week. It makes a great main dish, first course, or freezer meal for the future.
Realistic Weekly Meal Planning is Essential
What works for us one week won’t necessarily work another because our lives and schedules change. If we don’t plan realistically, we may not eat enough fruits and vegetables because we don't have time to prepare them.
Convenience is key. During a busy week, use already prepped or frozen vegetables for quick and easy options. Smoothies are an easy breakfast or meal replacement on hectic days, and you can buy precut frozen fruit and vegetables for them too. Planning for convenience helps you avoid distress and ensures you get the minimum five servings.
“If this is causing your stress level to go too high, then it’s not making you healthier. Sometimes it’s just got to be good enough. Work and homeschooling put such a pinch on my schedule that I realized I didn’t know how to do convenience,” Kennedy admits. “It’s a new muscle you have to train, a new skill.”As you improve your diet, you may also want to track your progress. Accountability as simple as a star chart with little daily goals can help you reward yourself as you build a healthy habit. Within a month, you probably won’t need reminders. Until then, a chart will help you stay on track!