Simple Solutions to Eating More Fruits and Vegetables
We know fruits and vegetables are good for us and the research is clear on the amazing benefits—decreased risk of major chronic diseases including heart disease, high blood pressure, Type II diabetes, cancer, gastrointestinal conditions, eye conditions, and Alzheimer’s disease. Fruits and vegetables are powerful medicines with their phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Despite knowing the health benefits, many Americans do not eat the recommended amounts. Recently the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released data from 2009 which indicated 67.5% of adults were eating less than 2 servings of fruit per day and 73.7% were eating less than 3 servings of vegetables per day. Dietary guidelines recommend 5-13 servings of fruits and vegetables per day (2.5-6.5 cups), depending on your caloric requirements. This means only about a quarter of adults in the U.S. are experiencing the remarkable benefits fruits and vegetables offer.
So what is getting in our way of eating more fruits and vegetables? The CDC published a study on their website citing reasons people gave for not eating fruits and vegetables. The list included too expensive, no access to quality produce, processed/fast food is more convenient, and lack of time to prepare food. I am quite familiar with these obstacles, especially growing up in a rural area in the Midwest that did not have a good selection of fresh fruits and vegetables. Pears, green beans, fruit cocktail—it all came out of a can. It wasn’t until college I discovered that not all salads are made from iceberg lettuce and there is a wonderful world of leafy greens. Many of you can probably also relate to at least one of these obstacles.
Here’s the good news—there are simple solutions to eating more fruits and vegetables. Keep in mind solutions are nothing without commitment. Can you commit to eating more fruits and vegetables? No need to obsess about the numbers, just focus on eating more. We are creatures of habit and once you get in the habit of eating fruits and vegetables you will feel so much better and actually yearn for their colors, textures, and delectable flavors.
Solutions for Extra Cost
- Prioritize fruit and vegetables and cut out non-essential spending in other areas. Eating out less, biking to work more, and getting rid of cable television are great ways to save money. Brainstorm things you can do to save money to put towards quality fruits and vegetables.
- Scope out the different grocery stores, farms, and farmer’s markets in your area and do a price comparison on different items. You can often get bargains if you hunt around.
- Buy produce in season.
- Visit u-pick farms and pick enough produce to freeze and can for coming months.
- Grow your own garden and water it from a rain barrel.
Solutions If You Don’t Have Access to Quality Fresh Produce
- Make sure you know exactly what your options are before assuming you don’t have access. Visit http://www.localharvest.org/csa/ to find out about local community supported agriculture and farmer’s markets. You can search by state. Also talk to the produce manager at your local grocery store to find out more about the produce they carry.
- Grow your own garden. If you don’t have the space in your backyard, team up with someone who does or sign up for a community garden space.
- Join a food coop out of state or order from Azure Standard or Intermountain Produce Co. and get food delivered to your area.
- Call and write letters to the grocery stores in your area. Get other people to do the same. Tell them what you want to have in your store. Make demands. Grocery stores want to please customers so if they get enough demand they will provide the food you want.
- If you purchase canned fruits and vegetables, choose low sodium and without heavy syrup.
- Purchase “flash-frozen” fruits and vegetables.
- If you can’t afford to purchase all organic produce, follow the “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen” guidelines. This lists the cleanest conventional produce and those highest in pesticides.
Solutions For Increasing Convenience and Saving Time
- Find a few simple, easy recipes to start. You can work in more variety once you have mastered these. See below for ideas.
- Purchase pre-washed and pre-cut vegetables and fruits for convenience. Trader Joe’s has many organic options.
- Include raw fruits and vegetables as snacks throughout the day so they don’t require any preparation. Keep them in your bag, on the kitchen counter, and at work.
- Add fruits and vegetables to the food you are already eating. For example you can add berries to yogurt, fruit to pancakes, vegetables to soup, a tomato to a sandwich, vegetables to scrambled eggs, and pureed vegetables to sauces, soups, and gravies. Plan ahead and brainstorm ideas.
- Keep “flash-frozen” fruits and vegetables on hand for easy preparation. Even if you are just heating up a can of soup you can add frozen vegetables to the mix.
Solutions for Picky Eaters
- Make homemade smoothies or popsicles and include leafy greens along with fruit.
- Add pureed vegetables to sauces, soups and gravies.
- Crunchy vegetables can be dipped in delicious sauces.
- Grill and roast vegetables so they are more flavorful.
- Don’t overcook vegetables so they look gross and are mushy.
- Shred vegetables and add to sandwiches, salads, muffins, pancakes, and casseroles.
- Replace white potatoes with sweet potatoes. Even picky eaters can’t resist sweet potato fries.
- Fruits can be cut up and dipped into nut or seed butters.
- Frozen grapes, bananas, pineapple, mango, and berries are super sweet treats.
My Favorite Quick and Easy Recipe Ideas
- Green Smoothies. This alone can fulfill your daily requirements of fruits and vegetables. See my Favorite Green Smoothie Recipe
- Roasted Vegetables. So easy and nutritious. Take the vegetable of your choice (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, etc.), add a couple tbsp. olive oil, salt, and pepper or whatever seasonings you like and toss until coated in baking dish. Put in oven and bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes or until slightly browned. Stir occasionally.
- Spinach Salad with berries, almonds, avocado, oil and vinegar. Nothing fancy but delicious.
- Sautéed Kale. Sauté a chopped onion for about 15 minutes then add a couple bunches of kale and sauté for 10 more minutes. Done!
A Qualitative Study of Perceived Barriers to Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Among Low-Income Populations. Haynes-Maslow L, Parsons SE, Wheeler SB, Leone LA., North Carolina, 2011. Prev Chronic Dis 2013;10:120206. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd10.120206.