Five servings of produce day doesn't sound like a lot when you think about it. But when you take a look at the typical American diet -- eggs or cereal for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and pasta or something meat-heavy for dinner, there’s something sorely lacking, and that's fruits and vegetables. Unless you’re cooking all of your meals at home -- and sometimes even then -- it’s actually kind of hard to meet the nutrient quota. I've done a lot of trial and error on that front, and here are five strategies that help keep me on track.
No. 1: Sip a Smoothie
I love kicking off my day with a fruit, vegetable or combination smoothie. It gives me the energy and clarity to power through my mornings, and when I start off on the right foot, I'm more likely to want to keep up the momentum and make better choices the rest of the day. Depending on how much time I have, I'll either blend up a smoothie to drink alongside my breakfast or add in yogurt or nut butter (or both!) for a hearty one-glass meal. If you use at least three servings of fruits or veggies, you're already more than halfway toward hitting your five. Here are some of my favorite combos:
No. 2: Prep Before You Store
When you buy produce at the store, make sure you have some time set aside when you get home to prep. Cut carrots and celery into sticks. Blanch broccoli florets. Wash and dry greens. You get the picture. It is true that once you cut produce, it starts to lose nutrients, but I always remind myself that less nutrients is better than no nutrients, and that I shouldn’t let perfect be the enemy of the good when it comes to healthy eating. If you have a grocery store with a salad bar, you can take it one step further and shop for your produce there -– just put each item in a separate container. This is a great strategy if you’re cooking for one. Or, you can always buy more than you need, prep, and then freeze. StillTasty.com is a great resource for tips on storing fruit and vegetables.
No. 3: Snack Smarter
One thing I always have in my refrigerator is some kind of dip –- hummus, a creamy dressing, yogurt sauce, etc. If I have vegetables already cut up (see above), and I have something to dip them in, I have no excuse for munching on something that isn't nutritious. You have to stick to the snack foods that you like, though. I am no fan of raw fruit (unless it’s blended into a smoothie), and whenever I've tried to force myself to snack on fresh fruit, I’ve ended up throwing out a lot of less-then-fresh fruit that never got eaten. When I gave up on fruit and started buying vegetables instead, my snacking got a lot healthier.
No. 4: Rethink Eating Out
I do a lot more dining out and ordering in than I probably should, but I've found a great way to keep it healthy. Instead of ordering an entrée, I order an appetizer and either a salad or soup. I always end up eating more vegetables than I would have had I just gone with a main dish, without feeling like I’ve deprived myself of something I really wanted to eat. A slider and a salad is much better for me than a burger and fries, and if I choose an interesting soup or salad, I won't miss the fries.
No. 5: Give Convenience Foods a Boost
We all eat foods because they're easy sometimes. A frozen pizza here, or a box of mac 'n' cheese there. It's easy to steam some broccoli while you heat up a Lean Cuisine for an easy side dish. Or throw fresh spinach or frozen green beans into canned soup before you reheat it. My ultimate convenience comfort food is boxed mac 'n' cheese with peas and tuna fish. It's still mac 'n' cheese, sure, but at least I get one serving of produce in there. And on a day where I've followed the strategies above, that's usually enough to still hit my five.
Got any tips to share? Leave them in the comments!