We all know that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is key to a healthy diet. Yet most of us struggle to consume anywhere close to the recommended cup and a half of fruit and two to three cups of veggies daily. (Yes, daily!)
Don’t despair: Here are four suggestions to help you get what you need in the easiest and tastiest ways possible.
• Drink Up. Want to get all of your recommended veggies in one shot? Blend them. Blending or juicing allows you to reduce large amounts of fruits and vegetables to comparatively small portions — especially beneficial for people who need to consume frequent small meals. Just be aware of what you’re mixing with those fruits and vegetables: Avoid incorporating juices with added sugars, and pay attention to serving sizes. Adding fiber like chia seeds, bran or nut butters will also promote colon health and regularity. (This apple-carrot-ginger smoothie is a great example, combining fruits, veggies and fiber.)
• Roast or grill. It’s hard to name a food that doesn’t taste better roasted or grilled with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and that goes for vegetables and fruits, too. (Hello, pineapple and peaches!) This is also an easy way to turn a plain side dish into something special. Air fryers are in many kitchens now — an estimated 40 percent of U.S. households own one — making roasting even more convenient. Bonus: Dry-heat cooking is less likely to destroy the nutrients in your food, and heart-healthy fats like olive oil maximize the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K. Some of the best veggies for roasting or grilling are the “stinky” cruciferous ones — broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts. These cooking methods help contain their sulfur compound, making them more appetizing and tender without getting mushy.
• Trick Yourself. When all else fails, hiding veggies can be a way to get in a recommended serving. Steamed carrots and peas are easy to puree and slip into spaghetti sauce, adding nutrients, thickening the sauce and increasing its flavor profile. It’s an effective way of getting more nutrition into your food, and especially good for people who really don’t want to even see or smell vegetables on their plate.
For picky eaters especially, blending fruits and vegetables into sweet treats can work like magic. A personal favorite: Blend about 1/3 cup of cubed frozen yellow squash (available in grocery freezer sections), half a frozen banana, a scoop of low-sugar chocolate protein powder and a splash of your favorite dairy or nondairy milk. The result is a thick, fiber- and nutrient-filled shake that tastes like a Wendy’s Frosty.
Other ways to hide your servings: Use zoodles — zucchini pre-cut in the shape of spaghetti — instead of pasta; grate raw veggies into meatloaf before cooking; blend beans into dips and spreads, or try these amazing vegan sweet potato brownies.
• Become an explorer. We’re a multicultural nation now, which means there are gems at your local grocery or farmer’s market that your grandma would not have dreamed of, opening a whole new universe of taste. Shopping at ethnic grocery stores is a great way to increase your variety of fruits and vegetables without compromising nutritional quality or breaking the bank. (And lower cost can help make trying new things seem less risky.) Look for tasty tropical fruits like mamey at Latin groceries (often used in ice cream or milkshakes), or discover sweet lychee at your local Asian grocer.
Lastly, a pro tip: Remember that buying frozen is just as healthy as fresh, and usually more affordable — such foods are picked at their ripest, flash frozen and packed without preservatives or additives. (Always check the label to be sure.) It’s a convenient way to keep fruits and vegetables on hand — to toss in smoothies, for a quick steam, or microwaved with oatmeal — so you have no excuse not to hit that vital daily intake of deliciousness.
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