The health benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables daily are undisputed. They contain a terrific supply of vitamins, minerals, and fiber; they are generally low-calorie and low-fat food sources; they help you maintain good health and weight; they supply antioxidants; and they are naturally low in sodium and cholesterol. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, and have a positive effect on blood sugar levels. In sum, a healthy diet reduces your risk of some chronic diseases and improves your wellbeing.
But—what if you don’t like the taste of vegetables? Or your children complain too much when a broccoli spear touches their plate? How do you incorporate more whole foods like veggies and fruit into your diet when you know it’s good for you but haven’t made the health goal a reality?
How to Make a Healthy Change
We know fruits and vegetables are essential to our health, and yet most of us are not getting enough. It can be challenging to change your behavior even when you know the facts.
The way to make a healthy habit stick is to make it easy and repetitive. Americans are increasingly turning to simple vegetables that you can grab and go out the door: avocados, salads, and favorite fruits such as bananas, blueberries, grapes, and oranges. Start by figuring out what works best for you. Go with your favorite options, the ones that are easiest for you to incorporate into your day, and expand from there. While variety is the optimal goal, the easiest way to start is whatever fruits and vegetables work naturally for you.
Repeating your new habit is key. Once you have begun to make progress on incorporating more whole foods into your diet, make sure you repeat, repeat, repeat! Repetition is what turns a good choice into a healthy habit.
You may find you need some time for your taste buds to get used to fresh produce and its subtleties, but over time you’ll find fruits and vegetables to have more flavor than any convenience food. Just give it time. Before you know it, eating healthy will be automatic for you!
How Much Produce Do You Need Every Day?
Fruits and vegetables should make up half your plate at each meal for the average adult. (Specific serving recommendations vary by age, gender, and activity level, as well as whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding—consult your primary care provider to develop a plan that is tailored to you.) This translates to five servings each day of produce, according to the USDA, or approximately 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables daily.
More Fruits, More Vegetables: The Everyday Diet
Everyone can benefit from incorporating fresh produce into their diet. How should you go about making sure you get the fruits and veggies you need every day?
Plan to eat the rainbow.
Making a meal plan for the week can not only reduce your grocery bill, it can also make you eat a healthier, more varied diet. Make it a point to make vegetables and fruits the stars of every meal and snack, and build the rest of your meal around them. Part of this may involve an internal mind shift. Instead of thinking chicken wings are what’s for dinner, think Mexican Street Corn is for dinner—now what lean protein and whole grains will you add to that?
Shop at your local farmers’ market. The CDC finds that routine visits to the farmers market result in higher consumption of vegetables and fruits. Not only that, but being in season tends to translate to less expensive produce. Get more tips on how to make the most of your local market.
Start a garden! In addition to or instead of visiting the farmers market, a container or backyard garden can yield a whole lot more than produce. You’d be surprised how children and adults alike enjoy their food more when they pull it from the soil themselves. Plus, a garden is a cheaper way to get your veggies in. Learn more about starting your own garden.
Snack on fresh food.
Many fruits and vegetables require little to no preparation, making them convenient and nutritious. Blueberries, apples, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, bell peppers, carrots, celery, radishes, and cucumbers are all easy-to-eat, healthy snacks you can consume raw. To make these healthy choices more filling, try adding a protein-based dip like hummus or almond butter.
Spread fruits and veggies across your day.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, dinner tends to be the meal when most families eat veggies. If you want to add vegetables to your day, try focusing on breakfast or lunch. And if you skip produce in one meal, don’t fret; simply add more of it the next time you dine.
Tips on Sneaking More Veggies and Fruit into Your Diet
Here are some more easy, tried-and-true ways to add more fruits and veggies to your diet:
- Make your salads as colorful as possible. Try using three or more veggies in addition to greens.
- Top oatmeal, cereal, or yogurt with Maine berries or fruit, or make a savory breakfast by adding sauteed mushrooms and kale.
- Plant-ify meals you already have in regular rotation: add a can of black beans and some frozen corn to chili, toss strips of green peppers in with your morning eggs, sneak tomatoes into your sandwich.
- Chop them up. Finely diced zucchini, mushroom, or summer squash and your family might not even detect its presence!
- Prepare veggie snacks in advance—slice them and put them already prepared into containers for instant snacks. The more convenient you can make the choice, the more likely they will get chosen.
- Try a salad a day. A green salad is a wonderful, healthy choice, but feel free to think beyond that color: load up a bowl with an array of cut fruits, mix and match fruits and veggies, or use a different vegetable than lettuce as your base, such as raw zucchini or grated carrots. Get creative!
- Add fun! Skewer fruit onto kebab sticks or make veggie art. Young kids aren’t the only ones who enjoy a side of fun with their meals!
- Introduce more vegetable- or legume-based dips into your diet, such as guacamole, hummus, and baba ganoush—and then dip in fruit and vegetables.
- Make smoothies. So easy, so good!
- Add cooking greens like kale, spinach, collards, or Swiss chard to your soups about 10 minutes before they are done cooking.
- Make wraps with lettuce or cabbage leaves in lieu of bread.
- Add sauteed mushrooms and garlic to tomato sauce.
- Add herbs and fruit to make water extra fancy.
- Change up dessert. Fresh or frozen fruit is a delicious and healthy way to cap off a meal.