Recently, there has been media around new suggestions from scientists to increase our fruit and vegetable intake to 5-10 servings a day based on disease prevention studies. Recent recommendations have been around 2-4 servings of fruit and 3-5 servings of vegetables a day – with juice being acceptable (and perhaps pizza in schools, but that’s a whole separate conversation).
Including 5-10 servings a day may sound like a lot, but what does this even look like?
One serving of plants is 80 grams.
Okay, still not helping, metric system.
An 80 gram serving of plants may look like (approximated):
8 cauliflower or broccoli florets
3 Tbsp peas or corn
1 cup of 100% fruit juice
1/2 bell pepper
1 cup loose spinach
1 sweet potato
3 Tbsp pumpkin
You get the idea.
Fun Fact: Did you know that, when the first food pyramid was created, its contracted nutrition experts actually recommended 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day based on their research into chronic disease statistics, review of scientific literature, and observed population dietary shortfalls? And this was back in the 1980s. That’s not all that was different between the original serving proposals and what can be found in our more recent nutrition guidelines — but, that’s a history story for another time. 🙂
So, how do you increase your plant intake?
Well, my obvious response is to take the leap and #goveg 🙂 But, even as a vegan it’s possible to have a diet based primarily on convenience items like frozen veggie burgers, ‘chicken’ nuggets or tofu dogs (not that there’s anything wrong with incorporating these things into your diet) — and actually be lacking in the fresh fruits and vegetables department.
Here are some other ways to eat more plants without thinking much about it:
- Add leafy greens to hot dishes.
They wilt! Adding spinach, kale, swiss chard, or collard greens to hot pasta dishes, casseroles, soups or pizza gives you a huge bang for your buck in the veggie department. This is a lovely vegetable soup recipe from Oh She Glows that uses spinach. You can easily add 2-3 cups (approximately 2-3 handfuls) of loose baby spinach to a stir fry dish or soup and it will wilt right down to an easily consumable amount. Add more or less depending on how many people are splitting the dish, of course. I’m not Popeye.
- Make more smoothies… and hide things in them.
Pick up a few bags of frozen fruit and throw them in the blender with some fruit juice and chia seeds. You can even hide some greens in there, and balance out the bitterness of the greens to your liking with the tartness of lime, green apple, or other citrus flavors. If you need some ideas, here are 18 vegan smoothie recipes. One smoothie could easily provide at least 2-4 servings of fruit like woah.
- Two words: stir fry.
I love stir fry because, to me, it’s a dish that really has no rules (you rebel, you). Make some pasta, throw in some tofu, tempeh or seitan, add flavor with seasoning and soy sauce, and add whatever vegetables you have available. We often add a whole zucchini or yellow squash, a few carrots, half an onion, 3-6 cloves of garlic, an eggplant, 5-6 mushrooms, and a bell pepper. A similar approach is my recipe for roasted vegetables.
- Add spinach, carrots, and/or zucchini to your muffins.
Yeah yeah, this is reflective of a “trick” we’re taught as parents to get our kids to eat more vegetables. But really, savory muffins can be incredibly delicious and packed with plants. Kids aren’t going to eat gross muffins, and I’m not going to either. Trust me, I eat a lot of leftover experimental veggie muffins that Vegbaby decides he doesn’t want to finish after all. One of my favorite recipes to use as a starter is from Minimalist Baker, but I alter it based on what I have in the house. You can make a lot of great variations!
- Make vegetable chips or lightly fried squash as a side dish.
I have to confess. I don’t have a mandoline (yet), mostly because I’m afraid that I’m going to amputate my entire hand using it, but I hear they are absolutely fantastic kitchen tools for thinly slicing vegetables. Homemade potato or zucchini chips are amazing! This recipe from Vegan a la Mode looks pretty great. Another go-to for our family is sliced yellow squash, fried lightly on both sides in a little olive oil, and sprinkled with garlic powder and sesame seeds. We end up eating an entire squash per person when we do this.
- Homemade veggie pizza.
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like PIZZA, and it’s easy to replace the meat and cheese toppings with a pile of vegetables and some good garlicky tomato sauce. Our typical homemade veggie pizza has a black olives, marinara, spinach, garlic, onion, a can of beans, artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, sliced mushrooms and sometimes a bell pepper. We’ve been known to throw some broccoli on there too if we have it, because everything crisps and melds together in deliciousness.
What are YOUR quick tips for getting more fruits and veggies?