About a year and a half ago, I set a goal to eat more fruits and vegetables every day. I’d been feeling bloated and sluggish and unhealthy, and I knew I wasn’t getting nearly enough fresh produce in my diet. The adventure that followed was a little unexpected–what started out as a simple quest to try and actually hit the 5-8 recommended servings of fruits and vegetables a day turned into a bit of a diet overhaul over the ensuing months.
While the process of adding more produce to our diets seemed a little unnatural at first (like I had to overplan everything), I gradually started working my way into some relatively sustainable eating habits that I have tried hard to maintain.
I’m not saying my diet now is anywhere near where I’d like it be (coming from the girl who literally just ate a big ol’ fingerful of raw cookie dough from the fridge), but I have improved it a LOT.
Here are some strategies for fitting more produce into your diet that have worked for me.
1. Set a rule–today!–that you must eat at least one fruit or vegetable at every meal. Granted, this will likely just net you 3 servings of produce a day at first, but the process is all about baby steps. (And yes, my diet really was that bad before starting to do this–there’d be lots of days when I would get just one or two servings of fruits/veggies a day before I started living by this rule, if I was lucky.)
2. Put fruits and vegetables in clearly visible locations so they’re one of the first things you see when you go looking for a snack. It amazes me how much more likely I am to eat something if it is in a place where my eyes see it a lot. So use that human trait to your advantage—put your “snack” fruits and veggies in clear locations (read: NOT the crisper) and in clear containers. In our apartment, we always keep a bowl of fruit right out in the center of our kitchen’s island—it is almost always stocked with some easy-to-grab fruit (like apples, peaches, oranges, bananas, etc.), and because I see it a lot, I tend to reach for something out of it at least once or twice a day.
3. Plan your meals. If I’m always planning my meals around what is easiest or what sounds the best at the moment, I rarely work a lot of produce into them. However, when I actually take five minutes and plan out a meal that has a good mix of nutrients, I not only tend to eat a lot healthier but I also tend to waste less food because I’m planning around perishable items (like fruits and veggies) that I need to use up quickly.
4. If you have a blender or a juicer, take advantage of it. I personally don’t have a juicer, but I have gone through four blenders in seven years because I use them so often (true story). I even gained a bit of a reputation for becoming something of a smoothie savant (click over to this post to find out some secrets to perfect smoothie-making). Because smoothies and juices are in liquid form, it’s a lot easier to pack a lot of produce in because you don’t have to go through the trouble of peeling, chopping, or even chewing. Most of my smoothies net at least 3-4 servings of produce, so it’s a pretty good way to fit in the nutrients my body needs without a lot of effort.
5. Eat like a vegetarian/vegan at least once or twice a week. Last year, when I started to really crack down on what we were eating, I set the habit of eating like a vegetarian for two full days each week (so at least 6 meals). The habit forced me to start planning more meals around produce (especially vegetables), and I also noticed that we saved a lot more money on groceries as a bonus (since I wasn’t having to buy very much meat).
6. Here’s a trick–next time you’re feeling like a snack, ask yourself if an apple (or peach or plum or banana) sounds good. If it does, eat that. If it doesn’t, chances are you’re just bored, and you probably should go find something else to do.
7. Grow your own garden. I can’t tell you how much of a difference our garden has made in our consumption of fruits and vegetables. Not only does growing your own food save money, taste better, and connect you more with nature, but it also is HIGHLY motivating to eat something that you’ve been coddling for the past several months as your own personal outside project. Even if space is limited, try out tomatoes in a container or see if there’s a community garden nearby (which is the route we took). The payoff is worth the investment.
8. Once you’re firmly into the habit of having at least one fruit or vegetable at every meal, set the goal of having at least one “superstar” meal a day (when you get at least 4-5 servings in one sitting). During the summer, that meal for me is usually breakfast (because I can just throw a bunch of random veggies and some eggs into a skillet and call it a frittata or make myself a giant smoothie), but I often will plan lunch of dinner around large portions of fruits and vegetables as well.
9. Buy produce in season. Not only does it save money, but it makes a HUGE difference in taste. Even better than just buying in season? Buy locally. Often, local farmers will grow heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables (that naturally have more flavor than produce that has been genetically modified to be able to withstand long transportation trips), and many local farmers use organic methods naturally anyway (without charging extra for it). Right now I’m on a serious cherry kick (hence the pictures), but there’s a lot to choose from right now when it comes to buying in season—take advantage of it!
10. Make eating fruits and vegetables convenient. While it would probably save me money to buy whole carrots and cut them up myself, I’m much more likely to actually eat them if I buy pre-peeled baby carrots that all I have to do is grab. Grocery stores now have a lot of options that make eating produce more convenient—try picking up a party platter of pre-sliced veggies at the store and just snacking on those throughout the week, or take ten minutes when you get home from the store to section out portions of grapes or celery sticks into baggies for easy access. In other words, the easier and more convenient you make it for yourself to succeed, the more likely it is that you probably will.
What strategies do you use for fitting more fruits and veggies into your diet?