As I sat down to my tea dinner (evening meal) with 4 different kinds of veg (peas broccoli carrots and parsnips) 1 fruit (tomato) and a glass of fruit juice it made me think about the constant struggle to get enough fruit and veg in my life. The 5 a day phenomenon (or 5 + 2 as it is over here) can constantly elude me, leaving me in my busy lifestyle trying to cram fruit and veg into my food anywhere I can (hence the masses of veg burying my steak tonight). I can’t imagine this is only a problem for me, as many of us are busy and often go to those easy fix meals which don’t typically contain lots of fresh ingredients. So here’s my list of tips for getting more fruit and veg into my life:
- Prepare it in advance. It sounds silly – I mean how long does it take to chop up a tomato or a bit of cucumber but this really does work. When I get home with my fruit and veg before putting it away I will prepare it for the week. This is particularly good if you pack a lunch for work, or for the kids as you can make up some salad in a bowl and just put a handful into your lunch box each day. Also, you’ll find if you don’t have veg for an evening meal or you fancy a quick snack that salad is a whole lot more appealing when it’s already made. You can do the same with most veggies. I’m a planner so I generally know what I’m having most nights so chop up my veg 2-3 days in advance and keep it in Tupperware in the fridge until I need it. It makes that evening meal after a long day at work far less daunting and also stops you skimping on the veg when you are getting bored and tired, or just rushing to order that take-away. If you really organised, I have friends who will prepare whole meals for a week at a time and keep them in fridge or freezer ready to throw into a slow cooker each morning.
- Know your portion sizes. 5 a day doesn’t actually mean 5 a day. Some fruits contain far more vitamins that others (and others probably less than you expected), this great list https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/5ADAY/Documents/Downloads/5ADAY_portion_guide.pdf from back in the U.K. gives you the portion sizes for a huge variety of fruit and veg – some are far less than you think (Dried fruit, Melon or Mango all jumped out to me) making it easier to hit that 5 a day.
- Start early. Day’s like today are the worst – you get to 6pm and realise not one piece of fruit has graced your lips (not actually true but I didn’t remember that until later). Then it becomes a battle of trying to force yourself to eat fruit and veg. Look for ways to get fruit and veg with breakfast, smoothies are a great idea if you have time, but they do need to be made in the morning or they lose a lot of their goodness. A fruit salad for breakfast is also a brilliant idea but again if you can’t prepare in advance can take time. However there are loads of simple ways to add fruit. I love porridge for breakfast and it’s easy to chuck in a handful of blueberries, or grapes, or quickly slice a banana while its cooking. I mix fruit in with my cornflakes or granola too. Or replace that morning coffee (gasp!!) with a glass of fruit juice (Even I know that might be a bit of a stretch but it will hydrate you more than coffee in the morning and it is good for you).
- Convenience it. Ok so we’d all love to make every meal with fresh veg from the farmer’s market but let’s be honest – fresh fruit and veg can sometimes be a pain. It’s time consuming, it goes off quickly and it takes up loads of space. Luckily our wonderful society has lots of convenient alternatives which as long as you pick carefully are just as healthy as fresh veg: Frozen veg is ideal – no prep just 5 minutes in a pan, and often these are frozen super fresh so retain loads of those vitamins and mineral. You can get frozen fruit too. Tinned fruit is another great one (just make sure you buy it in juice not syrup) again no prep just pour it out if the tin. Dried fruit – raisins, sultanas, apricots etc. also no prep and a healthy snack or addition to breakfasts, salads or deserts.
- Add it. I’ve already kind of covered this above but I wanted to make a point of it as a lifestyle change. Think about every meal you are making and find ways to add fruit and veg. Homemade pizzas can easily be topped with pepper, fresh tomatoes, green leaves (like rocket), pineapple or sweetcorn. When making a casserole, or a pasta sauce, stop and think if there is anything extra you can add to get a bit more veg in there – in bolognese for example, alongside your usual tomatoes and onions we regularly add carrots and sweetcorn. If you are making a sweet curry such as korma you can add apples and raisins for a different flavour. Asian meals are easy to stuff with lots of greens and different veg. Home made soups can be packed full of veg too. Also now you’ve got your convenience veg remember to use that alongside your fresh veg, so if you are making roasted veg as I was tonight – I also threw some peas in a pan. I’ve already mentioned raisins and sweetcorn which require zero effort to be added to a meal.
- Change your thinking. The first time someone proposed this idea to me, I was like “don’t be so ridiculous” but the idea of “eat well, be well” does work, and we all know it at some level, much as we’d like to think we could live off chocolate cake. Next time you are eating a salad, think of it as rewarding your body with healthy food, treat yourself to cherries as a snack instead of sugary processed food and begin to notice how great you feel after you’ve eaten healthily for a few days. Now, there’s no way I will ever be giving up my #treatyoself Monday cakes but I do also now see fruit or salad as a treat to my body (my Monday cake is a treat to my soul) and especially if I’m feeling a bit tired or rundown I’m quick to grab myself a bowl full of healthy pre-made (See point 1) salad before I go running to the biscuits.
Let me know your top tips for eating more fruit and veggies in the comments below.