Fruits and vegetables do so many good things for your body. But filling half of your plate with produce can seem like a tall order, even for the most motivated eater. The good news is it doesn’t have to be. Nutritionists have all kinds of tricks up their sleeves to make eating more produce a cinch.
Even though 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables is a great daily goal, there’s no need to stress about the numbers. “Ask yourself instead, where can I add fruits or vegetables to this meal?” says Alex Caspero, MA, RD, owner of Delish Knowledge.
If that sounds good, but you could use some tips to get started, these 10 nutritionist-approved hacks can help.
Get a jumpstart on vegetables. “If you wait until dinner to eat your first serving of vegetables, it will be harder to meet the produce recommendations,” says Caspero. Her solution? Add prewashed baby spinach and thawed, frozen bell pepper strips to an egg or tofu scramble. Or, get your veggie fix on the go with these easy-to-make egg bites.
Test drive a new juice. OJ is packed with nutrients, but it can also be heavy in sugar. Why not start your day with some low-sodium veggie juice instead? One small glass contains more blood pressure-lowering potassium than 1 ½ bananas.
Build a better smoothie. “I’m big on breakfast smoothies, as they’re an easy way to get calcium and protein,” says Caspero. Her go-to recipe combines a balance of fruits, vegetables, plant protein, and healthy fats. To make it, blend 1 cup fortified soy milk with 1 tablespoon peanut butter, 1 frozen banana, 1 tablespoon chia or hemp seeds, 1 pitted date, 1/2 teaspoon alcohol-free vanilla extract, and 1 large handful of kale leaves in a blender. “It’s so delicious you don’t even taste the kale,” she adds.
Swap in salsa for salad dressing. You’ll cut fat and gain nutrients. Take tomato-based pico de gallo, for instance. It’s a super-easy way to sneak in vitamin C and lycopene, says Sonya Angelone, MS, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “I also love green, red, or chipotle sauces to dress salads,” she adds. “Just be careful not to use too much if you’re concerned about spiciness.”
Pop open a can of beans. They double as both a vegetable and a protein, according to the USDA. Plus, they’re an outstanding source of fiber. Try a black bean burger on a whole-grain bun, a bowl of chili, or a Spicy Buffalo Chickpea Wrap.
Put coleslaw to work. Precut coleslaw mix doesn’t get nearly the credit it deserves. Made from cabbage, it’s a cruciferous vegetable, just like broccoli. So, don’t just save this convenient mix for a side dish, says Angelone. “I skip the dressing and use it instead of lettuce in salads and wraps for extra crunch and nutrition,” she says.
Preload. Right before dinner, when everyone’s stomachs are starting to rumble, is an ideal time to squeeze in some veggies. Set out a pre-dinner plate of hummus and sliced raw veggies (baby carrots, bell pepper strips, cukes, and grape tomatoes are all winners). Then watch them disappear.
Trade meat for mushrooms. “Mushrooms are a great meaty swap that you can finely dice, brown and add to cooked ground dishes like sloppy joes and tacos,” says Caspero. They’re naturally low in fat and calories. Plus, research reveals they contain compounds that keep your immune system strong.
Take frozen veggies to the next level. Nothing beats the convenience of frozen peas, spinach, or broccoli when you’re pressed for time. But don’t stop there. Vitamin C-rich frozen mashed potatoes can do amazing things for your meal, says Angelone. And they even provide a little fiber. She likes to whisk them into vegetable soup instead of cream for added richness and body.
Double up. Eating the rainbow is a good goal. But when you’ve had a hectic day, who has time to prep multiple veggies? Instead, cook your favorite vegetable in bulk and help yourself to an extra-large portion.
Finally, don’t forget fruit for dessert (and snacks!). Whether it’s a warm toasty baked apple or sliced bananas with almond butter, fruit is a simple, healthy way to satisfy your sweet tooth.