Struggling to Boost your Vegetable Intake? Here are 7 Ideas to Help you Get to 7 a Day.
We’re often advised to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, which is what the current NHS guidelines recommend, but in all honesty, these are pretty out of date. As a general rule we should aim for a minimum of 7 portions. (I often recommend 8 to 10 portions to clients).
Going a little deeper than “vegetables are good for you” - they are a great source of dietary fibre, water, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other plant-based micronutrients.
In addition to supplying nutrients, these plants provide fuel for a healthy and diverse gut environment – ie. feeding a wide range of good bacteria.
What about fruit?
I focus on vegetables for one main reason – sugar. Although both have health benefits, fruit contains higher levels of sugar than vegetables, and so balancing this as 5 portions of vegetables, and 2 portions of fruit can help to keep your sugar intake in moderation. If you are actively trying to reduce your sugar intake and/or lose weight, then you may want to switch the balance to 6 vegetable portions and 1 fruit portion instead.
View fruit as a healthy sweet treat. For this reason, juices and dried fruit don’t count as a portion, as they are concentrated sources of sugar – great to include in treat recipes – but without the full benefits of the whole fruit.Grilled cinnamon pears with cashew nut cream
And what constitutes a portion?
Technically a portion is equivalent to 80g, but an easy and realistic visual guide to work with is the equivalent of 1 measuring cup or the size of one apple
So how can I get 7 a day?
1. Step by Step…
Let’s face it, if you’re not quite hitting 5 a day then 7 is going to seem a bit daunting, especially if you’re someone who’s grown up disliking vegetables.
Work out where you are realistically with your daily intake, and aim to increase that by 1 or 2 portions each week.
2. Space them Out
When spread out across your meals, 7 vegetable portions are much more manageable than you think.
For example, if you eat three meals a day this could be spaced out to include 1 or 2 portions of fruit or vegetables with breakfast, 2 to 3 portions of vegetables with lunch and 2 to 3 portions with dinner.
As an easy guide, aiming to take up half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables will usually cover 2 to 3 portions.
I don’t usually encourage clients to snack, but if you do, then that can give you another opportunity to add some vegetables. Sliced peppers, celery, cucumber and carrots work well with dips; and cherry tomatoes are easily portable and need no preparation.
As most of us grew up on cereals for breakfast, the idea of adding vegetables to this meal may seem quite strange!
Try adding a portion of vegetables to a breakfast that has a good proportion of protein and healthy fats, to help balance blood sugar levels and keep you feeling full.
Omelettes offer an easy opportunity for added veggies – mushrooms, spinach, spring onions and/or tomatoes all work well in this. Shakshuka and omelette muffins can also be made up in advance if morning time is limited.Shakshuka
For a lighter, fruit option, you could mix a handful of berries (frozen then defrosted) with nuts and seeds (or homemade granola) in a plain, live yoghurt. This can of course, be a dairy-free coconut or almond yoghurt if you prefer.
4. Challenge Yourself
If you’re not yet up to 5 a day, then chances are your vegetable variety may be pretty limited. Why not create a list of all the vegetables you can think of – especially, ones that you’ve never tried, or haven’t had in ages.
Challenge yourself to try or re-try a new vegetable each time your shop. I often give clients a list of these to play vegetable bingo with!
If you shop online, then go outside of the comfort zone of your “favourites” list. Visit the supermarket in person every now and then, and take some time to look around the grocery section. Better yet, take a wander through your local market for inspiration. A simple search through social media or internet can help you to come up with cooking ideas.
5. Cook a Different Way
The way you cook and prepare vegetables can have a huge impact on how they taste. Take brussels sprouts for example. I’m still not keen on these if they’re boiled or steamed, but slice and roast them in some extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, or slice and stir-fry them and, it’s a different story!
Likewise, cauliflower on its own doesn’t appeal to me, but mash it up with some garlic, roast it with some spices or lightly fry it as rice, and it’s delicious!
6. Blend It
If you don’t already have one, then get yourself a decent blender.
Soups are an easy way to boost your vegetable intake, and also easy to cook. Not filling enough for a meal? Then turn a vegetable soup into a starter. And once you make up a big batch, you can refrigerate the rest in individual portions for another time.
Sauces are another easy way to sneak in some extra vegetables, especially for kids. You can either grate some vegetables over the top to stir in (like in a chilli or Bolognese sauce), or throw them in the blender to keep everything smooth.
7. Pre-Prepped Vegetables
In an ideal world, we’d buy fresh and prepare everything from scratch, but this isn’t always realistic after a long day at work when time and effort may be limited.
Casserole, roasting, or stir-fry vegetable packets can be really useful in this case. Swapping in some vegetables for pasta or rice can help to boost your intake also. For example, cauliflower and broccoli rice, courgette noodles, butternut squash or sweet potato fries."SEVEN!"
Give these ideas a go and see how you get on!
Keep an eye out for more recipes from me to help boost your vegetable intake.