Lindsay Nelson, RD, LD
Are you Eating Enough Vegetables?
Off the top of your head, estimate how many cups of veggies you get in a day. This would be 1 cup chopped veggies or 2 cups of salad greens. Write it down. Now, write down everything you’ve eaten in the last 48 hours, including serving sizes. Did the amount of veggies you thought you consumed on a daily basis match up with what you actually consumed in the last two days?
As a dietitian, I recommend eating at least three cups of veggies per day, but ideally, closer to five cups. That’s right – five cups of veggies EVERY DAY! I ask all of my new patients how many cups of veggies they’re getting in a day and most people are only getting one cup, thanks to the standard American diet (aka…SAD). Not getting the recommended and amount of veggies (and fruit) leaves many people depleted in vitamins and minerals (micronutrients). The SAD diet leaves us overfed but malnourished when we fill up on inflammatory processed foods and don’t consume the foods we were designed to use for fuel.
One simple way of getting the minimum amount of veggies needed per day is to aim for at least one cup of veggies at each meal, three times a day. When I tell people this, they have a hard time figuring out how to eat veggies at breakfast. I like to add 2 cups of veggies like kale, peppers and onions to my eggs in the morning – either in a hash, omelet or breakfast casserole. My other go-to way of making my morning nosh my breakfast of champions is by making a green smoothie: 1 cup frozen fruit, 2 cups greens, 1 cup milk and a protein like almond butter, Greek yogurt or protein powder. Smoothies are also a great way to sneak in “superfoods” like flax seeds, chia seeds, spirulina, elderberry, etc. If you don’t get in any veggies at breakfast, just make sure you add more at lunch or dinner.
When planning your meals, aim for making half your plate, or half the volume of your meal, from vegetables. If you’re making something like hamburger patties, meatballs or a casserole, mince vegetables and mix them in, even if the recipe doesn’t call for it! There are lots of ways to “sneak” extra veggies into any meal. Writing out all your meals ahead of time and making it a goal to have at least one cup of veggies at every meal in your weekly meal plan makes a huge impact.
Do you have a SUPER picky kid or adult in your household who just hates the thought or texture of any veggie? I love the cookbook by Jessica Seinfeld (Jerry Seinfeld’s wife) called Deceptively Delicious. She uses veggie purees and adds them to classic comfort foods. For example, she has a recipe that adds pureed butternut squash to good ol’ mac-n-cheese. I still think it’s important for picky eaters to be exposed to and try whole vegetables, but “hiding” them in this way will at least amp up a picky eater’s nutrient intake! On a side note, I can’t help but picture the cast of Seinfeld eating one of these recipes and then learning what they had really just eaten…ha! I’m sure Jessica has done this to Jerry many times.
Always keeping frozen veggies as a staple in your kitchen will give you an easy way to get your veggies when you haven’t had time to meal plan or go to the store and you need something quick. I love frozen veggies because they’re already washed and chopped and all I have to do is cook them!
One of my favorite sites for recipes, tips and videos about how to use fruits and veggies is fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org. Where ever you are on your veggie adventure, you can start upping your intake at your next meal or the next time you make your grocery list. Even if you start by increasing your daily intake by ½ cup, that’s still great progress and will improve your nutritional status – your body will thank you!