By Cassidy Hobbs Hall
Area Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences
Johnston County Cooperative Extension
Regardless if you are hoping to shed a few pounds, recover from an injury or illness, or manage hypertension or diabetes, eating more fruits and vegetables is part of the prescription. Since childhood, we have learned that fruits and vegetables are good for us and our plates should be more colorful. We have this knowledge, so why don’t we eat them more often? Sure, you could argue that preparing fresh produce takes time or that we tend to like other foods better. The truth is that you don’t have to like all fruits and vegetables to eat healthy.
Full disclosure, I don’t like kale, cucumbers, red bell peppers, or grapefruit; however, there are still lots of fruits and vegetables that I do like, so I focus on incorporating those more often. Personally, I think eating fruits and vegetables has been overcomplicated.
Who decided that every meal has to be full of produce we aren’t familiar with and use fancy, expensive ingredients anyway? You can make eating more vegetables simple and easy with these three Ps- plan, prepare, perform.
Plan your meals ahead of time. Meal planning can be as healthy or “healthy-ish” as you’d like. Meal planning does not mean every meal you eat has to come out of a meal container or that you have to eat the same thing every day. Planning simply means thinking ahead of time about what you plan to serve your family and using that plan to create a shopping list. I prefer to do this while I am at home so I can inventory ingredients I already have in my pantry, freezer, and refrigerator. Once I assess, I then check out the store circular in my store’s app to see what is on sale, and check to see if I have any coupons that can help me plan my menu for the week. It is also a great idea to plan meals based on produce that is in season. These items are cheaper, tastier, and more likely to have been grown locally. If there aren’t many fresh produce items in season, don’t be afraid of frozen or canned vegetables!
Once you have planned your meals, take a second look at the menu you have selected and ask yourself “what kinds of vegetables can I add to this dish?” For example, this past week, a video was circulating around social media demonstrating how to use your crockpot to make a popular restaurant meal at home. There was just one problem for me. There were no vegetables! I made this same recipe at home with a few modifications which also included the addition of frozen spinach and mushrooms to stretch the recipe and add good nutrition. You can do this with many of your main dishes. Once you’ve identified which vegetables you could add into the dish, add them to your list. Don’t forget that adding vegetables stretches your recipes, so you can plan for leftovers and save! Adding vegetables by disguising them in your main dish is a clever game plan to get your family to eat more vegetables along with you.
Part of planning is preparing- plan time to prepare vegetables. I tend to do my grocery shopping on Sunday afternoons. As soon as I put away those items, I immediately wash, chop, and put away all of the fresh vegetables I’ve purchased. Later in the week, I can easily toss them into a dish. If I am short on time, I’ll save this step for Monday night. I already have my cutting board out, so while my dinner cooks, I go ahead and prep items for later in the week. This strategy helps me to have less to wash and saves me time and effort later in the week.
In addition to preparing vegetables ahead of time, I like to prepare to eat vegetables again tomorrow by “meal prepping” the night’s leftovers for lunch tomorrow. This helps me to save time, money, and ensure I get that next serving of vegetables again tomorrow.
Each of the three Ps are equally important in your success, but this final step is the piece quick-fix diets can’t teach you and we don’t give ourselves enough credit for. Knowledge is not enough. We have to think in a practical manner about how we are going to sprinkle healthy habits into our current lifestyle. Make it happen by performing eating more fruits and vegetables. It sounds easy, but it takes time.
Consider your current eating habits and use this as a starting point. If you eat one to two servings of fruits and vegetables each day, adding vegetables into your main dishes at each meal can easily boost you to three servings each day. Commit to trying one new recipe each week. If you are not a vegetarian, it is absolutely okay to search vegetarian recipes and add your choice of lean meat to the recipe. Commit to a one cup serving of your choice of green vegetable at each meal, including breakfast. Commit to one fruit at snack time; dried fruits such as raisins also count.
If you perform these commitments as well as plan and prepare, you will easily work your way up to the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. You’ve got this. This is your year of healthy habits turned into a lifestyle!
If you are interested in food preparation and healthy cooking, nutrition education, or food preservation workshops, please take this brief survey to help guide 2021 N.C. Cooperative Extension- Johnston County food programming. We greatly value your feedback!
Cassidy has been a Family & Consumer Sciences Agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension since 2017. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Health and is working to complete her Master’s of Science in Nutrition.