Research shows that more and more consumers want to add more plant-based foods to their plates for a variety of reasons, including the benefits to their health and sustainability for the planet. In order to eat more fruits and veggies, it's important to have actionable and realistic ways to easily enjoy them. Eating more fruits and vegetables may help you to feel confident, happy, energized, and grounded through their healing nutrients, including hundreds of phytonutrients and plenty of fiber. By filling up your plate with more plants and less meat, you'll also make a big impact on the planet.
Fruit and Vegetable Recommendations
Nearly everyone can benefit from more fruits and veggies. The CDC reports that only one in ten Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables daily. Do you know how much you need in a day? It can be a bit confusing as the recommendations vary depending on which recommendation you're following.
The American Heart Association recommends three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit a day for heart disease prevention and to live a longer (and quality) life.
The World Health Association also recommends five servings of fruits and vegetables a day for overall health.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests 2.5 cups of vegetables a day and 2 cups of fruit a day for a healthful diet.
The Harvard School of Public Health suggests filling half your plate with fruits and veggies any time you eat.
Personally, I try to follow the latter approach by aiming for 10 a day, although, admittedly, I'm not always successful. My thought is to shoot high. Even if I fall short it's still pretty good and meets the other organization's recommendations.
"Don't aim low, you will miss the mark. Aim high and you will be on a threshold of bliss." -B.K.S. Iyengar
Why Eating More Fruits and Veggies is Important
It’s important to include a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables in your diet daily for many reasons. To name a few, these plant foods can:
keep you energized
foster a healthy gut
create glowing skin
boost cognition and brain health
reduce the risk of lifestyle diseases like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease
They can do all of this because of the abundance of nutrients they contain, especially fiber and phytonutrients—nutrients specific to only plant-based foods.
What if You Loathe Vegetables?
Fun fact: You can actually change your taste buds by repeatedly introducing foods that you know you should eat but just don’t enjoy. Your taste buds regenerate every 8–12 days. For example, let's say you strongly dislike the taste of kale. If you try it for 8–12 days, even in the tiniest portions, by day 12 you may find that you don't mind it so much and may not even notice the bitter and earthy flavors. Heck, you might even crave it! 😃(Yes, I'm being serious.)
What Does a Serving of Fruits and Veggies Look Like?
The question is not whether fruits and veggies are good for you (I can hear you now, "duh ... tell us something new!"). The question is how the heck does one consume so many fruits and veggies a day? Ten a day sounds like an impossible feat that only a granola eating, goji-picking vegan could do.
First, what does a serving size look like? It varies and I don't encourage weighing or measuring your food. However, it's good to at least have a visual as you set out to boost your fruit and veggie intake. For example, adding one piece of iceberg lettuce to your sandwich probably won't do the trick (sorry, dad). Also, you can't check off the veggie box by eating 2.5 cups of french fries (I know, I know, I wish fries counted too!).
In general, one serving size is:
1 cup raw vegetables
1/2 cup cooked vegetables
1 medium fruit
1/2 cup chopped fruit
For example, one serving of vegetables could be 1 cup of Romaine lettuce, 1/2 cup stewed tomatoes, or 1/2 cup cooked mushrooms. Or one fruit could be one medium apple, one medium banana, or 1/2 cup of cubed pineapple. If you had a salad that included a cup of Romaine, plus some chopped tomato, cucumber, carrots, and onion with grilled tofu and pineapple on top, you'd be halfway to your 10 a day goal. That's not too overwhelming, right?
Second, what does this actually look like on your plate? A simple way to think about it is filling half your plate with vegetables, one-quarter of your plate with whole grains (like rice, pasta, sweet potato, or quinoa), and one-quarter of your plate with (plant-based preferably!) protein.
If you're still not convinced you can do this, below are some tips for incorporating more fruits and veggies so you're feeling fine, fresh, and fabulous every single day!
Easy Tips to Incorporate 10 servings of Fruits and Veggies
Start with what you know and love. Begin with what's familiar to you. Cook with onions and garlic. Sauté some spinach. Toss tomatoes into a salad. Snack on an apple. The fruits and vegetables you love are a great place to start.
Up-level your smoothies. You may already do this, but, if not, smoothies are a great way to sneak in some greens. Add Romaine lettuce for nutrition in exchange for little to no flavor alteration to your smoothie. Spinach also gives a big boost in nutrients without altering the flavor much. Not to mention, the green-colored smoothie can make you feel strong like Popeye!
Blend them into creamy soups. Stirring leafy greens, broccoli, cabbage, or other veggies into soups is a great way to add lots of nutrition and texture, and you barely notice they're there!
Try a different cut. My husband swears that finely chopped kale tastes completely different than the whole kale leaves. So now we eat kale salads with only finely chopped kale and he's happy as a clam. Another example is that, for me, I don't love the earthy flavor of beets. But when they're grated, that earthy flavor seems to disappear and I can add them to salads, grain bowls, and stir fries. The point is, try a variety of cuts before saying no to a veggie.
Try a new cooking method. My mom loves raw broccoli, but doesn't love it cooked, while I'm the opposite and prefer cooke broccoli. I love steamed veggies more than I love roasted, but many people opt for roasted over steamed. For others, the only way they'll eat kale is through baking raw kale into a crispy chip, which is still fantastic as long as they're eating kale. Try vegetables a variety of ways to see how you like them best.
Smother them in sauce. When in doubt, add a plant-based sauce. This could be a plant-based mantra. Not only do plant-based sauces potentially add even more veggies (check out my 5 Plant-Based Sauce Recipes), but they also elevate the flavor and nutrition of pretty much any dish.
Make a ginormous salad or grain bowl. There are endless options for creating the most satisfying, delicious salad or grain bowl on the planet—don't stop at lettuce. Add a variety of veggies in any form — raw, cooked, or pickled — along with whole grains and tofu or beans, plus some nuts or seeds and a plant-based sauce or dressing. Your belly and your body will be very satisfied, plus you'll be able to check off at least 3–5 fruits and veggies for the day!
Layer layer layer. Whenever you eat a meal, always ask yourself, what vegetables can I add to this? It could be leafy greens and tomato to a sandwich, broccoli and mushrooms to a stir fry, or spinach and peppers to pasta. Always.Add.Colorful.Veggies.
Crunch away by snacking smartly. Are you a crunchy snack lover? Try sliced radish and hummus for crunchy and savory or celery and peanut butter for crunchy and sweet. Other crunchy veggies that make great snacks include carrots, cucumbers, kale chips, or baked sweet potato chips.
Keep a bowl of fruit on the counter. Find your fave bowl and add colorful fruit to it. When you see it, you eat it (most of the time).
Eat fruit before chocolate. Admittedly, I'm terrible at eating fruit. But, I play this game that I can't have any dark chocolate until I've eating a handful of berries or apple and peanut butter. It works every time!
Hide veggies in all comfort foods (pizza, tacos, mac 'n cheese). Saucy, flavorful, and delicious comfort foods make great vehicles for hidden veggies. Chop the veggies small to barely notice them.
Grill fruit for fun and flavor. If you haven't tried grilled watermelon or pineapple yet, you're in for a treat! Snack on them solo or add them to salads, grilled tofu, or make a yummy salsa out of them.
Toss fruit into a salad. Adding some citrus, berries, or apples to a salad is a tasty way to add just a touch of natural sweetness and lots of nutrition.
Plant a garden. Not only is local better for you (and you can't get anymore local than your backyard or in your home), but it's also great for the planet. Garden veggies are exponentially more flavorful and nutritious. Plus it can be a fun activity, especially when it's time to harvest! To learn more, visit 10 Easy to Grow Vegetables and Herbs (Indoor and Outdoor).
Plant-based cardiologist, Dr. Kahn, believes that even if you do opt for french fries, they can be made better for you if you eat some plants alongside them in his statement: "Even the worst meal is made better when you add a plant to it."
Finally, would you like a nutritionist in your back pocket? Well, maybe not in your back pocket, but this is pretty close. Below is a handy daily reminder checklist that you can print and place on your refrigerator as a daily reminder to eat more fruits and veggies.
How do you love to add more fruits and veggies to your plate? Comment below!