Did you know that the recommendation for produce consumption is now up to 13 servings a day? I looked it up because a friend posed the question on Facebook. Most people were convinced it was 5, but I was pretty sure I had heard 9 from my doctor. Imagine my surprise (and hers!) when I discovered the USDA guidelines state that 5 servings is the bare minimum, but that most adults really need 7-13 servings of fruits and vegetables each and every day. For many people, that sounds like a LOT of food. It is.
The Chose My Plate diagram has replaced the food pyramid that many of us grew up with. It’s a simpler way to know that we’re getting the right ratios of food groups. A quick glance at the plate shows that half of our food intake should be in the form of fruits and vegetables. In most cases, a serving is a half cup of produce: exceptions include dried fruit (¼ cup), leafy greens (1 cup), and 100% fruit or veggie juices (¾ cup).
Of course, that’s easier said than done for many people. How often do you hear a request for a second helping of brussels sprouts? Actually, I hear it from my son every time I make them. I’d like to say that it’s all in the preparation, but he’s just weird that way. I, on the other hand, am a recent convert.
Do I get in my 13 servings every single day? No. Some days I just want to eat CAKE. But, hey, a slice of this cake still has a serving of fruit between the banana in the batter, and the strawberries and banana slices on top– I know, I know– I’m reaching…
Here are 13 ways to get those 13 servings into your day without sacrificing your taste buds!
1. Frozen fruit smoothies—3-4 servings.
When I’m in a hurry, I love to take my breakfast with me, to go. I take medication every morning that requires a full hour before I can eat breakfast. If I hit snooze without popping my pill, my hour won’t be up until I’m running out the door. On these days, I end up with a pint glass of smoothie in my car’s cup holder. I have no colon thanks to colon cancer (link to BRT), so I usually run low on potassium. Because of this, my smoothie base is usually banana. When you use frozen fruit, you don’t need to add ice. Vary your flavour by adding another fruit– strawberries, mixed berries, peaches, or pineapple. Pour in some milk or a safe substitute (I use rice milk), and add a scoop of protein powder to pack in the nutrition. One banana and a cup of berries will start your day off with 3 of your 13 servings.
Forgo the dairy/replacement and combine the frozen fruit with juice for an extra serving of fruit. An orange strawberry smoothie is my go-to when I feel a cold starting. Frozen banana and pineapple or mango with orange juice is a nice tropical combo.
2. Add fruit to oatmeal—1 serving
Oatmeal is already a healthy breakfast, but a half cup of fruit gets in one produce serving and adds sweetness. Try chopped apples and cinnamon, berries and vanilla, peaches with milk and vanilla, or a handful of raisins, dried cranberries, or apricots. Cook it in or sprinkle on top.
3. Make a very veggie omelet—2 servings
It’s easy to fit a cup of veggies into an omelet. Try tomatoes, bell peppers, mushrooms, olives, onions, shredded carrot, and chopped spinach.
4. Layer them into a sandwich or burger—2 servings
Who says the meat and cheese are the stars of a sandwich? Stack your bread high with sliced veggies for flavour and texture. Fresh lettuce or baby spinach, and sliced tomatoes are standard, but why not try avocado, sliced cucumbers, rings of bell peppers, sweet onions, or shredded carrot? Sauteed onions and mushrooms add rich flavour, and sundried tomatoes are surprisingly sweet.
5. Top off your pizza—2+ servings
Between the sauce and the toppings, it’s easy to get a serving of veggies on an average slice of pizza, but if you’re baking it at home, you can really amp up the amount. When I’m feeling lazy (and cheating on dairy), I’ll start with a frozen pizza and add my own veggies. When I’m making my own pizza, I have the option to add other pureed veggies like carrots into the sauce. I like to layer on pineapple tidbits, bell peppers, sauteed onions, fresh and sundried tomatoes. My husband loves olives, artichoke hearts, spinach, arugula, and even broccoli. Get creative and try out some unusual toppings– you might just love them. And you can always sprinkle some bacon in there.
6. Oven roasted veggies—1+ servings
If you struggle to clear the limp, tasteless veggies from your dinner plate, you probably haven’t tried oven roasting them. A little salt and oil go a long way where taste buds are concerned. I like to chop my veggies into bite sized pieces before cooking to increase the surface area. Microwave or steam your veggies until almost tender, then add a little olive oil– a tablespoon should coat 4 cups of broccoli– and spices to taste. Play around with different combinations: a tsp of Montreal steak seasoning or seasoning salt is quick and easy. I like to add a half tsp of turmeric or Indian curry powder (turmeric has proven anti-cancer properties). You may prefer paprika, chili powder, or garlic. Stir well to spread the spices around, then bake, spread out on a cookie sheet until the edges brown– about 10 minutes at 400 degrees F.
My family loves broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, zucchini, potatoes, and brussels sprouts this way. Add chopped onions for an extra burst of sweetness with potatoes. Dried cranberries pair well with brussels sprouts. I’ve been known to consume whole plates of roasted veggies in a single meal– that’s 4 or 5 servings!
7. Kabobs on the grill—2+ servings
On our back deck, the most popular offerings from the grill aren’t the burgers, but the kabobs. Chop veggies into bite sized pieces and season with olive oil and your favourite spices: salt and pepper, Montreal steak seasoning, Italian seasoning, curry powder, or seasoning salt. If your meat isn’t going on a bun, add marinated cubes of it to the skewers. Chicken, beef, pork, work well in kabobs, but fish is too fragile, and shrimp cooks far quicker than the veggies so keep it on a separate skewer. Our favourite veggies for kabobs are bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, grape or cherry tomatoes, zucchini, and yellow squash. Thinly sliced sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, and brussels sprouts are also fabulous on the grill, though they work better spread on an oiled screen rather than on skewers.
8. Baked apples—2 servings
My kids love baked apples for a snack, but I’m not about to turn the oven on for something so small. Instead, I simply sprinkle a sliced apple with cinnamon and microwave for one minute for the same flavour. Pears, peaches, or plums are also tasty, especially when mixed. It’s easy to eat a full cup of warm, cinnamon covered fruit as a mid-afternoon snack.
9. Add applesauce, banana, or avocado to baked goods—1/2 serving
If you didn’t already know, applesauce can be substituted for oil in many sweet baked goods (except brownies– it ruins the texture). Mashed avocado can replace up to half of the butter in cookie or cake recipes. Try adding mashed banana to muffins and reduce the liquid by half that amount. It’s not a huge bump in your produce intake, but when you replace that many fat calories, you’ve made room for a lot more options.
10. Fondue is fun—2+ servings
Whether it’s chocolate or cheese, you need a vehicle to get that melted goodness into your mouth, and you’re likely to go through at least a cup of it. What better way to justify the treat than with bite-sized pieces of fruits and vegetables? Berries and banana slices are classic partners for chocolate fondue, but why not try apples, pears, or pineapple? Get creative. Bread is go-to for cheese fondue, but why not try broccoli, bell pepper slices, carrot and celery sticks, or zucchini slices? You don’t need to ban the bread altogether– just add some other options.
11. Have your cake and eat some produce too—1 serving
It’s easy to reach for a boxed cake mix when you’re in a hurry for a dessert, but there are ways to make it a little less unhealthy. Add berries or mashed banana to a chocolate cake. Mix shredded carrots and raisins into a spice cake for instant carrot cake. Substitute lemon juice for part of the water in a lemon cake for more intense flavour or mix it up and replace all of it with orange juice and pour on an orange glaze instead of frosting. Fresh fruit makes a tasty and attractive topping.
If you prefer savoury to sweet, try adding oven roasted veggies to hearty breads and muffins like my veggie bacon muffins.
12. Homemade vitamin water—1 serving.
Sometimes water alone just doesn’t suit your mood, but most beverages are high on sugar or artificial sweeteners. There are some unsweetened flavoured waters out there that aren’t bad for you, but they’re never as healthy as they claim to be, and they are definitely not cheap! I’ve started making my own vitamin water to carry with me. With lemon juice, frozen strawberries, and a pinch of pure organic stevia powder, it’s low in calories, lightly flavoured, and has the added benefit of vitamin C and zinc. Prepare ahead of time and refrigerate for a stronger strawberry flavour.
13. Veggie Chips—1+ servings
What can I say? I have a soft spot for junk food. Replace your potato chips with a bag of root vegetable chips. Terra chips (link) offers many varieties like sweet potato, carrot, or beets, or their Exotic mix with yucca, batata, parsnips, and taro. Kale chips are readily available and also easy to make at home . You can even use a veggie peeler to make sweet and crispy carrot chips in your oven.
Are any of these ways of eating fruits and veggies new to you? Which will you try? There are countless ways to eat produce– share your favourite in the comments.