Written By: Jessie Popelka, MS, RD
March is national nutrition month, and you can’t celebrate nutrition without celebrating fruits and vegetables. A new study showed that eating a healthier diet can add up to 13 years to our lifespan. And that’s not just for those that start young, even those over the age of 80 who made positive changes added up to 3.5 years to their lives. It’s not just about adding years to life, but eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables has been shown to improve quality of life, including better sleep quality and a decreased risk for diseases such as cancer and diabetes.
But it’s not always easy. With temptations all around us, it can feel easier to grab a donut at a gas station than to seek out a vegetable-rich meal or snack. We all get into vegetable and fruit ruts from time to time, and creative ideas can help invigorate our love for all things colorful and healthy. Below are several fresh ideas to get you started, as well as a few tried and true methods to pack your day with disease-fighting nutrients and fiber.
1. Eat a side salad or vegetable soup before any meal
Whether eating at a restaurant or at home, start each meal with a small side salad topped with a vinaigrette dressing or a cup of low-sodium vegetable soup. Adding soup or salad is an easy and efficient way to add vegetables to your diet without having to incorporate them into your cooked meal. The beauty of this plan is that it works with your hunger to change your mental perception. You are hungriest at the beginning of a meal meaning you are more like to appreciate foods you might otherwise avoid.
2. Add cauliflower to mashed potatoes
Potatoes and Cauliflower have a very similar texture and color, making them the perfect pair for mashed potatoes. Add equal amounts of boiled cauliflower florets to potatoes before mashing for a lower calorie and higher nutrition version of mashed potatoes. The flavor is almost indistinguishable but, if you have extra picky eaters, try 25% cauliflower to 75% potatoes at first and work your way up.
3. Have berries and cool whip as a dessert
Craving something sweet after dinner? Fresh or thawed frozen berry mixed with a low-fat whipped cream makes a healthy and satisfying end to a meal. You can also add some shaved chocolate on top for an extra decadent treat.
4. Make a batch of green rice
Use pureed spinach along with any other flavors you might like (pureed cilantro or parsley, low sodium chicken broth, lemon juice, peppers, and onions are some of my favorites) to the cooking liquid of your white or brown rice to create a flavorful and unexpectedly nutritious side dish. Children may appreciate the bright green color of this rice, while parents will appreciate the extra fiber and vitamins.
5. Add minced broccoli, peppers, or cauliflower to a cheesy quesadilla
Cheese is a great vehicle for hidden vegetables. Finely diced broccoli, green or red bell pepper, or cauliflower can be placed inside cheesy quesadillas for a nutritional punch. Due to the nature of the quesadilla, the vegetables won’t be visible, which may help some vegetable haters get past their aversion.
6. Make vegetable fries in an oven or air fryer
You can make healthy veggie “fries” in an oven using a variety of vegetables. My favorites to use are carrots. Cut the carrots into fry shapes and coat with a thin layer of oil. Lay them on a baking sheet in a single layer. Put them in a 450-degree oven for about 30 minutes. You can also use an air fryer to create an even crispier treat. Here are some other vegetables you can try as “fries”
- Butternut squash
- Green bean fries
- Bell pepper
7. Add ground mushrooms to burgers, meatloaf, or meatballs
Chop up some cooked mushrooms in a pan and mix them into your raw turkey or beef when making burgers, meatloaf, and meatballs. Mushrooms have a meaty flavor and texture already so this is a great way to consume them, even for the many mushroom averted out there.
8. Pack your fridge with convenient and healthy foods
Keeping healthy options on hand for a convenient and fast meal choice is a great way to incorporate more healthy foods into your diet. Keep a few Eat Fit Go meals that are packed with vegetables, such as our Fit Chicken, Teriyaki Turkey Meatballs, or Sirloin and Potatoes which all include a side of nutrient and fiber-rich vegetables in your fridge to grab when you don’t have time to cook a full healthy meal.
Most people can benefit from adding some extra servings of fruit and vegetables to their day. Hopefully, these ideas will help kickstart your imagination and even find other creative ways to sneak in some extra servings! And for those days that are just too busy to spend time worrying about your fruit and vegetable intake, check out Eat Fit Go for nutrition-packed meals that arrive at your door and are ready to eat in just minutes.
Jessie Popelka, MS, RD
Jessie Popelka received a Master's degree in Dietetics along with a Registered Dietician certification from West Virginia University. Since then she has gained experience and expertise in geriatrics, disease prevention and management, weight loss, and general wellness. As a health-minded individual, she believes in the positive impact a healthy lifestyle can have on one's quality of life and is driven to continue educating and coaching others on how to feel their best. Jessie currently serves as the Corporate Dietician for Eat Fit Go.