What’s the real secret to reducing disease risk through nutrition? Time and time again, despite the design of the study, the number of participants, or the timeframe of the intervention, nutrition research shows us that humans are healthier when they eat more vegetables. As healthcare professionals, we strive to keep our choices based on evidence-based practice.
What’s holding you back from applying what we know about nutrition to your life? While June is national fresh fruit and vegetable month, any way that you can make your diet more plant based is a good move for health.
We asked Registered Dietitian Nutritionists for the easiest ways to get those five recommended cups of valuable plants into your daily routine.
First Things First
Opting for vegetables at breakfast is a favorite of many nutrition experts. Kate Chury, RD, of www.thinkybites.com suggests keeping a good supply of frozen vegetables on hand for both convenience and their nutritional value.
“My personal favorites for frozen vegetables are broccoli, spinach and asparagus,” Chury said. “I often use these frozen veggies in my scrambled eggs at breakfast. It can be hard to eat vegetables at breakfast time, and I’ve found this is an excellent way to get some in the morning. Frozen vegetables are also great to add to soups, pastas, curries or just to have as a simple, quick side.”
Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, of Kellyjonesnutrition.com agreed.
“I always have frozen vegetables on hand, especially broccoli and cauliflower, which I’ll roast on the convection setting in my oven, and in 15 minutes they’re ready to go with any protein or starch for dinner,” she said. “Any leftovers can be added to omelettes or used with lunch the next day.”
The rest of your day will probably take a turn for the healthier when you start off with some good choices.
EA Stewart, MBA, RD, of the The Spicy RD Blog recommends, “Start your day with leafy greens, like scrambling baby spinach with eggs, blending a handful of kale into a smoothie, or topping off your avocado toast with arugula or micro greens. Starting your day off on a positive note makes you more likely to eat well the rest of the day.”
Meal Planning Basics
If you’re trying to wing good nutrition, it’s probably not going to happen. A bit of planning, according to Stephanie Van’t Zelfden of www.nutritionhungry.com, and a change in mindset when making meals can help. “Choose your veggies first and your protein last. Instead of ‘chicken with veggies’, say ‘veggies with chicken.’ This will make the veggies the focus of the meal and will inspire you to choose a wider variety.”
Snacking too, can improve with a makeover. Mandy Enright, MS, RDN, RYT, creator of the couples blog and podcast Nutrition Nuptials recommends using snack time to get in those fruits and veggies.
“Apples, bananas and oranges are great items to buy a bunch of and keep handy at your desk, work area or even your purse,” Enright said. “They don’t require refrigeration and are easy snacks to have on hand. Buy baby carrots, mini bell peppers or celery sticks and portion them out into baggies or containers along with a dip such as hummus, peanut butter or dressing for a quick midday snack.”
If you’ve accomplished the first step of buying enough fruits and veggies, where is your produce hiding? Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD, of EatWell2BeWell.com suggests keeping fruits and veggies in sight at all times, reminding you to choose them as an easy option to eat.
“Stock a fruit bowl at work each week and keep a bowl on the kitchen counter at home so you’ll be more likely to choose that instead of something else,” she added.
The Convenience Factor
Our nutrition experts all agreed on one thing: The easier it is, the more likely you are to follow through.
Sarah Eichenbaum suggests stocking up on pre-chopped carrots, celery, raw broccoli and bell peppers.
“These are so easy for grab and go and are great with hummus, smashed avocado or tzatziki,” Eichenbaum said. “Also, frozen veggies like spinach are great to throw in smoothies or mixed veggies are great to make quick stir fry.”
Sarah Marjoram, MS, RDN, LD, of Nourish.marjoram.co added “keeping prepped fruits and vegetables on hand all the time. Planning is key!”
For the ultimate quick meal, try a smoothie.
Leah Swanson, RDN, CD, of Gotnourishment.com, recommends having everything ready to roll.
“Keep a stock of zip-top bags in the freezer filled with ingredients for single-serving smoothies,” she said. “Make sure to include at least one fruit and one vegetable serving in each bag (spinach, kale, sweet potato, berries, banana, etc.). It’s super easy to toss in the blender and add your choice of liquid, plus any desired additions. You can just grab and go!”
In the realm of convenience, Susan E. Adams with the Pennsylvania Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics has one food she never leaves the grocery store without. “Bagged lettuce salads with every supper are quick and delicious,” Adams said.
Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, CHWC, FAND, author of “Prediabetes: A Complete Guide” suggests adding produce to foods you’re already preparing.
“Add a slice a cucumber or bell pepper or both for a sandwich,” she said. “Add mushrooms, carrots, even green beans or eggplant to spaghetti sauce. Add halved cherry tomatoes, blanched broccoli and red onion to potato salad. Once you get in the habit of looking for opportunities, they are everywhere!”
Wendy Castle of One Bite Nutrition proposes, “Leave chopped vegetables in the fridge and add them to everything: omelettes, soups, casseroles, salads, smoothies, quesadillas, stir fry, etc. Use frozen fruit and a dollop of whipped cream for dessert.”
While eating at home will normally result in a healthier meal, Jeanette Kimszal RDN, NLC, of jeanettekimszal.com suggests choosing a restaurant with veggie options if you have to eat out.
“Get a side salad or a side of veggies,” Kimszal recommends. “Use a lettuce leaf bun for your burger If you’re stuck at the hospital cafeteria, opt for the salad bar or a double helping of veggies.”
Jessica Penner, RD, of www.smartnutrition.ca wraps up our helpful tips with a recommendation that’s sure to work.
“Include a fruit or veggie at every meal or snack and you’ll be well on your way to meeting your daily recommended servings,” she said. “It may sound overly simplistic, but it’s a great way to keep fruits at the forefront of your brain!”