Looking for ways to increase your fruit and veggie intake? Cara Livermore, founder of whole foods magazine Chickpea Magazine is sharing how she increased hers and how you can, too! Stop in and pick up a copy of Chickpea Magazine the next time you’re here at Hart’s for even more recipes.
By: Cara Livermore
I think eating fresh fruit and vegetables is something that’s really hard for a lot of people, myself included. I’ve tried figuring out how to change that, why it was happening, and how to make myself actually follow through on my goal of eating more on vegetables and snacking more on fruit than candy. Since then, I’ve found myself feeling so good just by eating a little better every day. Here are a few tips that I’ve found helped me a lot in increasing the number of fruit and veg I’m eating now.
No, really! Spring and summer are the best times to get more vegetables in your diet, because they’re so plentiful, fresh, and taste better than any other time of the year. There are a lot more opportunities right now to create meals around fresh vegetables – think tacos, vibrant salads, smoothies, pasta, kebabs on the grill, and much much more.
Start with vegetables
Okay, that title sounds ridiculous, but this is all about mindset. When thinking up what to make for dinner, first figure out what vegetable(s) you’re in the mood for. Then bring in the spices and herbs, then lastly hearty elements like starches, grains or pasta. Instead of making vegetables an afterthought, make it the main focus. For example, rather than say “I want pasta tonight” I can say “I want seared asparagus & broccoli, and I can put peas & lots of garlic with that. Then I’ll make a quick sauce and toss it all with some pasta.” By focusing first on vegetables, you’ll end up eating more.
Make it visible
We keep a few types of fruit at a time, and lots of frozen fruit too. But we make sure to keep the freezer organized so we can see all of it and want to use it. The same with fresh – we’re much more likely to grab fruit if it’s in a big beautiful bowl on the table.
Go with what you know
If you’ve never tried or liked beets, romanesco, bok choy, or kale, don’t feel guilty by skipping over it at the grocery store. Start with celery, carrots, cucumber, and spinach if you’re more comfortable with it. By over-stretching our comfort zones, sometimes it causes us to not want to deal with it at all, which leads to ordering out and buying junk food for every meal. When you’re ready for it, move forward, but until then, learn to make the most of the basics.
It doesn’t have to be fresh!
Frozen vegetables are just as good as fresh, in almost all cases, and especially in the winter. The best part is that they last longer than fresh, so you can always keep some around. And when they’re around, they’re much more likely to be eaten. Don’t go for “the best quality organic fresh vegetables” standard of “perfection.” Start where you are, make the best of what’s available.
Instead of eating salads for every meal, I’ve found that a better way to create lasting change is to build up to it. Start with just adding a little veg into your usual meals – then increase the amount of veg on your plate a little more each day. This was essential for me to drink green smoothies, for example – at first an all-greens-smoothie was gross, but by altering the ratio of fruit and vegetable each day, now most of my smoothies are vegetables, with just a small amount of sweetener. (Still working on it!)
I used to make salads without doing much prep work, so all the pieces were huge and hard to eat. This made me hate salads, especially tougher greens. But now, I’ve learned to love chopped salads. I break down all the vegetables into small bits, including the greens, and it makes it so much easier (and tastier!) to eat. The way you prepare & incorporate ingredients makes such a huge difference. If you hate or just aren’t interested in something, break it down. I used to hate mushrooms – so I chopped them down and put them in stews, soups, and in burgers. As time went on, I grew to love mushrooms and now can eat them in mass amounts.
Think like a kid
You wouldn’t set a plate for a kid with a bunch of bland, overcooked vegetables and expect them to eat it all with a happy face, right? (I hope not, at least!) Have fun with it – add dips and sauces, make your plate look fun, and don’t feel bad about starting slowly and being kind with yourself. Make yourself a bento box with cute cut-out shapes. Just don’t think of vegetables as this sad thing you HAVE to eat. They’re colorful, fun, and super delicious if prepared well!
Be creative with scraps & leftovers
Have one banana left? Use it in a pancake recipe. Have half a basket of strawberries left that are about to go bad? Blend them into a smoothie or freeze them for oatmeal later. Think of adding fruit & veg into your diet like a challenge or one of those cooking competition shows. It makes it fun and since they’re the last bits, there’s not a lot of guilt of waste if it doesn’t turn out right.
Try a different preparation
By trying different cooking techniques, vegetables totally transform themselves in terms of taste and texture. Thin-slicing or roasting tomatoes tastes so much better to me than cold, watery refrigerated chunks of tomato. Going back to mushrooms, for example, I still don’t really like raw mushrooms. I didn’t really like them steamed, either, for a long time. But I love them pan-seared or roasted, which sparked my love for them. Some vegetables work better with certain techniques, so don’t banish any veg from your house after one bad experience.
Create positive experiences, let go of bad ones
Bonus tip! When talking about experiences, mindset and environment have a lot to do with how we feel about food, whether it’s a certain ingredient, a style of cooking, or a certain preparation. I can’t tell you how many bad iceberg salads I’ve had throughout my life, or how many overcooked, soggy, flavorless vegetable sides. But that doesn’t mean those ingredients are inherently bad. Try to create positive correlations with cooking and exploring different kinds of food – cook with friends, put on your favorite music, eat outside on a beautiful day. Most importantly, don’t get hung up on trying to create a “perfect” meal. Especially at the beginning, its easy to get discouraged – just go slow and be kind to yourself. In the end, you’ll find that cooking with plenty of vegetables is rewarding and really tasty.
Easy veg-centric pizza, two ways
Want to throw a pizza party? Make the most of seasonal vegetables with these super easy pizza ideas.
pesto with all-green spring vegetables
Make yourself some pizza dough in bulk. Start with some veg-centric pesto – our favorites are garlic scape pesto or asparagus pesto. Then add on seasonal veggies – here we went with ramps, fiddleheads, and trumpet mushrooms. Finally, fill in with the more delicate toppings – for this pizza we added swiss chard, chickpeas, fresh herbs, and the leaves from some celery. Adding lots of veggies adds so much flavor!
classic red pizza
Roast some garlic. Caramelize some onions. Toss in some chopped mushrooms into the pan with the onions and cook until soft. Cook down some crushed tomato with balsamic vinegar and italian herbs. Finish it up with an easy pizza dough. For this pizza I like to keep the sauce light and let the crust & toppings get really crispy, almost like a flatbread.
The possibilities of fruit and veggie combinations are really endless. Use these tips to try to get more fresh foods in your life this month!