Eat more veg! This is something we hear all the time from health professionals, websites, blogs, television, social media and celebrities. I personally love eating vegetables, but I know a lot of people who say they hate them, and I also know a lot of people who think they are eating enough, but in reality, are eating very little. It is recommended in the UK that we get at least 5 servings a day of different fruits and vegetables. Let’s look at some practical ways in which we can add more veg to our diets.
Why eat more veg?
Ask anyone, and they will say ‘it’s healthy’, but many people don’t understand why this is so. At my children’s primary school, this is drummed into them all the time, but when I actually question them, they don’t really know what the benefits are. As someone who eats a fair amount of vegetables, I really feel the difference when I don’t get enough.
At the most basic level, vegetables will help you:
- get enough vitamins, minerals and antioxidants for your body to function effectively
- feed the good bacteria in your gut
- improve your mood and mental clarity
- lose weight
- have easier bowel movements
Every part of our bodies, from the parts we can see to all the hidden organs and systems inside, is affected by what we eat. It isn’t enough to just feel full, what we eat must provide the correct building blocks for our bodies to work properly. I feel that many illnesses we have are to do with what we eat or don’t eat, yet a lot of people are mainly concerned with their weight and don’t really think about their health. If something goes wrong, the easy solution is to take a pill and not think about why their problem exists. Of course, not every illness is to do with diet, but I genuinely feel that if we eat more veg, we can improve our health.
Let’s look at how we can increase our intake of vegetables.
Increase the portion size
Sounds obvious but have you really thought about whether the amount on your plate is enough? For example, this recipe sounds like there are quite a lot of vegetables in it.
Basic Chicken stew
- 1tbsp olive oil
- 4 chicken portions
- 1 large onion
- 2 large carrots
- 4 medium potatoes
- 2 parsnips
- 450ml chicken stock
- 1 tsp mixed herbs
However, if you divide all these vegetables amongst 4 people, which is how many this recipe serves, then each person is only getting a quarter of an onion, half a carrot and half a parsnip each. Sadly, although potatoes have lots of vitamin c, they don’t count as a vegetable! In this serving of stew, each person is only eating about one portion of vegetables, and that’s if you have shared everything out perfectly, which is hard to do.
A portion of vegetables is about what you can fit into the palm of your hand, but that can differ depending on the density of the vegetable, so leafy greens are more like two handfuls. It is not an exact science, although there are charts around the web which indicate the recommended serving sizes of various foods, what I really want you to take away from this is that you need to increase the amount you eat of each vegetable. It should look like quite a large pile on your plate, not a few small spoonfuls.
Using the above recipe as an example again, you can easily increase amount of each specified vegetable or add different ones to up your veg quota.
Add a side of vegetables
To eat more veg try adding and extra side of vegetables. What this means, is that another part of your meal may become a bit smaller, but that can be a good thing!
For example, instead of eating a huge plate of pasta, serve yourself 2/3 of what you would normally, and fill the rest of the plate up with some broccoli/carrots/whatever vegetables you like. When you’re more used to doing this, try making up half the plate with vegetables and half with pasta. This means you can still eat the things you like, but balanced out with healthy vegetables.
Vary how you prepare them
Do you always boil or steam your vegetables? Perhaps you only ever stir-fry them? Do you always eat them cooked? Do you usually eat them plain?
Most vegetables can be cooked and seasoned in a variety of ways. Sometimes we feel we don’t like vegetables because we’re envisioning a bland cold salad or soggy boiled cabbage. What do you think of when you think of vegetables? Perhaps you have developed an aversion because of the way they tasted when you were a kid at school, or you were forced to choke down on boiled-to-death brussel sprouts by your parents? Try to vary the method you use to cook them. If you usually steam, try stir-frying with some garlic. Maybe try roasting vegetables with some spices and coconut oil. Alternatively you can braise something in butter and stock? Roast some vegetables with cheese and breadcrumbs on top? Simmer root vegetables in wine and herbs? Char grill? Bake something drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice in a parchment bag? There are so many ways to cook vegetables, if you do an online search on ‘ways to cook (fill in the blank)’, you will find hundreds of recipes and ideas.
If you enjoy pickles, keep jars of them to add to your meals. Unpasteurised lacto-fermented pickles like sauerkraut are also excellent for the digestion as they are brimming with good bacteria. Try pickles as a side to your lunch or alongside a snack.
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut with flavourings but a fun way to get ideas is to think of cuisines from around the world. You can try Moroccan or Indian spices. Miso and seaweed from Japan, soy and five spice from China, olive oil and herbs from the Mediterranean, chillies with allspice from the Caribbean…there are so many seasonings which will add excitement to plain vegetables. Trying to eat more veg is easier when they taste better!
Change your habits
In the UK, many of us reach for quick cereals or breads for breakfast and grab a pre-made sandwich for lunch. Vegetables are often reserved for dinner time. If we look at what people eat in other countries, they will often have what we would consider as a ‘proper cooked meal’ for breakfast, with staples like rice or fish and vegetables. There is no rule to say what we should have, so try something different. For a quick breakfast, a tin of vegetable soup is healthier than cereal, or an omelette made with sliced peppers and spring onions. For lunch, it’s always great to bring in leftovers from the night before. Planning ahead is key, so write out a meal plan for the week and stick with it. Nutritionist Amelia Freer says that if you have time to browse on your phone or watch tv at night, you have time to cook! It’s all about prioritising your time.
Lastly, one easy tip is to:
Add quick veg to your meals
Try to have ‘quick’ vegetables like frozen peas, tinned sweetcorn, sugar snap peas and washed spinach leaves available. These items can be added to so many meals to bulk them up and they take hardly any time to heat up. If making a curry, wilt a pile of spinach into it or pour in frozen peas a couple of minutes before serving. Mange tout can be thrown into a stir fry, corn can be stirred into a soup, whether home made or ready made. This method also works for salads, pasta, noodles, stews….etc. Tinned pulses are also good as a last minute addition.
There are many ways to add more veg to your meals. You can:
- increase your portion size
- change the ratio of foods on your plate by filling half of it with vegetables
- make them more palatable by using seasonings
- make use of pickled vegetables
- make time to cook and change the types of meals you eat
- add ‘quick’ veg to whatever you are cooking
I hope that some of these suggestions are helpful to you. Please let me know in the comments if you have other ideas for how to eat more veg!