Most people are aware that they should eat more vegetables and aim for at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables each day. Fruit and vegetables are important for reducing our risk of heart disease, cancer and stroke as well as for treating hypertension and supporting good bone health.
I find that many of my clients focus on fruits but struggle with vegetables, particularly when cooking for the kids or even a fussy spouse! Just getting your 5 a day from 3 bananas and 2 apples each day is not really ideal. The ultimate aim is to eat a wide a variety of fruit and vegetables and include all the colours of the rainbow. So how can you and your family eat more vegetables?
1. Add them to smoothies
Smoothies count as 1 of your 5 a day. I’m a big advocate of aiming for up to 10 a day. Once you get close to this I think it’s fine to include a couple of smoothies a day as long as you prepare them so that you get all the fibre rather than just the juice. Invest in a suitable machine such as a Nutri-Ninja or Nutri-Bullet if you don’t already have one. Don’t forget that a portion is 150ml. Most people have double that. Whilst smoothies are super nutritious they also add a lot of sugar and calories so don’t go crazy and drink gallons!
Smoothie recipes tend to be based on fruits but adding vegetables can create a fantastic taste even if you don’t usually enjoy vegetables when served in the traditional way. Of course the vegetables will change the colour which some people find a problem especially for green smoothies. If the colour puts you off or if you think it might put the kids off try putting the smoothie in an opaque bottle.
Spinach and Kale are great added to smoothies. Green leafy vegetables are a fantastic source of vitamin K. Vitamin K is important for bone health, cellular growth, healthy blood vessels and blood coagulation. Some of my clients who are on the anticoagulant drug Warfarin worry about eating vitamin K rich foods. This is because Warfarin works by blocking the normal action of vitamin K in order to thin the blood. Despite this it is perfectly safe to eat normal amounts of green leafy vegetables. If you are concerned your dietitian can assess your diet to make sure you are not having more than the recommended daily intake of vitamin K but this is rarely the case.
Add a little spinach or kale the first time you use it in a smoothie and increase the amount every time until you reach the threshold where the taste works for you.
Beetroot and carrots are also delicious in smoothies. Remember that the aim is to have as much variety as possible covering all the colours of the rainbow.
Here are some recipes to get you started but just search around because there are loads of options.
A beetroot based recipe from BBC Good Food
A spinach based recipe from Jamie Oliver
A recipe with carrot from the healthy food guide
Remember that you can also freeze smoothies to make smoothie lollies if you think this might appeal to the kids. This article from our friends over at Easy Healthy Smoothie has a lot of practical advice about making vegetable smoothies for kids and some great recipes to get you started.
You can also buy cold pressed and high pressure processed juices that include vegetables such as those from Savse and BFresh. This processing method preserves more of the goodness and gives you a product with about a month’s shelf life. So if you really haven’t got time for blending then this could be an option for you.
2. Add vegetable puree to sauces
Steam then blend vegetables of different colours in bulk and freeze them to add to sauces or other foods later. For example add a little pureed cauliflower to cheese sauces or any sauce made with low fat crème fraiche. Puree broccoli, kale, spinach, carrot or beetroot and add to bolognaise or chili. You will need to experiment, as everyone’s taste buds are different. Consider getting together with friends and cook up some samples for everyone to try.
3. Add to strongly flavoured dishes
If you are feeling a bit braver and you are ready to go beyond pureed veg then kale and spinach are great wilted into a curry. Many people find that the strong flavour of the dish masks the taste of the vegetables enough to make the dish acceptable.
4. Add to pancakes
Pancakes don’t have to be sweet and you can have them at any meal. Try the recipes at the links below to get you started.
5. Think about different ways to cook vegetables
Many of us were introduced to vegetables as children as an over-cooked mush. I shudder when I think of school dinner veg – enough to put anyone off! Roasting vegetables with a little oil or mashing them with some herbs or spices can make a big difference.
6. Spiralize or grate them and mix with pasta, noodles or rice
I find that the best veggies to spiralize are courgettes, carrots and mooli. Courgettes and carrots are great mixed with spaghetti and mooli is delicious mixed with noodles in Asian recipes. Grate up some cauliflower and use it to make cauliflower rice.
Always use wholegrain versions of pasta, rice, noodles and cous cous wherever you can to boost your fibre intake. I am not an advocate of cutting out starchy foods and replacing them totally with spiralized/grated vegetables as I think it’s hard to get enough fibre without whole grains. However mixing your carbs with some extra vegetables is a good way to get better balance in your meals.
BBC Good Food has some useful advice about the best way to prepare and cook cauliflower rice here.
7. Get creative with salads
We often think of salads as boring lettuce, cucumber and tomato but with a bit of imagination salad can really come to life. Try adding seeds and nuts for a bit of crunch and avocados for a lovely creamy texture and boost your intake of healthy omega 3 fats at the same time. Experiment with different types of salad leaves for a variety of colours and nutrients. For some innovative ideas check out this website
So even if you or the kids struggle with eating your veg there are lots of options to sneak a few more in. Once you’ve hit your 5 a day see if you can get up to 8. Enjoy!