Whether you’re an avid nutrition expert or regular Joe, you know that you should be eating more fruits and vegetables. These contain the highest and most beneficial levels of crucial vitamins such as folate, iron, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A and C, along with a wide range of phytonutrients (also known as antioxidants).
Most fruits and veggies are naturally low in calories as well, making them a great choice to help prevent disease and maintain a healthy weight. The USDA recommends eating anywhere from five to thirteen servings of produce a day, depending on your age, health, and activity level. That may seem like a lot to most Americans, who often fall short of the recommended guidelines.
It can be tough to incorporate this many servings into your daily diet, especially if you’re a picky eater or quickly grow bored with a repetitive diet. Luckily, there are fifteen simple and satisfying ways to pack your diet chock-full of delicious fruits and vegetables that are sure to please the pickiest of eaters—and even kids!
15. Be open to new flavors
If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance you’re an adult. There’s an even better chance you’re an adult who’s had bad experiences eating veggies as a kid. When you’re young, your dietary decisions are made for you. But as an adult, you have a wealth of options available to you. Take advantage of this autonomy to try everything!
Taste preferences do change as you age, so you may find yourself enjoying those brussels sprouts that revolted you when you were six. Don’t just limit yourself to boiled side dishes either— play around with different recipes and methods of preparation. Often, you’ll find the only reason you hated a particular vegetable was because of the way it was cooked.
14. Redesign the good ol’ fashioned potato chip
If you’re looking for a quick fix to a mid-afternoon snack attack, veggie chips may be the way to go. Though these can be purchased as a processed, packaged item at most grocery stores, the pre-made varieties can be full of unnecessary preservatives and additives. There’s no need to turn to the store bought versions.
They can be prepared with a variety of affordable and low-calorie vegetables, including sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, zucchini, and beets. Mix together a batch on the weekends for a colorful, nutritious addition to your weekday lunches.
Slice enough fine pieces for a cookie tray. Sprinkle with olive oil, salt, pepper, and any other desired spices (such as garlic powder, chili powder, or paprika). Bake at 375 degrees for about thirty minutes, tossing and turning the pieces as necessary to prevent over crisping.
13. Puree, chop, dice, or slice your way to a delicious soup
Soups are a great way to eat light throughout the cold winter months. They can be made with virtually any ingredient in your refrigerator. Opting for homemade versus ready-made, canned varieties can help reduce your sodium levels. A single serving of processed canned soup has, on average, over 800 milligrams of sodium — nearly half the recommended daily intake!
Homemade soup is easy to make and can consist of chopped, pureed, or minced ingredients. Soup can be prepared in a large stovetop pot, or in a Crock Pot or other similar slow cooker. Since a broth can be left to simmer for hours, it presents a low-effort way to incorporate more delicious vegetables into your diet. Whatever type of vegetables you choose to include, homemade soup can be frozen or canned for a quick and easy weeknight dinner.
12. Don’t banish dessert
Although you’ll counter some of the nutritional benefits of fruits and veggies by adding sugar and oil, preparing your favorite cake, pie, or sweet bread with a few cups of vegetables still counts, right? There are countless recipes available that incorporate veggie, and even more that will use up that extra fruit in your crisper.
Zucchini bread, banana bread, carrot cake, and pumpkin pie are all delicious options for increasing your produce intake. The high water content of many of these vegetables reduces the necessary quantities of butter, milk, and eggs needed for many dessert recipes, so you will save some calories from fat and sugar. Plus, a moist slice of cake is probably the most delicious way you’ll ever find to eat a carrot!
11. Play pretend
If you’re a vegetarian, you have probably found it necessary on occasion to develop substitutions for common meat dishes. Sure, there’s the standard veggie burger with black beans and soy. But have you tried buffalo cauliflower instead of buffalo chicken? What about black bean meatless balls? Play around with different substitutions until you find one that works. Mushrooms, eggplant, lentils, and beans are great swaps for meat because they have hearty, meaty flavors, or “umami.” If you’re hesitant about trying some of these swaps, ease yourself into it. Instead of serving a dish that is solely veg, try mixing in equal amounts of meat and vegetable until you’re comfortable going cold turkey. Or rather…cold cauliflower?
10. Top your pizza
Sure, a steaming hot meat lovers’ pizza is delicious and satisfying. Nobody’s denying that. But if you’re trying to back away from some of the typical cholesterol-adorned toppings that normally grace your pie, try adding more vegetables. Most vegetables are so low-calorie and filling, you won’t even notice the meat is gone.
Like with the meat substitutions ease yourself into a veg-only pizza. Add small amounts of your favorite items as you accustom yourself to using fewer meat toppings. Play around with different flavors, too.
Spinach and broccoli go great with white pizza, while peppers and onions are delicious on heartier, tomato-based sauces. Feeling extra bold? Try adding fruits like pineapples, mangoes, figs, and pears to add a tropical, adventurous twist to your average pizza night.
9. Reinvent pasta night
Hiding vegetables in recipes isn’t just for moms anymore. Veggie haters and bored chefs rejoice—it’s easy to tuck multiple servings of vegetables into uncommon places. Try boiling, then pureeing, a full butternut squash and mixing it in with your normal macaroni and cheese recipe.
You’ll find that the classic comfort food now has a hearty, nutty taste that rivals its veggie-free counterpart in deliciousness. If you’re more of a spaghetti and meatballs fan, slice up some green peppers, onions, and mushrooms and them to a sauce.
If large chunks of veggies really aren’t your thing, puree them ahead of time and stir them into the sauce. Many stores now even offer “hidden veggie” pasta brands, which typically consist of flour made from tomatoes, corn, sweet potatoes, and carrots (instead of enriched white flour).
Although you’ll want to read the label to make sure your pasta of choice actually does contain full servings of these heart-healthy vegetables, they can be a smart swap to help you meet your daily quota. You won’t even know they’re there!
8. Go ahead and stuff it
The vegetable, that is. There are a ton of delicious recipes available to incorporate a wide variety of vegetables, including peppers, zucchini, spaghetti squash, and artichokes. Virtually any dip, paste, or mixture can be made into a stuffing for your favorite tough-skinned veggie.
Try a taco zucchini boat as a substitute for Taco Tuesday, or whip up some buffalo chicken spaghetti squash. The thick, durable skin of these tenacious vegetables make it easy for them to become a temporary home for whatever filling you decide to create. Feel free to bake, grill, broil, or steam your stuffed whatever-it-is.The options are limitless.
7. Noodle it
Zucchini noodles have gained cult-like popularity in the last few years (mostly as a result of the paleo and no-carb crazes), but they’re not the only winners here. Spaghetti squash, carrots, and beets can also be spiraled into healthy, delicious pasta substitutes.
The methods of cooking these crunchy noodles differs a bit from traditional pasta–you’ll want to sauté most of these instead of boiling; the water content is already high and boiling will make them soggy. However, the crisp, fresh texture and taste of vegetable noodles presents you with a blank canvas upon which to add various sauces, cheeses, or toppings to suit your preferences.
6. Use applesauce as a substitute
Eggs, oil, and butter are delicious—but not exactly the best for your heart health or nutritional needs. Instead, use some applesauce! This is a great trick for the calorie or cholesterol conscious, especially around the holidays when an overabundance of sweet treats makes it difficult to stick to a diet. In dense sweet breads, such as zucchini or banana bread, the substitution is virtually undetectable.
Applesauce works best as a substitute for oil in cakes or breads (it makes cookies too soft, so be careful with this one). Use unsweetened applesauce at a ratio of 1 to 1. That is, if a recipe calls for one cup of oil, instead use one cup of applesauce. Mix, bake, and don’t forget to enjoy!
5. Make a dip
The act of dipping makes eating ten times more fun, right? Vegetables and fruits make great little vehicles for transporting delicious dip to your belly. Try substituting Greek yogurt for sour cream in a vegetable dip, and add shredded or diced peppers, carrots, or beets for an additional boost of veggies.
If fruit is more your style, try dipping it in a mixture made of equal parts Greek yogurt, honey, and peanut butter. Plain peanut butter is also delicious with celery, or you can even try a rich chocolate dip for your favorite berries and other fruits. Warm or cold, a dip is a great compliment to any raw fruit or veggie platter, and it’s an easy way to make sure you mid-afternoon noshing is nutritious as well as delicious!
4. Drink ’em up
Smoothies are a classic way to incorporate more fruit into your diet, and if you’re able to make them at home from fresh or frozen fruit, even better! Packaged smoothies often contain high amounts of fat and sugar, negating the health benefits of drinking fruit from the start.
For a dynamite smoothie, remember to include equal parts fruit, protein (such as Greek yogurt), and liquid. You can also add veggies such as kale, spinach, or carrots to give your smoothie a flavor-free whollop of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. If you’d rather opt for a thinner beverage, try mixing together any fruit with some vegetables (skip the protein). This will make a delightfully refreshing beverage for any time of the day.
3. Whip up some dried fruit for homemade fruit snacks
Addicted to Fruit Roll Ups as a kid (or maybe now….no judgment!)? Drying your own fruit is a great way to zap the added sugars and preservatives from these delicious fruit snacks, while at the same time creating a killer homemade treat. If you have a food dehydrator (they’re inexpensive and sold at most home goods stores), the task is easy. Simply slice or dice your fruit of choice and place it on the drying racks. It will be ready in no time!
If you don’t own a dehydrator, it’s still easy to make yummy snacks. Simply slice or dice your fruit and bake in the oven. If you want a gummier, more authentic version of a roll-up, just puree your fruit mixture (add a bit of honey or sugar to introduce more sweetness) in a blender before drying. These snacks can be stored at room temperature for months without spoilage.
2. Grab a grater
Most households own a cheese grater, so it’s easy to repurpose this common kitchen tool to create healthier dinners. Fruit can be easily grated or shredded to add a unique, interesting zest to any dessert or dinner plate. Try grating fresh vegetables to use as toppings for pizza, pasta, or meat-based entrees.
You can also use your grater to create a vegetable seasoning that you can sprinkle in your favorite marinara or alfredo sauce. Because the pieces will be so tiny and fine, you are unlikely to notice even the most pungent of plants in your dish.
You can also grate a variety of vegetables to use as crouton-substitutions for a tossed green salad. You’ll love the added double punch of crunch and nutrients!
1. Be willing to experiment
Last but not least, be willing to play around a bit! Incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet is not only an exciting adventure, but it’s also commendable. By eating more fresh and frozen produce, you’ll find that you have increased energy and mood, with lower irritability, bloating, and lethargy.
You may not enjoy eating every type of green that’s out there, but a colorful diet is rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, and you’re sure to find at least a handful of crunchy snack options that will help you to feel satisfied. So get started! Stop by the local farmer’s market, produce aisle, or backyard garden. Then grab your spatula, blender, salad bowl, and cutting board— it’s time to start experimenting!