We all know that eating more vegetables and fruit is good for us right. Although there are many different viewpoints on nutrition and what constitutes a good diet, no-one will disagree on the point that eating more plant based foods is necessary for optimum health.
A little on the ‘Why’
There are so many reasons why we should eat more of these foods. I’m going to touch on a couple and then get to the practical stuff.
Fibre, both the soluble and insoluble type, triggers the leptin hormone which makes us feel fuller and less hungry. It also helps to efficiently metabolise oestrogen and lower circulating oestrogen levels. If we don’t metabolise oestrogen properly this can lead to many of the hormonal symptoms such as PMT, perimenopausal symptoms and can actually increase our risk of hormonal related cancers. (Download my eBook for more info on the relationship between hormones, diet and mental wellbeing).
Fibre makes our gut bacteria very happy indeed. It provides them with fuel and makes them thrive and increase in numbers and diversity. Research on the gut bacteria has exploded in the last ten years. Many studies have proven that a healthy and diverse gut microbiome is associated with less obesity, less risk of metabolic diseases and better bowel health.
Newer evidence suggests that eating ten portions is what we need to stay healthy for longer
We have all heard of the "five-a-day" rule but for some it can be a challenge to eat five portions of fruit and veg each day, even when you like vegetables. Newer evidence suggests that eating ten portions is what we need to stay healthy for longer. Most people don’t come nearly close to having enough and are unsure how to incorporate them into their weekly meals.
So how can I easily get ten servings of fruit and veg into my family’s diet?
Help is at hand people! Read on for tips on getting more of the good stuff into your life in a super-easy way. As you’ll see from my suggestions below it’s easier than you think
Firstly, what constitutes a portion?
A portion is 80g (3oz) of fruit or vegetables - the equivalent of a small banana, a pear or three heaped tablespoons of spinach or peas.
Try out some of the following recipes and ideas to ensure you're including sufficient fruit and vegetables in your everyday diet for optimum health!
1. Make a frittata
The perfect dish for a simple lunch or a lazy weekend brunch. Whisk up eggs with veggies like onions, mushrooms and peppers – or anything else you have in the fridge. If you can make this a large, deep Spanish-style omelette it will even last you several days.
2. Make friends with cauliflower rice
Cauliflower rice has become a bit of a cult thing of late and is popular on low carbohydrate diets. You can buy it ready-made and frozen in practically any supermarket, but it is also very easy to whizz up yourself in a food processor. Simply chop into florets and pulse until the cauliflower is a fine, rice-like consistency. You can then steam, sauté or roast the cauliflower rice and serve as a side dish or as an alternative to rice or grains.
3. Do the same with broccoli
Broccoli rice is the lesser-known brother of cauliflower rice. You prepare it in the exact same way – pulse into rice-sized pieces. You can also buy it frozen from most supermarkets. Cook it in a similar fashion as the cauliflower rice, but it is good lightly sautéed with a little olive oil and seasoning. Whether cauliflower or broccoli rice, you can add the cooked version to scrambled eggs for (at least) an entire serving of your veg quota or combine it with other stir fried vegetables.
4. Pimp up your porridge
You might be used to a sweet porridge, but a savoury version can be surprisingly good. Try cooking plain oats with water then adding sautéed veg or else grated courgette. Top with a poached egg for a protein hit and maybe a grating of parmesan, then season to taste.
5. Sneak it into family favourites
Pasta bakes are the perfect place to hide your vegetables. The ideal partners to throw into the mix are spinach, tomatoes, peas and broccoli but almost anything will do. Casseroles, Bolognese sauce and chilli are all ideal places to smuggle in added vegetables. Veggie dodgers will barely notice if you grate carrot or courgette, or finely chopped mushrooms (which have a surprisingly meaty texture into the mix). The texture is barely changed.
Many parents out there will be very familiar with hiding veg in dishes. I still do it sometimes to this day blending everything and anything into sauces and bakes.
6. Don’t forget the herbs
These count as vegetables too and are easily incorporated into practically any dish, from soups and stews to scrambled eggs. Why not try basil in salads and tomato based sauces or sprinkle thyme and rosemary onto roasted veg before they go into the oven. Making your own pesto with basil or parsley is another great way to up your herb intake.
7. Beetroot Chocolate Cake
Beetroot blends totally and utterly seamlessly into chocolate cake. You have to make it to believe it. It makes a great treat for all the family. Check out my recipe here, (and let me know what you think).
8. Avocado Baked Eggs
This makes a great brunch or lunchtime dish. Serve with a salad to increase the veg portions.
Heat the oven to 220˚C. Halve an avocado and remove the stone to create a pit for the egg. Put the avocado in a small ceramic baking dish or baking tray. Crack the egg into the hole, sprinkle with paprika, then bake for 15-20 minutes.
9. Experiment with courgette and boodles (love that word 😁)
You can get courgetti and boodles (butternut squash noodles) from most supermarkets or make your own with a spiralizer. Blanch for a minute or two then serve with Bolognese or Thai curries – or your own choice of meal.
10. Swap wraps for lettuce
It might not cut it with the kids, but lettuce makes a surprisingly good stand-in for wraps. Use a good firm leaf such as cos or romaine. You can also make little ‘boats’ and fill with tuna and sweetcorn, salsa or guacamole. Wraps can also be used as a burger bun!
11. Combine fruit and veg in a juice
Homemade smoothies and juices are a tasty way of increasing your in-take of raw fruit and veg.
Try this green juice for a major injection of the good stuff: 2 cucumbers, 8 celery stalks, 4 apples, 16 leaves kale (with stalks), 1 lemon, 5 cm piece of ginger. Blitz all together in a blender and enjoy.
You will find more green juice recipes here www.rebootwithjoe.com/a-green-juice-for-weight-loss.
12. Make your own tomato sauce
Making your own tomato sauce is far healthier than shop-bought varieties (which can be laden with added sugar and salt). Grate in carrot and finely chopped peppers, then add to passata or tinned tomatoes with fresh herbs like basil or oregano and whizz to a smooth consistency when cooked through. Roasted butternut squash is also a great addition to the mix.
13. Dish up the veggie fries
Sometimes you just need something that resembles a chip.
Check out this link for some amazingly easy and delicious ways to serve veggies that you probably won't have thought of before tasty.co/compilation/veggie-fries-4-ways#.ykyjwPJ3q
14. Rethink Pizza
Not tried cauliflower pizza? You might like it so give it a whirl sometime soon. Here’s a recipe from the Hemsley sisters www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/flower_power_pizza_13681.
Another great veg idea for the humble pizza is to spread a layer of pureed spinach on the dough before adding your tomato sauce.
Berries of any kind are choc-full of inflammation-fighting antioxidants
15. Bring in the berries and cherries
Try this gorgeous smoothie recipe packed full of goodness: 450g spinach, 270ml water, 1 small banana, 100g blueberries, 225g cherries (frozen are cheaper and they come already pitted).
Berries of any kind are choc-full of inflammation-fighting antioxidants. Add them to granola, muesli or porridge along with a sprinkle of flax for a nutrition boost.
I know that it’s still January but I’m thinking ahead to warmer weather! When the summer starts to peep through the clouds why not make these healthy ice pops made with berries and coconut milk, courtesy of The Medicinal Chef www.thesimplethings.com/blog/2014/08/05/recipe-berry-coconut-ice-lollies.
So there you have it. While it might take a little extra planning and (sneaky ingenuity) it’s not that difficult to increase our family's daily intake of nutrient dense fruit and veggies. I've shared sixteen ways to up your weekly intake but I'd love to hear from you, how do you ensure your family are getting the right amount of fruit and vegetables throughout the day? What are your tasty suggestions for increasing the number and variety of fresh fruit and veg each day?
I am passionate about nutrition and lifestyle medicine for optimal health. I offer 1:1 nutritional support and group coaching programmes. Check out my Facebook and Instagram pages for further information and support. You are also welcome to join Ciara Ryan Nutrition & Wellness Tribe on Facebook for exclusive advice and tips on how to make better choices for you and your family as well as recipes and meal-time inspiration.