We've known for decades that eating more plants in the form of fruit and vegetables is important for good health and longevity.
Thousands of studies have shown us that diets high in plants are the key to preventing the chronic diseases of ageing, such as diabetes, arthritis, dementia, osteoporosis and cancer.
It is recommended to eat at least 2 pieces of fruit and 7 different vegetables every day. But what I find in my clinic is that for many people, 7 vegetables a day is a stretch.
I love vegetables and think they are delicious! Here are my 9 tips to help you to add more plants into your meals.
1. Make vegetables the star of your meal.
I grew up with 'meat and three vegetables' for dinner. The meat was the star attraction and some boiled or steamed vegetables sat at the side of our plates looking unappetising. What if you switch it around and make the vegetables the star attraction, adding a side of protein if you want to?
In our house we now look for plant based recipes to cook as the main course. Because my family includes growing teenagers, most meals will have fish, seafood, beef, lamb or eggs as an accompaniment to the vegetables.
This is an exciting change in the way we enjoy vegetables. Yotam Ottelenghi is one of our favourite sources of vegetable recipes. We also follow Green Kitchen Stories.
2. Try cooking the vegetables in a different (more delicious) way
If you don't like the taste of zucchini, brussels sprouts, fennel, mushrooms, beetroot, it might help you enjoy the flavour if you cook them differently. The cooking method can change the flavour, and what you pair them with while you're cooking can also affect the taste.
Have you tasted asparagus that's been cooked on the BBQ? Have you tried roasting Brussels sprouts and parsnip with your lamb? Have you ever grated beetroot or fennel into a salad or coleslaw?
Adding herbs to cooking can bring out the flavour of vegetables and make them taste delicious. I love these flavour combinations: mushrooms with rosemary, tomatoes with thyme, butternut squash with sage, mint with cucumber, caraway seeds with cabbage, dill with potato.
3. Make a gradual change
I recommend gradually building up the quantities of vegetables that you eat, so it's not a big change and the kids won't notice.
You might start by adding just one extra salad or vegetable dish to your weekly meals. Make a big salad so that you will have leftovers for the next day. Or choose one vegetable each week that you don't usually eat and try it baked, steamed or in a salad.
Buy a few extra pieces of fruit for the fruit bowl each week. If the extra fruit doesn't get eaten by the end of the week you could stew the apples; poach the pears; or add berries, mango or papaya into a smoothie.
4. Plan and prepare ahead of time
There's nothing more discouraging than having vegetables rotting in the back of the fridge because you didn't have the time or inspiration to cook them.
Before you go to the shops or market to buy your fruit and vegetables, plan how you intend to eat them and when you will eat them.
5. Meat Free Mondays
On Mondays we try to eat only plants and protein that that comes from plants (and sometimes eggs). This means lentil soups, cauliflower soup, black bean salad, frittatas or bean tacos.
If this appeals to you, there are a lot of Meat free Monday resources available.
6. Swap beef for beans in one of your regular meals
Vegetarian versions of popular family meals can be a good way to increase plant based foods. Meals that lend themselves to plant proteins include tacos and other Mexican foods, lasagna and many other Italian foods.
7. Start eating fruit and vegetables at breakfast
I like to eat my fruit first thing in the morning and I've always encouraged my family to do the same. Berries and soft fruits can be added to oats, muesli or smoothies.
Breakfast can also be a good time to make a start on your daily vegetables. Eggs combine well with baby spinach, sautéed mushrooms, tomato and fresh herbs. Vegetables can be cooked and served alongside poached eggs, or mixed into an omelette or frittata.
8. Increase the variety
If you already eat a lot of vegetables, then the next step is to increase the variety that you're having. Studies have shown that the greater the variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet, the more diverse and healthy your gut bacteria will be. Aiming for 30 different vegetables in a week is a good place to start.
Try to have vegetables from different plant families. An easy way to do this is think about how they grow.
Eat a variety of vegetables that grow underground (carrots, parsnip, beetroot), those that grow as fruit (tomatoes, eggplant, capsicum), vegetables that you eat the flowers (broccoli, cauliflower, artichoke), grow as pods (peas and beans), grow as bulbs (onion, fennel), grow on spreading plants (pumpkins, zucchini), salad vegetables (mustards, lettuce, spinach), those that we eat as stems (asparagus and celery), and those that are eaten as herbs and sprouts.
9. Get some help and advice
If you are still struggling to eat more vegetables, you're not sure which ones are the healthiest for you, or if vegetables give you digestive problems, then please book in for a consultation.
Nutrition advice can set you up for a lifetime of good health and disease prevention. This is particularly important if you have a genetic predisposition to chronic diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis and cancer.
I hope you will soon love eating your veges as much as I do :)
I am a naturopath, nutritionist, herbalist and certified wellness coach with a clinic in Gladesville, Sydney.
This blog contains information from my Bachelor of Health Science degree, continuing research, and from experience gained from working with men and women in my clinic.
The blog is not intended as individual health advice and you should seek assistance for medical conditions. Herbs and vegetables do not replace medications prescribed by your doctor.