Whatever rifts may exist in the field of nutrition, one thing all health professionals can agree on is that including more produce in the diet is a simple way to improve health and well-being. Some believe that many of the benefits of plant-based diets in research aren’t due so much to excluding animal products but to including more fiber and antioxidants via increased fruit and vegetables intake.
Still, we all know that just providing the advice of “eat more fruits and vegetables,” isn’t enough. People are much more successful in improving their diet and lifestyle when they’re provided with details on how to make changes, not just told what changes to make. Furthermore, what works for one client may not work for another, so offering options can empower them to take action.
Here are five ways to increase fruit and vegetable intake that may resonate with your clients or audience.
1. Add produce to foods you’re already enjoying. Jennifer Pullman, MA, RDN, LDN, Philadelphia-based author of the blog Nourished Simply and consultant to bariatric patients, suggests adding fruits and veggies to sandwiches and easy stir-fry meals. Making the stir-fry more vegetable based vs grain or noodle based adds variety, textural changes, and nutrients. Samara Abbott, MSEd, RD, LDN, owner of G&G Nutrition Company in Charlotte, North Carolina, who primarily counsels working women, agrees and adds that “including more produce in your diet doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as tossing a handful of spinach in a jarred pasta sauce or picking up an apple to add to your snack.”
“My clients most like to add fruits and vegetables to their usual recipes,” says Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, FAND, CHWC, author of Prediabetes: A Complete Guide. “They can slip apple slices and spinach into a grilled cheese sandwich or grate zucchini into meatloaf or meatballs.” Try her Veggie-Packed Potato Salad or add broccoli to a hash brown casserole. Mary Purdy, MS, RD, an integrative dietitian, speaker, and writer, also has a podcast episode on squeezing vegetables into typical meals.
2. Use fruits and veggies in treats and desserts. “Grill or roast pineapple and other summer fruits, such as peaches, and top with a dollop of vanilla yogurt,” says Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, author of the website Better Is the New Perfect and who specializes in nutrition communications. She also suggests making “pumpkin smoothies and pumpkin mousse made with pumpkin, Greek yogurt, and a bit of whipped cream on top.” One of her favorite ways to use produce? Using avocado in chocolate avocado pudding! Clients also can use up seasonal produce in nutrient-dense treats, such as these Strawberry Chocolate Oat Bars.
3. Prepare produce in new ways. “I find that clients have better success increasing their produce intake when I offer up the one-three method,” says Erin Hendrickson, RDN, founder of the website The Minimalist RD, and a Nashville-based wellness program coordinator for employee groups. “I have them pick one vegetable they enjoy and then help them come up with three different ways to prepare it.” This also works to get clients to try new vegetables or ones they previously didn’t enjoy. “For example, for portobello mushrooms, I suggest using them as a base for mini pizzas, grilled in kabob form, or sliced in a quick bowl of ramen,” she adds.
One cooking method that may change clients’ minds about a vegetable is roasting. Roasting can reduce bitterness in vegetables, helping those with historically low vegetable consumption get acclimated to the taste.
4. Use fruits and veggies in sauces, salad dressings, dips, and condiments. Lindsey Janeiro, RDN, CLT, author of the website Nutrition to Fit, who offers individual nutrition coaching and food sensitivity testing as a Certified LEAP Therapist, says, “Some of my favorite produce-based sauces and dips include mango salsa over fish, fresh pico de gallo in a burrito bowl, puréed cooked beets in hummus, and bell pepper and tomato sauce.” Try her 3-Ingredient Spinach Artichoke Dip or 5-Minute Avo Green Sauce.
5. Take a different approach with meal prep. Meal preparation doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and it also shouldn’t be about making complicated meals. “It doesn’t have to be a detailed plan or take hours to create, but writing down a loose plan can help save time, money, and stress, while increasing nutrient intake each week,” says Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD, founder of the website Chronic Planet, who’s a plant-based lifestyle strategist for families and a health/nutrition freelance writer in Colorado.
Lainey Younkin, MS, RD, LDN, of Lainey Younkin Nutrition, a nutrition communications specialist in Boston, suggests planning meals around the vegetable vs the protein. “Pick two to three vegetables that will be the center of meals, and then pick the protein and starches that you’ll add as the sides.” Slow cookers also can be part of the meal prep process. Tamar Rothenberg, MS, RDN, of Nutrition Nom Nom, a consultant who specializes in postcancer plant-based nutrition, adds, “Use them for vegetarian chili and throw in some diced sweet potato and kale. Set up the ingredients in the slow cooker the night before and refrigerate. Plug it in on low in the morning and have a warm, filling dinner when you return home.”
— Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, is a board-certified sports dietitian based in greater Philadelphia. As a media spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and nutrition coach, her expertise lies in performance nutrition, fitness club programming, and intuitive eating. Kelly is the cocreator of the virtual course Fit Fueling: Mindful Eating for Active Females.