We know incorporating vegetables into our diets can be challenging. Running between work and home, shuffling kids to after school activities and making dinner can be more than enough to fill a week day. It’s easy to get stuck in a routine—and oftentimes those routines don’t include making sure everyone in your house gets the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables each day—at least 3 cups for kids and at least 6 cups for the grown-ups in your family.
Yet, we know that veggies are a critical building block for a healthy lifestyle. They are full of nutrients that our bodies need and help give us energy to get through our busy days. As part of a healthy diet, eating more vegetables can help lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of many other diseases. Plus, eating more vegetables can help everyone in your family maintain a healthy weight, as they are much lower in calories than many other foods we eat.
So, how can we fit more vegetables into our day without scrapping our family favorites altogether? Start small. Break down your big goal of eating more vegetables into smaller, less intimidating steps. Instead of trying to pack your breakfast, lunch, and dinner with vegetables right away, you can focus on one meal a day to start or choose to swap a routine snack with a healthy alternative. For example, you can decide to include veggies at breakfast three times a week with a delicious veggie omelet or swap the chips in your child’s lunchbox for sliced carrots or another crunchy veggie. You can even just add more veggies to other dishes. Get creative with your salads, add spinach or sweet peas or layer some avocado or extra leafy greens onto your sandwich.
Preparing healthy dishes ahead of time can also be a great way to meet your goal. Many types of vegetables, like broccoli or carrots, can be prepared and kept refrigerated for 3-4 days, allowing you to portion them out in batches ready to go without any mid-week prep. Make and freeze vegetable soups, stews, or other dishes in advance for a quick and easy meal.
Buying fresh is great, but canned or frozen vegetables are also a healthy and convenient way to have veggies on hand anytime and they can make meal preparation even easier. Choose those labeled “no salt added” or “low sodium” whenever possible. These tips can make it easier to eat healthy when you’re short on time.
Want kids to get on board with these tiny tweaks? Make it into a game for your family. Mark your calendar every day that your family has eaten veggies—you can even list the veggies eaten on each day. At the end of the week or month, reward everyone with a family outing, movie night, or sleep over with friends.
As these little steps become habit, you can begin to increase your veggie intake over time. The key is to start small and then begin to find more and more ways to add on over time. When we break large goals down into small, do-able steps we’re less likely to give up and more likely to maintain these new habits in the long run.
Note: Since everyone’s health history and nutritional needs are so different, please make sure that you talk with your doctor and a registered dietitian to get advice about the diet and exercise plan that‘s right for you.