Creative ways to add more fruits and veggies to your diet

The best way to get all of the nutrients you need each day is to brighten your plate with fruits and vegetables. Eating a rainbow of colorful foods adds flavor and texture to your meals, along with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Most are naturally low in calories and contain essential nutrients that can help prevent heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses. If fruits and veggies aren’t your thing, you can still sneak them into your meals.

Get your recommended servings of fruits and vegetables

Dietary guidelines vary based on a number of factors, including age and health history, but the American Heart Association recommends that most adults should get 4 servings of fruit per day and 5 servings vegetables per day.

One serving = a medium-sized piece of fruit or a half-cup of chopped veggies.

If you don’t want to count servings, just follow this simple rule: At each meal, fill half of your plate with fruits and veggies.

All produce counts—fresh, frozen, and canned

Most frozen vegetables are as nutritious as fresh varieties as long as you avoid sauces, gravy, and butter. When shopping for canned vegetables, look for “reduced sodium,” “low sodium,” or “no salt added” on the label. And choose canned fruit without added sugar or syrup that adds empty calories. Remember, in-season vegetables often cost less. Check your supermarket for specials or visit a local farmers market. Consider choosing vegetables you’ve never tried before.

Breakfast tips

  • Make a habit of topping your morning whole-grain cereal, oatmeal, or yogurt with fresh bananas or berries.
  • Add chopped spinach, onions, celery, bell peppers, or mushrooms to scrambled eggs or potatoes.
  • Stuff an omelet with broccoli, squash, carrots, peppers, tomatoes, or onions.
  • Skip the syrup and top pancakes, French toast, or waffles with puréed apples, berries, peaches, or pears.
  • Always drink 100% fruit or vegetable juice without excess sodium or sugar. Stay away from fruit drinks and punches.

Lunch tips

  • For healthier sandwiches, cut down on the meat and cheese and add veggies—spinach, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, avocado, cucumber planks, peppers, or sprouts.
  • Add a flavor twist to peanut butter sandwiches with banana or apple slices.
  • Mix chopped or grated fruits and veggies into tuna salad—celery, carrots, cucumber, apples, grapes, pineapple, dried cranberries.
  • Take whole-wheat tortilla wraps to a new level with roasted vegetables.
  • Fruit salads aren’t just for picnics and barbeques. Enjoy fruit with every lunch.

Easy homemade soup

Sauté carrots, onions, green beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, and zucchini in a pan with olive oil until the vegetables are tender. Add the mix to a vegetable broth and throw in a can of beans. Serve with whole-grain bread.

Dinner tips

  • Add grated, shredded, or chopped zucchini, spinach, and carrots to lasagna, meat loaf, or mashed potatoes.
  • Prepare chili with half the meat and twice the amount of beans and veggies.
  • Toss chopped or diced vegetables into your pasta sauce—spinach, carrots, onions, garlic, bell peppers, tomatoes.
  • Top cheese pizza with broccoli, spinach, green peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, or zucchini.
  • When cooking stews and beans, add chopped onions, garlic, and celery.
  • When making rice, add frozen peas for the last three minutes of cooking.
  • Skip the sour cream and butter, and top baked potatoes with salsa and beans or broccoli and low-fat cheese.
  • For a quick, easy side dish, steam fresh or frozen vegetables in the microwave in a bowl with a little water. Season with low-calorie, low-fat dressing, herbs, and spices.
  • Make a game of it: How many bright colors can you add to your dinner salad? Cherry tomatoes, yellow bell peppers, shredded carrots, beets, cucumbers, mushrooms.

Fire up the grill

Tired of the same-old burgers and brats? Try grilling vegetable kabobs with tomatoes, green and red peppers, mushrooms, and onions. Or grill fruit kabobs with pineapples, peaches, and bananas. Grill on low heat until fruit is hot and slightly golden.

Snack tips

  • Keep ready-to-eat cut vegetables on hand for snacks and lunch boxes: Bell peppers, broccoli and cauliflower florets, baby carrots, celery sticks, cucumber slices, snap peas, green beans, radishes.
  • Pair veggies with healthy dips: Baby carrots and hummus, strawberries or apple slices and low-fat yogurt, celery and peanut butter.
  • Snack on string cheese and a handful of grapes.
  • Carry raisins or dried dates or dried apricots in your bag.
  • Learn how to make fruit popsicles.
  • On hot summer days, munch on frozen grapes, strawberries, bananas, or peas.

Whip up a green smoothie

Smoothies make the perfect breakfast, lunch, or snack. Start with your favorite frozen fruits and low-fat milk or almond milk. Toss in a cup of spinach and add a spoonful of peanut butter. Once blended, you won’t even taste the greens.

If you’re feeling bold, try adding cooked carrots, squash, or just about any cooked vegetable to a fruit smoothie.

Healthy dessert

Slice a banana lengthwise and top it with a scoop of low-fat frozen yogurt. Sprinkle with a tablespoon of chopped nuts.

What if you don’t like vegetables?

If French fries dipped in tomato ketchup is your idea of getting your veggies, it may surprise you to find out how easy it is to sneak healthy vegetables into meals without anyone knowing it.

Pasta sauce. Sauté shredded carrots or squash in a pan with some olive oil for about five minutes before adding the veggies to pasta sauce. You won’t even notice them.

Ground meat. Replace half the ground meat in burgers, meatloaf, or meatballs with chopped mushrooms. Finely chop mushrooms using a knife. Sauté the chopped mushrooms in olive oil for about three minutes until they’re soft. Let them cool before mixing the mushrooms with the meat.

Lasagna. Add extra layers of spinach to lasagna. You can add a lot more than you may think because spinach shrinks when it’s cooked.

Mac and cheese. Blend cooked and puréed butternut squash, sweet potatoes, or carrots into macaroni and cheese or baked enchiladas.

Hummus. Blend red peppers and avocado into hummus.

Fruits and vegetables are part of a healthy eating plan. Along with essential vitamins and minerals that can help protect you from diseases, eating fruits and vegetables can help you manage and maintain a healthy weight. It’s just one more reason to add more fruits and vegetables into your diet.

Additional sources

Healthy Women, 10 Sneaky Ways to Get More Fruits and Veggies in Your Diet
Produce for Better Health Foundation, Easy Ways to Add Fruits & Veggies to Your Day