Join Cooking Light in our effort to change the way we approach fruits and vegetables. With our easy tips, you’ll be on your way to 5 a day. By Sidney Fry, MS, RD
You’ve heard it before… Americans just aren’t getting enough fruits and vegetables. And as the foundation of a healthy diet,
consider fruits and vegetables your fountain of youth. Rich in vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants, fiber, and water, it’s hard
to understand how so many can resist that gorgeous nutritional profile. But the hard facts tell us that less than 30% of us
– that’s seven out of every ten Americans – are failing to meet the recommended 5 A Day.
Enter in The 12 Healthy Habits. We’re not asking for a revolution. Just a few small and very simple changes to make you eat better, feel better, and create an overall new sense of well-being. Step one: Eat more Fruits & Veggies. Yes, we are actually asking you to eat more of something. How often do you get to hear that? Here are 12 simple ways to get you eating veggies and fruits today.
The importance of eating breakfast is immeasurable. Not only does it break the fast and jumpstart your metabolism, but it
also boosts your performance at work or school, helps with weight maintenance, and for the purposes of Healthy Habit #1, is the perfect time get in an extra fruit or vegetable serving for the day.
• Stir berries (fresh or frozen), dried fruit, or banana slices into yogurt, cereal, or oatmeal. Our Banana, Wheat Germ, and Oats recipe (shown here) boasts a full serving of fruit plus the benefits of wheat germ. Every 1/2 cup of fruit you add is a serving.
• Make a smoothie. Combine some low fat milk or yogurt, 1/2 cup frozen berries and a banana for a super easy blended breakfast – and 2 entire fruit servings!
• Add peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms or onions to your eggs for a delicious omelet, or pile the whole scramble on your favorite
bread, tortilla, or bagel for a booster breakfast sandwich.
• Have a glass of juice. Make sure it’s made from 100% fruit juice, and limit yourself to eight ounces per day to avoid too many added sugars.
• Don’t have time for breakfast? Whole fruits are quick, prep-free, on-the-go solution. Grab an apple, peach, banana, or orange and enjoy it on your way to work.
View Recipe: Huevos Revueltos
In soups, salads, pastas, sandwiches, pizzas, and casseroles, most recipes call for a certain amount of vegetables. Our advice?
Double the amount called for in the original recipe. You are already doing the prep work; so a little extra chopping can go
a long way for your vegetable intake.
• Stir extra veggies into soups. Don’t be afraid to steer off the beaten recipe path just a bit. When it comes to something like soups, an overdose of chopped vegetables will not ruin the recipe. It will enhance the flavor, nutritional value, and your daily vegetable tally. A half cup of chopped vegetables and a whole cup of dark leafy greens is another serving. In White Bean Soup with Kale and Chorizo (shown), you can double the amount of kale or add chopped carrots, celery, red bell peppers, zucchini…the possibilities are endless.
• Pile them on the pizza. Don’t hold back on the veggies! Add extra veggies to a frozen pizza, order double veggies from
delivery, or create your own where the sky is the limit.
• Cram them into casseroles. Cooking up a Mexican casserole? Add some extra peppers, mushrooms, and squash. Don’t be shy with topping with tomato- and veggie-heavy salsa, either. Eggplant Parmesan? Double the eggplant. Chicken Pot Pie? Double those peas and carrots. You’ve got the idea.
• Stuff them into sandwiches. A sandwich is another blank canvas just waiting to get stuffed with color. Take your routine turkey sandwich and jazz it up with sliced apples, cucumber, zucchini, sprouts, and spinach. A 1/2 cup of this colorful combination just scored you another serving.
View Recipe: Biscuit-Topped Chicken Potpie
Sometimes, it’s okay to be sneaky in the kitchen. Try these tips to sneak in one or two extra servings into your day. An added
bonus? You’ll be adding a new twist to an old favorite recipe.
• Grate your way to goodness. Shred or grate fruits and vegetables down, or puree them up and see how creative you can get with your favorite recipes. Grated zucchini and carrots do wonders for turkey burgers, meatloaf (like our Classic Meatloaf shown here), and meatballs, adding both moisture and nutrients to the dish.
• Puree cooked cauliflower, winter squash, or red peppers and stir them into sauces, mashed potatoes, pot pies, or even mac and cheese.
• The secret is in the sauce. Make a mean marinara that’s loaded with vegetables. In addition to your traditional tomato
sauce base, use any combination of chopped mushrooms, eggplant, onions, peppers, squash, and carrots. This versatile sauce
can then be used in a variety of creative ways to add both flavor, as well as a serving of vegetables to your day. Spoon it
over noodles, mix it into lasagna, start it as a soup base, spread it over pizza crust, or use it as a dipping sauce.
• Bribe yourself with baked goods. Both vegetables and fruits are healthy, delicious, and fabulous additions to breads, cakes, biscuits, and pies. Both savory and sweet, what better way to add a vegetable serving to your day? Carrot cake, pumpkin pie, sweet potato biscuits, zucchini bread or pancakes, corn muffins…. The list goes on, and the same is true for fruits. While we can’t exactly count an entire serving in a slice or piece, it’s still a way to sneak in half of a satisfying serving.
View Recipe: Basic Marinara
The campaign for “Meatless Monday” is gaining popularity. The concept is simple: One day a week, cut out the meat. (And Monday
seems to be a good day to try.) It’s a great way to eat more fruit and vegetables. By eliminating meat once a week, you may
reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease, support sustainability, and even come out saving a buck or two. To make your
goal even more attainable, use your Meatless Monday as a make-ahead day to prepare extra fruits and vegetables for the week.
• Choose a day convenient to you to leave meat out of your diet. Use this as a “day of preparation” for the entire week to assist your goal to increase your fruits and vegetables by three servings a day.
• Check out our collection of Superfast Vegetarian dishes, like these Vegetarian Chipotle Nachos, that are quick, delicious, and packed full of veggies.
• As your main meatless Monday dish, make a couscous, wild rice, or other grain salad like this Quinoa Salad with Vegetables and Tomatillo Vinaigrette packed with seasonal vegetables. Enjoy throughout the week in wraps, over a bed of spinach, or heated into omelets.
• Sauté or grill extra vegetables on your meatless Monday, and continue to use the leftovers later in the week in pasta dishes, soups, sandwiches, and salads.
• Make a large batch of fruit salad to have on hand for meals and snacks.
• Become a food processing pro – Use the shredding blade to grate squash, carrots, zucchini, turnips, onions, sweet potatoes, etc. Bag them up and keep them easily accessible in the refrigerator. Add them to sauces, soups, stir-fry, casseroles, pizzas.
Try to experiment with a new seasonal vegetable (or fruit) each week. Don’t try a tomato in December. You are far more likely
to fall in love with its lush, juicy, tangy taste in the height of summer.
• If there is a local farmer’s market nearby, support your community and pay them a visit. Get the whole family involved. Allow either yourself, or a family member to choose a new item from the produce section and add it to your meal.
• Cooking for one? Invite a friend or two over to try the new dish with you. Two heads are often better than one, and you can both learn together.
• Once spring is here, U-pick farms are a fun way to get up close and personal with your produce.
• As your peruse your monthly food magazines, cookbooks, and food blogs, print off, photo copy, or tear out any new recipes
that feature an unfamiliar fruit or vegetable you’d like to try. Keep them in a folder for easy access and pull one out on
your “Make-Ahead” day to try.
• On a budget? Check the weekly specials at your local grocery store and choose one of the items on special that week. The specials often reflect the abundance of certain seasonal produce.
• Check out our “What’s in Season” guide to find out what produce is in season right now, recipe suggestions, and prep tips.
See More: Season's Best videos
Snacks have gotten a bad rap. A healthy snack can help you curb hunger throughout the day and provide energy and important
nutrients. Make all of your snacks revolve around fruits and vegetables. Stock countertops, pantries, refrigerators (at home
and work), desk, car, and purse with some form of fruit or veggie.
• Keep a bowl of fresh fruit on the counter at home or on your desk for a healthy (and eye-appealing) quick fix.
• Keep dried fruit in your car or purse for busy days when a breather is just not an option.
• Pack pre-cut fruit and veggies into snack-size bags for perfectly-portioned munchies. Keep them eye level in the fridge for easy access.
• Swap up your afternoon soda for 1/2 cup of 100% juice to squeeze in an extra serving.
Desserts tend to be regarded as a sweet treat for special occasions only. But a fruit-based dessert has the ability to offer
a light, refreshing, naturally-sweet ending to a satisfying meal, with the added bonus of an extra fruit serving.
• Take those plain old bananas and grapes to a whole new level with a freezing frenzy. Freeze grapes and bananas for a super satisfying, pop-able delight. For an added yum-factor, dip half a banana in a small amount of antioxidant-rich dark chocolate.
• Blend up some fresh fruit with 1/2 cup low fat yogurt or 100% fruit juice for delightfully refreshing fruit popsicles.
• Eating ice cream or frozen yogurt? Pile on 1/2 cup of fresh peaches, mangos or berries for a serving of fruit.
• Cut out the crust. Our favorite fruit pie recipes get placed on the “special occasions” list for one reason only: the buttery, fat-laden crust. The solution? Get rid of it. Place the filling of your favorite fruit (or pumpkin, as shown) pie recipe in individual ramekins. Bake until set and enjoy a serving of warm, satisfying fruit pie without the rich crust.
Salads have the potential to be a Healthy Habit gold mine, rich in fruits, vegetables, and nutritional value. But we’re not
talking about salads with a leaf of iceberg, and loads of bacon, cheese, and ranch. We’re talking dark green leafy beds with
colorful, crunchy toppings.
• Start one meal a day with a small salad. Get creative. One cup of leafy greens + 1/2 cup of fruit or veggie toppings = 2 servings.
• Alternate your greens from the normal Romaine or iceberg… for general rule of thumb, the darker the greens the more nutrient rich they are.
View Recipe: Spinach Strawberry Salad
• Supersize your salad. Just think of the possibilities of an entrée-sized salad. One cup of leafy greens is a serving;
pile on healthy toppings, and every 1/2 cup of chopped fruits and vegetables is another serving. You can easily get half your
daily fruits and vegetables packed into one glorious salad.
• Don’t cheat yourself on the dressing. Be moderate, but be tasteful. A lot of the fat-free and low-fat dressings out there are full of sugar and sodium and are completely deprived on flavor. A few splashes of a good, heart-healthy canola- or olive-oil based dressings can do wonders to that bed of greens. Try making your own with our Easy Herb Vinaigrette (shown). Make a batch to keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
The great thing about a smoothie is the open invitation to creativity. You are your own mixologist. Try something new, like
mango, papaya, or even cucumber. You can knock out all three of your added fruits and vegetables with one push of the pulse
button. The key here is not to confuse a smoothie with a milkshake. When you make your own, you are the artist in control
of the color palette of fresh fruits.
Make sure that fruit is the base of your creation—too much fruit juice can rapidly add calories without providing any of the heart-healthy and digestive-friendly fiber that you get from the fruit itself. Enjoy for breakfast, as part of a balanced lunch, snack, or even dessert.
• Whirl up some low fat milk or yogurt, 1/2 cup frozen fruit and a banana for a super delicious smoothie – and 2 entire
• Blend up a large batch and freeze in single portions for an easy on-the-go breakfast or snack.
• Surprisingly, some vegetables make great fiber-filling smoothie additions. Try carrots, a 1/2 cup of creamy canned pumpkin, or cooked sweet potato for a tasty addition. Try our Cucumber, Apple, and Mint Cooler (shown) for a refreshing, low-calorie smoothie that banks 1 serving of vegetables.
Do fresh fruits and veggies sound boring? Whip up a delicious dip and turn those healthy crudités into party food.
• Go sweet. Dip apple wedges, pears, sliced bananas, mango, and pineapple spears in Caramel Sauce or our Creamy Pumpkin Dip for a satisfying dessert or snack.
• Go savory. We get it. Not everyone gets excited when they look at a plate of raw vegetables. But pair them with a nutty hummus, zesty ranch, creamy avocado, and fiery salsa and now we’re talking. Crunchy crudités take on a whole new life with just a smidge of extra punch from a flavor-packed dip, like our creamy Garlic-Herb Dip (shown).
• Go store-bought. You’ve taken the time to cut and pre-portion your dip-able delights, but we don’t all have time to make
everything from scratch. There are some great lightened-up store-bought dips that pair perfectly with our crunchy crudités.
Check the produce and deli selections of your local grocery store for available selections.
• We did the work for you in our 2010 Taste Test. We chose Tribe Classic as our grand-prize winner for its fresh flavor, with just the right hint of sesame, cumin, and garlic. Our Taste Test Award went to Athenos Original, perfect for garlic lovers. Both are just the right accompaniment to a bowlful of veggies.
Read More: See all our 2010 Taste Test Award Winners.
As America’s all-time favorite snack—the potato chip (deep fried in oil, over salted, and overly enjoyed by many)—has become
the lunch time side dish and snack time staple. There is something about that salty, crunchy satisfaction that is difficult
to deny. So don’t deny yourself; instead, continue with the chip concept, but make them yourself. The trick: Oven-bake them,
and be open to giving the potato a rest. You can make your own vegetable crisps that end up cheaper, healthier, and quite
possibly the most fun way to eat your fruits and vegetables. Bag them for your own on-the-go snack, use them as dippers, or
munch on them with your next meal.
• Makeover the classic with our Potato Chips with Blue Cheese Dip (shown). Use a mandoline to cut the potato for the best results; hand-cutting is less likely to produce sufficiently thin and uniform slices. If you have any leftover chips, store them in an airtight container for up to a week.
• Glorify the greens. Send those potatoes home green with envy. Not only are greens an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin
K, vitamin C, and calcium, but they make fabulous chips. Kale, mustard greens, collard greens… crunch and munch away on our
delightful twist on greens. Our Crunchy Garlic Roasted Kale is worth a try.
• Go bananas. For a sweet treat, slice up moderately ripe bananas or plantains (like the Plantain Chips shown here) and either slow roast them or lightly sauté them for a crispy exterior and fruity flavor.
We’re not playing nutrition police on the bread group. Carbohydrates are an essential energy-boosting part of a healthy diet.
Let’s just say most of us do not struggle to get enough of our daily bread. Try replacing one bread serving a day with a fruit
or vegetable, and you’ll be a step ahead.
• Love the lettuce wrap. Instead of bread or tortillas, make your next sandwich or wrap inside a leafy green. Stack 2 or 3 large, leafy greens such as Bibb lettuce, romaine, red lettuce, cabbage, or radicchio and pile on the fixings. Enjoy the added crunch factor.
View Recipe: Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps
• Flip the chip and dip. Swap those chips for fresh crunchy crudités such as broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, snow peas or
• Nix the Noodles. Try spaghetti squash. The name says it all with this veggie varietal. Once baked, spaghetti squash can be flaked with a fork to reveal spaghetti like strands to offer the perfect bed for your favorite pasta sauce. Try this technique in our Spaghetti Squash Gratins with Chunky Tomato Sauce (shown) or Spaghetti Squash with Chicken, Mushrooms and Spinach.