Every time I sit down to dinner with friends or family I get asked ‘Does this count as one of my five a day?’, as they proudly present a forkful of peas, a sprig of salad garnish or a couple of grapes from the cheese board! I know it can be a challenge to get to the recommended quota of fruit and veg each day, even when you like vegetables. And actually the latest reports suggest that we should be eating ten portions a day to stay healthy for longer. Most people don’t come anywhere close and would probably wonder how on earth they're supposed get to that target.
It’s actually not as difficult as it sounds; especially if you include some veggies with every meal – yes, even breakfast. And when you understand the health benefits there’s even more reason to hit those targets.
Some veg may help lower cancer risk – green veg (e.g. spinach, kale, broccoli), yellow and orange veg (e.g. peppers, butternut squash), cruciferous veg (e.g. cauliflower, broccoli).
Some fruit and veg may lower the risk of heart disease and stroke – apples, pears, citrus fruits, salads, green leafy veg (e.g. Romaine lettuce, spinach, kale, rocket), cruciferous veg (e.g. cauliflower, broccoli).
What counts as a portion?
A portion of fruit or veg is 80g - the equivalent of a small banana, a pear or three heaped tablespoons of spinach or peas.
How to hit the magic 10 …
1) Make a frittata
Perfect for a simple lunch or a lazy weekend brunch, whisk up eggs with veggies like onions, mushrooms and peppers – or actually any other veg you have in the fridge. You can always make this as a large, deep, Spanish-style omelette and use it for packed lunches during the week.
2) Discover the joys of cauliflower rice
Cauliflower rice has become all the rage recently. You can buy it ready-made but it is also very easy to whizz up yourself in a food processor. Simply chop into florets and pulse until the cauliflower resembles fine breadcrumbs. Perfect whenever you might have rice or as a veggie side dish. There are many different ways to cook it. Click this link for a low-down on how to cook yours.
3) Then try broccoli rice
You prepare it in the same way as number 2 – pulse into rice-sized pieces. You can cook it in a similar fashion, too, but it is good lightly fried with a little coconut oil. Whether cauliflower or broccoli rice, you can add the cooked version to scrambled eggs for (at least) an entire serving of your veg quota.
4) Pimp up your porridge
Why not go savoury with your porridge instead of sweet. Try cooking plain oats with water then adding sautéed veg or grated courgette. Top with a poached egg for a protein hit and maybe a grating of parmesan, then season to taste.
5) Try butternut squash pancakes
Blend together 220 g spelt flour (or wholewheat or plain), 1 tsp baking powder, 2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tbsp ground flax seeds, 150 g butternut squash or pumpkin purée, 300 ml plant-based milk. Heat a little coconut oil in a medium frying pan. Add a spoonful of the batter and cook each pancake for 2-3 minutes then flip. Once cooked through serve with blueberries, maple syrup and coconut yoghurt or with avocado and sautéed mushrooms.
6) Sneak into family favourites
Casseroles, Bolognese or chilli are the ideal places to smuggle in added veg. Vegetable dodgers will barely notice if you grate carrot or courgette, or finely mince mushrooms (which have a surprisingly meaty texture). Pack pasta bakes with spinach, tomatoes, peas and broccoli or whizz up into a sauce.
7) Have a breakfast smoothie
These can be really quick to prepare and are a great way to get in at least 2 portions of fruit and veg.
For a tasty green smoothie (serves 2) blend 1 banana, ½ avocado, 225g baby spinach, 120g coconut yoghurt, juice of half a lemon, 250ml water. Serve in a bowl and sprinkle with seeds and blueberries.
8) Use lots of herbs
These count as vegetables too, and can be added to practically any dish, from soups and stews to scrambled eggs.
9) Experiment with courgetti and boodles
You can get courgetti and boodles (butternut squash noodles) from most supermarkets or make your own with a spiralizer. Blanch for a minute or two then serve with Bolognese or Thai curries or as a side dish.
10) Swap to sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes have a far greater nutritional value than standard white potatoes. Try them mashed, roasted and served as chips.
11) Swap wraps for lettuce
Lettuce makes a surprisingly good stand-in for tortilla wraps when you’re serving up fajitas. As you get more adventurous, you can also use tougher greens like kale or chard, but you’ll want to blanch and pat dry before you wrap.
12) Serve veggie tomato sauce
Making you own tomato sauce is far healthier than shop-bought varieties. Grate in carrot and finely chop peppers then add to pasata or tinned tomatoes with fresh herbs like basil or oregano and whizz up. Roasted butternut squash will also do the trick. No one will ever know the difference.
13) Try avocado and baked egg
You won’t believe how good it tastes. Heat the oven to 220˚C. Halve an avocado and remove the stone to create a pit for the egg. Put the avocado in a small ceramic baking dish or baking tray. Crack the egg into the hole, sprinkle with paprika then bake for 15-20 minutes. Season and serve.
14) Try kale crisps
You might have tasted the kind you get in bags from some supermarkets. Here’s a recipe you will make time and time again. Preheat the oven to 150˚C. Blend 75g cashew nuts, 1 shallot (chopped), 2tbsp nutritional yeast flakes, ½ tsp garlic salt, 4 soft large dates (chopped), 2tbsp lemon juice, 2tbsp water, 2tbsp apple cider vinegar together until you create a thick paste. Add a little more water if you need to. Put a 250g bag of kale in a bowl, add the sauce and massage together with your hands. Place on a lined baking tray and bake for 15-20 minutes. Turn the kale over and bake for a further 5 minutes. Cool. The crisps will keep for 3 days in an airtight container.
16) Have avocado for pudding
Whizz up 1 ripe banana, 4 Medjool dates (pitted), 1 ripe avocado, 3 tsp cacao powder (serves 2) for an indulgent but healthy sweet treat.
17) Swap crisps for crudités
Have sticks of carrot, cucumber, celery and pepper with hummus for a heathy crisp-alternative
18) Bring in berries
Berries are full of inflammation-fighting antioxidants. Add them to granola, muesli or porridge along with a sprinkle of flaxseed for a nutrition boost.
19) Carry handbag snacks
Apples, pears and satsumas are perfect travelling companions, and teamed with a small handful of nuts, make the perfect blood sugar-balancing snack.
20) Squeeze in an extra portion whenever you can
Aim to fill at least half your dinner plate with veg. Don’t limit yourself just to one type. Challenge yourself to ‘eat the rainbow’ and add colourful veg to every meal.