How to Get More Fruits and Vegetables Into Your Diet

Spring vegetables and fruit
Eat more fruits and veggies. sofiategnefur / Getty Images

Science suggests that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is associated with having a healthier heart, a lower risk of cancer, better brain function, and a longer life. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), you need at least two cups of fruit every day and about two and one-half cups of vegetables every day. Or if it's easier to track, about five to nine servings per day.

So how big is a serving?

Generally, one serving of fruit or vegetable is equal to about one-half cup (sliced or chopped). But greens like spinach and lettuce have a serving size equal to one full cup. A single piece of fruit, such as an apple or an orange also counts as one serving. When you read the labels on packaged fruits and vegetables, you might see that a serving is three-fourths of a cup instead of a half cup. One serving of juice is four ounces.

Here's how to increase your fruit and vegetable intake:

Make them more convenient at home. Apples, pears, bananas, oranges, and cherry tomatoes don't need refrigeration so you can keep them in plain view on your countertop or table. When snack time rolls around it will be easy to grab a piece of fruit or a handful of cherry tomatoes. 

 Try something new. Rutabagas can be cooked and mashed alone or mixed with potatoes. Serve pluots as a sweet treat, or snack on pomegranate arils.

Try a few dishes from raw food diets.

Stock up on frozen vegetables. They're quick and easy to prepare in the microwave or on the stovetop. You can choose single vegetables such as peas, carrots, green beans, or cauliflower, or you can try seasoned blends of vegetables.

Pre-cut and pre-washed salads-in-a-bag make mealtime easy.

Just don't assume that the pre-washed salad mixes are immaculate. Give them a good rinse before preparing your meal.

Take fruits and vegetables to work. Dehydrated fruits such as raisins, dates, and dried cranberries keep nicely in plastic containers. Tuck a bag of raisins in your purse for an easy snack. Single-serving packs of applesauce or fruit cups that don't need refrigeration can also be kept at your desk.

Pack sliced carrots and celery with your lunch for a nutritious afternoon snack. If you eat lunch at a restaurant, choose a side salad instead of French fries and drink 100-percent fruit juice instead of soda. Order vegetarian sandwiches and wraps. They're usually low in calories and can give you two or three servings of vegetables with just one sandwich.

Serve fruits and vegetables as after school snacks. Avoid the bags of greasy chips, bowls of ice cream, and bottles of sugary sodas. Those snacks are high in calories and low in nutrition.

Replace them with:

  • Freshly cut vegetables and dip.
  • A mix of your favorite 100-percent fruit juices with club soda.
  • A parfait made with yogurt, berries, and nuts or granola.
  • A small bowl of whole grain cereal with fresh fruit slices or raisins and low-fat milk.
  • Frozen seedless grapes.

Sandwiches, Salads and On the Side

Eating a salad as a meal can give you several servings of fruits and vegetables. Start with some lettuce and add sliced tomatoes, apples, pears, berries, celery, cucumbers, sprouts, raw green beans, broccoli or cauliflower. With so many combinations, you can eat a different salad every day.

Eat a salad as a meal once or twice each week.

When you make a sandwich, be sure to add lettuce and a couple of thick tomato slices. Take the rest of the tomato, slice it up and serve it on the side. Add extra vegetables to your soup and stew recipes, or even to canned soups.

Sources:

Gropper SS, Smith JL, Groff JL. "Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism." Sixth Edition. Belmont, CA. Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2013. Accessed March 20, 2016.

Sampson L, Rimm E, Hollman PC, de Vries JH, Katan MB. "Flavonol and flavone intakes in US health professionals." J Am Diet Assoc. 2002;102(10):1414-1420. Accessed March 20, 2016. http://www.andjrnl.org/article/S0002-8223(02)90314-7/abstract.

Scalbert A, Williamson G. "Dietary intake and bioavailability of polyphenols." J Nutr. 2000;130(8S Suppl):2073S-2085S. Accessed March 20, 2016. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/130/8/2073S.long.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, Health and Medicine Division. "Dietary Reference Intakes Tables and Application." Accessed March 20, 2016. http://www.nationalacademies.org/hmd/Activities/Nutrition/SummaryDRIs/DRI-Tables.aspx.

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