Recently I wrote about how I went from a vegetable-hater to a vegetable-lover, but I decided that even I could use some more produce in my life after reading that eight servings of fruits and veggies a day could lead to a more optimistic outlook on life (there’s a study on everything, amirite?).
Even if you don’t care about the improved mood thing, you’re probably trying to get more fruits and veggies in your life, so I want to share what I learned.
First off, let’s talk about what counts as a serving of fruits or veggies, because it might not be what you’re expecting. From the American Heart Association’s website:
Vegetables: 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables (about the size of a small fist), 1/2 cup of other vegetables or 1/2 cup of vegetable juice.
Fruits: 1 medium fruit (medium is defined as the size of a baseball); 1/2 cup chopped, cooked or canned fruit; or 1/2 cup juice.
I found out a serving is way, way smaller than what you’re probably imagining, which is actually pretty great. When I measured out one serving of strawberries the first morning, I discovered that it only took three mediumish strawberries to reach the half cup mark. 3 Strawberries, people! I know you can do that.
Same goes for veggies—a half a cup of green beans or broccoli really, truly is not that much food. If you think you have to eat salad for breakfast, lunch, and dinner to get in eight (or more!) servings, you’ll be happy to learn it’s just not true.
Next, I found out you really, really have to plan ahead, which can be totally annoying. Listen, I’m a person who both likes vegetables and cooking, and there were still some nights when I was like, “pleeeeeeease, can I just eat some cheese and bread and call it good?????”
Two strategies that worked for me to overcome this were front loading my day with fruits and veggies and doing lots of prep work when I had the time and energy.
For the front loading strategy, some mornings I would eat a bowl of roasted potatoes with tomatoes, onions, and avocado (eggs, cheese, meat, all optional add-ins, of course) just to make sure I started my day off with 3 or 4 servings of produce. This really, really helped me get to my goal, and if I kept it up at lunch, when dinner time and exhaustion rolled around, I could get away with eating just one serving of fruits or veggies and still reach my goal.
The other thing that helped was prepping stuff ahead of time. If I had the oven on, I threw in regular or sweet potatoes (or both) so that I’d have baked potatoes sitting right in the fridge for me. If I was washing lettuce, I’d wash extra so I had a salad base waiting for me. If I roasted broccoli, I made the whole head and chopped up the cauliflower, too, to make sure I had plenty of easily available vegetables.
I also learned that some days are just going to be harder than others. If I really, really didn’t want any more salad or whatever, I would eat oatmeal for dinner and have a cup of berries with it. I worked around my schedule and my moods, and just did my best.
Did the increased veggie consumption improve my health or make me more optimistic? Too early to tell, but I do know that focusing on adding things to my diet instead of subtracting them makes me feel good, and when you’re consuming more of the good, you have less room for other stuff (like deep fried mozzarella balls), so that seems like a step in the right direction, too.