Take the Fruit and Vegetable Challenge
19 easy ways to get your 9 servings a day
By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic
Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD
If you thought getting five servings of fruits and vegetables a day was tough, get ready for nine! That's the latest recommendation from the new dietary guidelines released by the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services. Nine servings translate to about 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables every day.
We all know fruits and vegetables are good for us, but how do we go about getting nine servings every day? Most of us had a hard time working in five.
And what about people who don't even like veggies? Many of us can even picture our mothers urging us to "eat our vegetables" at the family dinner table -- or even refusing to let us leave the table until we choked those veggies down. (In fact, some researchers believe that bad experiences with vegetables from our past can affect how we feel about these vegetables now, says Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN, nutrition consultant to the American Institute for Cancer Research.)
If this sounds like you, eating 2 1/2 cups of vegetables a day probably sounds next to impossible. But it's a goal that's so important for your health.
"The best nutrition minds in the country made these recommendations after studying the research that show fruits and vegetables can help reduce the risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and high blood pressure," says Christine Filardo, MS, RD, a spokeswoman for the Produce for Better Health Foundation. "Fruits and vegetables can also help fight the obesity epidemic."
According to Filardo, the most common reasons people give for not eating more fruits and vegetables are that they often aren't convenient, and people don't know how to prepare them.
So what does it take to get into the nine-a-day habit? According to experts:
- It takes constantly reminding yourself to eat fruits and vegetables.
- It takes having fruit and veggies available at every turn -- at work, at home, in restaurants.
- It takes making it easy for yourself, because most people today are beyond busy.
- If you haven't been accustomed to eating much produce, it takes starting small -- maybe going for one serving a day at first -- and staying the path.
With all this in mind, here are 19 surefire ways to get you on the road to enjoying fruits and vegetables several times a day.
1. Make fruit salad.
Fruit is much more appealing if it is cut, washed, and assembled into a colorful salad. A couple of times a week, clean out your produce bin and make a beautiful fruit salad.
2. Make a bowl of fruit part of your decor.
Wash whatever fresh fruit you have at the moment and set a big bowl of it on your table or desk. As you pass by or talk on the phone, you'll find yourself munching on this awesome snack food.
3. Toss some fruit into your breakfast.
Throw some fresh, frozen, or dried fruit into your breakfast, whether you're having a smoothie, pancakes, French toast, or hot or cold cereal.
4. Throw some veggies in the skillet.
Making an omelet or frittata? Fill it with chopped tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, green peppers, chili peppers, broccoli florets, or whatever you have on hand. Any or all of these veggies can also be tossed into any potato skillet dish.
5. Crunch on a green salad.
Eat a crisp, green salad almost every day. It's a cool and refreshing way to work veggies into your lunch, dinner or snack. Load your salads up with as many raw veggies as you can: cucumber, grated carrots, zucchini, broccoli florets, green beans, onions, radishes, jicama, tomato, etc. And try using high-nutrient raw spinach or romaine instead of iceberg lettuce. For a sweet twist, add fruit to your green salads. Strawberries, pears, grapes, orange segments, mango, and papaya all work well.
6. Pair fruit with cheese.
Enjoy some fresh fruit with cheese for a nice (and portable) dessert, picnic, or snack. The fruits that best lend themselves to pairing with cheeses are pears, apples, and grapes.
7. Munch on dried fruit.
Dried fruits make great snacks! They don't go bad or get bruised, and you can carry them in your briefcase or car (or store them in your desk) for a pick-me-up any time of day. Try dried apricots, pears, peaches, nectarines, prunes, raisins, dates, cherries, blueberries, and more.
8. Add veggies you like to dishes you love.
Spaghetti is one example of a dish that can be secretly supplemented with veggies. Just add finely chopped zucchini, mushroom, onions, eggplant, or yellow squash to a flavorful spaghetti sauce. The smaller you chop the veggies, the less likely you are to notice they're there.
A few more examples:
- Layer zucchini slices into your lasagna.
- Stir broccoli florets into macaroni and cheese.
- Toss a few chopped vegetables into an omelet.
- Slide some veggies into a cheese quesadilla.
9. Spoon up some soup.
Have soup as a snack or with a meal, at home or in a restaurant. Choose soups that are bursting with vegetables. You can embellish canned soups with extra veggies, too. Just stir them in while you're heating or cooking the soup.
10. Drink your vegetables (and fruits).
Some people are just more likely to drink their fruits and vegetables. V-8 or carrot juice equals a serving of vegetables. Or try blending some carrot juice with a fruit juice you enjoy (maybe orange or tangerine juice) and you've got a fruit AND a vegetable serving.
11. Vegi-fy your pizza.
If you like pizza, top it with some vegetables. Try any combination of tomato, onion, bell pepper, mushroom, zucchini, and artichoke hearts.
12. Toss some on the grill.
After you take your meat or fish off the grill, don't waste the hot coals. Throw some fruits and/or veggies on the grill while you're at it. You might be surprised at how great they taste!
Often, you can use the same marinade you're using for your meat. (Just marinate your fruits or veggies separately from the meat or baste them with marinade that hasn't touched the meat, so they're not exposed to raw meat juices.)
You can make a veggie kabob with chunks of vegetables (eggplant, carrot, bell pepper, mushrooms, zucchini and other squash). Soft vegetables won't need precooking, but firm vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, or broccoli, will benefit from steam or microwave cooking before they hit the grill.
13. Get them at the drive-through.
You can even get your vegetables at many fast-food chains, as long as you like salads. Wendy's, for example, offers a Caesar side salad (with 70 calories and 4 grams of fat, not including dressing) or a side salad (35 calories, 0 grams fat, not including dressing). Ask for the fat-free French, low-fat honey mustard, or reduced-fat creamy ranch dressing. Use half the packet and you'll add around 50 calories and from 0-4 grams of fat, depending on which dressing you choose.
14. Dress up your dinner plate with fruit.
Borrow a trick from restaurants, and add a beautiful fruit garnish to your dinner plate. It adds color and texture to your meal. Try orange wheels or wedges, sliced kiwi, a small branch of grapes, or a wedge of melon.
15. Drizzle on some cheese sauce.
Pour a little cheese sauce or grated cheese over a pile of broccoli spears or cauliflower, and suddenly it's a whole different ballgame. You can make a lower-fat cheese sauce using reduced-fat cheese, fat-free half-and-half, and no butter or margarine.
16. Serve your veggies raw.
Raw vegetables are sometimes more appealing than their cooked counterparts. When you have a platter of assorted raw vegetables and some delicious low-fat dip in front of you, the vegetables just seem to disappear! Try raw cauliflower or broccoli florets, cabbage, or spinach, along with the usual carrots and celery. Use a light ranch or Italian dressing as a dip, or make your own and keep it ready to go in your refrigerator.
17. Keep fruit in heavy rotation.
TV chef and radio show host Bridget Kelly says that as a mother of two, she's no longer interested in "sneaking" fruits and vegetables into her family's diet -- she goes for the all-out attack! To make sure fruit is appealing to her family, she has a trick: She serves the most perishable types soon after she returns from the grocery store and saves the hardier types for later. That means oranges and strawberries today (strawberries first because they have the shortest shelf life), bananas and grapes tomorrow, apples and mango the next.
18. Have prepared fruits and veggies ready to go in the fridge.
As soon as Kelly gets home from the store, she rinses all the fruit and puts some out for immediate consumption. The rest goes into easy-access clear plastic bags or containers. Then, when her family shows up hungry, she can toss them the fruit before they go rummaging around for chips.
19. Try a little salt.
Kelly encourages folks, if they've never done this, to boil their fresh vegetables in lightly salted water. "I can't believe how many people aren't aware of this simple flavor enhancement trick -- it can make the difference between your child hating and loving broccoli," she says.
If you're one of those folks who's not sure you know how to prepare fruits and vegetables, here are a few simple recipes to get you started.
50/50 Fruit Salad (or Fruit Dip)
Journal as: 2 medium pieces of fresh fruit
Remember those 50/50 orange-and-cream bars? They were the inspiration for this recipe.
1 package (1.4 ounces) sugar-free and fat-free instant vanilla pudding mix
1 1/2 cups low-fat milk
5 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
2 cups melon cubes or balls (honeydew, cantaloupe, watermelon, etc.)
2 bananas, sliced
2 apples, cored and sliced
2 oranges, peeled and broken into segments
2 peaches, nectarines or pears, cored and sliced
- Put pudding mix, milk, and orange juice concentrate in mixing bowl and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Beat in or mix in sour cream.
- Serve the orange dip with prepared fruit. Or, make a dressed fruit salad by adding all the fruits to a large serving bowl. Pour orange dressing over the top and toss gently to blend. Serve immediately, or cover and keep in refrigerator until ready to serve.
Yield: 8-10 cups of fruit salad.
Per cup of fruit salad and dip (if 8 cups per recipe): 162 calories, 4 g protein, 37 g carbohydrate, 1 g fat, 0.4 g saturated fat, 2 mg cholesterol, 3.5 g fiber, 35 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 6%.
Tropical Fruit Salad
Journal as: 1/2 cup canned fruit in juice + 1 medium piece of fruit
Bring a taste of the tropics to your fruit salad with this recipe.
20-ounce can pineapple chunks canned in juice
2 kiwi, peeled, halved and sliced
2 cups strawberries, quartered
1 large banana, sliced
1 papaya or mango, peeled and cubed (or substitute an 11-ounce can of mandarin oranges, drained)
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lime zest or peel
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup unsweetened or sweetened shredded coconut (optional)
- Drain pineapple chunks, and reserve 1/4 cup of the pineapple juice.
- Add pineapple chunks, kiwi, strawberries, banana, and papaya or mango to large serving bowl.
- Put 1/4 cup pineapple juice, lime peel, lime juice and honey in a 2-cup measure and whisk together until nicely blended. Drizzle over the salad, and toss to coat the fruits well. Sprinkle coconut over the top before serving, if desired.
Yield: About 7 cups.
Per cup: 101 calories, 1.2 g protein, 25 g carbohydrate, 0.6 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 4 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 5%.
Vegetable Garlic Saute
Journal as: 1/2 cup "vegetables without added fat" + 1/2 cup "vegetables with 1 tsp. fat"
Substitute any vegetable you like for any of those listed below.
2 1/2 cups Brussels sprouts with loose outer leaves removed, cut in half (about 1/2 pound)
2 1/2 cups yellow squash or zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch slices (about 1/2 pound)
1 large tomato (or 2 small), diced
4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon shredded or grated Parmesan cheese
- Put Brussels sprouts, squash, and a couple of tablespoons of water in a microwave-safe dish and microwave on HIGH until vegetables are lightly cooked. Drain well.
- Add oil and garlic to large nonstick frying pan or skillet and heat over medium heat for 1-2 minutes. Stir in the Brussels sprouts, squash, and tomato. Saute for a few minutes, or until vegetables reach desired doneness. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the top and serve.
Yield: 4 servings.
Per serving: 94 calories, 4 g protein, 11 g carbohydrate, 5 g fat, 0.8 g saturated fat, 0.6 mg cholesterol, 5 g fiber, 26 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 44%.
IMAGES PROVIDED BY:
Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care June 21, 2017
Christine Filardo, MS, RD, director of public relations, Produce for Better Health Foundation.
Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN, nutrition consultant, American Institute for Cancer Research.
Bridget Kelly, co-host, Twice Baked and Food Talk with the Kelly Twin, KTRS-AM, St. Louis.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
WebMD Medical News: "New U.S. Diet Guidelines Based on Common Sense, Science," published Jan. 12, 2005.