Jennifer Hanes MS, RDN, LD
We all know that vegetables are good for us, right? And as vegetarians, we always get enough, right? Unfortunately, no.
I’ve talked about the importance of eating enough vegetables before, so we won’t spend time on that today.
However, knowing that vegetables are good for us doesn’t exactly translate into eating enough of them. So I’ve compiled a list of ways to sneak in those extra servings without causing you to give up your favorite meals or munch away on raw carrots all day.
Additionally, I’ve created a list of methods that DON’T work so you don’t waste your time, frustrating yourself and your family in the meantime.
Continue reading to learn how to eat more vegetables!
How Many Veggies Should I Be Eating?
Recommendations vary. There’s a popular 5-A-Day campaign that encourages people to eat 5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day.
However, often left out of this conversation is that 5 servings of fruit and vegetables are considered the minimum amount you should get in a day.
Realistically, people should be getting in 7 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables combined each day! Ideally, this should be more vegetables than fruit, meaning that we should take in 4-5 servings of vegetables every day.
How many people get enough veggies?
Not very many.
What is a serving?
Generally speaking, a serving of vegetables is 1 cup raw or ½ cup cooked. Obviously, there are some exemptions from this rule, such as what happens when you cook spinach…
Another way to think about how much you should get in is to aim for 2.5 cups of vegetables (3 cups for men) and 1-2 cups of fruit per day.
So really, the vast majority of us should resolve to eat more vegetables. Read on for 17 tips to increase your vegetable intake.
1. Set small (and SMART) goals
Baby steps are the best approach. Start with small goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
Setting goals that are too large, have no deadline, or have no relevance to the large overall goal is a sure-fire method to failure. Start small, solidify them into habits, then set up a progressively “harder” goal the next time.
Example goal: Add 1 serving per day above your current intake
So if you currently eat 1 serving of vegetables every day with dinner, your goal should read something like this “I will eat 2 servings of vegetables every day by the end of 2 weeks.
A bad goal would be “I will eat 7 servings of vegetables every day starting today” or “I will eat more vegetables.
This first is not achievable right away, as this is a massive increase in intake. The second isn’t measurable as we have no start date or deadline, and we don’t know how many vegetables we should be eating.
Setting SMART goals will lead you to meet your target daily vegetable intake.
Example goal: Pick one new veggie per week and try them prepared in different way
Even the most prolific veggie eater out there has something they’ve never tried. I recently bought (and then roasted) fresh fennel. With this goal, I would pick one vegetable every week and see what I could make of it.
In my example of the fennel, if this was my goal, I could roast it one day, shave it raw into a salad, boil it, steam it, or try it with various sauces.
We know it takes multiple exposures to a food to develop a taste for it. And sometimes the problem isn’t the vegetable; it’s how the vegetable was prepared.
For what it’s worth, I believe roasted is the best way to eat vegetables. Super yum!
Consider: Each week, I will pick one vegetable I have never tried and prepare it in 3 different ways.
2. Start with veggies you enjoy
There’s no need to gag down those dreaded Brussels sprouts from your childhood. Everyone remembers these poor things boiled to death, right?
There are likely already some vegetables you enjoy, or at least don’t outright dislike. Most people do well with basic salad greens, carrots, etc. Keep a mental or physical list of veggies you enjoy and add them as a snack or with a meal throughout the day.
You can always work on increasing variety later.
3. Add a side salad or broth-based veggie soup before a meal
This is how most of my clients choose to start adding vegetables throughout the day. As stated above, most people like salads and are willing to eat them right away. Additionally, you can buy bagged salads and canned (or boxed) soup to make prep ridiculously easy.
I still use bagged salad as my vegetable when I need to quickly get dinner on the table.
Start with one meal, then add to another. Most people will add a side salad to dinner first, then maybe later switch to a salad with lunch and a different veggie with dinner.
The beauty of all of this is that it is your goal. You can go about it any way you want!
4. Add them to smoothies
By now, I think most of us have heard of adding spinach to smoothies, right? It gives a cool green color to the smoothie, and you can’t taste it! And you don’t have to do anything to prep it first.
However, consider branching out. Carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, avocado, cauliflower, beets, cucumbers, and zucchini could all be used in various formats. A quick Google search will get you loads of recipes to try.
5. Rethink your snacks
Instead of your afternoon stop at the vending machine, consider a veggie snack such as carrots or red pepper strips dipped in hummus, cucumber slices dipped in tzatziki, cherry tomatoes with mozzarella balls, or seasoned edamame.
6. Switch out your pasta (sometimes)
A spiralizer will turn veggies into noodles, or you could use a mandolin to create lasagna noodles out of zucchini or eggplant. Spaghetti squash is commonly used in place of real noodles as well.
Just make sure to make this a “sometimes” trick as real pasta, especially whole-grain, has its own nutritional benefits. And it’s yummy.
7. Shred or puree veggies and add them to sauces
This is a common trick for kids. You can find loads of recipes for hiding veggies in sauces online. I find that shredded carrots and zucchini blend right into a tomato sauce without anyone noticing.
Pureed butternut squash in homemade macaroni is fantastic and not just as a way to sneak a veggie in.
8. Add to casseroles or baked pasta dishes
People tend to be a bit less averse to eating their veggies when mixed with other foods. So next time you bake some pasta, add in some chopped zucchini, yellow squash, broccoli, bell peppers, or whatever else you have on hand.
For some of the denser veggies, such as broccoli or Brussel’s sprouts, you may need to lightly steam or chop pretty small, or they won’t cook on time.
- Add a layer of fresh spinach to the rotation of a lasagna
- Asparagus or artichokes would be a great addition to a baked pasta Alfredo dish
- Veggie meatballs, mushrooms, and Italian squashes go well with a baked pasta with tomato based sauces.
- Green beans, peas, and carrots would go well in a pot pie-type casserole
- Or just chop up whatever veggies are on hand, add some cooked pasta, some type of protein, a sauce of your choice and throw in the oven. No recipe needed!
9. Add veggies to breakfast
Often eating scrambled eggs or omelets for breakfast? Consider adding veggies to them!
Avocado, salsa/pico de gallo, tomatoes, bell peppers, and mushrooms (always mushrooms) are my favorite to add to eggs. I’ll usually throw some spinach in there, too, if it’s on hand. Quiche and frittatas are also popular items to add veggies to.
Avocado toast with wilted spinach and eggs provides a balance filling meal.
Consider looking up recipes for savory oatmeal instead of sweet. Plenty of recipes include veggies!
I once saw a recipe for a sweet potato/Brussels sprouts hash that looked really good. And I’ve made an asparagus hash that was delicious!
10. Stuff peppers or tomatoes
Bonus if you stuff another veggie inside! But don’t forget your protein
I recently saw someone stuff an onion, which is now on my list of things to try. Later, when the baby’s not so demanding.
11. Add more than lettuce and tomato to that sad sandwich
For real, though. Why go to all the trouble of making a yummy tofu or tempeh sandwich (or whatever protein you choose), and then just put one leaf of lettuce and one slice of tomato on it.
Spice it up! Try a different type of salsa, roast some cherry tomatoes, or caramelize some onions. Pile that sandwich high, so you’re not hungry in an hour.
12. Choose Asian-inspired dishes
They lend themselves naturally to a vegetarian diet and often include veggies naturally, and you could always add more.
- Veggie fried rice
- Veggie “sushi” rolls
- Pad Thai
- Vegetable Chow Mein
- Bahn Mi sandwiches (so much yum!)
- Literally anything from India
- Orange or Kung Pao cauliflower (just don’t forget you still need a protein!)
- Sweet and Sour tofu
- Spring rolls
- Seriously, ALL THE CURRIES
- Recreate that awesome salad from a Hibachi (the key is the ginger dressing)
- For that matter, make hibachi-style vegetables
13. Try veggies you didn’t like as a kid, with an open mind
Maybe you remember it wrong. Or, since we have open access to all the recipes, perhaps you can cook it better.
Also, somewhere in the past 30 years, your taste preferences have definitely changed. See my current preference for super dry red wines.
Search “the best ________ recipe” and try it out! My tip: always see if Alton Brown has a recipe. It’ll likely be the best you can find.
14. Increase your sauce, glaze, and dip game
If simply roasting a veggie doesn’t do it for you, a glaze or sauce may do it. Brussels sprouts are fantastic with a honey balsamic glaze. Cheese sauces go well with broccoli and cauliflower. Hummus and tzatziki go well with a variety of raw veggies.
15. Bento boxes for an easy lunch
So maybe this one should be under Asian-inspired meals, but I feel like it’s a bit different than the dishes mentioned above.
I sometimes make a meal out of raw veggies, some cheese, boiled eggs, or nuts/seeds, some fruit, and either whole-grain crackers or crostinis. The meat-eaters in the house could add rotisserie chicken or rolled-up deli meat.
For example, during the summer, cherry tomatoes are great. So I would do those, some grapes, some small mozzarella balls, and some whole grain crostinis I bought already sliced. Sometimes I would even make a simple dip for the bread, similar to this olive oil dip.
Another option could be baby carrots, cucumber slices, pineapple chunks, and almonds.
Really just a rotation of whatever fruit and vegetables are in season and look good when you’re shopping.
16. Make the veggies the star of the meal, not the sad sideshow
This is really how we should be eating anyway. Did you know that a serving of meat is only 3 oz? Even your omnivore family members should have meat as a side dish!
Either way, plan a yummy veggie and add protein to it. Could you add tofu or tempeh to that veggie casserole? What about a big salad, then add beans and cheese to it?
A sheet pan dinner would be easy. Put a bunch of veggies on a tray to roast, then consider what goes with it. My recipe included a meat alternative. You could do something similar, or you could have a protein on the side instead.
17. Challenge yourself to “eat the rainbow”
There are so many colors! And for some reason, we always seem to focus on green.
Not that green veggies are bad for you. It’s just that there’s so much nutrition and interesting tastes in vegetables that are other colors too!
Consider purple cabbage, orange carrots, red beets, white cauliflower, etc. Challenge yourself to eat different colors throughout the day. This will increase the variety in your diet, which is excellent for your health.
What not to do
On top of lots of things you can do to learn to eat more vegetables, there are also things we shouldn’t do.
Don’t dismiss frozen and canned veggies
Despite older claims that fresh and canned veggies are less nutritious, I don’t want you to discount their value.
Frozen veggies are flash frozen almost immediately, locking in nutrients that may be lost when fresh veggies are transported over a distance or stored in a warehouse.
And yes, canned veggies may have more salt. But most products have a no-salt-added version nowadays, making them perfect, even if you have high blood pressure.
Additionally, they can be cheaper than fresh and you don’t have to chop anything!
I often suggest a mix of fresh and canned or frozen if you are grocery shopping once a week or less. This way, you can start with the fresh and then move on to the canned or frozen without having to run to the store and extra time.
Don’t discount starchy veggies
Seriously, quit hating on potatoes. They’re fine. Actually, they’re pretty good for you. Of course, frying or slathering them in various saturated fats can reduce their health impact. But on their own, they are perfectly healthy.
While starchy vegetables are veggies, I do recommend balancing out your carbs. So if you have corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, any of the winter squashes, and peas I wouldn’t add an additional starch (bread, pasta, rice, etc) to your meal.
Don’t pick one veggie and eat only that one
As much as my son would prefer to keep his vegetable intake to carrots, cucumbers, and broccoli, we should still be getting in a variety.
Start by increasing the veggies you do like, but make sure to work on adding new veggies as you go.
Don’t aim to be “perfect”
Setting a goal to be perfect is setting yourself up to fail. Who sets out to achieve a goal that is actually impossible? How demoralizing is that?
Instead, aim for progress, even if you’re taking baby steps.
Also, don’t get discouraged if you have a couple of “bad days.” Progress is not linear, and one or two days (or even weeks) of lower veggie intake does not eliminate all the progress you made until then. Just get back into it.
Can I eat too many vegetables?
It’s unlikely for most people. Certain GI conditions require a low fiber intake, but this should be discussed with your dietitian and your doctor.
Increasing your vegetable intake by a lot all at once can cause constipation and gas; one of the reasons for my recommendation to gradually increase vegetable intake.
However, if you choose to eat nothing but vegetables, you’ll obviously have some nutritional deficits, so make sure to have a variety not just within the vegetable group, but in all of your food as well.
Should I be eating only organic vegetables?
This could probably be its own article. However, the short answer is that this is really up to you. The nutrient composition between organic and conventional fruits and vegetables is often undetectable.
A common misconception is that organic farmers don’t use pesticides. Actually, there is a list of pesticides (and other chemicals) that are allowed in organic agriculture.
Don’t let organic produce break the bank, but it’s perfectly fine too.
Can I just juice them?
Of course, you can. However, remember that you’ll be losing all of the fiber in the vegetable. So you’ll be losing out on some of the benefits of eating the vegetable. I would limit juice to only 1 of your daily servings, or less.
I hope that this information was helpful to you!
There are way more methods to increase your vegetable intake than I thought there would be. Let me know in the comments which ones you are going to try!
Jennifer Hanes MS, RDN, LD is a registered dietitian, mom, wife, and vegetarian in North Texas. She has dedicated Dietitian Jenn to be a source of information, ideas, and inspiration for people like her, vegetarians that live with people with different dietary beliefs and/or needs in a multivore household.