Have you been to a local farmer's market lately? By being outside in the fresh air, surrounded by nature's colorful bounty and the good people who spend their lives tending farms and growing nutritious produce, you already feel healthier and inspired to include more delicious fruits and vegetables in your diet.
Using your recently purchased produce to make lunch when you get home is a reminder of how much tastier (and healthier) fresh fruits and vegetables are.
Health exists along a continuum, from near-death all the way to bursting-with-energy optimal health. Including more fresh fruits and vegetables in our diets is a major way to keep moving along that continuum towards greater vitality, strength, endurance, mental clarity and optimistic mood. Still, getting in fresh produce each day and adhering to a plant-based diet can feel like a hurdle.
Including more fruit isn't hard - just remember to buy it and keep it where it's visible and handy. Fruit is the original fast food, always ready to eat when you want a snack or to add to a salad or a smoothie. In fact, it's easy to overdo fruit, and we advise limiting it to two pieces daily. In this healthy amount, it's great, but you can get too much sugar (fructose) if you eat too much fruit.
For most people, including more vegetables is the real challenge. So here are some ideas to help. Pick the one that excites your taste buds and go for it! We start with a few ideas here, and have put together a follow-up post with additional tips - including how to approach cruciferous vegetables.
1. Center Meals Around Vegetables - Not Proteins and Carbohydrates
Make vegetables the centerpiece of your meals, complemented by grains, proteins and fats. Eat your regular diet (assuming you already eat vegetables!), but make the vegetable portion larger, and the other portions smaller.
How about a big bowl of stir-fried broccoli topped with chicken and rice in a tasty sauce; a generous bowl of steamed beets and beet greens topped with ¾-cup of millet and a tablespoon of flax oil; or a breakfast of mixed sprouts with cut up avocado and red peppers?
And, here's a new favorite dish that can be a meal in itself: Roasted Cauliflower with Cherries and Pecans, from Beth O'Hara of Mast Cell 360. When we tried this (it's so good!) we found that even before adding the wonderful cherry, pine nuts (we used these instead of pecans), rosemary, garlic and ghee sauce, the roasted cauliflower florets by themselves were addicting.
You can also substitute grated cauliflower for rice, or use a spiralizer to make zucchini "noodles." And don't forget the baked spaghetti squash, delicious with a marinara tomato sauce made with chunky vegetables.
2. Eat Fresh and Organic
Take broccoli you just bought at the farmer's market, break it into florets and quick stir-fry it with a little olive oil and a dash of sea salt. Yum! Most of us grew up eating low-quality, over-cooked vegetables that were less than inspiring. But you WILL be inspired by really fresh, high-quality raw or lightly cooked produce.
3. Streamline Food Prep
Make chopping vegetables more fun by investing in a food processor, or set yourself up in front of a video or favorite TV program to do your chopping.
4. Reimagine the Salad
There are a lot more possibilities than lettuce, tomato and cucumber. Include novel vegetables, steamed vegetables, nuts, fruits, grains, legumes, beans, sprouts, leftovers from last night's supper, etc.
Here's an unusual salad recipe that's always a hit. Chop up a bunch of red Swiss chard, 2 large red bell peppers, 1 avocado, ½ medium red onion, 3 cucumbers, and a head of butter lettuce, and add the kernels from 3 ears of uncooked corn. Serve with a dressing made from ¼ cup olive oil combined with the juice of one lemon and a teaspoon or more of fresh rosemary.
That recipe is from an old classic called Cooking Naturally by John R. Callela, still available on Amazon. Two other favorite books are Gabriel Cousens' Rainbow Green Live-Food Cuisine and Terces Engelhart's I Am Grateful. There are plenty more ideas online.
And don't forget to make the simplest salad or vegetable dish special with Beyond Health's award-winning organic virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
5. Make DIY Snack "Chips"
Thin-slice vegetables (some people like to use a mandoline) like radishes, carrots, winter squash, sweet potatoes and white potatoes, and toss them with a little salt and olive oil. Then place them onto mesh dehydrator trays and dehydrate for two hours at 145°F and then 115°F for two more hours or until crispy. Store them in your refrigerator for up to a month. You can also dehydrate kale, tomatoes, zucchini and summer squash, and just about any vegetable you might like, or you can crisp vegetables in an oven that works on very low heat.
Creating meals and snacks from colorful vegetables lifts the spirits, and eating them will invigorate you without weighing you down. Bon appétit!
Interested in a few more ideas for adding fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet? Read on to Part II of our advice.