Earlier in the year I participated in a 5 vegetables a day challenge for bowel cancer awareness. I didn’t do anything differently with my meal choices and I easily met the recommended 5 serves. But during the week I realised that I have a few tricks that make eating 5 vegetables a day easier. And here they are.
Know your vegetable serves
The Australian Dietary Guidelines, which are based on scientific research, provide guidance on serve sizes. An earlier post of mine on fruit and vegetables provides examples too. In general, a serve of vegetable is ½ a cup (or 75g). If you are eating greens, such as spinach or boc choy, a serve is about 5 mid-size leaves.
Over a day, enjoy 2 ½ cups of vegetables.
The recommendation of 2 ½ cups of vegetables for adults daily is the minimum. This includes 2 cups of coloured vegetables and ½ cup of starchy vegetable such as potato. Women during pregnancy and lactation require additional serves, as do adults with higher activity levels. Younger children require slightly less, with approximately 1 ½ cups for 2–3 year olds, and 2 cups for 4–8 year olds.
Vegetables improve our health by providing a range of dietary fibres, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. They have an important role in supporting gut health and preventing unhealthy weight gain and some cancers. Gut health is the foundation for our physical and mental health, which has been promoted in Eastern medicine for thousands of years.
5 Tips for 5 Vegetables a Day
#1 Plan your weekly shop
Put vegetables on your shopping list. Even if you do not know exactly what meals you will cook through the week I suggest the following:
- Check your refrigerator before you shop—any older vegetables can be used in soups, pasta sauces, casseroles and curries.
- Confirm how many meals you will be eating at home, and how many people will be sharing them.
- Allow 2 ½ cups of vegetables for everyone.
#2 Have at least 2 meals a day with vegetables
By spreading your serves of vegetables over the day, you will enjoy variety in your meals and snacks, and easily meet your 5 vegetables a day. In my case, last week, I ate my vegetables over lunch and my evening meal. But you can easily enjoy them at breakfast by having grilled tomatoes, baked beans and wilted spinach, for example.
Vegetables have a place in your snacks too, try:
- Legume based dips such as hummus
- Vegetable salsa and dips using tomato, beetroot and pumpkin with herbs and spices
- Vegetable sticks and slices—carrot, celery, cucumber— in place of crackers
#3 Cook in bulk
Soups, casseroles, curries and pasta sauces can be made in bulk, then frozen into portion packs. During my week I enjoyed 3 vegetable based soups and a yellow curry sauce that had been prepared ahead of time, frozen and then reheated for my meal. When you are reheating your meal you can also add new ingredients. For one of my soups I added fresh spinach and lemon juice and rind to create a new flavour.
If you are freezing food, then keeping your food safe is a priority. I suggest you view the guidelines from the Food Safety Information Council on chilling and freezing foods.
#4 Choose a meal based on vegetables when eating out
When eating out, especially if it is for lunch or the evening meal, make sure your meal contains vegetables. Last week I had a delicious curry that contained 4 serves, and I also purchased a pizza, which I added two serves of vegetables too.
#5 Grow your own vegetables
Meeting my 5 vegetables a day is aided by growing some of my own food. I choose vegetables that grow easily.
- Summer: tomato, salad greens, snow peas, basil, coriander, mint
- Autumn: potatoes and pumpkin
- Winter: greens including spinach, pac choy, broccoli
- Spring: greens, snow peas
- All round crops at our place are rocket, herbs: oregano, marjoram, thyme, rosemary and bay leaves.
Eating vegetables is not only good for you; they add flavour, colour and variety to your meals and snacks.