Okay, you might notice those extra vegetables a little… but for all the right reasons!
Vegetables: some see them as rabbit food and others elevate them to a dinner party show-stopper. But no matter what side of the fence you sit on, they’re essential for good health.
The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends adults eat between 5 and 6 serves of vegetables a day, depending on your age and sex. Yet figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggest just 7% of Aussies meet this target.
In fact, there’s so many reasons to eat extra veg. Last year, a remarkable meta-analysis was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology. It found that while five portions of fruit and veggies reduced disease risk, the greatest benefit came from eating 800g a day – that’s roughly equivalent to eight serves, depending on the fruit or vegetable.
The researchers estimated that around 7.8 million premature deaths worldwide could potentially be prevented every year if people ate more fruits and veggies. “The risk of heart disease, strokes and premature death decreased by 10.8 per cent for each 200 gram increase in consumption of fruit or vegetables – up to an intake of 800 grams,” said study author Dagfinn Aune, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
Alongside the physical health benefits, eating up to eight serves a day may have mental health benefits, too. A University of Warwick study found that happiness benefits were detected for each extra daily portion of fruit and vegetables – up to eight per day. “Eating fruit and vegetables apparently boosts our happiness far more quickly than it improves human health,” said study author Professor Andrew Oswald. “People’s motivation to eat healthy food is weakened by the fact that physical-health benefits, such as protecting against cancer, accrue decades later. However, well-being improvements from increased consumption of fruit and vegetables are closer to immediate.”
So, while Aussie females are averaging at 2.5 serves a day and males a meagre 2.3, it seems we should be a little more ambitious with our veggie goals. Part of the issue is that while protein is often given the spotlight, veggies need just as much care and attention. When prepped with a bit of love, it’s often quite easy to sneak in a few extra serves in a day. Ready for some tips and tricks?
1. Mix up the textures
Trying to increase your veggie intake without noticing? Here’s a hot tip, you will notice a whole extra bowl of plain vegetables. It may sound obvious, but variety is often key – both in the type of veggies you’re eating, but also the textures. You could try a combo of grated carrot, chopped raw capsicum, roasted broccoli and crispy thin slices of desiree potato, tossed with salad greens. This may sound like a lot of prep – but you can simply chuck the potato and broccoli in the oven together. Then, prep the carrot and capsicum while it’s all cooking. Mixing up the textures will make it a far more appealing side dish.
2. Get saucy
You can pretty much sneak in a few serves of vegetables in sauce alone. Yes please. One tasty idea is to make a spinach or kale pesto – you can still load in the classic basil, parmesan, nuts, olive oil combo – just add extra leafy veg to bulk it out further. Dollop this on eggs, toast, grains – whatever. It will add an extra veggie kick! Bonus: it’s generally cheaper to make than a basil pesto.
A thick tomato marinara-style sauce is also a great one to keep on hand in the freezer. It’s so versatile. Plus, all that blitzed up tomato will give you a nice dose of antioxidants (it’s beauty food!). Layer the marinara with slices of eggplant and cheese, then bake, for an Italian style stack. Spread in tortillas with beans and cheese, then cook in a sandwich press for a Mexican quesadilla. Mix through zoodles or pasta, dollop on cauliflower “steaks”… yeah, the possibilities are endless.
3. Do a weekly roast
Of veggies, that is. Roast as many as you can fit in the oven. This is also a great opportunity to use up any sad looking veggies in your fridge. As a general rule, chop to fairly consistent sizes, don’t overcrowd the baking trays and keep the really starchy veggies on a separate tray. You can use these roasted veg in salads, sides, frittatas, omelettes or just eat them on their own as a snack. Pop them on to roast, watch some Netflix and you’ll feel smug for the rest of the week – guaranteed.
4. Make veggie rice
Real talk: cauliflower rice is never going to be the same as pillowy white rice. It’s just not. However, once you get over that mental hurdle – it really can be a great side. It soaks up curries and stir-fries perfectly, plus it’s ultra low carb. Cauliflower rice is one of the better ones as it has a neutral flavour – but you can experiment. Blitzed broccoli and sweet potato work well, too. Here’s another idea: you don’t have to entirely eliminate your regular rice. Just swap out half of it for cauliflower rice to make a more nutrient dense side. This recipe is a nice example!
5. Have one veg snack a day
Get in a serve of veggies as a snack – and it doesn’t have to be a carrot stick. You could try carrot hummus or eggplant dip spread on crackers. Another option: bake some kale with olive oil and sea salt. Just watch that oven like a hawk because kale chips turn into an awful burnt powder real quick. The aforementioned roasted veggies also make a nice snack, dipped in some tahini thinned out with warm water. Sadly, corn chips don’t count in this instance.
6. Change up your wraps
Regular wraps are delicious and great when you’re on the go. However, if you’re at home, try wrapping your sandwich fillings in sturdy greens instead. Some butter lettuce, cabbage or chard work well. You may need to lightly steam some of the tougher greens first. It’s a nice way to get in your favourite fillings, plus an extra serve of greens.
7. Have a serve with breakfastGetting in a serve or two of vegetables with breakfast means you’re kicking goals before the day has really begun. And we love kicking goals! It doesn’t have to be a boring breakfast, either. If you’re a Sunday meal prep kind of person – a big vegetable frittata is perfect. Cool, slice and freeze most of it. It’s pretty quick to throw together a breakfast wrap with scrambled eggs, tomato salsa, greens and avo, too. Scramble your eggs in the microwave if you’re really in a pinch. You could also just top your avo toast with a few extra veg and serve some extra on the side – smashed peas, sliced radish (curve ball!) and cherry tomatoes both work a charm.
For nice Sunday brunch, try cooking up a big green shakshuka with plenty of extra veg. It’s a great one to cook for the whole family. You could also make sweet potato fritters, then pile it up with extra greens and avocado. You can find the recipes for both of these dishes here.
If you’re not a huge fan of a savoury breakfast, zucchini bread or pumpkin bread are also a thing – they’re a nice alternative to banana bread. They’re made with grated or pureed veggies. You could spread your bread with honey or layer with some nut butter and banana. Otherwise, just blitz a big handful of greens into a regular fruit smoothie and you’re all sorted!