Tag Archive | fruits and vegetables

10 Tips for Eating More Fruits and Vegetables

fruits & vegetables collage

In my efforts to eat more fruits and vegetables, I have noticed that there are times when the task is very difficult and other times when it feels practically effortless.  So, I started paying attention to what makes the difference and came up with this list.  Some of these strategies are more helpful for my family members, and others are more helpful for me, but when they are in place, I find that we all eat more of the good stuff!

1.  Keep the cutting board and knife clean and in easy reach.  Most fruits and vegetables require some prep work before eating, and if the cutting board and knife are dirty or hard to get to, the preparation becomes a large barrier to eating them.  On the other hand, if they are clean and available, I find that it’s usually pretty quick to chop up whatever it is I am planning to eat.

2. Snack on fruits and veggies before meals.  Yes, you read that right!  Most of the time we hear the advice to not eat snacks right before meals.  But I find that when I’m chopping produce for dinner, my kids will often ask if they can have some.  If I go ahead and give them some right then, they eat more than they would with the meal.  I’ve actually had to start buying extra bell peppers, because my youngest has been known to ask for so many that I haven’t had what I needed for the recipe! 🙂  However, my big exception to this is berries.  We have a strict “hands-off” rule for berries until the meal is served, because everyone loves them so much!

3.  Add fruits and vegetables to muffins and other baked goods.  This is a pretty common strategy, but it definitely needs to be included, because it works!  And every little bit helps.

4.  Make smoothies.  Another common strategy, I know.  But smoothies really are a great way to get in some less favored fruits and veggies.  Spinach and greens of course, but for my family even pineapple is not very well liked among the kids.  However in a smoothie, you can’t really taste it.  It simply adds sweetness and it is so healthy.  Smoothies are a perfect way to help my family eat more pineapple!

5.  Make extra.  White potatoes, sweet potatoes, and winter squashes are all vegetables that can be prepared in larger-than-normal batches, and stored in the fridge to eat for several days.  Or, they can be stored in the freezer for longer.  I like to make soups and freeze individual batches for me to have for lunch.  It’s so easy to just thaw and eat! (I like these two recipes: Butternut Squash-Apple Soup and Nutty-Sweet Potato Soup — however, I’m the only one around here who does, so that’s why I freeze individual portions).  Smoothies also freeze well, but they don’t thaw quickly.  Sometimes  I make a big batch of smoothie and put it in small tightly-sealed containers to pack in my kids lunches.  They thaw to just about the right consistency by lunch-time!

6.  Make a little extra.  For vegetables that don’t store well for a long time after they are cooked, I’ve learned to make just enough extra at dinner to have some the next day for lunch.  This way I don’t have to prepare a vegetable when I really want to just grab something, but I don’t have so much around that I have to throw it out later.

tooty fruity salad

{click image to view larger}

7.  Mix ’em up!  I love this story from the Friend Magazine (see image on the right).  The child is hungry and wants a snack, but when offered an apple, banana, grapes, and crackers he turns them down saying that he is tired of them all.  The mom responds, “how about tooty fruity salad?”  This gets the boys attention, and he agrees.  So the mom combines bite-sized pieces of the different fruits and the graham crackers to make a fruit salad.  And, of course, now the boy is very happy with his snack!  And this trick doesn’t just work with kids; it works for adults too!

8.  Keep it simple.  While mixing it up can be a great thing, on the other end of the spectrum is planning to “mix it up” so much that it becomes too much work.  For example, if I plan a main dish and a vegetable side for dinner that both require quite a bit of preparation, I will likely want to skip making the vegetable side when it comes time to actually make dinner.  So I often plan the simplest vegetables to go with dinner, or a more complex side with a basic main dish such as baked fish or chicken.

9.  Eat ’em first!  If the fruits and vegetables being served are not my favorite part of the meal, then I try to eat them first and get them out of the way.   Then I am free to enjoy the rest of the food.

10.  Keep ’em fresh! – I have a thing for wanting my produce to be really fresh.  The longer it sits in my fridge, the less likely I am to eat it or serve it.  It’s kind of a hang-up really, because sometimes it really is still fine to eat.  But in recognizing this about myself, I’m learning that prior to shopping for new groceries it is helpful to look in the fridge ask myself, “Do I have a clear plan for eating these (i.e. scheduled in an upcoming menu)?”  If not, I take some time to clear them out…either by eating them right away, preserving them for later (i.e. freezer), or getting rid of them (in the compost pile).  This way when I bring new produce home from the store, everything in the fridge is as fresh as possible, making all of it more appealing to eat.

Below is a picture of a bunch of produce that I preserved by freezing one day, prior to restocking the fridge.  From left to right (clockwise) there are cut up bell peppers (to add to soups), mushrooms (for stroganoff), celery (to make chicken stock), apples (for smoothies), orange-lime-aid (drank right away), lime zest and orange zest (for adding extra flavor to food), and spinach which I blended with water and froze in an ice cube tray (to add to soup or smoothies).

freezer food collageThese 10 strategies really do work when I take the time to implement them.  In fact, I’m glad to publish this post today, because I need the reminder!  Hopefully they can be helpful to others who may want to include a few more delicious and healthy fruits and vegetables in their diet too!!

What are your favorite strategies for eating more fruits and vegetables?

{note:  click here for top picture source…I made a collage of several of the pictures}


Boot Camp Journal – Day 7 {Imposed vs. Natural Consequences}

I’ve already posted once today!!  But I just have so much to say about this…

Saturday, July 5 (Part II)

I woke up this morning feeling a lot of anxiety about our second week of this Boot Camp.  Watching my kids (one in particular) be so hungry last week was really hard for me, and I can see by the stuff that I need to use up in our fridge, that this week may have some menu items that will be equally distressing.  (I say “may” because I actually haven’t even made the menus yet!!  I’m hoping to accomplish that today.)

Also, last night when I served the pasta salad I served everything separately for the kids, and then watched as they all filled up on plain noodles and white bread while only eating the tiniest 3 bites of everything else.  I had two thoughts about this:  one is that I don’t think I should have to separate a dish that is meant to be served mixed up, and second that if I had served it mixed up they would have left the table hungry for sure.

So, I talked to my husband about it this morning.  I said that if they are served a meal where they like very little of it, and choose to eat 3 bites then that is not enough food for them.  He agreed with me and said, “they need to eat more than 3 bites.”  But I really want to keep the rule (at least for the coming week), and let them choose whether or not they have more than that, and I explained this to him.  So we agreed then that they can choose, but they need to know if they don’t eat enough that they will be hungry.

At breakfast this morning (a meal everyone liked {I mean…mostly} — whole wheat banana pancakes, scrambled eggs, watermelon, and milk) I talked to them about the difference between imposed consequences and natural consequences.  They are smart kids, so they were able to give me the correct definitions of each of these when I asked them.  Basically, imposed consequences are ones that parents (or other adults) assign to an action.  They can be good or bad.  So for us the imposed consequence of eating at least 3 bites of every food all day long is dessert after dinner.  That’s the good side.  The bad side is that if they do not, they will not have the dessert.

However, our bodies need more than 3 bites and so even though they may meet the requirements to receive the dessert, they may not be eating enough to satisfy what their bodies need.  So we talked about what the natural consequences of not eating enough food are:  mainly hunger.  But then I said to them, “what if you eat enough food so that you do not feel hungry, but not enough of some foods your body really needs?  What is the natural consequence of that?”  Well, people who know more about this than I might be able to give more insights into this answer, but in our family we determined the consequences would be that the body can’t fight infection as well, and that you don’t feel as well as you could.  These are less noticeable to most people than the consequence of being hungry, but they still matter.

But for now, I am still planning to go along as we have been.  I’ll prepare some meals they like, but inevitably there will be some that they won’t want.  In that case we will have to let the imposed consequence of “no dessert” unless the requirements are met, and the natural consequence of “hunger” influence their decisions at the table.  But I feel better now that we’ve talked about it.

Oh yeah, as a side note…one child asked the question, “what if I do feel full after eating, but later I am hungry?”  I thought this was a good question and my husband’s and my answer was that they could have more of the same meal again.  (We usually have at least some leftovers).


Boot Camp Journal – Day 6 {Meal Planning}

This is the journal I am keeping about our “health(ier) eating boot camp.”  Feel free to read along!  

Friday, July 4

Happy 4th of July!!  Week 1 is coming to a close and we are starting week 2.  That means meal planning and grocery shopping time!  So, the first order of business is to take an inventory of what foods need to be used up very soon.  I keep some shelf-stable and frozen foods on hand all the time, so there is no pressing need to incorporate those in this week’s menu — just the perishable items.

Here is what I still have that I can use this coming week:

  • Leftover cooked foods:  Some sweet potatoes from dinner, mixed vegetables, and one serving of baked beans
  • Fresh fruit:  3/4 of a cantaloupe, 1 whole watermelon, 2 very ripe bananas, and 2 limes
  • Fresh vegetables (from the store):  2.5 lbs russet potatoes, 2 lbs honey gold potatoes, lettuce, spinach, shredded cabbage, some whole onions (1 red), green onions, radishes, a few carrots, 1 orange bell pepper, 2 green bell peppers, and 2 tomatoes
  • From our garden:  1 very large zucchini, 4 tomatoes, and 2 banana peppers
  • Other:  partial package of flour tortillas and a whole package of corn tortillas

We still have plenty of produce leftover!  Part of the reason is that I never made several of the recipes that I planned to (i.e. fresh salsa and crockpot roast beef w/ vegetables).  I also over-estimated how much fruit we could eat.


I’m going to make a couple of changes to my menu-planning method this week.  For one thing I am deleting “snack” from the meal plan.  I really feel like it makes the meal planning process confusing and it is more work during the day to prepare it (especially with trying to make sure that a fruit or vegetable is included).  So this week I’m planning the menu with the idea of getting all of the food groups into the three meals.  If the kids feel like snacking in the afternoon, I can keep nuts, popcorn, Triscuits, trail mix, etc. around for them to have.  I just don’t want to incorporate these into the meal plan.  (As a side note, when school starts, I may want to plan for the snack again, simply because they are so hungry when they get home and because of the challenges of packing every food group into a lunch box).

The next change I’m making is to approach fruits and vegetables with the 5-a-day mentality rather than the 1.5 cups (fruits) and 2.5 cups (veggies) mentality.  I do feel like the USDA is teaching the right portion sizes (or close to), but it is just so confusing for me when I’m planning meals.  I like the old “5-a-day” idea that I used to think of in terms of fruits and veggies.  And I’m not going to worry about how much each one of those “5” is — I just want 5 different ones with two of them being fruits and 3 being veggies.

So with this information in mind, I am ready to plan my menus for the coming week!  Hooray!!

And, just for fun, what would you plan if you had the above items in your refrigerator/pantry?  Feel free to share in the comments below!!


Boot Camp Journal – Day 5 {When the Going Gets Tough . . .}

This is the journal I am keeping about our “health(ier) eating boot camp.”  Feel free to read along!  

Thursday, July 3

My kids were looking at my blog this morning and they suggested that instead of titling each post Part I, II, etc, that I should title them Day 1, 2, etc.  So I’m taking the suggestion and have re-titled them all.

They also objected to me telling details about them when I describe our family’s experience.  So I actually just deleted the entire post that I had written about yesterday.  But I will say that yesterday was a challenging day and that my kids were feeling pretty hungry even though I had been preparing meals for them.  I found myself at the end wondering if this boot camp is a good idea.  There are so many obstacles!  For example:

  • The time it takes to plan, shop for, and prepare balanced meals
  • Having to constantly stop other things I’m doing in order to prepare, eat, and clean up from meals
  • At least one child seems to feel some anxiety every time we sit down to eat
  • Having to pay close attention to if everyone is eating their “3 bites.”
  • And now…watching them be very hungry (and still not eat their food).

This is stressful!!  And so last night as I was preparing for bed I found myself thinking, “am I doing the right thing?”  And this morning after a conversation I had with one child, I found myself thinking again, “am I doing the right thing?”  But I continue to feel that the answer is “yes.”   So, I’m moving forward with this, but I will do my best to take people’s feelings and preferences into account.


Boot Camp Journal – Day 3

This is the journal I am keeping about our “health(ier) eating boot camp.”  Feel free to read along!  When referring to my kids I’m just using their first initials.  N- is a 12 year old boy, R- is a 10 (almost 11) year old girl, and L- is a 4 1/2 year old girl.

Tuesday, July 1

I had my kids measure their macaroni and cheese at lunch today.  Yeah weird, I know.  But my kids like to eat a lot of it, so I thought it would be good to know how much a good portion size is.  Since the goal at lunch today was 2 ounces of grains, that meant everyone should have one cup of macaroni and cheese.  I measured mine first, and then let them each measure theirs.  I told them they could eat less than one cup, but not more.  L- needed some help measuring hers, and technically, she should have had less than the rest of us, but I didn’t think of it at the time.  I don’t think she even ate all of what she was served, so it doesn’t really matter.

Changing the Rules

I realized at dinner last night that I need to modify our rules.  (I tend to do that when I set goals 🙂 ).  But some of the rules just don’t feel right, and I know that we won’t stick with them the way they are.  So, as I said before, you can read the “inspiration rules” here.  But these are the modified rules that I am now using.  (Note: these rules just apply to the two week “boot camp” period.  After that I’m free to abandon some or even all of them if I want to.)

Meal Planning Rules – (these are primarily for me)

  • Plan one week at a time with breakfast, lunch, dinner and an afternoon snack included.  (Note: there is no obligation on my part to follow the plan exactly.  I always feel free to move meals around when I meal-plan dinners, so I’m allowing myself the same freedom here.  The meal plan just serves as a guide.)
  • Try to plan with the USDA guidelines in mind.
  • Provide a dessert after dinner each day.  We eat plenty of treats and sweets around here, but not necessarily an official dessert each night.  The ultimate goal is to lessen the total amount of junk food consumed, but also to not take away the fun completely.  Dr. Kennedy explains in her book that when everything is totaled up (as far as food group servings and calories go), there is enough room for about one treat per day.  She recommends giving it at the end of the day after appropriate amounts of the other foods are eaten.  Realistically there will still be days when more than the one treat is eaten, and I think we all know that three bites of food is not even close to the appropriate amounts of any of the food groups, but it’s all a work in progress, right?
  • Allow one child to plan at least one meal each week (but give them the guidelines they should follow).

Meal-Time Rules

  • Everyone tries three bites of every food.  The consequence for not trying the three bites is “no dessert after dinner.”  If they refuse to eat them at an earlier meal – say, breakfast for example — then I will save the food for later.  They can have an opportunity to try that same food at lunch, snack, and even dinner, but if they still refuse by the end of the day then I let them know that they are choosing to not have dessert that evening.  I haven’t decided exactly what I will do if the food doesn’t save well.  We will have to “cross that bridge when we come to it.”
  • Everyone serves themselves and chooses their own portions — within reason.  L- seems to be more comfortable with being served, so I will serve her.
  • At the end of every meal, say “thank you for [breakfast, lunch, etc]” and ask if you may be excused from the table.  Then I will say, “Did you try at least three bites of everything?” and “Are you full?”  I may advise them on eating a little more that I’m confident they can do, and then excuse them from the table.

You may have noticed the absence of  the one rule that was originally my own — that “everyone helps with the cleanup.”  We do need that, but I feel like this is enough for now, so I deleted it.

I like these rules because they are not too scary, yet they still stretch us out of our comfort zone a little bit.

Thoughts?  Insights?  Feel free to share in the comments below!

Boot Camp Journal – Day 2

This is the journal I am keeping about our “health(ier) eating boot camp.”  Feel free to read along!  When referring to my kids I’m just using their first initials.  N- is a 12 year old boy, R- is a 10 (almost 11) year old girl, and L- is a 4 1/2 year old girl.

Monday, June 30 (written on Tuesday)

Yesterday was such a busy day!  But I was able to make some good observations regarding our meals and my kids.


At breakfast we had “breakfast sandwiches” made from english muffins and fried eggs.  Then we each had a fresh plum as our fruit and a cup of milk.  It was interesting to see who willingly (and not-so-willingly) ate what.

R- ate everything without much problem.

L- did not want the english muffin or the egg and it took some coaxing to get her to eat her three bites.  But she happily ate the entire plum.  I think she even said, “Oh, I love plums!” when I pulled them out of the fridge.

N- on the other hand, ate the egg sandwich with no problem, but was very resistant to the plum.  He told me that he’d never even tried one before (which I didn’t realize because I do buy them sometimes).  So he took three very small bites and made a face.


At lunch I served the chicken noodle soup (whole wheat noodles), home-made whole wheat bread (bread maker), and fresh cucumbers from the garden.

N- and R– both loved the bread and asked for second servings of it.

But L- didn’t eat very much of it.  She doesn’t seem to like bread very much most of the time no matter if it’s wheat or white.  On the other hand, she couldn’t get enough of the soup (although she did pass over the vegetables in it, so it was the noodles and the broth that she loved).   When I put the little bit that was left-over away she said, “Can we have the rest of the chicken noodle soup tomorrow?”


I had to modify our snack because we went to the pool in the afternoon.  I didn’t want to take yogurt with us, so instead we took grapes, celery with peanut butter, trail mix, and a few radishes.  Our pool doesn’t let people eat in the pool area, so we actually had to go outside of it for the snack.  They also do not have regular breaks where the kids are required to get out of the pool.  This affects snacking at the pool because it makes it a more formal affair than it would be if otherwise.  So, they did not want to get out the pool for a snack break until it was time to go…and I was fine with that.

But N- got tired of swimming before the girls and came to where I was saying how hungry he was.  I told him that we weren’t supposed to eat by the pool, but if he was really so hungry I didn’t see where eating some peanut butter celery would be so terrible (since it wouldn’t leave crumbs).  But he would have nothing to do with that idea because he doesn’t like celery — even though he was obviously very hungry.  So he had to wait.

When we all were together, L- and I were the only ones to eat the celery.  She didn’t eat much, but I was proud of her for willingly eating some.

R- tried the radishes, but said she didn’t like them much.  She declined the celery and peanut butter when I offered it to her.

Everyone ate the grapes, and L- was wishing I had brought more.

And everyone loved the trail mix — and were definitely wishing that I had brought more.  I didn’t insist that anyone try three bites since we were in public and I knew they were going to put up resistance.


Dinner was changed to sloppy joes because it was a quick option after being at the pool.

This L- was the only one that had trouble eating.  She cried even at the idea.  When I called her to dinner, she hid in her room and wouldn’t come until I told her she would have to sit in time-out if she didn’t.  I told her to just eat three bites and then she could be done, but she made such a fuss.  She said, “Do I have to?”  I thought about it for a minute and said, “No, you do not have to.  But we are having the Oreo Cookies that you picked out for dessert, and in order to have some you need to eat three bites.  But it’s your choice.”  This took the pressure off, but she was more motivated.  I then said, “it tastes like ketchup,” and she looked at me with sudden interest.  “Yeah, sloppy joes is just ground beef (which she likes), ketchup, brown sugar, and a few other things.  (This is true for my recipe).   She then picked out the three tiniest bites and ate them.  Success!!

So, that’s the run-down of my day.  The reason I think this is interesting enough to write about is because it shows so clearly what I am (and maybe all parents are) up against.  At every meal someone doesn’t like something.  It’s difficult to keep up with and disheartening to be faced with sour faces and flat out refusals so constantly.  Feeding a family is a big job!  But it’s good for me to stop and think about what each person likes and dis-likes rather than just clumping them all together in my mind.

Any thoughts and comments are, as always, welcome!  I’d love to hear other people’s experiences and insights!

Boot Camp Journal – Shopping and Day 1

This is the journal I am keeping about our “health(ier) eating boot camp.”  Feel free to read along!  I have underlined things that I specifically want to remember for future meals and meal planning.

Saturday, June 28 (Shopping)

We went shopping today for the menu I just planned.  It has been awhile since I have shopped for a full week of groceries at once, so it felt like a lot to buy.  And there were a lot more fresh fruits and vegetables than usual.  It felt like we were in the produce section forever!!  Luckily, it is summer so everything looks really fresh.  I had the kids all help by giving them assignments to find this or that produce item.  It was good for them to see where different foods are placed in the store and to be able to practice choosing the freshest looking one.

It took awhile to figure out how to fit it all into the refrigerator, but I succeeded and told myself that the way to clear out some space is to simply eat what we bought!  I did fail to take into account some peppers and onions that we have leftover and need to eat, so I may chop them up and put them into the freezer.

As part of lunch today I pulled out some leftover vegetables that I had chopped last night.  I had taken a veggie tray to an activity at Church, and had chopped some extra for us.  There were sugar snap peas, broccoli, carrots, and red & yellow bell peppers (all raw, of course!).  So I put them on the table and told my kids I wanted them each to eat 15 pieces.  It was so interesting to see them approach this (since usually I only serve one option at a time).  First they all fought over the sugar-snap peas (mental note here: buy more sugar snap peas!).   Then my son chose broccoli, my oldest daughter chose the carrots, and the youngest chose the bell peppers.  So they do like vegetables…just not the same ones!

Sunday, June 29 (Day 1)

We got home from church and all the kids wanted to eat the moment we walked in the door.  “What is for lunch?”  they said.  “Is it written on the menu?”  Well…no, not exactly.  I had to confess that after all the time I spent, I had no menu for today.  That’s when it occurred to me that having the leftover day right after the grocery shopping trip was a really bad idea.  There was so much food, but most of it is “claimed” for another meal already!  Normally I wouldn’t have planned it this way — it’s just how the timing of everything worked out.  But now I know to make sure it doesn’t happen next week by planning “leftover day” to be the day right before I go shopping.

So we had “pigs n’ a blanket” for lunch today instead of next Thursday because they were the fastest thing I could think of.  We’ll just do something else in their place when Thursday rolls around.  So that’s the next thing I should take note of  when menu planning:  choose something super fast for Sundays after church!

While we ate I introduced “the rules” to the kids.  They weren’t even fazed by them since I’m constantly presenting new ways that I want to approach our meals and chores.  Actually these rules should not be too painful.  The only one they really reacted to was the one that I added to the list myself — “no one leaves the kitchen until it is completely clean (or until Mom excuses you).”   They didn’t like that one at all, but we (I mean, “I”) really need it.