Just One Change - can you eat at least one vegetable with every meal?
Over the next few weeks we're giving you one small, manageable change you can make to your diet each week, that over time will add up to a big difference to your health. This week we're back to basics with the vegetables.
This week’s change seems like an easy one at first glance, but sometimes it’s good to go back to basics and be sure we’re sticking to the most simple rules for eating healthily.
We all know that we’re told to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Hand on heart, though, would you say you really do?
Even though the recommendation has now been upgraded to seven-a-day (and mostly vegetables), a study in 2015 showed that only a third of us are even managing five. One of the main reasons given by Londoners was that, because of their long commute, they don’t have time to cook a fresh meal most nights.
Another risk with the five-a-day rule is that fruit makes up almost all of those five portions because it’s sweet and easy to eat raw - another reason people gave was that they don't know what to do with fresh vegetables. Be honest - how often do you try to reach your five-a-day with a fruit smoothie? Fruit can definitely be healthy, but a lot of us don't prioritise vegetables the way we should.
Because of that, we're taking the advice to three - just one vegetable with every meal - as an easy starting point to set you on the right track.
Why eat at least one vegetable in every meal?
We try to keep our diners covered on the weekdays, whether it's just lunch or all three meals, but after a long day it can be easy to give in to temptation, especially at home, and not bother adding any vegetables to the plate. It can be even harder at breakfast - in the morning rush vegetables are often the last thing on our minds and we just want to pack in some fuel.
Having one vegetable with every meal, rather than packing three portions into just one, is about two things. Firstly, it will get you thinking about vegetables as a normal, routine part of your diet rather than one you have to just pile on wherever it's convenient. Second, it will balance out the calories at meals when you're tempted to really indulge, hopefully replacing some of those carbs with essential vitamins, minerals and fibre.
Since so many people say they don't know what to do with vegetables, here are some very easy ways to work them into breakfast and dinner. Of course, we've got you covered for lunch, so just check the menu!
Good vegetables for breakfast
Because you often just want something quick that doesn't involve too much thought, this seems like a great time to top up on your beta-carotene, aka vitamin A. Vegetables high in beta-carotene will be great for your skin and eyes and can lower the risk of age-related illnesses, and they also taste great raw - so you don't need to put in a load of cooking time.
You know a vegetable is high in beta-carotene because of its colour - it's generally red or orange. That means carrots, red peppers and tomatoes (and sweet potato, but more on that later). These foods also all taste great dipped in houmous, making for a quick, healthy side with your breakfast whether you have them at home or tuck in as a mid-morning snack at your desk.
Good vegetables for lunch
Okay, so we have you covered in the week, but what about at the weekend? We say this is a great time to practice some new vegetable recipes and work them into your repertoire. Experiment with soups, curries, pasta sauces and stir fries - all brilliant and simple ways to pack in the vegetables. These are also all dishes you can cook in big quantities and then reheat through the week.
Good vegetables for dinner
For dinner, we say try to do a bit of cooking, but there are plenty of ways to cook vegetables quickly while still getting something very tasty out of it.
The best method for quick and delicious vegetables is to sautee them - fry them in butter or olive oil. Don't worry too much about the fat content in the oil because the most important thing is to make the vegetables something you want to eat, and olive oil comes with plenty of health benefits itself.
Photo credit - Tim Saxton
Green vegetables do particularly well with a good fry - kale, cabbage, broccoli, courgette, spinach or asparagus. Just have them in small pieces and put them into some hot oil until they soften. For spinach we recommend you take the pan off the heat first as it will wilt very quickly. For some extra flavour, throw a crushed clove of garlic and some sliced onion into the pan before you add the vegetables! Garlic and onion can both benefit your immune system and are a great way to top up on your veg intake.
Or if you feel like you haven't had your fill of beta-carotene, try a sweet potato popped in the microwave until soft and then served with some feta cheese. Easy as anything. If you have the time, for some extra crisp put it in the oven just like you would for a baked potato.
As for white potatoes? By all means cook some up, but when it comes to healthy eating unfortunately they don't really count as a vegetable.
That's all our advice today. But before we go, what about grabbing some bonus points? If one vegetable per meal just sounds too easy, why not try this too - with every meal, make sure at last half of your plate is made up of vegetables. That will mean reducing your portions of carbohydrate or meat to make space for the veg, and is bound to do you even more good.