Let’s start by admitting that I don’t like to eat my veggies.
There. I’ve said it.
I’m all about teaching people to “eat nutritiously“, but I don’t like eating veggies. **And you probably don’t, either.**
So it should come as zero surprise that my kids are not always eager veggie eaters, either.
(Ditto for my husband.)
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On top of that, my family of 7 (going on 8) eats a lot. And it would appear that they insist on eating every day, often as many as 3-5 times per day!!
Does anybody else’s family do this??
However, as much as I do enjoy cooking, I do not enjoy spending every spare moment in the kitchen. Especially when the food I painstakingly cook will disappear in literally 10 minutes.
So when the idea of making my family (and myself…) eat more veggies entered my mind, my first thoughts were:
- The prep work will take FOOREEEEVERRRR!
- I’m going to have more recipes to keep track of
- I’m gonna have more dishes to wash
- It’s going to be more expensive
Fortunately, I’ve learned something about myself…if changing my habits involves that many negative things, then it’s just not gonna happen.
Which means that I needed to develop a workable plan that actually fits into my routine…and that I didn’t hate. Otherwise, I would never stick to it, and my family would continue eating the same amount of veggies we always ate…which was not a lot.
How many veggies should my family eat?
The standard USDA recommendation for veggie intake is around 2.5 cups per day for most Mamas. For kids, they recommend 1-3 cups/day depending on age and gender.
My recommendation is only a little bit different than the USDA’s…
…I think we Mamas should eat at least 2.5 cups of veggies per day.
And our kids should eat at least 1-3 cups of veggies per day.
(SIDE RANT: I also differ from the USDA recommendations in another way: they say that 100% vegetable juice counts as a veggie. Sorry, but that absolutely does not make sense to me.
**Ditto for fruit juice counting as a serving of fruit.** Juice strips out the fiber from an otherwise nutritious, whole food. And while it does leave many nutrients behind, it also leaves behind a supercharged dose of sugar.
Yes, even in the veggie juice.
While there can be a useful purpose for juicing…some people swear by it…letting people believe that grocery store juices count as a fruit/veggie serving is just not right. SIDE RANT OVER.)
How many veggies does my family currently eat?
Obviously, you’ll want to know the answer to this question, because if you already eat 2.5+ cups of veggies per day on a regular basis, then you’re a rockstar Mama!
Otherwise, you’ll need to do a little bit of honest soul-searching.
Or, in a more practical sense, you’ll need to keep a 1-2 week Food Diary to find out.
Because I guarantee that you don’t eat as many veggies as you think you do.
In fact, my experience with health coaching has been that most people only eat about 0-1 cups of veggies per day…and they’re surprised to learn that it’s so little.
P.S. This usually includes their servings of spaghetti sauce and white potato french fries…
How to easily add veggies to your daily diet
When trying to add veggies to your daily meal plan, the obvious move is to start making more veggie side dishes.
There are lots of problems with that plan, though.
Namely: Separate Dishes = More Prep + More Dirty Dishes = More Time in the Kitchen
Plus, this might be a big family problem, but…we’ve got too many little people that can’t serve themselves yet. So if I have to dish out 3-4 food items per plate (as opposed to 1-2), that easily triples my serving time. At exactly the time of day that everybody is starving.
And another thing…I happen to be absolutely terrible at managing my time while cooking multiple recipes. Without fail, I will have everything ready to eat except one dish that still needs 20 minutes of cooking time. I could blame it on my 5 little blessings, but to be totally honest, I was bad at this even before I had kids.
Oh, and one more issue…even if I did a whopping TWO veggie side dishes for dinner, am I really going to eat 2.5 cups of said veggies when there’s other delicious things also on my plate?
What I’m trying to say is that adding veggie side dishes might work for some people, but it’s not the solution for busy Mamas like you.
That’s why I started experimenting with daily “veggie hacks” to spread out our veggie intake through the whole day…and to do it in such a way that it doesn’t add a lot of extra kitchen time to my schedule.
How to add veggies to breakfast
Breakfast is such an overlooked meal for veggies. First of all, who said we only had to eat “breakfast foods” for breakfast?!?!
The truth is, you can eat anything for breakfast. How about leftovers from dinner last night?
But even if you’re already culturally brainwashed to eat only breakfast foods for breakfast (or your family is…), there are still lots of ways to squeeze in the first dose of breakfast veggies:
- Add pumpkin to your oatmeal: It may not seem like a lot, but a few scoops of canned pumpkin puree can really add up
- Green Smoothies: In fact, you should join the next Green Smoothie Adventure to get a head start!
- Scrambled Eggs with Veggies: You can cook it even quicker by using frozen spinach, frozen diced onion, or any other veggie that strikes your fancy.
- Avocado: Technically it’s a fruit, but I’m a rebel and like to count it as a veggie. It’s great spread on whole grain toast, or eaten plain with a sprinkle of salt.
- Dessert Hummus: Yes, I said dessert for breakfast! I’ve developed several bean-based recipes (beans DO count as a veggie, no cheating required) that contain only nutritious ingredients…recipes coming soon.
How to add veggies to lunch
I’m not going to lie…lunch is sometimes a scramble at my house. I usually get involved in some household project (or Facebook…fine, I was scrolling Facebook), and before I know it, the kids are starving.
That’s why it’s perfect to have a few tried and true strategies, with the ingredients always on hand, to handle that everyday lunch crisis.
- Leftovers: This is my “go-to” lunch option. Since I always squeeze veggies into my dinner menu, I make sure to cook extra. That way, even MY large family has some dinner leftovers to eat for lunch.
- Chana Masala/Fasoulia (recipes coming soon): These middle eastern inspired bean dishes are loaded with veggies, cheap to make, and simple to throw together. Plus, you can eat them on a bed of spinach, scooped with tortilla chips (our fav!), or all by itself with a spoon.
- Raw veggies: For those days when I let the kids make sandwiches, I try to keep a few raw veggies stocked in the fridge to supplement. My kids will gobble up cucumbers, carrots, and grape tomatoes.
- Canned/frozen veggies: If I don’t have any other veggie options available for lunch, then I turn to my pantry and freezer. I always keep canned green beans and frozen peas on-hand because they’re easy and quick, and I know my kids will eat them (especially if I say they don’t get their PB&J sandwich until the veggies are gone… #TrueStory).
- Green Smoothies: They’re not just for breakfast, because a well-balanced Green Smoothie can be nutritious, delicious, AND very filling…Join the Green Smoothie Adventure…
- Veggie Pasta Convenience Foods: Birds Eye brand has a line of single serving, frozen, grain-free pastas made with veggies and beans. It’s tasty, and I always keep a few stashed in my freezer for me to eat. Mostly on the days that the kids finish off all the leftovers before I sit down for lunch.
Between these flexible strategies, I find that we can continue adding to our daily dose of veggies at lunchtime.
How to add veggies to snacks
Confession time: Snacks are my weakest area when it comes to adding veggies.
It’s because, IMHO, **one can only eat so many raw veggies at a time.**
And they’re really not that much fun to eat, with OR without a dip.
(Plus, I also feel compelled to make a homemade dip, from scratch, because I’m trying to avoid sugar and any other weird ingredients that might found in a store-bought veggie dip…which adds to my prep time in the kitchen. No thanks.)
So, with full disclosure, I’ll tell you that snacks in our house are usually eat fruits, popcorn, and a few “treats to us” type snack foods. But since we eat so many veggies during meal times, I don’t stress about it too much.
That being said, I still have a few veggie tricks up my sleeve that I occasionally pull out for snack time:
- Raw Veggies: Okay, I know I said that I don’t really like them…but my kids DO love grape tomatoes, and will devour them during the 30-seconds that my back is turned. I can also sometimes get them to snack on cucumber or colored bell peppers.
- Frozen Peas: For some reason, my kids like eating frozen peas without even heating them up. That makes sense in the summer, but the winter? Don’t ask me, kids are confusing.
- Canned Green Beans: Are you seeing some overlap with lunchtime? Yep, me too. But this can be a great hack for those days when you realized that your veggie intake is severely lacking, and you already planned to order pizza for dinner. (But make sure to add an extra veggie topping to your pizza, m’kay? Even though you totally know that the kids are going to pick it off.)
- Green Smoothies: You knew I was going to throw this one in here, right?Just keep an eye on your kids if they’re big enough to make one by themselves…or else they’ll use up all the frozen fruit and “forget” to add the greens (You know you want to do this!!)
- Raw Carrots: This is in a different category than “raw veggies” because we use it for a slightly devious purpose. In my house, if the kids are begging for food but we don’t believe they’re actually hungry, we tell them they can eat unlimited carrots. And sometimes, they actually do. #MomWin
- Ants on a Log: You expected this one, right? It’s a classic, and my kids are always excited to make them. I’m less exicted when they lick *all* the peanut butter off of the celery…and eat the raisins…without touching the celery. #CantWinThemAll
How to add veggies to dinner
Finally, the pièce de résistance…otherwise called dinner.
(Or supper. Whatevs.)
By now, if you’ve consistently been adding veggie portions to your Breakfast, Lunch, and Snacks, then it takes a lot of pressure off of dinner.
That being said, I still find that there are a ton of easy, flexible cooking hacks I can use to both save money and increase our veggie intake.
**And remember, a high-veggie dinner that leaves leftovers will set us up for a high-veggie lunch tomorrow.**
Here are some dinner hacks I use:
- Focus on “one pot” or “skillet” meals: These types of recipes tend to be most flexible when it comes to adding extra veggies. It’s super easy to throw in a little extra of whatever you have on-hand in your produce drawer without anybody ever noticing. And they also tend to be fairly quick to cook!
- Oven Roast some root veggies: Yes, it’s technically a separate side dish, but the chopping can be done long before the dinner time “witching hour” occurs for your kids. After prep, it’s a mostly hands-off side dish that requires a long roasting time in the oven (with only an occasional stir to cook evenly).
- Rely on frozen veggie mixes: I always keep multiple bags of mixed veggies (peas, green beans, and carrots) and fajita veggies (bell pepper with onions) in my freezer. The mixed veggies can be used in soups, stews, shepherds pie, or pot pies. The fajita veggies get used up in our weekly taco night…yum!
- Replace half the meat with beans/veggies: Remember, beans ARE veggies! It’s hard to tell there’s half as much ground beef in my tacos when I add a few cups of black beans to replace it. It’s cheaper, more nutritious, and more filling…which means we’ll have more leftovers for lunch tomorrow.
- Stone Soup: You know the story Stone Soup? It’s sort of like that, but without a village full of stingy people. Or a stone. You simply throw in whatever veggies and beans you want, add some broth and seasonings, and you’ve got a delicious and nutritious dinner in very little time. Bonus points if you also make a loaf of Homemade Sourdough Bread! (recipe coming soon)
Veggie death by a thousand cuts
I found that once I started approaching my family’s veggie intake by attacking it in small portions at a time, throughout the day, our daily veggie intake went waaaay up.
We don’t always achieve our daily veggie goals (because heeellooo Christmas season and vacations…), but on average we do so much better than we used to.
And when you combine more veggies with reducing your added sugar intake, it’s like a “one-two punch” towards eating more nutritiously overall.
And the best part?
With so many simple tweaks available for recipes that you regularly cook, you’ll never even notice the gradual increase in veggies.
And neither will your family…so they’ll never have a chance to complain.
Leave a comment: What’s one family favorite recipe you currently make that you could increase the veggies in? Please share the recipe!