9 Foolproof Ways to Eat More Vegetables
Eat more vegetables each week with these 9 tips for adding veggies to a weekly meal plan. Knowing how to incorporate veggies into your plan is one of the most important keys to healthy meal planning, and is guaranteed to up your daily veggies!
Almost all of us could stand to eat more vegetables each week, but making changes to a habit as ingrained as eating is not always simple. For all our good intentions, it’s way too easy to reach for a bag of chips when we’re hungry, or to skip the side of acorn squash with our dinner because it takes so long to cook.
And those little decisions add up. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, less than 1 in 10 Americans get enough vegetables in their diet. (1)
So if you’re looking to eat more vegetables, you’re definitely not alone! And while there is no magical secret to increasing vegetable intake, there’s one thing that’s almost guaranteed to help you eat more vegetables long-term: Meal planning.
Whether you keep a meal planning spreadsheet or just jot down a few ideas as you make your grocery list (it doesn’t have to be complicated!), meal planning in some form will help you to eat more vegetables by knowing in advance WHAT you’ll be eating WHEN.
As a meal plan service, we’re very familiar with the challenges of including vegetables with every meal! Here at Cook Smarts, we try to include at least 2 servings of produce in every meal we give our members (see below for an infographic of how often various types of vegetables appear in our meal plans), which often means getting creative with ways to add vegetables that aren’t the same ol’ thing over and over again.
Today, we’ll share our top 9 tips for adding vegetables to a weekly meal plan so that you eat more vegetables throughout the week — and ultimately, see better health over the course of your life. These are tips we use in planning Cook Smarts meals, as well as some additional ones that work well when meal planning for a family.
1. Include your favorites
Don’t forget about the veggies you love most! When people are trying to eat more veggies, they sometimes forget about the ones they already do eat. But adding veggies in doesn’t mean a complete overhaul of your diet. The best veggies are the ones you’ll actually eat, so if you’re intimidated by a new vegetable, not sure how to cook it, or don’t think you’ll like it, that’s okay! Make sure you include (at least) a few meals you know you’ll love that use veggies you enjoy. So if you’d eat broccoli without anyone reminding you, or you love carrot sticks with dip as a snack, or you could eat sweet potatoes every day of the week, put them in your weekly meal plan! This also goes for meals that feature veggies you’re not sure you’ll like, or just aren’t excited about. Simply swap those veggies out and use your old favorites instead.
2. Think outside the greens
Sure, greens are packed full of nutrients, and when prepared well are absolutely delicious. But don’t discount non-green vegetables! Different colors of vegetables tend to have different amounts of the various nutrients, which is why the standard advice is to “eat the rainbow.” In our meal plan service, for example, we recently featured Beer Simmered Brats with German Potato Salad. This sounds (and looks) like a low-veggie meal, but in fact it includes red potatoes, celery, red bell peppers, and onions, all of which contain important nutrients that aren’t found in abundance in lettuce and other greens. So if you’re not eating anything green at a particular meal but you do have tomatoes, bell peppers, mushrooms, eggplant, or other non-green vegetables on your plate, don’t worry! Those totally count, and they’re giving you the dietary variety you need.
3. Know what’s in season
Know which veggies are in season when, and add them to your weekly meal plan to ensure that you eat veggies when they’re likely to be at their tastiest, not to mention most nutritious and best for the environment. One way to do this is to shop at your local farmers’ market, which will only sell seasonal produce, but you can also find charts online that show what’s in season in your area.
Our produce guides (for instance, for asparagus, broccoli, and winter squash) get into seasonality by region of the U.S. You can also guess what’s in season by what’s readily available at the grocery store; if it’s front and center in the produce section and there in abundance, chances are good it’s in season! For a general guide to which veggies are in season when in the U.S., check out our Vegetables by Month chart:
Vegetables by Month (US)
Discover what veggies are in season each month with this Vegetables by Month Chart
4. Build a meal around a particular vegetable
Choose a vegetable you’d like to try, you’d like to eat more of, or that you enjoy, and search for recipes that feature it. For instance, meals we’ve included in our meal plan service include Piri Piri Cauliflower Steaks (roasted cauliflower finished with a roasted red pepper sauce), Pizza-Stuffed Zucchini, and Middle Eastern Twice-Baked Acorn Squash. Of course, the vegetable doesn’t have to be the star of the meal; if you want to eat green beans, you could simply search for meals that go well with a side of green beans.
5. Plan for extra veggies
Get in the habit of doubling your veggies every time you cook them. If you’re roasting veggies in the oven, make extras for an easy addition to the next day’s lunch, breakfast, or just to make a more filling, veggie-heavy meal. Leftover roasted veggies can be put on a salad, scrambled with eggs, eaten over rice, tossed into a soup, or just reheated and eaten as-is. If you’re going to all the work to cook veggies once, you might as well make enough to eat them a second time without having to cook again!
6. Plan for soups
Soups are an easy way to eat more vegetables because vegetables tend to feature heavily in soups of all styles. Most of the soups in our meal plan service contain at least three servings of vegetables; for example, Tom Kha Gai contains zucchini, mushrooms, and tomatoes, and Creamy Italian Chicken Soup contains potatoes, peas, carrots, and onions.
Soups also tend to be very forgiving when it comes to the veggies you include. Search for soup recipes that include lots of veggies, of course, but don’t be afraid to experiment, either. Have some extra spinach left over at the end of the week? Stir it into your soup in the last minute of cooking! Have more carrots than the recipe calls for? Add them! Have some mushrooms drying out in the produce drawer? Sauté them with your onions and continue on with the recipe! Or make up your own recipe altogether with our cooking formula for soup:
Cooking Formula: Soup
Want to learn how to make soup from scratch? This soup formula will help you cook soup without a recipe. Read more.
7. Think all-in-one dishes
Veggies don’t have to be relegated to a side dish! Keep things quick and easy by choosing one-pot dishes and other meals that incorporate veggies right into the entree. Stir-fries, sautés, and pizzas are great options for this, where it’s easy to throw in whatever veggies you have on hand rather than having to prepare a second dish.
For a more fun, sneaky way to add extra veggies, marinara and other tomato-based sauces are also a great place to hide veggies; these types of sauces have such a strong flavor that you’ll hardly even notice additional veggies in your spaghetti, lasagna, or other pasta dishes. Veggies such as onions, mushrooms, carrots, bell peppers, and zucchini can be sautéed together before stirring in sauce, or you can steam or sauté the veggies and blend them into your sauce for a smooth result.
Similarly, we’ve featured “hidden veggies” in meals like Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese, which uses leftover butternut squash soup in the mac ‘n’ cheese sauce, and Grilled Chicken Skewers with Roasted Red Pepper and Eggplant Pesto Pasta, which blends roasted eggplant and red peppers into the pesto.
8. Plan veggies as snacks
Instead of loading up on chips, popcorn, or other salty snacks between meals, plan to keep veggie sticks in the fridge along with your favorite dip. Garlic hummus can’t be beat, but ranch dip, sour cream and onion dip, guacamole, blue cheese dip, and bean dip are all close seconds. For a fancier dip you can share with guests, consider making your own artichoke and spinach dip and eat some veggies with your veggies!
9. Know your prep times (and choose veggies accordingly)
Let’s be honest: Often veggies languish in the fridge because we don’t feel like making the effort to wash, peel, and/or chop them. When making your weekly meal plan, then, it’s important to choose veggies you’ll actually have time to prep and cook. In other words, save the time-intensive veggies, like butternut squash and sweet potatoes, for the weekends, and instead plan to throw together a quick side salad or other quick-to-prep veggie side while your meal is cooking. Buy a salad kit to keep this extra simple, or just get mixed greens or a head of lettuce, and toss on any additional veggies and other toppings you prefer. (For tips on making better salads, see our article on how to make salads fun.)
And be intentional about choosing other quick-prep veggies, like arugula and cherry tomatoes, to make on particularly busy nights. Staying aware of prep times may also mean buying pre-chopped veggies, whether fresh or frozen. Or you can get in the habit of prepping firmer, longer-lasting veggies first thing when you get home from the grocery store.
Cook Smarts’ List of Quick-Cooking Ingredients
Prepare healthy homemade meals in 15 minutes or less with our list of quick-cooking ingredients, including vegetables, proteins and grains. Read more.
Need some veggie inspiration?
We’ve put together an infographic to show how often we use various types of vegetables in our meal plans, below. To see some examples of how we incorporate these veggies into our meal plans (and get some fantastic healthy dinner ideas in the process!), sign up for a free trial of our meal plan service. All the meals mentioned in this blog post can easily be found by searching our extensive meal plan archives after signing up!
Commonly Used Vegetables in Cook Smarts Meal Plan Service
A list of vegetables used in Cook Smarts meal plan menus, listed in order of the frequency with which they appear in our meal plan service.
If these tips to help you eat more vegetables are useful to you, stay tuned for more infographics and how-to articles by signing up for our weekly email below. Or sign up for a free 14-day trial of our meal plan service for a variety of other delicious, fresh, and healthy dinner ideas!