I’m not going to lie – eating lots of fruits and vegetables in a wide range of colors (aka, “eating the rainbow”) isn’t easy. It takes planning, time and energy. My husband and I are eating a super-clean diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables this month, and I’m exhausted. We were already eating a healthy diet, but the addition of a wider variety of vegetables and more of them is wearing me out. I feel like I’m trading other healthy activities (exercise, sleep, sex!) for buying, prepping and cooking vegetables. And clearly that’s not sustainable!
So I’m trying to get organized and develop some strategies that will help us eat a “rainbow” diet without wearing ourselves out. I’ve used some of these strategies in the past and know they work, and I’ve stolen the others from my Real Food Experience co-authors – Christina at Juggling Real Food and Real Life, Nicky at Little Family Adventure, and KC at The Kitchen Chopper. Those women really know how to cook healthy and eat well! If you decide to take on our Real Food Experience challenge this week and “Eat the rainbow,” I hope you’ll give these strategies a try.
- Use frozen fruits and vegetables. Frozen fruits and vegetables retain most of their fresh-picked nutrition, so use them whenever possible to make your life easier. Add frozen berries to yogurt for breakfast or add any frozen fruit to smoothies. Thaw frozen fruit and serve it as a simple side dish. And add frozen vegetables to soups, sauces and stir fries.
- Take an hour on the weekend and prep fruits and vegetables. If I wash fruits and vegetables each time I need them, I find that my enthusiasm for using them wanes! So I’m trying to adopt the more efficient strategy of washing and prepping them about twice a week. The easiest way to get started with this approach is to take an hour on Saturday or Sunday and wash, cut up, and package the fruits and vegetables you’ll need for the next several days. That way you’ll have ingredients for dinners ready to go, as well as fruits and veggies to grab for lunches and snacks.
- Serve raw fruits and vegetables as simple side dishes. At my house, a plate of red and yellow pepper strips and baby carrots passes for a side dish! Add in some sugar snap peas and my family thinks we’ve “gone fancy!” You don’t always have to cook vegetables – sometimes they’re delicious and easy eaten raw. This is a little easier in the summer, but it can work in the winter too. The same with fruits – a plate of purple grapes and apple slices makes a fine side dish.
- Use simple methods of cooking vegetables. When you’re pressed for time, don’t get fancy with vegetables. Cut a couple of butternut or acorn squash in half, scoop out the seeds, turn them upside down on a foil-lined (for easy clean up) baking sheet, and bake until tender. Serve with a little bit of butter and cinnamon. Roast mixed vegetables – colored peppers, onions, new potatoes, carrots – or any combination you like. Toss them with olive oil, sprinkle with a bit of sea salt, and roast until tender, using a foil-lined sheet or large pan. For extra zip, squeeze some lemon juice over them when they come out of the oven. Roast asparagus and green beans too – it’s easier then cooking them on the stove because you can do other things while they’re cooking. While you’re at it, make extra of any of these vegetables and use them for several meals, to save time on another day.
- Make big batches of veggie-filled sauces and soups and freeze the extra for extremely busy days. You can load up spaghetti sauce and many kinds of soup (including Butternut Squash soup) with lots of vegetables. Make large batches and freeze them for days when you simply don’t have time to cook vegetables.
- Chop extra of vegetables you use frequently and keep a stash in the freezer. Many recipes call for onions/peppers, onions/peppers/celery, or onions/celery/carrots. If you find yourself using a combination of vegetables over and over, cut up a lot of them and package them in the amounts you normally use (e.g., 2 cups of chopped peppers and onions). (If you have a food processor, it makes this job quick and easy.) I like to have onions/peppers for spaghetti sauce, omelets, and quiches and onions/celery/carrots for chicken soup and beef vegetable soup in my freezer, ready to go.
What are your strategies for saving time and energy when it comes to prepping, cooking and serving fruits and vegetables? Please share them in the Commnets – I would love to hear from you.