Welcome We should all be aware of the benefits of eating a variety of fruits and vegetables every day. But it’s not easy. It’s not cheap. It’s a challenge for most any budget-conscious family cook. But it’s so worth it!
Food For Thought Almost 40 percent of American adults were considered obese in 2016, according to the CDC. I should know, I’m one of the statistics. If you read some of my recipes, this may not surprise you. What you might find surprising, though, is that I really love to exercise and I love my fruits and veggies.
From 2011-2013, I lost 90 pounds. My two biggest keys to success? Measuring my food intake and running. Due to injury and health problems that started in 2015, I was unable to keep running. Running was also one of my biggest strategies for fighting my depression and anxiety. So when the running stopped, the depression and anxiety increased, along with high work stress, allowing poor health and eating habits to creep back into my life. Now, in 2019, I’ve gained all the weight back. It makes me so sad. I worked so hard to make that progress. But enough excuses.
It is true I cannot exercise at the same level of intensity that I once could, but during those years of running, I was reading a lot about proper nutrition and healthy eating habits. That knowledge is still with me, so when it comes to my diet, there really is no excuse. Or is there?
Let’s face it, loading up our grocery carts with healthier produce and protein options is expensive. And that’s a crying shame! I love looking down at a plate of fresh, brightly colored vegetables and fruits. The more variety of colors we get in our diet the healthier we’ll be, plus it’s more appetizing to look at while eating.
But not only is it expensive, it’s more work. Whole foods are far more nutritious than convenience foods, such as veggie chips, fruit snacks, and fruit cups. But whole foods take time to prepare and require a little bit of planning on your part, unless you want to risk having some of that pricey produce going bad.
To make matters even trickier, we have to throw in picky kids (or spouses!) into the mix. Kids who “won’t eat that” can make a hard-working mom just throw up her hands in defeat! Who wants to go to all that work to just watch them pick at their food?
Well, let’s put those excuses to the side and try these helpful tips and 4-day meal plan loaded with fruits and veggies. By following these tips and planning ahead, I purchased the four days of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners (3-4 servings) for about $130 at Aldi. Some of the ingredients can be extended into the next round of meals, such as the waffles, oatmeal, peanut butter, and eggs.
Today’s Recipes and 4-Day Meal Plan Okay, my family’s diet isn’t always perfect, but we’re all about progress, not perfection. For us, the easiest way to make progress is by increasing the amount of vegetables and fruits we eat each day, while simultaneously decreasing fats and sweets. For more on our 80/20 philosophy, read this post.
I’m not going to tell you which day to eat what foods and these are just some ideas to get you started. I’m going to give you four veggie and fruit-packed options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You decide which works best for your schedule. And don’t forget to be on the lookout for other loaded recipes, such as smoothies, soups, salads, and stir-fry. These are not complicated recipes or meals and generally kid-friendly.
Frozen whole-grain waffles with peanut butter, apple slices, and blueberries. This is my daughter’s personal favorite!
Scrambled eggs with peppers, onions, and zucchini with orange wedges.
Oatmeal Power Bowl with Nut Butter, Banana, Cranberry, and a drizzle of Honey
“Loaded” Avocado Toast: 2 slices of whole wheat toast topped with mashed avocado, jalapeno slivers, cilantro, sliced red onion, and chopped hard-boiled egg and a sprinkling of salt and pepper, served with a side of strawberries.
Looking for an alternative to bread for your lunch sandwiches? Check out these lower-in-carb options! From left to right: Roast Zucchini and Cheddar “Sliders,” Peanut Butter and Blueberry Apple-Wiches, and Egg Salad-Stuffed Bell Pepper Boats.
Have a “dippables” lunch. This is very enticing to kids because they love to dip stuff. Be sure to have hummus on hand and during your meal prep time, whip up a batch of tangy peanut butter spread. In a small bowl, beat 4 ounces of cream cheese, 1/4 cup peanut butter, and 2 tablespoons of honey until smooth and creamy. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
For a “Dippables” lunch, just cut up veggies into sticks, such as celery, carrot, and bell peppers. Serve the veggies with a side of hummus. Cut up some apples into thin slices and serve with a side of tangy peanut butter spread. A serving size of whole grain crackers makes a nice addition to this veggie and fruit-focused lunch meal. Another bonus–this lunch is portable and packable.
Another bread-free lunch alternative–the lettuce wrap. Take the large outer leaves of a Romaine lettuce head and add turkey slices, thinly sliced carrots, cucumbers, and red onion, roll up and enjoy. I love the crunch of this easy, veggie-filled lunch option. I like to add a little drizzle of Ranch dressing to it before enjoying 🙂
And if you like wrapping things, you can try this lunch box or snack wrap. Take a whole wheat tortilla and spread your Tangy Peanut Butter Spread, as mentioned above, in a thin layer to the edges. Top with finely chopped apple and dried cranberries, roll up, slice and enjoy.
Then again, there’s nothing wrong with the classic sandwich lunch. To boost your fruit and veggie quota, top the sandwich with some fresh baby spinach leaves and some thin slivers of red onion or cucumber. Serve with simple carrot and celery sticks and fresh grapes.
The USDA recommends 5-13 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, depending on age and activity level. So for most of us average adults, we should be getting in 8-10 servings of fruits and vegetables. It’s really not as hard as it sounds. Especially if you load up the meal with veggies and make them the star of the show, like in these Veggie Loaded Fajitas.
I cut a large onion, 3 bell peppers (color variety is beneficial), a zucchini, a yellow squash, and about 4 ounces of mushrooms into strips. I cook them stir-fry-style in a little oil and salt and pepper. Following that I cut a couple of boneless, skinless chicken breasts into strips and cook with low-sodium fajita and taco seasoning.
In each warm tortilla we place a half-cup of the vegetables along with a little bit of the chicken. One-half cup is a serving size of cooked vegetables, so each individual fajita is a full serving of vegetables. I serve a side salad with our fajitas, so this meal alone meets about half of our daily requirement of fruits and vegetables.
A Veggie-Loaded Stir Fry is also a good option. I stir fry cut broccoli, carrots, bell pepper, zucchini, and green onion in a large skillet. I add fresh boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces, and season with salt, pepper, cumin, and red pepper flakes. Sometimes I add a little lime juice and fresh cilantro. Other times I will add fresh squeezed orange juice and peanuts. Serve over cooked rice. Our family likes this dinner way better than the heavy take-out from the local Chinese restaurant.
When preparing dinners, think about sauces and condiments that are fruit or vegetable-based, like salsa or a fruit compote or chutney. Try this dish of baked chicken thighs topped with pineapple and chili finishing sauce, served over rice, with a nice side salad.
I’ve tried to give several options for working more fruits and vegetables into all of the meals in your day, but I’ll admit, some days are just a little crazy for all of us. Eating meals together as a family is very important to us, but certain nights, we’re just really busy. Rather than sacrifice family meal time, we go with a fast meal, like (gasp!) frozen pizza. But popping a frozen pizza in the oven doesn’t have to be a nutritional pit of despair. By choosing veggie toppings, like this spinach and mushroom pizza, and serving with a quick salad and some chilled fruit cups, we’re still getting our fruit and vegetable servings for the meal.
Our diet may not be perfect, but I make an effort to make sure my family is getting as much nutrition as possible in our daily meals. I hope these suggestions will help you plan more meals with fruits and vegetables, too.