My 3-day diet record (part of a nutrition class assignment) revealed that despite my efforts to eat enough greens, I am not up to par with the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommendations. According to my log, I was consuming about 2 cups of veggies/day. The minimum veggie intake per day is at least 2.5 cups.
Goal #1 for 2011: Eat More Veggies.
Here are my strategies for reaching this goal on a college-friendly budget for both time and money:
1. Stock up on frozen. Frozen vegetables are easy, cost-effective, and retain their nutrient content better than fresh vegetables that don’t get eaten soon enough. Green Giant makes a variety of microwave-ready vegetable mixes that you can just pop out of the freezer, heat up, and eat. Some varieties don’t score very well on Guiding Stars food finder because they have a fairly high amount of sodium added in their seasoning but, personally I don’t think the sodium content is too terrible and they taste so good that I know I will actually eat them. My favorite is the Garden Vegetable Medley. The mix of roasted potatoes, snap peas, and bell peppers is so tasty that I love eating the mix as a snack or even at breakfast (not just as a side dish to lunch and dinners). Generally the packages are listed as having 2 servings per box, but at about 50 calories/serving you can easily enjoy the whole box guilt-free.
If you’re trying to cut back on sodium (another goal I’m trying to work on), you can mix the box veggies in with some unseasoned veggies to help cut back on your salt per serving ratio. For example, the Garden Veggie blend that I like takes great mixed with some plain frozen peas. I just cook the mix as directed. Then pop some frozen peas in the microwave in a covered dish with just a bit of water. Microwave on high (time varies so check your microwave or package instructions). Mix the peas and veggie mix together, dish out your desired serving and scoop the rest in a container to store in the fridge for a future snack. You can also stick to plain, unsalted frozen veggies to really cut back on your sodium intake and make your own seasoning to add flavor with garlic, herbs, and olive oil, and pepper.
2. Keep a plate of ready-to-eat fresh veggies handy. If they’re not easy to eat, they probably won’t be the first thing you reach for when you want a snack. During the summer, I always make a “cool plate” of washed, sliced fresh vegetables such as yellow and red bell pepper slices, baby carrots, and thin cucumber slices to serve as a side dish to meals for my family. I make more than enough so that we can keep the extras on a plate with saran wrap in the fridge to snack on throughout the day. I haven’t been as good about making these this fall or winter but I’m going to try to reinstate the plate. If it’s too much work, or you don’t have access to a lot of fresh veggie choices, buying a bag of baby carrots (which require little more than a quick rinse) can still achieve this purpose. The goal is to make the veggies in your fridge easily accessible.
3. Splurge on Salads. If I’m going to eat a fresh salad I want it to taste good. For me this means splurging on a good quality lettuce (organic mixed greens and spinach are my favorites) that looks appetizing enough that I know I’ll actually eat it. I love adding avocado slices, nuts, beans, artichokes, and a flavorful grilled chicken, light tuna, or goat cheese or Parmesan. Seasonal fruit tossed in can also liven it up nicely. Right now Bosc pears are my favorite fresh fruit in season. Buying all of your fresh ingredients can motivate you to eat everything before they go bad. Think of it as lowering your cost/serving every time you make a salad that week. Choosing a low-fat or non-fat dressing can be helpful to keep calories in check but check the label to make sure the manufacturer doesn’t try to compensate with extra sugars or salt.