For years I’ve heard about eating 5-a-day, it’s probably the only government health message I know and have thought about on a regular basis throughout my life. Although looking into it, it turns out that 5-a-day came from California in the late 80’s and was only officially adopted by the UK government in 2003. I thought it had been around since I was a kid?
Anyway, the basic idea is that eating more portions of fruit and veg means you’ll be healthier, live longer, be less prone to disease and so on. Pretty good stuff I reckon, but apparently – even with the catchy slogan – most people are still only managing 3.5 portions per day.
So, what counts towards your five a day? The quick answer is all sorts… but obviously not all vegetables are created equal. So, yes a portion of Heinz Tomato Soup counts as one of your 5-a-day, but it is also heavily processed, contains fats and salts and won’t be as full of vitamins as a fresh homemade tomato soup.
With that in mind, here are 8 good & easy ways to get more fruit & veg into your diet and reach that all-important five a day:
1. Drink juice – Yes, fruit juice counts as one of your five a day. You may be surprised though to learn that you only need to drink 150ml and even if you drink more it still only counts as one of your five portions. Generally something like a small bottle of fresh pressed apple juice (my favourite) is 250ml, so save some for tomorrow. I once worked with a girl who told me she was drinking an entire carton of Tropicana every day so she got her five a day. That is definitely not recommended!
2. Discover beans, peas & pulses – I love beans and pulses so I was delighted to learn that they are part of my five a day. Again, these can only provide you with one of your portions, but as someone who eats a lot of vegetarian food, that’s great to hear. 80g of garden peas, chick peas, lentils, butter beans and even baked beans counts as one of your portions of fruit & veg for the day. So, for two people that would be less than half a can of beans.
The great thing about these little beauties is that they are really easy to incorporate into lots of meals – a handful of peas in some fried rice, some lentils in a soup and so on. If you’re having a tough time eating enough fruit and veg, why not swap your lunchtime sandwich for beans on toast? Or you could blitz up some garden peas into a tasty spread with some mint, lemon and a little garlic. Easy Peas-y (sorry). Here’s another good chickpea recipe for you to enjoy.
3. Get some dried fruits – SO EASY! I never knew that dried fruits counted towards your five a day. Amazing news, right? So, you can grab a 3 dried apricots, some dates. raisins or figs and you’re away. 30g is all you need for a portion – in figs, that’s just 2. I like to think that I could get away with counting fig rolls as one of my five portions. I could, right? I mean, I know it’s not exactly in the spirit of things, but… I really like fig rolls. You can also add dried fruits in to other dishes to up the health-levels. Like this Harissa Chicken & Dukkah Cous Cous – which would be lovely with some added raisins or apricots.
4. Eat 2 kiwis – Two kiwi fruits count as a portion and they are super easy to work into your diet. They may seem like a bit of a faff with their hairy skin and slippery insides, but there is a simple trick to eating kiwi fruits that will make you want them every day. Eat them like you would a soft boiled egg. No, not with soldiers! Just chop the top off and scoop the insides out with a teaspoon. No mess, no fuss.
5. Have tinned fruit in the cupboard – Tinned fruit counts. That’s good news for those of us who don’t get to the shop to buy fresh stuff every day. So, whether you’re poaching some tinned pears in wine or just eating a couple of tinned peach halves for your pudding, it all counts.
6. Eat 1 tomato – You can eat a single medium sized tomato easily enough, right? Boom. That’s one of your five a day DONE. We’ve got lots of recipes where you can use fresh tomatoes; panzanella and chana masala are good places to start.
7. Just add lettuce – You can add a side salad to a lot of different meals and a cereal bowl of lettuce is all you need for one of your portions. So, either eat it as a complement to your main meal (great with a risotto, pasta, tart, chicken casserole… pretty much anything without an English gravy!) or squash a bunch of lettuce into your sandwich at lunchtime. If you do have it as a side salad then combine it with your tomato and cucumber (a 5 cm long piece) to get 3 of your 5-a-day in one go.
8. Use dried mushrooms when cooking – Two tablespoons of dried mushrooms is a portion. Dried mushrooms are super tasty, can wait in the cupboard without going off and can be used in lots of different things – sauces, stews, risotto, noodle soup and more. Or even in an easy mushroom quiche.
If you want to know more about portions then you can find a great list from the NHS here.
So, there you have 8 easy ways to boost your fruit and veg intake. One of the things I’ve been surprised about while learning about the 5-a-day rule is how small a portion can be – just a 5cm slice of melon and you’ve had one of your five a day.
The idea is to mix it up, get as many different veg in your diet as possible and just do your best to fill up with this good stuff instead of bread, rice, chips, dairy and all the rest. Also, it’s better to eat more vegetables than fruit because they are lower in sugar.
An easy way to make sure you are eating healthily is to think about eating a rainbow. If during a day you eat a mango, carrots, sweet potato and orange then you’re doing good, but everything you’ve eaten is the same colour and you’ll get the same nutrients, vitamins and minerals from them. If you eat something green, yellow, pink, brown, purple and other colours then you know you will be getting a range of the different important minerals you need.
So, how would the tips above work in practice? Here is how a day could look following my 8 easy tips:
Breakfast – toast + 3 dried apricots + 150ml glass of fruit juice – 2 portions
Lunch – Beans on toast (just 80g) – 1 portion
Dinner – Mushroom risotto with watercress – 2 portions
Simple, right? If you have found this helpful and would like more suggestions for easy 5-a-day meals then leave a comment and I will do some more!
Oh and if you don’t manage five today, don’t feel bad. There’s always tomorrow.