When it comes to food, one fact that will ride out any of the latest fads and trends is that more fruit and veg in your diet can only be a good thing. The government target of five-a-day has entered common parlance and has been a key step in raising awareness. The food writer Michael Pollen probably puts the best advice most succinctly when he says: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” But how to start the change?
The first real step to getting more veg into your diet is to fall in love with the stuff. Learn to appreciate the taste and textures and how to cook and combine it in interesting and enticing ways. Don’t see it as a set of tick-list targets; anything that becomes too dogmatic risks turning the whole thing into a joy-less chore.
Start with what you know
Start by eating a little more of what you are familiar with and try expanding your repertoire from there. Veg can be roughly grouped along varietal and family lines; the chances are that the things you like sit in a closely related spectrum of equally delectable relations. If you are a fan of broccoli, then it is likely that you would welcome the taste and texture of other floreting brassicas such as cauliflower or the hypnotically-spiralled Romanesco. The clean, peppery crunch of a radish could be the gateway to kohlrabi, daikon or even the much-maligned turnip. It isn’t too far a leap from a butternut squash to a sweet potato and from there to sweet roots such as parsnips and celeriac.
Dislike it? Think again
Most people have certain veg that they have decided they dislike from an early age. Try revisiting these veg with a fresh perspective. It is more than likely to be the preparation that is the problem rather than the veg itself. If your bad memories of beetroot are sliced and pickle in malt vinegar, then you may want to try it grated through a slaw or salad, roasted in generous chunks with a little orange and caraway or thinly sliced into a root gratin. The ghoulish spectres of miasmic cabbage and sludgy, grey spinach may be exorcised by nothing more than a shorter cook time, some thoughtful seasoning and a restrained squeeze or two of lemon.
Cook from scratch
Finding the time to cook from scratch a few times a week will almost inevitably bring more fresh ingredients into your obit. The more you cook the more comfortable you will become with the trimming, peeling and prep; you may even come to enjoy it. Some tasks, such as podding beans or peas, can have a strange meditative quality to it (for anything less than a kilo). If you are unsure to start with, just add the veg as a side to your meals, some wilted greens for example, or increase your usual veg elements. Maybe then move on to incorporating some veg into classics dishes: a mac and cheese with or cauliflower folded through, a curry or stew finished with some spinach or finely shredded kale, or a risotto completed with sweet, fudgy chunks of squash. As the cooking bug bites, you may find yourself starting to seek out the more obscure and fringe varieties as a culinary challenge. Trying a new veg every few weeks isn’t too unrealistic a goal to set yourself; if you can try cooking it in a variety of ways, all the better.
Break your habits
To embrace the veg it may mean you have to break a few habits – at the shops, in the kitchen cupboards and at the stove. More fresh produce is a must, just make it at the expense of processed foods and ready meals. A weekly veg box delivery is a good way to ensure an interesting variety and can push you to use things you may have otherwise avoided. Try and track the seasons where and when you can. Parsnips taste best in the winter, asparagus in the spring, sweetcorn in the summer and squash in the autumn. The biggest difference will come in cooking in ways you may not have considered before – try roasting some broccoli or cauliflower instead of boiling it, using parsnips or squash to make your mash instead of potatoes, or slow cooking something that would usually cook lightly; green beans, courgettes and fennel all react well to some low heat and extra time. Likewise, consider that many things are as delicious raw as they are cooked and offer a different taste and texture too.
Three meals a day
It may sound a bit demanding but try and think about a bit of fruit or veg in each meal of the day, it isn’t as much of a chore as you think. Breakfast granola can rarely go wrong with some sliced or diced fruit in the mix. Try some ripe avocado on your toast as an occasional change to the marmalade or marmite. There is an increasing craze for juices, smoothies and blends that allow you to squeeze or blitz fruit and veg into a quick and convenient glassful. Lunch could be as simple as folding some mixed salad leaves and grated carrot into your sandwich or making a packed lunch with some veg at its heart. Soup is an obvious choice but don’t discount the fact that you can build robust salads that would happily fill the midday gap. At dinner time consider bringing veg off the side-lines and make it the star of the dish. The need to eat less meat in our diet is becoming increasingly apparent for both health and environmental reasons, try using it less as the main event and fill the gap with pulses, legumes and plenty of veg instead. Maybe start with ‘Meat Free Mondays’ and see how you go from there.
Trying to eat less meat? Find our sister guide on how to eat less meat.