Family meals are a proven way to increase vegetable and fruit consumption in children, as well as promote lifelong healthy eating habits for everyone.  It would be nice to have a sit-down meal with the family every night and is something we should strive for as much as possible.  However,  reality may present some barriers – busy athletic schedules, late nights at work, long commutes home, and confidence in the kitchen can all make it tough to get a meal on the table.

Is it possible to increase vegetable and fruit consumption without regular family meals?  Maybe, according to a recent research study published in the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  University of Minneapolis researchers found several parenting practices outside of family meals that positively impacted vegetable and fruit consumption in children.  Those parents who brought these foods into the home and simply made them available improved children’s intake.  In consuming these foods themselves, parents modeled healthy eating habits and also contributed to children eating more fruits and vegetables.

Here are six simple ways to help you and your family increase vegetable and fruit consumption:

  • Start your day “veggie-heavy”:  It is easy enough to include berries or a clementine with your breakfast or as a snack.  Incorporating vegetables into your morning routine is the best way to lay a good foundation of a nutrient-dense day.  If you like a savory start, add some pre-washed leafy greens [I’m talking to you spinach and kale] or those pre-roasted vegetables you batched cooked for the week to your eggs.  Prefer a sweet start?  Add as much leafy green matter to your morning smoothie as you can tolerate!  Spinach goes incognito in our favorite chocolate, wild blueberry, spinach blend – give it a try .
  • Store prepped vegetables in the refrigerator:  This might seem like a no-brainer, but we find people don’t do it enough.  If you come home at the end of a long day the last thing you want to do is wash, chop, and cook a head of broccoli [we know, we’ve been there.]  After you shop, get your produce as close to being on your plate as possible – sometimes this means washing and chopping your broccoli into florets and storing them in our favorite kitchen tool, the produce bag.  When you get home, you’re 10 minutes closer to a stir fry, roasted broccoli, or vehicle for hummus.
  • Store prepped fruits in the refrigerator and keep some on the counter:  Have you ever supremed citrus before?  If not, get ready to start enjoying citrus on a whole new level.  Supreming removes the bitter membrane of citrus fruits leaving behind the sweet/tart flesh.  Here’s a video demonstrating the technique –  practice with grapefruits and oranges and watch your family devour bowls of segments.  Sprinkle with some unsweetened coconut flakes or chopped nuts.
  • Swap vegetable “chips” for highly-refined carbohydrates:  Instead of using chips or crackers as a vehicle for your favorite hummus, bean dip, salsa, or guacamole, slice carrots and cucumber on an angle to create vegetable chips!  You can also purchase waffled carrot chips at the grocery store.  Endive is another terrific, nutrient-dense vehicle.
  • Load up your soups:  Soup is an excellent way to increase your vegetable consumption.  Zucchini, carrots, celery, bok choy, peppers, tomatoes, whatever…  When making your favorite soup, stew, or chili try and make it at least 75% low-glycemic [lower starch] vegetables.  The other 25% can be a mix of high-quality protein and higher starch foods such as beans and quinoa.  Curious eyes at the dinner table?  No problem, just purée the soup.
  • Stock your kitchen zones: The refrigerator is not the only place you can fill with prepped vegetables and fruit.  Stock your freezer with frozen whole foods such as edamame, spinach, kale, quinoa, and cauliflower rice [thank you Trader Joe’s for starting this trend!]  Keep canned items such as beans, artichoke hearts, and hearts of palm in your pantry along with dry goods such as quinoa.