Getting in your 2 1/2 to 3 cup servings of vegetables a day is sometimes easier said than done, but there are plenty of health reasons to try, including reducing your risk for a number of chronic diseases, like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cancer. Here are five common challenges when it comes to eating more fruits and veggies—and their solutions. Whether you're a caregiver for an older loved one or simply looking to eat smarter yourself, these tips can help.
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1. Problem: You can't get to the grocery store that often.
Recipe: Simple Sauteed Spinach
Solution: Try home delivery. Grocery services like Peapod and Instacart are popping up all over the country. "They often cater to people looking for smaller portions," says Jen Bruning, MS, RDN, LDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Fees vary, but many are affordable. Farmers' markets and community food co-ops are another option. They don't deliver, but depending on where you live, they may be easier to get to than the nearest supermarket. And because the food is locally grown, you get extra freshness and nutrition.
2. Problem: Your fresh produce goes bad before you can use it all up.
Picture: Best Veggie Soups to Freeze
Solution: Get creative. Use fresh or frozen produce when you can, but look for other ways to get your five a day. "Juice can count as one serving a day," Bruning says. "You don't want to go too crazy with fruit juice because of sugars." Dried fruit counts, too—but again, check to see if it has added sugar.
3. Problem: You're worried about the cost.
Recipe: Quick Vegetable Saute
Solution: Go frozen. Fresh produce that's traveled a long way can lose vitamins and minerals even before it reaches the store. But the freezing process "locks in nutrition," says Bruning. Freezing helps you stretch your budget another way: you can portion out what you'll eat now and freeze the rest for later. Even canned produce is better than nothing, Bruning says. Canned vegetables tend to be high in sodium and canned fruits high in sugar, so check nutrition labels carefully.
4. Problem: You don't eat like you used to. Literally.
Recipe: Green Smoothie
Solution: Our bodies change as we age. We may have dental issues, and it may become harder to chew. Our appetites drop off. We may have trouble swallowing food. What to do? First, see a specialist. "Anyone who has trouble swallowing should see a speech-language pathologist," Bruning says. The culprit could be many things: nerve problems, a stroke or even stress. Once your doctor determines the cause, you can find ways to make eating enjoyable again. Try steaming or blanching veggies to make them easier to chew, or blending up kale and spinach in a green smoothie. "You want to tailor prep techniques to what's comfortable," Bruning says.
5. Problem: You don't like the taste.
Recipe: Chocolate-Sweet Potato Parfait
Solution: Sneak 'em in. Remember that plate of broccoli when you were a kid? Some food aversions stick with us. If certain foods still give you the willies, find subtle ways to incorporate them in dishes everyone loves. "Most people have a favorite soup," Bruning says, and soups can be a great way to get your veggies. Try new recipes to keep things interesting. Add fresh fruit to a yogurt shake, or bake a fruit-based dessert. "Older people often grew up eating fruit crumbles, crisps and pies," Bruning says. Nostalgic dishes like these "take people back in time," so they enjoy them more.
And by the way, it's OK to let dessert count now and then as one of your five a day. "Make space for indulgent foods that give pleasure in life," Bruning says. "Ultimately, it's about finding that happy medium between health and pleasure."