You’ve made the first step to “get healthy.” Awwww, yeah. You bought, like, seven things of salad mix and ten pounds of apples and…
And you end up with nine pounds of rotten apples and six things of dead salad sludge. We’ve all been there. You decided to make a Positive Life Change™ but ended up with trash and wasted money.
If you want to eat more fruits and vegetables, that’s great, but before you fling yourself into a new lifestyle, make a plan for success. It starts with figuring out why your eating habits are the way they are now and what kind of changes you can make to accommodate them.
You need convenient food
If you generally like fresh fruit and vegetables, but don’t eat them, chances are you depend on convenience food: frozen dinners, take-out, delivery, pre-packaged stuff, etc. There’s nothing inherently bad about taking advantage of convenience, but most convenient food does a crap job of making healthy options appealing and cost-effective. No one wants a limp iceberg lettuce salad for twice the cost of a burger.
Your problem with eating more vegetables is that they require meal planning, cooking skills, and time. Now I could get on a foodie high horse and tell you that you should cook fresh food everyday, but instead of being the food morality police, let’s work within your parameters.
First, embrace the things you’re willing to put effort into cooking: kale chips, roasted Brussels sprouts, broccoli casserole, bacon and greens, creamed spinach, whatever. It doesn’t need to be perfectly healthy as long as you believe it’s worth your time. Boom! That’s one vegetable down.
If you don’t mind frozen or canned vegetables and fruit, just buy those. They last a long time and relieve you of needing to perfectly meal plan. Yes, it’s a little more expensive and there’s more packaging waste, but it’s better than throwing out a ton of fresh stuff because you didn’t have time to cook it. Also, go ahead buy pre-cut, pre-washed stuff like baby carrots or ready-to-eat salad greens You know you need the convenience.
Next, find low-maintenance recipes that are practically the same as warming up something in the microwave. There are few things easier than the lazy person’s pasta prima vera: boil pasta, throw in the frozen vegetables, then drain and toss with pasta sauce from a jar.
Buy limited amounts of seasonal produce, and always a little less than you think you need. Once you see how you do with small amounts and incorporating them into snacks and meals, then you can start expanding. But throwing what was once good food and money in the trash is so defeating that it’s better to start small.
Keep in mind there are some things that seem to last forever in the fridge, and they will be your friends: onions, garlic, hard squashes, ginger, root vegetables, and apples. Also, there are containers that will keep your produce fresher longer, and may be worth the investment.
You hate fruits and vegetables
No amount of me telling you how great vegetables are will change your mind. No amount of pretty food porn will convince you. No amount of finger wagging about health will make fruits and vegetables taste better to you. You know what? It’s okay to not like certain foods. Sometimes it’s natural, especially if you associate “healthy” food with unpleasant things like parental pressure or forced diets.
But you’ve decided to eat more produce for a reason. Whether it’s health related or you’re supporting a family member who’s also making dietary changes, you’ve decided to give fruits and vegetables another go.
Now, the advice for convenient food above will still be handy, but it’s harder and less rewarding to put forth any effort if you don’t like the food you’re preparing. So to start with, keep eating food you enjoy because a total replacement would be misery.
The Fat Nutritionist has an excellent post for picky eaters about introducing new foods into their diet. Some of the main takeaways are that no one except you should dictate what you eat, disliking certain foods is okay, and your main goal is learning how to try things. She encourages you to eat what you like while having a small portion of something new available during meals. There’s going to be some food waste, but that’s part of the process of determining what you’re willing to try, what you will never try again, and what becomes a new dietary staple.
When you’re experimenting with fruits and vegetables, I’d recommend trying them in forms that you’re unfamiliar with. It could be that you’ve always hated canned green beans growing up, but actually enjoy them freshly steamed. Or maybe your lunch always had mealy Red Delicious apples, but you like the Honeycrisp variety.
If you hate everything but still want more produce in your diet, find a way to disguise it: pureed in pasta sauce, chopped into small pieces and scattered over a pizza, baked into a cheesy casserole, blended into smoothies, etc. In the end, if even this measure doesn’t work, you can say you tried lots of new things. And if you’re more comfortable trying new things, count it as a win.