No Excuses: Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables

9 reasons you're skimping on fruits and vegetables - and how to overcome them.

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

What's your excuse? We all know that fruits and vegetables can improve our health in a powerful way. But we seem to keep coming up with reasons why we can't eat more of them.

Several recent studies have shown that we just aren't eating enough produce. For example, researchers from Johns Hopkins University looked at data from two national surveys, which included almost 24,000 people. During a 24-hour period, only 11% reported eating the recommended two or more servings of fruit and three or more servings of vegetables.

In 2005, less than a third of American adults reported eating at least two daily servings of fruit a day, and 27% said they ate three or more servings of vegetables, according to a report from the CDC.

These are not grandiose goals here. Many nutrition experts would argue that five servings a day of fruits and vegetables is the bare minimum.

So why can't we meet them? Here are some common excuses we make for not eating our fruits and vegetables, along with tips on how to overcome each one.

Excuse No. 1: It's not convenient to eat fruits and vegetables.

"Out of sight, out of mind" is the key here. If fruits and vegetables aren't in front of us when we are eating or choosing what to eat, we are less likely to eat them.

How to overcome this excuse:

  • Keep ready-to-eat fruit out where you can see it. Keep whole fruit and dried fruit sitting on your kitchen counter. Put cut fruit and 100% juice front and center in your refrigerator so you see it when you open the door.

  • Go places where you're reminded to eat fruits and vegetables. If you go to restaurants that feature vegetarian dishes or cafes that serve awesome fruit smoothies or fruit salads, you'll likely be inspired to eat fruits and vegetables.

Excuse No. 2: I don't like fruits and vegetables.

Some people say they don't eat enough fruits and vegetables because they simply aren't interested. It's more fun to eat french fries or nachos.

Kristi Thaete, MS, RD, a clinical dietitian for Overland Park Regional Medical Center in Kansas, says her clients often anticipate that vegetables will be bland or taste bad.

How to overcome this excuse:

  • Get out of a fruit and vegetable rut and try new options. No one likes the same fruit or vegetables day in and day out.

  • Add fruits and vegetables to foods you like. Add fruit to yogurt, oatmeal, pancakes, French toast, cottage cheese, etc. Add vegetables to chili, stew, casseroles, pasta, pasta salad, omelets, pizza, and so on. You can also dip raw veggies in your favorite light salad dressing.

  • Serve a green salad with dinner. This is standard practice in many cultures. Why not do it a few times a week? Make it fun by changing the embellishments (say, from mandarin oranges and pecans to cucumber and avocado) and the types of dressing you use (from light raspberry vinaigrette to light Caesar).

  • Buy or make fruit salad often. No one can resist a beautiful fresh fruit salad. There's something very appetizing about an assortment of fruit in different shapes, colors, and flavors, all tossed together.

Excuse No. 3: I'm out of the habit of eating fruits and vegetables.

So much of what we eat and drink, day in and day out, is a function of habit. If you're in the habit of drinking fruit juice each morning with breakfast, adding fruit every time you sit down to a bowl of oatmeal, or starting dinner with a side salad, you'll be a lot more likely to get the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables each day.

How to overcome this excuse:

  • Make fruits and vegetables part of every meal and snack. Make written signs for yourself if you have to, but somehow remind yourself to include fruits and vegetables at every meal and snack (or almost every one).

  • Drink a glass of 100% fruit juice or vegetable juice each day. You could have it as a morning or afternoon snack or with a meal. Some of the high-nutrient fruit juices are orange juice, grapefruit juice, and purple grape juice.

Excuse No. 4: I'm not motivated to eat fruits and vegetables.

If everyone knew how much fruits and vegetables can help reduce the risk of major chronic diseases, maybe more of us would make it a priority to eat at least five servings a day. The truth is that fruits and vegetables may be the most important things you can add to your daily diet to reduce the risk of cancer.

If you want to overcome this excuse, just look at the results from three studies presented at the 2007 American Association for Cancer Research's annual meeting:

  • Among smokers, those who ate the most produce rich in flavonols (spinach, some veggies from the cabbage family, apples, onions, and berries) were 59% less likely to develop pancreatic cancer than those who ate the least. Nonsmokers also reduced their risk.
  • A study from the National Cancer Institute with 500,000 people aged 50 and up showed that eating two additional servings a day of fruits and vegetables -- regardless of the number of servings you usually eat -- can reduce the risk of developing head and neck cancers.
  • More studies need to be done, but a lab study suggests that certain components that result from digesting soy and vegetables in the cabbage family appear to discourage the spread of breast and ovarian cancers by reducing the production of two proteins needed for the growth of these two cancers.

Excuse No. 5: I don't know how to serve fruits and vegetables to my family.

"Our recent study of 1,000 Generation X moms (born between 1965 and 1979) conducted in February 2007, found that the most common barrier for them was that they needed new ideas and inspiration about how to include more fruits and vegetables in their family's diet," Elizabeth Pivonka, PhD, RD, president of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, notes in an email.

How to overcome this excuse:

  • Vegetables don't have to be boiled (or boring). Try green and fruit salads, dried fruit, raw veggies with dip, juices, or any of the other options mentioned elsewhere in this article.

  • Expand your horizons. Buy some cookbooks focusing on veggies, subscribe to a healthy cooking magazine, troll the Internet for produce recipes ... or just try some of the recipes below. Sooner or later, you'll hit on something that appeals to the whole family.

Excuse No. 6: I eat out a lot.

Another barrier to eating more fruits and vegetables that came up in the Produce for Better Health Foundation survey of moms was not knowing how to make healthy selections when eating out, Pivonka says.

How to overcome this excuse:

  • Order fruits and vegetables even at fast food restaurants. You can order apple slices at McDonalds or a fruit bowl from Wendy's. And you can order side salads at almost any fast-food chain -- just order it with low-fat dressing and only use half of the packet to keep calories down. If you're ordering a "wrap" or grilled chicken sandwich, ask for extra lettuce and tomatoes. Every little bit helps.

  • Choose restaurants that offer appetizing options. If you find a restaurant that has delicious grilled vegetables, a flavorful fruit salad, or interesting entrees loaded with fruits and vegetables, visit that restaurant often.

  • Stop at a smoothie shop. Smoothies offer an opportunity to get a couple of servings of fruit into your day. Choose the flavors with lots of fruits added.

Excuse No. 7: Fresh produce spoils before i can eat it.

How many times have you had to thrown out blackened bananas, broccoli that turned yellow and wilty, or oranges that shriveled up right in front of your eyes? It's a "use it or lose it" situation. In my experience (with the exception of apples kept in the crisper) you're more likely to use fresh produce within two to three days. After that, you either forget you have it or it goes bad.

How to overcome this excuse:

  • Dried fruit is ready when you are. It doesn't go bad. And dried fruit isn't just about raisins anymore. You can select from dried mango, cherries, blueberries, flavored cranberries, strawberries, apricots, and peaches. Remember that 1/4 cup of dried fruit is equal to a serving of fruit.

  • 100% fruit or vegetable juice is only a glass away. Some types of fruit and vegetable juices will spoil if you don't use them by the recommended date on the container. But there are also packaged and canned 100% fruit and vegetable juices that have a long shelf life.

  • Shop for fresh produce a few days at a time. If you just bought the fruits and vegetables, they are more likely to be in your consciousness so you'll plan them into your meals and snacks. It's a good idea to make a fruit salad or green salad right when you get home from the grocery store. Store it in a covered plastic container, and a fresh salad is only a minute away.

  • Frozen, frozen, frozen. Always have some frozen fruits and vegetables on hand. Start looking for recipes that call for frozen fruits and vegetables so you will be more likely to use the bags sitting in your freezer.

Excuse No. 8: Other snacks are more convenient.

A lot of people think it's easier to buy a bag of chips or to go to the vending machine and grab a candy bar. But with a little forethought, fruits and vegetables can be just as convenient.

How to overcome this excuse:

  • 100% fruit juice couldn't be easier. Pack a frozen 100% juice box to keep your lunch cool, and it will be refreshingly slushy by high noon. Instead of buying a soda or chips from a snack bar, buy a bottle of 100% fruit or vegetable juice instead.

  • Try single-serving veggie packets. In some grocery stores, you can find single-serving veggie packets, like carrot and dip packs, celery and peanut butter, and sugar snap peas and dip. Pop one of these in your lunch or grab one on your way out in the afternoon. Remember, 6-8 carrot sticks (about 3-inch long) equals a serving of vegetables.

Excuse No. 9: Fruits and vegetables cost too much.

Thaete says many of her patients have the erroneous idea that fruits and vegetables are too expensive.

How to overcome this excuse:

  • Buy in-season produce whenever possible. The prices are usually more reasonable.

  • Buy frozen (or canned) fruits and vegetables. They're often less expensive than fresh produce - and they're available year round.

  • Find stores that have great prices on fresh or frozen produce. Some stores offer better prices than others. It could be your local farmer's market, or a specialty chain like Trader Joe's. Spend a little time researching this, and you'll know where to get the best deals on fresh and frozen produce, dried fruit, and 100% juice.

  • Buy a little fresh produce at a time. Don't waste money throwing out spoiled fruits and vegetables. Be sure to choose items that you really want to eat.

Fruit and Vegetable Recipes

Here are three simple recipes using fruits and vegetables to add to your repertoire.

Black Bean Vegetable Stir Fry

16-ounce bag frozen Oriental Style vegetables
2 tablespoons bottled black bean sauce
2 tablespoons water, chicken broth or beer
1 tablespoon toasted sliced almonds or
1 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds or thinly sliced green onions (just the green part)

  • Begin heating a nonstick wok or large skillet over high heat. When it's good and hot, add the frozen vegetables and let cook over high heat for about 4 minutes, stirring often.
  • Meanwhile, blend the black bean sauce with water, broth, or beer in a small cup and stir until smooth. When vegetables are just lightly cooked, stir in the black bean sauce and turn off heat. Let sit for about a minute to warm the sauce.
  • Sprinkle toasted almonds, sesame seeds or green onions over the top and serve.


Diet-Wrecking Foods: Smoothies, Lattes, Popcorn, and More in Pictures See Slideshow

Yield: 4 servings

Per serving (with almond garnish): 89 calories, 4 g protein, 16.5 g carbohydrate, 1.7 g fat, .2 g saturated fat, 0.7 g monounsaturated fat, 0.6 g polyunsaturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 6.4 g fiber, 136 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 16%.

Spinach Egg White Omelet

Canola cooking spray
1 cup loose frozen chopped spinach (found in bags, not boxes)
1/2 cup Egg Beaters (or other egg substitute)
A few sprinkles freshly ground pepper
Two pinches dried oregano flakes
1 ounce thinly sliced or shredded cheese of choice
1/2 whole tomato, thinly sliced or chopped

  • Start heating 9-inch nonstick frying pan or omelet pan over medium-high heat. Coat the inside of pan with canola cooking spray. Spread frozen spinach out in the pan and let it heat up for about a minute. Stir to continue cooking for about a minute more.
  • Spread spinach out evenly in the bottom of the pan, then pour 1/2 cup of egg substitute over spinach to form an omelet. Sprinkle pepper and oregano over the top. When the bottom is nicely browned, flip omelet over to cook other side.
  • Lay thinly sliced cheese over the top of half of the omelet. When bottom side is cooked and cheese is melted, fold one-half of omelet over the half topped with cheese. Garnish the top with fresh tomato and serve.

Yield: 1 serving

Per serving: 225 calories, 24 g protein, 12 g carbohydrate, 10 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 2.7 g monounsaturated fat, 0.5 g polyunsaturated fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 5.3 g fiber, 497 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 39%.

Mixed Berry Cobbler

This recipe can be made in individual portions in the microwave, or can be baked in the oven.

4 cups frozen unsweetened mixed berries (or use 2 cups frozen blueberries and 2 cups frozen raspberries)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons amaretto liqueur (or substitute 2 tablespoons fruit juice)
4 reduced-fat Crescent Rolls (4 ounces), unwrapped
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar

  • If using oven, preheat to 375 degrees. Add frozen berries to a medium bowl. Add 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, flour, and amaretto and stir to blend.
  • If using microwave, divide berry mixture into 4 custard cups. Top each with a crescent roll that has been cut in half, to cover the berries well. If using an oven, spread berry mixture in 9-x 5-inch loaf dish and arrange 4 rolled-out crescent rolls to cover berry mixture well.
  • In small cup, blend ground cinnamon with 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar. Sprinkle some of the cinnamon sugar evenly over the top of the crescent rolls.
  • If using microwave, microwave each individual cobbler for about 3 minutes (time may vary depending on your microwave). If using an oven, bake dish for about 20-25 minutes or until top is golden and berry mixture is bubbling.

Yield: 4 servings

Per serving: 209 calories, 3 g protein, 38 g carbohydrate, 5 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 1 g polyunsaturated fat, 1.6 g monounsaturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 5 g fiber, 220 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 21%.

Published May 18, 2007.

Recipes provided by Elaine Magee; © 2007 Elaine Magee

SOURCES: Casagrande S.S. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, April 2007; vol 32: pp 257-263. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, March 16, 2007; vol 56; pp 213-217. Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, Los Angeles, April 14-18, 2007. Kristi Thaete, MS, RD, clinical dietitian, Overland Park Regional Medical Center, Kansas. Elizabeth Pivonka, PhD, RD, president and chief executive officer, Produce for Better Health Foundation, Wilmington, Del.

©2007 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors