fruitGetting more fruits and vegetables into your diet is great advice, but not necessarily easy to afford. After tracking my produce consumption for one week, I found that I spend about $27 extra to do what the nation's health experts say I need to do to stay as healthy and fit as possible. Even after one week, I decided it was definitely worth the extra struggle and cost.

But for many people, this is a scary leap. What if dinner becomes boring? What if it's even more expensive than you'd planned? How do you work that produce magic?

Here are my favorite tips for making it easier, cheaper, and tastier to eat fresh.

  • I actually love eating my vegetables, but I found it helped to get out of the habit of serving one vegetable side with dinner and start serving two vegetable sides.
  • Buy whole, larger fruit like pineapple, chop it up as soon as you come home, and store it for snacking throughout the week.
  • Most fruit is incredibly portable: apples, bananas, grapes, just wash and plunk in your bag before leaving for work.
  • Now enjoy this crazy surprise discovery: Eating fruit for a snack can make you less inclined to snack on junk. I never touched the cookies I kept in the pantry because, in some twisted way, it seemed like they would cancel out the good I was doing with the fruit.
  • You can count potatoes as a vegetable. Yes, they're starchy, but if you start with fresh potatoes (I cut mine into wedges, tossed with olive oil and salt, and roasted them) and eat the skins, they're a good source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, manganese, and fiber.
  • Use twice the amount of marinara sauce with pasta. I picked up this trick from Mark Bittman. This is how you get a full 1/2 cup serving of tomatoes on your plate without loading up on a ton of pasta. You can supplement your sauce with peppers, roasted squash, eggplant, mushrooms, anything. (PS: some brands of salsa are surprisingly high in vitamins, so check the labels and consider that over black beans for lunch.)
  • I ate a TON of carrots. That's because I found these cool white satin and purple haze carrots and just couldn't get enough of them -- but it also helps that they're sweet, crunchy, and great cooked or raw.
  • I noticed at the grocery store that local apples are cheaper than West Coast apples by almost half. Grapes at the farmers' market were cheaper than at the grocery store and there were more fun varieties. If you eat with the seasons you can save money.
  • We usually shop at a food co-op, where prices are quite low but where we usually buy organic. Joining a CSA (community supported agriculture) can also save you money.
  • Make it fun. This is controversial, and I do enjoy many veggies just steamed, but if I'm eating a lot of vegetables I feel like I can afford to cook the occasional indulgence, like this luscious Fennel Baked in Cream. Ditto with greens cooked with bacon, creamy buttermilk dressing with salad, and cheesy pumpkin gratin.
  • From what I can tell, bagged salads aren't all that more much more expensive than whole heads of lettuce. If it means you're more likely to eat salad, it's probably worth the small extra cost.

This week's grocery bill was high but definitely worth it. I enjoyed a great variety (carrots notwithstanding) and felt great. Will I eat as many apples and bananas this week? Maybe. I think it's a habit I could get used to!

 

Image via DeusX Florida/Flickr