Nutrition tips for boosting your vegie intake during National Nutrition Week

This week is National Nutrition Week – an opportunity to raise awareness of the role of food on our health and encourage healthy eating.

Now, we’ve all heard the famous “2 and 5” expression relating to consuming two serves of fruit and five serves of vegies a day. Anyone remember Healthy Harold from the Life Education van telling you to “Eat your vegies”? Or the expression, “Eat the rainbow”? (And no I’m not talking about the Skittles advertisement “Eat the rainbow, taste the rainbow”.)

Evidence shows that including a variety of different coloured vegetables in our diet is extremely important for our health. It directly relates to healthy outcomes such as a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, some cancers, mental health conditions, arthritis, and others. The reason for this is that each vegetable contains its own unique set of nutrients that help the body carry out its various functions.

For example, carrots and sweet potatoes contain a compound called beta-carotene which you may know is the orange pigment present in these vegetables. Beta-carotene acts as an important antioxidant which helps to combat free-radicals that cause inflammation and promote chronic disease. It can also be converted to Vitamin A (retinol) which is an important factor in supporting many different functions including growth and development, eyesight and immune function.

I’m not going to say consuming the recommended five serves of vegetables a day is easy, especially for a uni student!  One serve of veg is approximately 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables or 1 cup of raw/salad vegetables. Therefore, to get to the recommended 5 serves a day, we’re looking at around 2.5 cups of cooked veg or 5 cups of salad leaves.

If you’re not a big vegie eater to start it can be a bit daunting when thinking about ways to try and up your intake without turning into a rabbit. So, how can you easily include more veg in your daily diet?

Top 5 ways to eat more veg and stay healthy at uni:

1. Herbs and spices

These magical ingredients have been used for centuries by many populations to add flavour to dishes, and they remain one of the simplest ways to add oomph to your vegies. Whether they’re fresh or dried, adding them during or after cooking (or both) is a simple way to add interest to some of the more flavour-lacking vegetables.  

2. Make use of your measuring cups

Keep a 1 cup measurement on the kitchen bench and see how many times you can fill it with vegies each day. Remember to aim for 2.5 cups of cooked vegies or 5 cups of raw/salad veg a day.

3. Roast your vegies

Roasting your vegies in the oven with garlic and onion and a drizzle of olive oil is a great way to bring out that beautiful caramelised flavour. Having them alongside your favourite meal or just simply adding them to a salad is an easy way to increase your intake (think 1.5 cups of salad leaves + ½ cup of cooked veggies = 2 cups of veggies just in one meal!) Power up the nutrition with your favourite protein and healthy fat source and you’ve got yourself a well-balanced meal. 

4. Don’t be afraid to utilise frozen veg

Don’t have time to peel, chop, dice and cook? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. While fresh is usually more flavoursome, frozen veg can be a quick and simple strategy to boost your intake if you’re strapped for time. There are many varieties on the supermarket shelf that come in handy single serve packets now. Throw them in the microwave with your favourite sauce and protein and you’ve added another 1-2 cups of vegies to your day. If you’re a meal prepper, try creating your own gourmet frozen veg packets with added onion, garlic, herbs and spices. 

5. Try to include vegetables in every meal

Yes, that’s right, even for breakfast! Before you tell me that it’s impossible to include vegies at breakfast, think smoothies and vegie omelettes. Spinach and kale topped with pineapple, apple, water and ice will make for a refreshing summer smoothie. Try it alongside a vegie omelette in the morning with tomato, mushroom and spinach topped with cheese and avocado and you’ll have yourself a vegie packed start to the day.    

The main message here is not to scare you into having to consume the recommended five serves a day every single day. It is simply to focus on ways to increase your intake and aim towards the five serves, and if that involves simply adding vegies to your dinner meal then that’s a great shift in the right direction. You may not see the importance of it now, but I assure you, your body will thank you for it in years to come!

^Data from the Australian National Health Survey 2014-15

Last updated:
1 October 2020