Most of us don’t get enough vegetables even though we know they’re super healthy. Here’s how you can eat more, according to a dietitian, without spending a lot of time in the kitchen.

Lisa Valente, M.S., R.D.
November 09, 2020
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Since having my second baby, I’ve struggled to find time to prep and cook healthy options for our family. More often than not we’re eating something quick. Some nights it’s takeout. Some nights it’s pasta. And some nights we’re lucky to manage cheese and crackers for dinner. While I know navigating newborn life is just a short season, I’ve been making more of an effort to eat vegetables (and fruits) to help keep us healthy. 

Whether you’re super busy or just want to boost your produce intake, there are some strategies I’ve implemented to help make that happen. Veggies need to be as easy as possible. That means they don’t all need to be local, organic and fresh (if that’s super important to you, go for it, but it’s not necessary). Getting vegetables in your diet is more important than focusing on eating “perfectly” and that means relying on convenience sometimes. I know I’m not alone in needing fast meals that also include vegetables, so hopefully these tips can help you too. 

1. Eliminate chopping 

This won’t work for every vegetable, but many come ready to go. Think baby carrots, sliced mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and baby spinach. Whether you’re grabbing them for a quick snack or throwing them into dishes, like 20-Minute Cherry Tomato & Garlic Pasta or Spinach-Mushroom Frittata, your vegetables don’t require prep, saving you time in the kitchen. Other pre-chopped vegetables, like cauliflower, butternut squash and broccoli, cut down on chopping but often cost a premium. 

2. Opt for frozen and canned

If you want convenience without paying extra, opt for frozen and canned vegetables. Despite what you may have heard, frozen and canned vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh vegetables. Frozen vegetables are picked at peak ripeness and flash frozen. Canned vegetables often have added sodium, which may be a concern for you, but many companies are offering low-sodium varieties. Frozen and canned vegetables are great because they last a long time, they’re inexpensive, they require almost no preparation and work in a variety of dishes. My favorite frozen options are peas, corn and broccoli. Canned winners in our house include tomatoes and artichoke hearts. Having these on hand make it easier to add some vitamins, minerals and fiber to any meal. (Here are our top 5 canned veggies, ranked.)

3. Snack smarter

Despite my best efforts, some dinners and lunches still lack vegetables. That’s OK. On days when time is particularly tight—my husband is working late, I have a really busy work day, school is closed—I try to make sure I include some vegetables for snacks. I tend to snack on nuts and fruit, yogurt and granola, an energy bar or cheese and crackers. I need to consciously remind myself to choose vegetables. Cucumber or bell pepper slices with hummus, carrots and peanut butter (don’t knock it ‘til you try it) or a cup of vegetable soup all make yummy snacks and help me boost my veggie intake for the day. 

4. Utilize your slow cooker

When I think slow cooker, I tend to think giant hunks of meat simmering until they’re tender. But recently, I’ve been taking advantage of our slow cooker to put more veg-forward dinners on the table. While evenings are crazy with two young kids, I often have a pocket of time earlier in the day to chop some vegetables and throw them in my slow cooker. These Slow-Cooker Southwest Quinoa Bowls include peppers, onions, tomatoes and corn—plus they’re delicious! These easy vegetarian slow-cooker recipes have been giving me lots of inspiration to get my veggies in every night. (If you’re more of an Instant Pot fan, these healthy vegetarian recipes can help inspire you.)

5. Use store-bought sauces 

Vegetables need to be tasty in order for you to eat them. Right now, I don’t have time to whip up creative marinades, dressings and sauces—I’m relying on store-bought options. Whether that is a salad kit that comes with yummy toppings and dressing (here are 10 favorites from Trader Joe’s), relying on pesto to brighten up roasted vegetables or using stir-fry sauces for easy meals.

Welcome to The Beet. A weekly column where nutrition editor and registered dietitian Lisa Valente tackles buzzy nutrition topics and tells you what you need to know, with science and a little bit of sass.