Dietitian Sue Mah is on a one-woman quest to help North Americans eat healthier, fresher food. One of the biggest concerns she has with our eating habits? How few fruits and vegetables we consume. To give us the lowdown, Mah made time in her busy schedule for an interview with SheKnows.com.
Americans avoid eating fruits and vegetables
Mah says there are a number of common barriers that explain why North Americans avoid eating fruits and vegetables.
Barriers to eating more fruit and veggies
Cost of produce deters consumption
“Many people think that fresh fruits and veggies are expensive, but they don’t have to be,” says Mah. She cites Walmart’s new initiative in their superstores as an example — they’ve relaunched their fresh food line to make good-for-us foods more affordable. Several other chains, including Loblaws, have started similar campaigns.
Lack of knowledge can discourage people
“People may not know how to buy or cook certain fruits and veggies,” says Mah. “Cookbooks, magazines and online recipes can provide ideas and inspiration.” Another suggestion? Start your endeavors by cooking small — and with easy recipes. It’s best to work your way up to more complicated dishes so you don’t get discouraged when something doesn’t work out.
Time constraints turn people away from produce
Mah is well aware that it takes a bit of time to cut and prep veggies — and that can deter many people from eating them. Her suggestion? “People should do as much as they can in advance of cooking a meal,” she suggests. “Slice the peppers, chop the carrots and dice the zucchini so they’re all ready to toss into a stir fry or pack for a quick snack.”
Lack of meal planning
Mah says planning your fruit and vegetable intake is key to actually consuming it. “Aim to eat at least one to two servings of fruits and veggies at every meal and snack to get your recommended intake,” she suggests. Planning will ensure you get your daily dose.
Hard-to-find fruits and vegetables
There’s also the problem of availability. Many recipes call for hard-to-find fruits and vegetables that may not be stocked on store shelves. “Are you looking for okra, persimmons or Asian eggplant?” she asks. Many stores are becoming more “committed to providing a growing selection of regional ethnic specialty produce as well as organic and local produce.”
Improper food storage leads to waste
If those barriers weren’t enough, Mah says improper storage of fruits and veggies can lead to waste and discourage people from buying. Learning to properly store food will ensure your food stays fresher longer, minimizing waste and inspiring you to cook with the foods you have.
How to buy more fruits and veggies
Make a produce-rich shopping list
For those who are hoping to eat more of these important foods on a daily basis, Mah’s got some advice for you: First and foremost, she says, it’s important to make a veggie- and fruit-rich shopping list — and to stick to it.
Buy only what’s on your list
Don’t be distracted by your cravings. If you follow your list, the only foods you’ll have to eat at home are healthy and nutritious. While we’re on the subject of cravings, the best way to avoid them, says Mah, is to never shop when you’re hungry.
Follow the supermarket perimeter for healthy foods
From there, make it a priority to fill most of your shopping cart with fruits and veggies — and stick to the outer aisles of your grocery store, where the food tends to be less processed. Last, scour your weekly paper’s flyers to see who’s offering the best deals on food. This will help you stick to a food budget and will prevent you from buying things you don’t need.