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Struggling to hit your five-a-day? These clever tips from foodies will soon have you emptying the veg drawer.
1. Easy wins
You can eat more veg almost without thinking about it; a handful of spinach in your cheese sandwich at lunch, or a little chopped celery as well as onion in your Bolognese. And substitute vegetables for carbohydrates – so enjoy bangers and mash but with swede or parsnip purée instead of potatoes, or swap your regular pasta for butternut squash or courgette noodles.
2. Carry on
When we’re feeling peckish, we tend to be tempted by fatty snacks – such as chocolate and crisps – so leave the house prepared. ‘Always carry a couple of pieces of fruit and chopped vegetables (such as carrot sticks and red pepper) in your bag,‘ says creative food editor Anna Glover. ‘If you’re hungry and it’s there, you’re much more likely to eat it rather than buying something.’ Managing food editor Tamsin Burnett-Hall is a big fan of cucumber. ‘Cut thick discs then top each one with a smear of peanut butter and a dollop of sweet chilli sauce for a satay-style nibble.‘
3. Make soup
'A quick way to get more veg is to blend them into a soup. I use any cooked vegetables for lunchtime soups, add spices like cumin and coriander, and serve with a drizzle of yogurt.' says Anna Glover.
4. Dunk it in
Love crisps and dips? Make your own. Slice root veg (beetroot and parsnips) into thin discs, spread out on trays, drizzle with oil and roast at 180°C, 160°C fan, gas 4 for 20-30 minutes. Whiz leftover cooked veg with herbs and spices for moreish dips.
5. Perfect pesto
Food writer Melissa Hemsley, of Hemsley & Hemsley, says, ‘Blitzing up pestos with rocket or kale is a great way to squeeze in more veg and use up what you have. I keep a jar of veg-based pesto in the fridge to add to soups and stews, drizzle over chicken or fish, or have as a dip. My latest book (Eat Happy, Ebury Press, £20) has a carrot-top pesto recipe that celebrates the whole carrot.’
6. Get organised
Organisation is key. ‘About once a week, I prep veggies like carrots and kale, and wash salad greens,’ says chef Donal Skehan. ‘Store them in the fridge, ready for snacking or for adding to scrambled eggs or omelettes, and for making quick salads to go with main meals. It means one less job when it comes to adding veggies to your daily meals.’
7. Add cabbage
'Add a generous handful of shredded cabbage to spaghetti or tagliatelle for the last three minutes of cooking. This will increase your veg intake and also bulk out the pasta, so you can use a little less.' says Tamsin Burnett-Hall.
8. Anyone for houmous?
Ready-made houmous is the perfect base for extra veg. Nutritionist Fiona Hunter likes to ‘blitz grated carrot or roasted red peppers with houmous for a tasty sandwich filling’.
9. Ditch the leaves
Lose the lettuce from salads – not only can it be a bit soggy, it’s also not as nutritionally packed as other veggies. Instead, roast veg – such as carrots and red onions – and serve with a zingy dressing.
10. Go green
‘One of my favourite suppers when the cupboard is bare is “greens on toast”,’ says food writer Felicity Cloake. ‘I usually have some elderly cabbage or other leaves in the vegetable drawer, and it’s the work of a moment to steam them, toss with olive oil or butter, season well with salt and chilli flakes, and serve on a chunky slice of sourdough rubbed with garlic, maybe with some crumbled cheese or a poached egg on top to make it more substantial. Super quick, cheap, and delicious.’
11. Dhal delights
‘I love making dhal – it’s one of my favourite comfort foods,’ says food writer and Bristol café owner Elly Curshen. ‘Along with the lentils, you can also add in a load of grated veg as it cooks – courgette and beetroot both work really well – to increase the veg count.’
12. Take root
Swap roast potatoes for roots, advises Fiona Hunter. ‘Slice pumpkin or butternut squash into large chunks, add to a roasting tin, drizzle with a little olive oil and season to taste. Bake at 200°C, fan 180°C, gas 6 for 30-40 minutes.’
13. Add veg to your breakfast
'Try eating vegetables for breakfast. It sounds strange, but "carrot cake" porridge is delicious - cook porridge as normal, but add a grated carrot, some raisins, and a little cinnamon and nutmeg. More nutritious than toast!' says Leah Hyslop, Sainsbury's magazine food director
14. Make it corny
Short on time? Tinned sweetcorn is your friend. ‘Ramp up your ready-made soup by simply adding a handful of tinned or frozen sweetcorn when heating it through,’ advises Tamsin Burnett-Hall.
15. Fill the freezer
‘One drawer of my freezer is full of frozen veg,’ says former food assistant Ailsa Brown. ‘They are often cheaper than fresh, keep for longer, and can be thrown into frittatas or quesadillas.’
16. Gravy train
Take your gravy from watery and sad to utterly delicious by adding puréed spinach or mushrooms to gravy. Not only will you up your veg intake, you’ll make the flavour much richer, too.
17. Make veg the star
'Stop building meals around "meat and two veg". During the week, I base meals on vegetables and save meat for the weekend. Think of them as the main part of the dish, rather than a side, and you'll be more innovative when you're cooking them.' says Ailsa brown.
18. Easy squeezy
For a quick boost, make sure you always have some tomato purée in the fridge. ’Add a generous squeeze to your casseroles or pasta sauces – a single tablespoon counts as one of your five-a-day,’ says Leah Hyslop.
19. Better brunching
Nutritionist Alexandra Harris suggests skipping the bacon and sausages and cooking baked veggie fritters – made with courgette or carrot – for the perfect Sunday brunch with friends. ‘Serve them with poached eggs, roasted vine tomatoes and spinach.’
20. Try a swap
Switching your steak for cauliflower ‘steaks’ (find them in the freshly prepared veg section of Sainsbury's) is a quick and easy way to get that extra portion in. And the best part? You can make the same sauce and trimmings to go alongside.
21. Love leftovers
Leftover leaves in the fridge? ‘Stir spinach leaves or rocket into pasta and sauce just before serving so that they wilt slightly,’ says Tamsin Burnett-Hall. ‘It’s easy to do and won’t alter the final flavour too much.’
22. Ha-pea surprise
Sometimes it helps to think outside the box. ‘I like to snack on frozen peas,’ says Anna Glover. ‘They are crunchy and sweet – perfect for a quick pick-me-up mid afternoon.’
23. Swap your spuds
Nutritionist Fiona Hunter suggests replacing regular potatoes with sweet potatoes. ‘Regular potatoes don’t count towards your five-a-day but sweet potatoes do. They’re also loaded with beta-carotene, an antioxidant that converts to vitamin A in the body.’
24. Get saucy
Cooking veg long and slowly will break them down into a delicious sauce. ‘When you’re making Bolognese or chilli, grate in a large courgette and carrot,’ advises Tamsin Burnett-Hall. ‘They’ll melt into the sauce, so you won’t know they’re there.’
25. Grow your own
Farmer and TV presenter Jimmy Doherty says, ‘A great way to get more veg in your diet is to grow it yourself – there’s nothing more satisfying than nurturing seeds into something you can put on your plate. It doesn’t need to be complicated – start with herbs and salads and go from there.’