I am nothing if not a creature of habit. As far as everyday eating goes, I know what I like and I like what I know. So the news that we should shoot for 10 daily portions of fruit and vegetables left me reeling. To me this sounded like a big ask, but I decided to take one for the team and answer the question: is it easy – is it possible – to get through that amount of fruit and vegetables in one day? This is my story…
Sleepy, tetchy, ‘not a people person’ – just three ways to describe me in the morning. My stomach, like my smile, never wakes up until two or three hours after the rest of my body. As a result, breakfast is a concept I’m not overly familiar with.
I have zero appetite for any effort in the early hours, which meant cooking was out of the question. This fact pointed me in the direction of smoothies because done right they’re certainly healthy, and they have the bonus of being something that can be made the night before.
But before I’d even started, I suffered a minor setback when I discovered that some spoilsports (aka nutritional experts) have agreed that regardless how much fruit a smoothie contains, the drink shouldn’t count for more than two daily portions. There went my cunning plan to have all 10 covered before I’d left the house…
I was deflated, but not defeated, so pressed on and raided my freezer (for blueberries and raspberries) and fridge (for Greek yogurt). Into the blender they went, along with spinach – given the nature of the task I felt morally obligated to add this – and half a banana (I ate the rest while the smoothie blended – good intentions, and all that). A drop of water, handful of oats and blitz session later and my breakfast was in the fridge, ready for the morning.
The result was decent enough. Nothing special (next time I’ll add ginger and mint), but given I’d already shaken the natural order of things by having breakfast in the first place, ‘decent enough’ was more than all right by me. Two portions down, eight to go.
Like my breakfast, lunch had been made the night before (it had dawned on me that reaching the magic number 10 would be most realistic if I prepared ahead.) Any time I want a big fix of veg, or need to use a glut that’ll soon be on the turn, I make a large pan of spiced lentils. It’s easy, versatile and always nourishing.
Usually I like to cook it at a leisurely pace, but this time I was in a rush, so cheated with canned lentils. I won’t bore you with too many details, but suffice to say the pan was a veritable feast of veg. There was the holy trifecta of shallots, garlic and ginger (ding ding – extra nutritional points scored), and the glorious trio of star anise, curry leaves and a cinnamon stick. Cubes of sweet potato and cauliflower florets came next. Somewhere along the way there was a shake of turmeric (by this stage I was really digging the whole healthy vibe) and splash of water (because in my rush I was following the ‘twice the heat, half the time’ philosophy). Greens (beans and kale) were added, followed by the drained lentils and a little coconut milk.
One serving went into the freezer, the other into the fridge ready for the next day at work. The meal was good and, by my reckoning, brought me four steps closer to the total. Six portions down, four to go.
I can count on one hand the number of carrot sticks I’ve ever eaten. (I’ve lost count of the number I’ve turned my nose up at.) But this is not the attitude of a winner, so I headed into store and bought a pot of hummus to eat with the carrot sticks. They – along with a grab of grapes – helped fend off the inevitable 3pm stomach rumble, and took me two portions closer to my goal. Eight portions down, two to go.
By the evening, I was feeling more energetic than usual. Was it the carrot and hummus? Was it the fact I was this close to breaking through to the other side? I’m still not sure, but I approached dinner in high spirits. Which were immediately dented when I realised I didn’t have the key ingredient for my chicken and cauliflower tagine – chicken.
But I came to my senses soon enough, remembering that chicken is neither a fruit nor a vegetable, so was no disastrous loss. The recipe was delicious (the spices worked a treat) and thrifty (the perfect way to use up the rest of my cauliflower and spinach). The best part (besides all the veggies) is that once the business of getting the tagine started was over with, I had 40 free minutes to get on with housework. And by housework, I do of course mean loading Netflix and watching House of Cards.
Done! I was done. By my calculations, I’d eaten 11 portions of fruit and vegetables and I’d lived to tell the tale. In truth, it was easier than I expected and something I will try to achieve as often as possible, though I won’t be beat myself up on the inevitable days when I fall a few portions shy of the recommended amount.