Fourteen years ago, when I was at the very beginning of my mothering journey, I was under the impression that organic produce was the only produce worth eating, and conventionally grown fruits and vegetables were poison for me, but especially poisonous for my growing baby.
At this time, we barely had two dimes to rub together, so as you can imagine, there was not much extra money at all to purchase organic produce.
I stuck to the fruits and vegetables that I could afford outside of the dirty dozen (mostly bananas, green beans, broccoli, and carrots), and if we are being totally honest, I wasn’t faithful in getting more than a banana at breakfast, and a vegetable at dinner time into my children, or into myself.
I felt like I was feeding my family a much healthier diet than the SAD (Standard American Diet) because I baked bread from freshly ground grain, we only drank Organic Milk, I made our yogurt, homemade chicken stock, we ate coconut oil, and we bought grass-fed beef from a neighboring farmer in bulk. Oh! I also bought only organic strawberry jelly and the fancy peanut butter that tastes like chalk.
I would love to say that I skipped blissfully through those lean years and everything was fantastic as a result of my efforts, but I would be lying. The truth is, we were ALWAYS sick! ALWAYS! It was ridiculous!
I couldn’t figure out why with ALL the effort I put into feeding my family “healthfully”, we weren’t thriving.
This went on and on, year after year, and I finally just accepted that this was life. My family did not have a robust immune system, and that was just the end of it.
Light at the End of the Tunnel?
About seven years ago, I got serious about shedding some baby weight, and as a result, I started making sure to get in at least eight servings of fruits and vegetables every single day. I ate conventionally raised produce because I still couldn’t afford organic. And I didn’t die! By eating so much produce and calorie counting, I was able to shed a good amount of weight.
I also started feeding my family a lot more produce because the children were really interested in eating everything I was eating. So we were finally eating a lot more produce as a family.
I noticed that we all were a little healthier. Instead of getting every single virus that crossed our path, we were able to dodge a few bullets!
To make an already long story slightly shorter, we fell off the fruit and veggie wagon when I got pregnant with our seventh baby. I was also working way too much and otherwise not taking care of myself, and not only was I not making nearly as much food from scratch, but we were relying heavily on convenience food, and fruits and veggies were a very low priority.
We started getting sick again.
It finally occurred to me about four years ago that the reason why we were always sick might have something to do with the fact that we were consuming WAY below the recommended amount of fruits and veggies.
For a woman who took so much pride (too much) in what I fed my family, I was completely missing the boat one of the most important areas of nutrition. The USDA recommendations are between 4 and 6 total cups of fruits and vegetables for older children and adults, and less for younger children, depending on age. For exact recommendations, check here.
We are so much healthier (in terms of how often we get sick) now than we have ever been. This amazing change is going on three years now, so I don’t believe that it’s coincidence! Just in the last two months, several of the families that we attend church with have had stomach viruses, two rounds of strep throat, and colds. In this same time period, my two youngest children have caught one minor cold, and that’s it!
In the interest of full-disclosure, I have had two sinus infections in the same time, but my doctor told me they are from the temperature flipping back and forth between mild and cold constantly. He said if it would just stay cold, I would stop getting them.
When I first realized that we weren’t eating enough fruits and veggies, it was overwhelming trying to figure out how to get the amount of produce that we should be consuming into our diets.
Five steps that I Followed to Add More Fruits and Vegetables
1. Change My Mindset on Organic Vegetables
Before I could fully embrace the change to more fruits and vegetables, I had to change my mindset about conventionally-grown produce. It would be unbelievably cost-prohibitive for me to purchase enough organic produce for a family with eleven family members. That’s insane!
While organic *may* be ideal (from an evidence perspective, the jury is out), it absolutely isn’t ideal to eat barely any produce. The ideal is to eat the recommended servings. If I am trying to feed my family as close to ideal as possible, then I have to let go of the “organic or bust” mindset.
And so I did.
2. All Snacks are Fruits and Vegetables
Prior to breakfast, and in the afternoon, the children know that they may have a snack, but it has to be fruit or veggies. No exceptions. If someone is absolutely dying of starvation, they may have a glass of milk AFTER they have had a fruit or vegetable.
3. Keep Cheap Vegetables Stocked
I keep a lot of the cheapest fruits and vegetables stocked and I *try* to keep them prepped for easy grab-and-go snacks. Right now I have a box of apples and pears in the sunroom. There is a huge bowl of (15) cucumbers that one of my daughters peeled and sliced in one of the refrigerators.
I also keep a big Costco-sized bag of baby carrots in the fridge, as well as washed and cut celery. And there is a bowl of bananas on the counter.
Having the fruit and vegetables handy and ready to eat makes all the difference.
4. Serve At Least One Fruit or Vegetable With Every Meal
With breakfast, I serve a fruit, either some frozen berries, cut up apples, or I’ll do applesauce in the Instant Pot to go with oatmeal, etc.
With lunch, I serve the snack veggies (cucumbers, celery, baby carrots).
And with dinner, we always have salad on the side, and usually at least one more raw vegetable and a cooked one.
5. Eat a Lot of Fruits and Vegetables Myself
If you read the entire post above, you may remember that I mentioned that when I started eating a lot of fruits and vegetables while dieting, my children wanted to start eating them too.
If you’ve been a mother for more than a year, you are most likely aware of the phenomenon where no matter what you are eating, your child wants some too. It can be a food that he previously rejected, but if it’s going into Mom’s mouth, he must have it!
Use this to your advantage, Mom! Let your children see you eating, savoring, and blissing out on fruits and vegetables, and soon enough, the little beggars will be playing right into your hand.
I can’t say it enough. If you aren’t getting enough fruits and vegetables in your diet, it’s time to up your game. Make the increase gradually, but do your very best to get into the guideline range. Give it a few months, I bet you’ll be pleased with how you are feeling!