You often hear that you should be eating five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day, but just 22 percent of Americans do. Why is it so difficult? In part because keeping track of fruit and vegetable servings has turned something that should be enjoyable into a chore.

Is the salad you had at dinner one or two servings? (Depends on how big it was.) Does the lettuce and tomato on your turkey sandwich count? (Yes.)

It’s much easier to remember that every time you eat—whether it’s a meal or a snack—at least one fruit or vegetable should be on the menu. 

“The nutrients, protective effects, and satiety that we get from fruits and vegetables are unparalleled,” says Sandra Procter, Ph.D., R.D., an assistant professor in the department of food, nutrition, dietetics, and health at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. “There are so many benefits, but people just don’t get enough of them.”

They are packed with antioxidant nutrients that help repair cell damage and fiber, and they’re low in calories. Research shows that a fruit- and vegetable-rich diet reduces the risk of heart disease and some cancers.

Ideally, fruits or vegetables should take up half of your plate. If you’re opting for fruit, choose fresh or unsweetened frozen rather than canned fruit in syrup or juice, which has more sugar.

For vegetables, there’s a renewed emphasis on choosing those that are dark green, orange, or red. These bright colors are the result of powerful disease-fighting phytochemicals.

Legumes, such as kidney beans and lentils, count as both a vegetable and as a source of protein. 

How to Work Them In

  1. Eat fruits and vegetables for snacks, and have fruit for dessert.
  2. Roast your vegetables. This brings out their natural sugars, and the sweeter flavor may appeal to you if you’re someone who doesn’t love them.
  3. Toss veggies into grain or pasta dishes (or substitute spaghetti squash for noodles), soups, and omelets.
  4. Don’t forget frozen. Frozen fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh and are often more convenient.
  5. Replace potatoes with colorful vegetables when you’re serving meat or poultry.
  6. Make smoothies with greens, berries, and avocado or Greek yogurt for a little creaminess. (See our ratings for blenders.)
  7. Add veggies to sandwiches—lettuce and tomatoes, yes, but also avocado, bell or hot peppers, cucumbers, mushrooms, radishes, and more. Or consider making veggies such as eggplant or portobello mushrooms the star of your sandwich.
  8. Make lettuce wraps. Instead of using bread, a wrap, or a tortilla, put your fillings in lettuce leaves. Bibb (Boston) or romaine lettuce works well.
  9. Include fruits such as lemons, mangoes, oranges, or berries in savory dishes. They create a brightness that balances some of the heavier flavors.
  10. Hit a farmers market. You’ll find different varieties and types of produce to try, and the growers often have interesting suggestions for preparing them.