Food & drink

Nutrition with Jane McClenaghan: Peas please - Time for a fresh fruit and veg attitude

Peas are packed with goodness and a great way of upping your vegetable intake
Jane McClenaghan

THIS is the International Year of Fruit and Vegetables. Fruit and vegetables come up trumps for their health benefits every time, so the more the better.

With recommendations that the five-a-day message should be increased to seven-a-day, the benefits of eating more vegetables are well established - good for our health, and good for our planet.

Sadly, most of us are a long way off. Here in Northern Ireland we have the lowest consumption of fruit and veg across the UK, with the average intake just 2.1 portions a day.

More than three-quarters (77 per cent) of adults are eating less than the recommended seven-a-day, and almost a third of children are eating less than one portion a day, with a large proportion of this intake coming from ultra processed food - baked beans and pizza contributing 16 per cent of children's vegetable intake. We can do better than that, can't we?

It is time for a change of attitude. This week I attended the 'Veg Summit Northern Ireland 2021', hosted by Food NI and Belfast Food Network.

This forum brought together farmers, retailers, caterers and government departments with a common goal of making it easier for everyone to eat more vegetables.

Nicola Weir, the BBC broadcaster and presenter Radio Ulster's Farming Matters programme, was the host, and I loved her comments on changing attitudes on the benefits of eating more vegetables.

"Children should be told they are delicious, young adults should know that they help skin heath and mental wellness, as well as being the perfect way to help the planet," she said.

If we can reframe how we think about vegetables, by the time these kids and teens reach adulthood, they will have healthy habits in place that are second nature and take no effort - it is just what they eat, no question about it.

Instead of hiding vegetables and bribing our kids with treats if they eat up all their peas, let's work together to adopt a healthier viewpoint about what's on our plate.

All it takes a little bit of thought and a shift in our attitude. So here are my seven ways to help you get your seven-a-day.

1. Grow something. Over lockdown, many of us rediscovered the joy of growing our own vegetables. Start with something simple like salad or peas and watch Mother Nature do her thing. You will be rewarded with the tastiest veg you've ever eaten.

2. Cook something. It doesn't have to be complicated or time consuming, but when we cook, we tend to eat more vegetables. A simple stir-fry, veg-packed omelettes, or home-made curry are tasty ways to pack more veggies into your day.

3. Add one extra spoonful. Just adding an extra spoonful of vegetables onto your plate will pack a powerful punch in terms of your nutrient intake.

4. Check out the frozen veg aisle. Frozen veg are quick and handy, really economical and a good way of adding variety to your diet.

5. Eat two-a-day at every meal. One portion is about the size of your fist (80g). Aim to eat a couple of portions of fruit or veg with breakfast (berries on your overnight oats, banana and peanut butter on your toast or tomatoes and spinach with your poached eggs), pack half your plate with vegetables at lunch and dinner and you're almost there with your seven-a-day target.

6. Snack attack - chopped veggies with houmous makes a perfect snack. Think carrots, peppers, sugar snap peas, celery and cucumber.

7. Get competitive. If you are doing your bit to encourage you kids to eat more fruit and veg, why not set a family challenge and see how many portions each of you can pack into your day.

Keep an eye out for initiatives from The Food Foundation over the coming months as their Veg Advocates work hard to help encourage us all to eat more vegetables. Eat local, eat seasonal and enjoy your vegetables.

Join @PeasPleaseUK for a series of veg facts, or visit

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