Five a Day?

I'm sure I can't be the only person who's had a busy day and not managed to eat their recommended five portions a day of fruit and vegetables. Unfortunately, even going completely vegan doesn't necessarily mean you have a healthy diet. Consider the following day's menu for one:
Breakfast - Beans on toast followed by porridge
Lunch - Peanut butter or hummous sandwiches, bag of crisps
Supper - Rice or pasta, canned mixed pulses, canned sweetcorn and a jar of tomato pasta sauce.
It's low-hassle, tasty and quick, and will fill you up, but it's not exactly full of fresh produce! Here are a few hints to increase your fruit and veg intake.
Beans on toast
Baked beans are so much tastier with a few things added. It takes less than a minute to peel and grate a carrot, or, even quicker (no peeling) a courgette, directly into the saucepan or microwave dish before you put the beans in. You don't even need to get out a knife; grate the unwanted end of the vegetable straight into the bin, rather than chopping it off. If you have time to get out the knife and chopping board, try finely-chopped peppers and mushrooms, too. Note that whatever you use, you will probably prefer to simmer the beans for a little while to cook the veg - ignore the bit on the can about it impairing the flavour. You could also fry the veg in a little bit of oil before adding the beans, if you prefer.
Just grate an apple or mash a banana directly into your porridge bowl while the porridge is cooking; and mix in the porridge when it's finished. I find that when I do this, I don't need any added sugar, either. You could also cook some dried fruit in with the porridge for extra flavour.
This is where a little planning-ahead does wonders. So you make your sandwich with hummous bought in the supermarket? Fine; so do I. But I also take a few minutes on one or two evenings a week (while I've probably got the knife, vegetable grater and chopping board out already) to prepare a few days worth of salady bits to go in as well - if your fridge is full with neat little containers of ready-chopped salad, you're much more likely to actually put some in your sandwich.
Things I like include:
" carrot salad - grated carrot and finely-sliced onion
" thinly-sliced tomatoes
" sliced mushrooms fried in olive oil with finely-chopped garlic
" roasted, peeled red peppers
" grated courgettes fried in soya margarine with finely-chopped garlic and onion
" raw chopped peppers and mushrooms mixed together (great with hummous or guacamole)
" finely-sliced crunchy lettuce, such as Little Gem or even Iceberg
" roasted baby onions
If you buy your sandwiches from a sandwich shop, it shouldn't be more than 20p or so extra to have extra chopped peppers or other salady stuff. That's a pound a week for an extra portion of veg a day.
If you eat rice more than once a fortnight, you will find it well worth your while to invest in a rice cooker. Trust me on this one - I spent 9 years of cooking without one, and now I'd hate to be parted from it. It's a real boon for a busy person, and it produces rice much nicer than I've ever been able to manage in a pan.
Easy carrot rice
Measure rice and water into the pot as normal, using just a little more water than usual, then put one grated carrot per person on top (you can grate it straight in; no need to dirty a plate). Spread the carrot out evenly, then cook as normal; the carrot will take on a wonderful luminous orange colour. This is nice sprinkled with a bit of sesame oil before serving, but it's also nice without.
Vegetable side dishes
If you like plain boiled veg with your meals, then great; they're quick to do, and low-hassle, especially if you use frozen, ready-prepared veg (either bought from the supermarket or home-frozen). However, if the main part of your dinner is a veggie burger, or the aforementioned quick canned beans in tomato sauce, you might want something a bit more interesting. Either pick a day when you have a little more time than usual, and cook extra of an interesting side dish, then put it in the fridge for busier days; or do something quick in the microwave, such as the following recipe, which I got from the FATFREE vegetarian emailing list in May 1999.
Quick Savoury Aubergine
Cut some aubergine into chunks and put in a large microwaveable dish with soy sauce, stock powder, dried herbs (basil is very nice), chilli sauce if you like it hot, thinly sliced spring onions if convenient, and some boiling water. Cook on HIGH for 4 minutes covered, then stir and cook for 4 minutes uncovered. Be careful you don't put too much salty seasoning in at the start, though, as the aubergine will get much smaller as it cooks, and the flavours will be concentrated. You can do this with okra, too.
If you don't want to use the microwave (or don't have one), the following dishes are quick and tasty, and also refrigerate well.
Garlic Cauliflower
2 tsp soya margarine
2 cups cauliflower florets
1/3 red (bell) pepper, sliced into small strips
3-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
pinch of chilli powder (optional)
1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp light vegetable stock powder
Heat the soya margarine in a wide saucepan until just bubbling. Add the cauliflower florets and toss well. Cook, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower begins to brown slightly. Add the red pepper strips and the garlic, and continue to cook until pepper starts to wilt and garlic is beginning to brown. Sprinkle over the remaining seasonings and add about 1/2 cm of boiling water to the pan. Mix well, cover tightly and cook over low heat until cauliflower is softened to your taste. Take the lid off the pan towards the end if there's too much liquid.
(Recipe adapted from a post in the internet newsgroup
Sweet and Sour Cabbage
1 onion, sliced into thin half-moons
vegetable stock
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 tbs paprika
1/2 medium head of cabbage, shredded (can use green or white)
2 tbs tomato puree, or some chopped tomatoes from a can
2 tbs fresh lemon juice
3 tbs sultanas or raisins
1 tsp dark brown soft sugar
Saute the onion, garlic and paprika in the stock until tender (you can use a bit of oil if you prefer). Add cabbage, mix and stir until it wilts. Mix in everything else, with a bit more liquid if needed, and simmer, uncovered, until cabbage is tender.
(Adapted from a soup recipe in Sue Kreitzmann's Complete Low-Fat Cookbook.)

Kate Pugh