We all know we should eat more vegetables. But how, how do we do that, really? What real-life tips and ideas work? How can we build our lives around the healthiest of all foods, vegetables?
Over the several months, I'm going to share ideas that inspire me and just might work for you, too. They'll be presented one bite at a time, just quick posts every Saturday. But I'd love for readers and other bloggers alike to join me in building a list that inspires and encourages each and every one of us.
How to Eat More Vegetables
Reverse the order. In our very language, let's talk about talk about eating more vegetables and fruits, not fruits and vegetables. Why? Because fruit is so easy to like. It's sweet, it's easy to grab, it requires no kitchen, let alone cooking. Fruits are the brownies of the plant world. It's vegetables we need to really concentrate on, frankly, they're harder. So let's put first things first: vegetables. Practice saying it with me now, "Vegetables and fruits. Vegetables and fruits. Vegetables and fruits."
Change the language. While we're working on the words, let's replace "I don't like vegetables" with "I don't like canned peas". Let's substitute "I don't like creamed vegetables" with "I don't care for creamed carrots." That way, the language itself leaves open the possibility of liking vegetables -- versus excluding the entire family of vegetables, versus nixing a particular vegetable, versus forgoing all vegetables prepared a certain way.
REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE My own example was, "I haven't yet found a way to cook fresh artichokes so that I really enjoy them." And you know what? I finally did discover a way of cooking artichokes that's easy and delicious, both, see How to Cook Artichokes in the Microwave. Putting something I liked in the future, not the present, really worked.
Move past broccoli, broccoli and more broccoli or carrots, carrots and more carrots. Quick, name five vegetables cooked in the last month. Can you? Most of us eat the same couple of vegetables cooked in the same ways again and again. To eat more vegetables, first get out of the rut of your own version of same-old same-old broccoli or same-old same-old baby carrots. Start by identifying just one new vegetable to try. To start online, for an eye-opener about all the many vegetables are easily available, see the Alphabet of Vegetables. But for real inspiration, visit the produce department in the grocery store and pick one whose color or shape appeals. Vegetables are quite beautiful, aren't they?! Then come back to the Alphabet of Vegetables, or search Food Blog Search for a recipe that appeals.
EXTRA TIP Did you know that baby carrots we buy in the grocery store aren't 'young' carrots or even 'small' carrots at all? Instead, they are commercial carrots that start with huge carrots that are ground into the bullet-shaped carrots credited with increasing carrot consumption by manyfold in the last decade or so. Like many, I like them for snacking. But when it comes to cooking carrots, choose whole carrots. The trimming and peeling process will take a few minutes but for real carrot flavor, there's no comparison.
Snack before supper. What??? Don't moms always say, "No snacks before dinner! You'll ruin your appetite!" Catherine uses smart snacks. She washes and cuts up cauliflower, broccoli and carrots straight from the grocery and keeps miniature cucumbers and bell peppers in the refrigerator. After school, when the kids are hanging out in the kitchen while she makes dinner, she puts out a bowlful along with hummus or a cottage cheese dip. Smart Mom!
THANKS! Thank you to Catherine from Brush Prairie, WA for this great tip!
Get serious about smoothies. Man, we love our smoothies! So many of you wrote in to suggest smoothies as a great way to incorporate more vegetables into our diets.
Reader Kathleen H. from Gallup, NM says that with smoothies, there's no worrying about recipes, about seasoning, about serving. Just blend up the vegetables and serve alongside protein for a complete meal. She recommends starting out with just mild, sweet veggies (for example, apple, carrot, and spinach), then working up to more serious smoothies. Here's how Kathleen does it:
"I have a Vita-Mix blender and use it to make a 'liquid salad' for lunch and dinner. I wash, cut and toss into the Vita-Mix: half an apple, a carrot and greens of choice (usually a big handful of broccoli florets, parsley and cilantro) and maybe also spinach, Brussels sprouts, celery and kale. Add a little water and blend it up."
She's got the prep down too. "I prepare four rounds of veggies at a time, using 2 apples, 4 carrots, a small bunch of broccoli, a bunch of parsley, a bunch of cilantro. I wash and chop everything, then separate it all into four plastic bags and refrigerate. When I'm tired and hungry, I just dump one bag into the Vita-Mix, add a little water, and blend."
Shawna M. is also a smoothie fan. "I get lots vegetables and fruit every day by drinking 32 to 64 ounces of green smoothies. My green-smoothie ingredients vary from week to week, but here is the one I had today for breakfast: 2 cups of kale, 2 oranges, 3 or 4 chunks of frozen pineapple, 1 banana and 1/4 cup of water. Blend til smooth, drink and enjoy!"
THANKS! Thank you to Kathleen and Shawna for their tips!
Make it a project. Make it do-able. Make it fun. Make vegetables your next project. How about trying a vegetable in a new way every single day for a month? (Hey! It worked for me, it was the genesis of A Veggie Venture back in 2005!) But trust me, that's also some ambitious, so instead, how about setting out to try one new vegetable a month, or one new recipe a week?
If eating more vegetables is a family project, think about your own version of a Great Big Vegetable Challenge, complete with a refrigerator chart that lists vegetables and their "goodness" and "yuckiness" ratings.
HOW ANOTHER MOM MAKES VEGETABLES FUN Suzy G is mother to three in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Here's how she gets her kids to eat more vegetables: "I take them to farm stands. Many farms will let the kids look around the actual farm a bit. The kids get to choose what we buy, with the agreement that they will at least try it. They have learned to love string beans (especially purple ones!), fresh-picked broccoli and purple potatoes. My son will now eat any 'lettuce' that he gets from the farm -- though he calls kale, swiss chard and spinach 'lettuce'. They've even enjoyed Brussels sprouts when they got to pick the stalk and break off the sprouts themselves. In the winter, we hit the indoor farmer's markets and they get to choose there, too!"
THANKS! Thank you to Suzy G for this great tip!
Move vegetables to the center of the plate. Both figuratively and literally.
First, the figurative. When planning the week's menus, start with the vegetable, then plan the meal around it, as in, "Tonight we're having roasted asparagus. Let's see, that would taste great with roasted salmon." (Sound good? It is! This is a favorite spring recipe, Roasted Salmon & Asparagus, just 10 minutes hands-on time, no kidding.)
Now the literal. Place a large portion of vegetables on the plate. Now squeeze on a little protein.
Paint the plates with color. The most nutritious vegetables are bright- and deep-colored. Think the orange of sweet potatoes, the crimson of tomatoes, the claret of beets. Vegetables add verve and color to a plate, especially compared to cooked meat. Use the color to please the eye and inspire the appetite.
Move on. If you try a vegetable and don't like it, no problem, move on, there's another. Life's too short to eat stuff we don't like when there are plenty more choices. Besides, didn't your mother make you eat [name the worst one ever] canned spinach, creamed corn, overcooked asparagus and don't you still hate that one thing?
Take a chemistry lesson. If someone doesn't like a particular vegetable, it's possible that he or she just might be sensitive to chemicals that make someone appear to be a 'picky eater' -- and some times, the chemical aversion can be overcome by cooking the vegetable in a certain way.
For example, we all know people who hate Brussels sprouts. But the dislike is likely all about a sensitivity to bitterness caused by chemicals called glucosinolates. To counter this, the trick is to break up the center of the sprouts by cutting them in half and then, to leach out the chemicals, to cook them in a lot of well-salted water. Forget steaming, forget roasting, the chemicals must be drawn out of the core. A great source of chemistry lessons like this is On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee who also writes a blog called Curious Cook.
Ask for help. Putting a main dish, a vegetable and a salad on the table can be a lot for a busy cook just home from 'work' (ahem). Recruit help. Can the kids wash and prep the vegetables? Can someone man the grill?
"No Time" is No Excuse. Thanks to reader Chris F. for this tip! Chris says she has only about 25 minutes for lunch, not enough time to crunch through a vegetable salad. So she buys bags of frozen broccoli and cauliflower, steams and purées them. For breakfast, she adds a spoonful to a morning smoothie, for lunch, she throws a scoop onto her salad.
The point here is not let "time" -- that is, "no time" since we all live busy-busy lives -- take charge. If it's a priority, there's time. And if it's not a priority? Well, that's okay. But if it is a priority? There's time.
Cook once, eat twice. Once cooked, many vegetables are just as good warmed up the next day. So alternate back and forth, cooking two (or three) meals' worth of vegetables one night, two meals' worth of the main dish the next.
Coming next week!
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How To Chime In
READERS What works for you? Share your tried-and-true technique or tip in a comment or via email@example.com. I'll add it to my list and share it along the way. Yes, I'll mention your name! (First names only, of course, locations if you provide the information.)
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