Last week I discussed why you should eat more vegetables and in this post I am going to discuss how you should include more vegetables each time you eat. Vegetables can seem intimidating because there is some basic cooking required, but with the right mindset and plan, they too can be conquered and loved.
Please leave your suggestions on how to eat more vegetables and what resources you use in the comments!
1. Set up a game plan. The first step to eating more vegetables daily is to make a weekly meal plan. The more you meal plan and cook, the less time you will spend making a meal plan. A meal plan will also help you avoid filling up on processed foods. Collect recipes on Pinterest, subscribe to healthy recipe sites and/or blogs, download cooking apps, buy a good cookbook, or just make it up as you go. If you are new to cooking, stick with the vegetables you are comfortable with and introduce yourself to one or two new vegetables each week. Farmers love talking about the food they grow and can give you tons of tips on how to cook and store them. My favorite way to cook vegetables is to sauté with good olive oil until they are tender. I often add spices like ginger, garlic, cumin, smoked paprika, and/or fresh herbs for flavor. This cooking method requires minimal effort and the vegetables always taste good.
Next, you need to fill up your fridge and freezer with vegetables. The only way you can have vegetables in your refrigerator is if you make it a goal to shop for fresh vegetables. Make it a point to go to the farmers market, sign up for a CSA, or shop at the grocery store. Put it in your calendar or us a nifty phone app that will remind you to shop. Also, make sure to always have your favorite vegetables in the freezer for the times when you cannot buy fresh produce.
2. Choose quality vegetables. Most of us have pretty terrible memories when it comes to eating vegetables. String beans from a can, frozen crinkle-cut carrots, and mushy peas can make anyone want to shun vegetables- forever. Though, it doesn’t have to be that way. Fresh vegetables are not only very beautiful, they taste awesome raw and cooked. Actually, fresh vegetables require minimal cooking skills because their flavor excels on their own. Try to buy as local as possible to get the tastiest stuff. Vegetables that have traveled 2000 miles to get your plate are old, picked before their ripeness, and sprayed with chemicals to increase shelf life. On the other hand, local produce is picked when it’s ripe so the vegetables had time develop its natural flavor. The classic example is a mealy, pinkish tomato in the winter versus a sweet, incredibly juicy tomato in July.
When I think about fresh vegetables, my mouth waters. I think crunchy, colorful, slightly sweet, slightly astringent, and beautiful. This was not the case before I started shopping at the farmers market and this thought process has become a habit. When we dine out, we choose restaurants that source the highest quality produce. Most of the time I am more enticed to order the vegetarian main course or several vegetable appetizers, because of the quality of the vegetables and curiosity of how the chef prepared them.
Sautéed broccoli, kale, and spinach with walnuts and tofu.
3. Make it a habit. Make a conscious decision to eat at least 1-2 cups of vegetables with each of your meals. This might sound like a lot to vegetable newbies, but you will quickly realize that a cup of vegetables is hardly any food. Overtime, this great eating habit will become second nature. Most of my breakfasts consist of two eggs and lots of vegetables. A tasty salad of greens and seasonal vegetables with homemade vinaigrette is another awesome way to get more vegetables. Make vegetables the main meal and proteins and carbs the sides. I am also an advocate of Meatless Mondays and have been vegetarian on Mondays for over 20 years. It all comes down to mindfulness and habit.Vegetables should be the main star on your plate, instead of being cast aside as a side dish. They should be the largest portion on your plate and aim to eat at least 6 cups of vegetables a day. Don’t freak out, you can work your way up to this amount. The more vegetables you eat, the less you will reach for filler foods to satiate your hunger.
4. Green smoothies. Even though drinking your food is not the same as eating your food, vegetable smoothies are a good option to get more vegetables into your body. Invest in a quality blender and have a handful of recipes that appeal to you. Just make sure the smoothies are limited to one cup of fruit, so you do not end up consuming excess sugar and calories. Fruit smoothies are not the same as vegetables smoothies. Whole fruits contain fiber and can be quite filling, but fruit smoothies are stripped of fiber and has a concentrated amount of fructose (sugar in fruits), since you will need a lot of fruit to make one, satisfying cup. When you juice vegetables, you are removing all of the fiber (bad) and concentrating the amount of minerals and vitamins (good). Fiber is essential for slowing down digestion, feeling full longer, and lowering the risk of certain diseases. Smoothies should not be a replacement for eating vegetables. There is pleasure in chewing and tasting our food.
5. Snack on vegetables. Whether you are at home, work, or a BBQ, snack on vegetables instead of chips, nuts, or crackers. Vegetables are low in calories and fat, so you do not have to worry about overconsumption. Use carrots and celery instead of crackers to scoop up dips and nut butters. Eat half of an avocado with salt and pepper for an afternoon snack. Since, I do not digest raw foods as well as others, I keep two cups of roasted or sautéed vegetables in my fridge for easy snacking. I heat up the vegetables in the microwave and sprinkle seeds, nuts, fresh herbs, or hard cheese to give it a fresh taste.
Baked avocados with cherry tomatoes, basil, sea salt, and black pepper.
Resources and Recipes:
You can follow me on Pinterest, where I am always collecting delicious recipes. I also Instagram some of my meals and inspirations to eat better. Search Club Dine In for easy and quick plant-based recipes, such as Broccoli with Toasted Sesame Seeds. Lastly, I publish many recipes on Snapguide.
My new source of inspiration is the school garden and nutrition program where I volunteer weekly. The students make delicious meals using vegetables from their garden and I am always going home with new dinner ideas. I usually post what the students made on my Facebook page.
I also follow people who inspire me to eat and live better. Here are some of my favorite recipes and sites:
Thyme Roasted Baby Beets With Mint by Kiss My Spatula
Roasting vegetables require minimal supervision and you can make them in large batches. It’s perfect for busy lives.
Rainbow Chard Tartlets With Rosemary Almond Meal Crust– The Roost
This is a great dish to make ahead for the entire week or to freeze for later use.
Moroccan Carrot and Chickpea Salad– 101 Cookbooks
I have made this quickly for when I had unexpected guests and they loved it. I actually eat this as the main dish, by adding watermelon radishes, parsley, and finely chopped dino kale to balance out the bean to vegetable ratio.
Quinoa with Spring Vegetables and Walnut-Kale Pesto– Gluten Free Girl and The Chef
I love pesto recipes, because pesto is an awesome way to get a concentrated amount of vegetables and they can be used for multiple dishes. I take the extra pesto and have it over roasted potatoes, pasta, chicken, and fish. This dish is a full meal on it’s own and does not require sides (IMHO). There are multiple steps and a few of the steps can be done ahead of time. You can also make large quantities- leftovers make great lunches.
This is part two of a three-part series on vegetables. Last week, I discussed reasons why you should eat more vegetables and next week, I will include a protein-balanced vegetable recipe.