As a health coach, one of the most common complaints I hear from clients who are just getting started is “I hate vegetables!” Most Americans struggle to get 5 or more servings of produce per day. Considering that 97% of the US population is not getting the recommended fiber intake, and considering how important fiber is the health of our gut and consequently, the rest of our body, learning how to fall in love with veggies should be on everyone’s plate, pun intended!
Now let’s circle back to the USDA recommendations, which encourage us to get “5 servings of fruits and veggies a day.” Fruits like bananas, apples, oranges and berries are typically acceptable and included in most people’s eating plan. But vegetables? That’s another story! Intellectually, most of us understand the benefits of eating vegetables… so why is so hard to add them to our plates?
My personal theory is that most people associate vegetables with the image of overcooked, tasteless and “boring” food, something mom has forced them to eat. Typically, those were steamed or boiled plain or perhaps served on a supermarket dip platter. Conventional produce typically takes weeks to arrive from the farm to our table, which will result in veggies lacking of nutrients and flavor. We also must factor in the fact that unlike processed and junk food, vegetables have a very subtle taste. If one is used to hyper-palatable foods, it can be a little hard to adjust to the hint of sweetness or savoriness of veggies. All this adds up to explain why many people cringe at the thought of broccoli or Brussels sprouts.
As a lover of vegetable and a chef specializing in plant cuisine, the key, in my opinion, is learning how to “work” your veggies. With a few simple cooking methods, added flavors from healthy sources and a little bit of esthetic presentation, YOU TOO can learn to be the next veggie-loving-healthy-eating champion!
Here are some of my favorite tips and tricks… And I hope that seasoned veggie lovers can find a new idea to use for dinner tonight :)
Start with a broth… while most chefs start every dish, sauce or dressing with oil, those who follow the whole-food plant based lifestyle choose to omit oils from their plates, which is a great strategy for both weight loss AND health! Making your own veggie broth from veggie scraps is quick and easy, and will nicely flavor any dish. You can use it in many creative ways: to roast or saute veggies with, in marinades, sauces and dressings.
Get the most when you roast- it takes the same amount of effort, dishes and preparation to roast your veggies vs.steaming them, but the flavor and texture are a whole ’nother experience. Add 4 cups of non-starchy veggies (example, broccoli and cauliflower florets), to a 9x13 baking pan with a little broth or water at the bottom, and roast for 45 min, a little salt and pepper. This is an excellent side dish, which tastes great as a salad topping or dipped in hummus the next day.
Be the boss: rock your sauce- While many people think that sauce like bolognese should be all meat, it’s actually easy to add some veggies and lentils to make your pasta sauce chunky, filling, high in fiber and low-calorie! Try adding chopped celery, shredded carrots, zucchini and mushrooms to your sauce. A cup of lentils will adds even more fiber and is a good source of protein. Alfredo sauce can be made with white beans instead of cream. Once you add spices and herbs, the sauce transforms into a delicious, aromatic and healthy experience. The kids will never notice!
Serenade the Marinade- as with traditional meat and fish dishes, a simple marinade can transform your veg: bring out the natural flavor, enhance sweetness and change their texture when cooked. Vegetables like sweet potatoes, eggplants, mushrooms, bell peppers, zucchini and onions tend to work well in a marinade of balsamic vinegar, broth, mustard, herbs, spices and an optional whole food source of fat like nut butters.
Your best deal is on the grill- cooking on fire has been a practice among humans for eons. While meat releases carcinogens when grilled on an open fire, veggies are less of a concern, especially if they’re not prepared with oil. So let’s fire it up! Marinated veggies taste amazing when grilled either on an open fire, gas BBQ or a grill pan. Veggie and tempeh skewers are a great opportunity to showcase your new found veggie cooking skills to family and friends. Try adding a little chipotle powder, smoked paprika or liquid smoke to your marinade, for some extra smokey flavor.
Brew a hearty stew- crockpots and the Instapot have recently gained popularity. They’re a quick and convenient way to make large batches of chilis, soups and stews that you can eat for the rest of the week. A great way to hide veggies from picky eaters is to make a familiar dish like a chili, and use the beans and sauce to “disguise” the veggies. For those of us just getting started, you can add some textured soy protein or veggie sausage to make the dish more familiar to your family and friends.
Blend with the trend- another challenge folks have with vegetables, is their texture. One strategy for those of us who enjoy softer, creamy textures, is to blend veggies into soups and smoothies. Hot and hearty in the winter, or cold and refreshing in the summer, you’ll be surprised to know that you don’t have to add heavy cream to create a creamy soup. And don’t forget to add some veggies to your smoothie! Veggies like beets and greens can boost the health properties of a smoothie tenfold. A little fruit can easily hide a large handful of greens!
Be wise and spiralize- though there are various opinions about the role of carbs in a healthy diet amongst health professionals and the public, those of us who are working on losing weight can always use a trick or 2 to lower the calorie density of their meals. A great solution for pasta lovers is veggie pasta, made from veggies like zucchinis, carrots and heart of palm. You’ll need a simple gadget you can buy online and in household stores, or you can buy it in the freezer or refrigerated sections of most stores these days. Now you can have your pasta and eat it too!
Let’s spy a healthy stir-fry- most of us have had a good stir fry at an Asian restaurant, which may have been the first time we realized that broccoli can actually taste pretty darn good when done right. The process is essentially cooking vegetables quickly, on high heat, for a short amount of time, which helps preserve some of the original texture of the veggies, while bringing out the flavor, nutrients, and color. Try a rainbow stir fry, focusing on veggies like carrots, green beans, red cabbage, red bell pepper and celery. Add some ginger, garlic and soy sauce for a nice Asian flavor. Finish with low carb noodles or cauliflower rice and some tofu for a full and satisfying meal. Don’t forget that you can saute veggies without oil to keep your veg-oxidant free!
Mak’em nice with herb n’ spice- if you enjoy world cuisine, especially from places like India and the Mediterranean, you’ll know that spices and herbs can transform any ordinary vegetable to an extraordinary experience. Curry powder, taco seasonings, cilantro, parsley and basil are just some simple additions to help create an entirely different dish from the same vegetables. For an entirely new stir fry experience, swap the soy sauce with curry powder and cilantro, transforming the flavor from Asian to Indian. Now you too can travel around the world from the comforts of your own kitchen!
Bonus tip (because… here we go to 11!) End on a mindful note… getting accustomed to new habits, whether it’d be food choices, meal timing or the environment where we choose to eat takes time and patience. Enjoy the process and don’t expect to make changes overnight. You might find that some veggies taste delicious raw but not cooked, or vice versa. You might discover that a certain stew is amazing on a cold winter night but doesn’t quite taste the same on a hot summer day… at the end, we are all unique and it’s important to keep an open mind, try something at least 2-3 times before giving it thumbs up or down and remember that it’s ok to have individual taste and preference within the range of healthy foods.
Did you enjoy this article? Did you find at least one tip you’d like to try? Or perhaps you have a great story as to how one of these strategies has been revolutionary on your path? Please leave a comment below and share your experience. And feel free to share any of those tips with your family, friends, coworkers and extended community. This is how we start a revolution… one bunch of kale at a time!