Learn to Love Your Veggies
Mother nature created vegetables as an ideal delivery system for important nutrients, including vitamins A, C, D and K, as well as a slew of disease-fighting compounds. They’re also packed with water and fiber, which can help fill you up and keep you trim. Trouble is, for many people, these powerhouses aren’t a favorite food.
“Food preferences often stem from modeling behavior,” says Andrea Thelen, a registered dietitian at Henry Ford Health System. “So, if your parents didn’t eat or prepare veggies when you were growing up, you’re less likely to fill your plate with leafy greens as an adult.”
The good news: You can learn to love vegetables – without trying to disguise them or hide them. Here are Thelen’s top six strategies for adding more veggies to every meal – and making them tastier, too.
- Use a spiralizer. Spiralizing veggies can make them more fun – and tasty – particularly when you combine them with another element, such as whole grain pasta. Zucchini, carrots, bell peppers and sweet potatoes all make flavorful additions.
- Roast them in the oven. Roasting vegetables enhances their flavor and draws out natural sugars. Brussels sprouts, eggplant, bell peppers, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, onions and carrots are all particularly tasty when roasted. For a fantastic fall dish, fill a roasting pan with sweet potatoes, celery, onions, butternut squash, carrots and parsnips. Then roast them at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Dinner is served!
- Add them to your favorite dishes. Grate zucchini into lasagna. Make homemade pizza with shitake mushroom caps. Add broccoli to macaroni and cheese and spinach to a can of soup. You can even shred kale, peppers and carrots into tacos. Bake them into zucchini bread or carrot muffins.
- Keep them handy. When you return from the grocery store, wash and chop all of your veggies and put them in food storage containers. That way, when you’re hungry, there’s a healthy snack ready in the fridge. Dress up plain veggies with tasty dips like hummus, ranch dressing made with Greek yogurt and tzatziki sauce (a Greek dip made with nonfat yogurt, cucumber, garlic and mint). You can also keep shredded veggies on hand, including carrots, zucchini, squash and cabbage, to add to salads, stir fries, meatloaf and turkey burgers. You can even incorporate them into sauces and sides (squash macaroni and cheese, anyone?!) since they soften when cooked for a short period of time.
- Get saucy. Eating spaghetti? Add zucchini, onions and garlic in your spaghetti sauce. Making a sauce for chicken or beef? Add mushrooms, shallots or leeks. Looking for a simple way to dress up ground chicken or turkey? Smother it with tomato sauce. Better yet, boost your veggie quotient by adding shredded carrots and zucchini to the mix. Salsas are another tasty way to get more veggies on your plate. Just top your favorite lean protein with freshly diced tomatoes, onions, scallions, pepper, corn and cilantro.
- Be adventurous. Don’t get pigeonholed into cooking vegetables one way (like in the microwave). Sauté bitter greens, stir-fry broccoli, or bake kale and sweet potatoes into chips. And don’t forget to get creative with herb and spice blends. Garlic, ginger, oregano and even nutmeg all go well with vegetables.
Challenge yourself to make half of your plate fruits and vegetables. So, whether you’re scrambling eggs, making a sandwich or preparing a casserole, amp up the number of veggies in your dish. Throw peppers, spinach and mushrooms into an omelet, top your sandwich with kale, tomatoes and sprouts and add broccoli and cauliflower to your favorite casserole. Soon you’ll discover that not only is veggie-laden food more flavorful, but thanks to the fiber, it’s more satisfying, too!
Andrea Thelen is a registered dietitian nutritionist for the Henry Ford Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.