Maybe you know that you need to eat more vegetables every day, but you don’t know where to start. Or, perhaps, you already eat plenty of vegetation but find yourself getting bored. I know how it feels to be in both positions. Believe me, I’ve been there. Even though I’ve always loved vegetables, high-level, enjoyable vegetable consumption doesn’t just happen to you. It requires work and a plan.
At least, that’s what I’ve discovered over the past year and a half. My health journey has taught me to rely on vegetables in a way I never have before. With the diagnosis of candidiasis and a number of food allergies and intolerances a year and a half ago, I was forced to turn to vegetables for the bulk of my diet. Often, I was restricted to eating only vegetables. For the first time in my life, I went without animal foods for extended periods of time. I eschewed grains and starches. Vegetables filled my days completely.
Although I do regularly eat animal foods now (and am very healthy again!), this experience has drastically overhauled my eating patterns. I typically eat at least 12 servings of fruit and vegetables per day, sometimes more. These days, at least every other trip to the grocery store will end with the checker commenting on how much produce I put on the conveyor belt. “No one eats like this.” “Are you vegetarian?” “I’ve never seen anyone buy this many vegetables.” “You must be really healthy.” Etc. I find it really sad that a load of vegetables is an uncommon sight. It doesn’t have to be this way! With the right strategy and recipes, all of us can eat more vegetables every day.
In honor of Works for Me Wednesday, hosted by RocksInMyDryer, here are some of my ideas on this topic:
- If you have a problem with your vegetables spoiling in the fridge after you have so virtuously piled them onto your grocery cart, I highly recommend keeping a magnetic dry erase board on your refrigerator. As soon as you arrive home from the store, list all of the produce you just purchased on the board. Doing this keeps the vegetables and fruits in your field of vision at all times, rather than hidden away in crisper drawers and such. It also reminds you of the healthful options available when you’re feeling munchy. As you finish an item, cross it off the list. This has helped me so much! (I have written about it before here.)
- Menu plan! This is a sure-fire way to use those vegetables. Writing down when you plan to consume what keeps you accountable and gives you a daily guideline. I use this in tandem with the dry-erase board. I often shop at farmers’ markets, and, not knowing what will be there from week to week, I can’t menu plan before I go. I just find beautiful produce, then come home and write it down. Then, I sit down with my dry-erase board at the computer and hammer out a plan for using each item.
- Try organizing your meals around the vegetables you want to prepare. Let vegetables star on your table. Once upon a time, I always to decided, first, what kind of meat dish I wanted to make, and then tossed in vegetables almost as an afterthought. Now, I often start with a particularly flavorful vegetable recipe, like Fattoush or Kale with Aduki Beans or Sauteed Cabbage, then add extra vegetables, and, finally, add the meat (if applicable at that meal). It may help to view meat as a side dish. Over time, I have turned to more complex vegetable recipes and simpler meat recipes.
- Eat less meat. I’m a big fan of keeping a food scale handy. Try measuring your protein portions, keeping them to 2 to 4 ounces. This is one of the single, most effective ways to increase your vegetable consumption! As long as you don’t make up the difference with grains and starches, you’ll find that you consume many more vegetables to fill your tummy. If you’re used to eating a lot more meat than this, you may want to taper off slowly. It can be a big adjustment. After a while, you may want to completely eliminate animal protein at some meals and fill up mostly on vegetables with a side of grains or legumes.
- Shop at farmers’ markets. If you want to get inspired and motivated, I can’t think of a better way to do it! It’s a perfect opportunity to learn about new vegetables, discover what’s in season in your area, and talk directly to farmers and other shoppers about how to prepare the goods in new ways. You also can’t beat the quality, freshness, and flavor of farmers’ market produce. To find a farmers’ market near you, visit the Local Harvest website.
- Seek out new vegetables to combat boredom and keep things interesting. Ever tried kohlrabi? How about daikon radish? Asian mustard greens? Galeux d’Eysines squash (shown above)? Find these beauties at your farmers’ market or at a great grocery store, then look up ways to use them. The internet is a wonderful resource for learning how to prepare unusual vegetables. Just use Google to search for your vegetable of choice or visit A Veggie Venture.
- Find new ways to prepare old staples. If you usually eat a particular vegetable cooked, try it raw. If you usually eat it raw, try it cooked. Experiment with steaming, baking, roasting, grilling, sauteing, and pureeing. Use new seasonings and sauces. Do you always eat your broccoli steamed with only salt for flavor? Try roasting it, tossing it with lemon juice and olive oil, stir-frying it with ginger and garlic, or adding it to a vegetable soup. What about carrots? They work beautifully when shredded and mixed with a basil vinaigrette (pictured below) or when pureed into a satisfying soup. After blanching green beans, drizzle with a vinaigrette dressing and allow them to marinate for a few hours in the fridge. For hundreds of ideas on preparing vegetables from A to Z in new and exciting ways, visit the recipe box at A Veggie Venture, where you can search by featured vegetable or by course. Also try 101 Cookbooks.
- Consider eating vegetables for breakfast. Omelets or egg-and-veggie scrambles are the two easiest and most traditional ways to fit in vegetables for breakfast. I also happen to enjoy soup for breakfast. I find it soothing, and it’s a great way to rehydrate after a long night sleeping. This Tarragon Carrot-Cauliflower Soup is one of my favorite breakfast soups, though Garden Green Vegetable is a close contender. A third way to eat vegetables for breakfast is to saute or stir-fry a mixture of them (I like a combo of leeks, kale, bell pepper, broccoli, and green beans) and serve alongside some homemade turkey breakfast sausage. Finally, you could forgo semi-normal breakfast food altogether and simply eat last night’s dinner leftovers.
- Learn to prepare interesting salads. Don’t settle for a giant mass of lettuce with a tiny sprinkle of cucumbers and some dressing. Try bell peppers (of all colors), celery, chopped up green beans, jicama, kohlrabi, shredded summer squash, green onions, tomatoes, avocado, shredded or chopped carrots, radish or daikon radish, chopped raw asparagus, shredded red cabbage, diced broccoli or cauliflower, and even fresh herbs. Make your salad more chunky, less fluffy. Legumes, nuts, seeds, cheeses, fruit, fish, or meat are other great (non-veggie) additions. Experiment with homemade salad dressings. They are far healthier and more flavorful than what you can buy at the store. They are also much less expensive, especially when compared to the higher-quality brands. I have some of my favorite salad dressing recipes listed here and here. For a series of blog posts on lovely salads in progress right now, visit The Nourishing Gourmet.
- Snack on vegetables. I find it helpful to prep veggies for snacking soon after I return from the farmers’ market or grocery store. That way, they’re always ready when I’m hungry. I carry them in little baggies when I leave the home, and they work quite well as a popcorn replacement during movies. There’s no need to limit yourself to only carrots and celery for this. Bell peppers (particularly red, yellow, and orange varieties), green beans, asparagus, cucumbers, sticks of jicama sprinkled with lime, and cherry tomatoes taste great raw too. I’m not a fan of raw broccoli, but I enjoy snacking on it when it has been lightly steamed. Some healthy dips for your vegetable snacks include hummus, refreshing cilantro avocado dip, chunky guacamole, and miso tahini dip. I also briefly posted on veggie snacks here.
- Experiment with grain and vegetable pilafs. I especially like quinoa, but millet, rice, bulgar, and many other grains work just as well. After preparing the grains (preferably by soaking them overnight before cooking), fold in sauteed, blanched, or raw veggies and add seasoning or a light dressing for lots of flavor. This is my favorite quinoa pilaf.
Well, that’s all I have for tonight! I’m exhausted and need to hit the hay. Now it’s your turn. What are your ideas? How do you incorporate more vegetables into your daily diet?