Vegetables are an amazing food group. They provide us with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals that are all important for our health. We are constantly learning about new benefits of veggies and the nutrients in them. No matter who you ask – vegans, paleo eaters, doctors, your mom – they will all say that vegetables are a crucial part of a healthy diet. Specifically, the USDA recommends adult consume 2-3 cups of vegetables per day, but most Americans are not even getting close to this target. Even health conscious individuals struggle to get enough vegetables on their plates and in the stomachs on a daily basis.
And I totally understand why. Vegetables are more expensive than other foods per calorie, which can make more filling, less nutritious options like processed grains seem like easier options on a budget. As a whole, Americans don’t have the palate or the cooking skills to enjoy eating vegetables. And if you don’t know how to cook something well and aren’t used to eating it, it probably won’t taste very good. So, it can be hard to develop the habit of eating veggies regularly. And, even when you are able to get in the habit, eating the same dry salad everyday can get pretty boring, making those break room cookies and Wendy’s french fries seem like more interesting options.
But these common problems do not have to be problems for you! With the right strategies, you can make vegetables a delicious staple in your diet and get all the great benefits that come with eating them regularly. So, here are my top five ways to make eating your veggies a whole lot more appealing:
1.) Cook the darn vegetables!
In my opinion, cooked vegetables are almost always tastier and easier to eat than raw ones. While do love a good salad and snacking on carrots and hummus, if I want to eat a large portion of veggies, cooking them really helps. The process of cooking the veggies starts to break them down making them easier to digest and requiring a lot less chewing. Also, the chemical reactions that happen within the food when you cook at add complexity to the flavors and make the veggies taste better. There are lots of ways to cook vegetables. My personal favorites are sautéing, grilling, and roasting. Cooking doesn’t have to be hard or complicated, but it can definitely be intimidating when you do not know how. To ease your nerves, find some simple recipes to guide you.
2.) Learn how to season like a boss
I made this number two on the list, but this is definitely the most important one here. BLAND FOOD IS GROSS! I don’t want to eat tasteless food, and I am guessing you don’t either. Adding even the simplest seasonings to your veggies can take them to the next level of yum. If your culinary skills are limited, start simple: salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika are my go-to seasonings no matter what I am cooking. Cumin, oregano, rosemary, and cayenne make regular appearances as well depending on the flavors I am going for. You can also invest in some high quality spice blends. I am personally a fan of the Primal Palate blends and Diane Sanfilippo’s new Balanced Bites Spice Blends. You can also make your own spice blends! There are tons of great recipes all over the internet for you to choose from. Once you start to learn what spices you like, it gets very easy to season, even without pre-made blends or recipes. These days, I make whole pots of chili by eye-balling my spices. Seasoning veggies is even easier. Just keep adding more until your think it tastes good!
3.) Pair your veggies with richer foods
On their own, vegetables are not super palatable, even with all of the seasoning in the world. This can make them hard to eat hearty portions of, or eat at all if you are used to more palatable foods. An easy fix to this is to make sure you are pairing your vegetables with other foods or ingredients that turn on your brain’s pleasure centers. Research has shown that a combination of fat, salt, and starch (sugar) is a magical combination that over-rides our normal satiety cues and makes want to eat MORE! Junk food companies have been using this to their advantage for years, but you can use it too! Cooking your veggies in a healthy fat such as coconut oil, grass-fed ghee, or olive oil and adding high quality sea salt can make a big difference in how good you think the veggies taste. To take it to the next level, prepare a combination of greens and starchy veggies (like squash, carrots, beets, and potatoes), to get the best combination of nutrients and palatability. These starchy veggies are also a much more nutritious source of carbohydrates than grain-based foods, so using them gives you even more nutritional bang for your calorie buck! You can also achieve this by cooking your veggies in a “stir fry” style with other, richer foods like meat, rice, eggs, and grass-fed dairy.
4.) Get local and seasonal
Avoid getting bored by experimenting with seasonal vegetables. Sometimes spring mix, kale, and carrot sticks can get a little old, so hit the grocery store or local farmer’s market and look for veggies you have never tried before. Never made parsnips? what about rutabaga? Or dandelion greens? Look up a recipe and track some down! Eating seasonally can be a great way to learn new recipes and cooking skills. It will also introduce more variety into your diet, which is not only more fun, but healthier as well! Different vegetables contain different levels of different nutrients. The more foods you can include into your diet, the more balanced you will be. And if you buy them local, there is the added benefit of knowing that you are supporting your local farmers and the environment. Win, win!
5.) Ditch the “diet foods”
In an effort to be healthy, many people turn to convenient “diet foods” like low fat yogurt cups, 100 calorie snack packs, and lean cuisine. Straight up, these foods are not healthy. They feature easily marketable calorie and macro counts, but in reality these foods are just made of refined grains, industrial oils, and a lot of additives to make them taste acceptable. Stocking your fridge with these foods not only sucks up your grocery budget, but makes it less likely you will choose to eat any of the vegetables you do buy. Get rid of the easy foods and instead fill your kitchen with the vegetables you actually want to eat. If you want convenience, invest in spice blends and pack your freezer with frozen veggies. With a little bit of practice, cooking and eating vegetables not only feels easy, but tastes way better than a lot of your old “diet” snacks and frozen meals.
I hope you find these tips to be helpful! Changing the way you eat can be challenging. It requires changing your habits and eating foods you are not accustomed to. But, making healthy changes does not have to be miserable. There will always be a period of adjustment, but by making sure you are preparing your veggies in a tasty way and getting rid of the temptation to fall back on old habits, you will be setting yourself up for success!
What are your favorite vegetables and veggie cooking methods?
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