The USDA, American Cancer Society, and even our mothers are always trying to get us to eat more vegetables. They are low calorie, cholesterol free, and packed with nutrients. Most importantly, they contain phytochemicals, substances that are little understood, but believed to be incredibly healthy and helpful in preventing cancer and heart disease and weight loss. While many vitamins and minerals can now be found in the form of supplements, phytochemicals are only found in plant-based foods. As a matter of fact, vegetables are so important that the food pyramid increased the goal from 3-5 to 5-9 servings per day!
So just how does one get all these veggies in? Here’s some easy ideas on how to fit more vegetables into your day.
Scrambled eggs and omelets are quick, easy breakfast options that even the least experienced cook should have no problem whipping up. Vegetables and greens from onions to chives to spinach to broccoli to zucchini and other squash can be sautéed in the pan before the eggs are added, or mixed right into the eggs. A personal favorite is a greek omelet. Spinach, feta cheese, tomato and black olives take an omelet from a plain breakfast to a tasty (and balanced) meal.
Another great way to make an easy breakfast nutritious is flavored cream cheese. Almost any flavor is available in the dairy aisle, but with a blender or food processor, making your own is easy. Simply add spinach, celery, carrots, cucumbers, zucchini or any other vegetable to the cream cheese, blend, and put in a Tupperware container to refrigerate.
At lunch, sprouts can add both flavor and texture to a sandwich and allow diners to sneak in an extra veggie serving without swapping out their favorite lunch. Just add some raw alfalfa or bean sprouts to a salad or sandwich for a light and crunchy treat.
Similarly, mayonnaise can be replaced by, or even mixed with, a smashed avocado. It provides added flavor and the same creamy texture. Although higher in fat than some other vegetables, avocados are packed with nutrients, including protein.
For snacks, celery is great. Although it is not a huge deficit, eating celery actually burns more calories than it brings in! Celery is also an unrivaled source of fiber. For those of us who are not ready to make the big leap to chomping plain celery, the shape is great. The groove in a celery stalk can be filled with peanut butter, cream cheese, or any other spread to improve celery’s flavor.
Guacamole is another great snack. It can be used as a dip for chips, or even raw vegetables. As mentioned above, avocados are nutrient-packed.
For people who are already eating salads, an easy way to get an extra boost is to swap out the lettuce. Lettuce is great in that it is low calorie, but nutritionally, there is not much going on, especially in iceberg. Spinach, kale, mustard greens or other leafy greens provide the same texture, but give both extra flavor and more nutrients.
For folks on the run in today’s busy world, shopping for, washing, and preparing veggies can get inconvenient. There are any number of canned, frozen and bagged vegetables that are ready-to-eat. Although they cannot compare to the fresh stuff in either flavor or nutrition, they can be used to get those extra servings.
Pizza and pasta are great ways to “trick” yourself, or especially your kids, into eating their greens. Adding some very finely chopped or shredded spinach or carrots to marinara, pizza, or alfredo sauce is one easy modification. Add broccoli, bell peppers, or other vegetables right to your pie or pasta. Or, leave off the sauce altogether and whip up a pasta primavera.
Many people also do not realize just how many vegetables are in their favorite soups and stews. Whether fresh or from a can, most soups already have plenty of vegetables, and it is easy to always add more.
Finally, there are some veggie-rich treats which can be quite tasty. Although certainly not a healthy every-day staple, stuffed artichokes, creamed spinach, and hot spinach and artichoke dip can count toward the nine servings on special occasions.
Getting our daily fill of greens and veggies does not have to be painful or time consuming. As the tips above show, there are plenty of tasty and convenient modifications that can be made to our normal diets.