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So we all know we should be eating our veggies, but did you know only 13% of Americans eat the recommended amount each day?
Odds are good that you want (or “need”) to get more greens onto your plate. Great news: It’s easy to add more greens (reds, oranges, yellows, and purples) into your diet. Here are a few tricks I’ve used to help my household get over veggie hang ups that might help you get over yours too. Can I get a “Kale Yeah!”?
Hang Up #1: Junk food is easier to snack on.
Why it ain’t so: What makes junk food, like chips, easy to snack on is the fact that it seems more convenient, not that it actually is. Baby carrots and so easy to eat. Plus there is no individual wrapper to deal with later (unless you eat the whole bag).
- Stock your kitchen with easy to snack on fruits and veggies and add dips to dress them up, such as hummus and baby carrots or apples and honey.
- Make it easier to snack on fruits and veggies by storing them in areas where they are easy to find. For example, you can keep bananas on your counter and a veggie tray prominently displayed in your fridge.
- Make it harder to eat junk food. Store it up and away out of your sight so that it takes more effort to find and open the bag of chips than it does, say, to eat a piece of broccoli.
Hang Up #2: Fruits and vegetables taste bad.
Why it ain’t so: Let me ask you something: How fresh do do you feel right outta the shower in the morning after you’ve had a good night’s rest? Pretty good, I would imagine. Now let’s pretend you just sat cooped up in the middle seat of an airplane halfway around the world for 12 hours. Not feeling so fresh anymore, huh? Well fruit from Chili sits on a boat for 2-3 weeks before it arrives in the U.S. and apples can be up to a year old by the time they end up in your shopping cart if you buy them off season. No wonder grocery store fruits and veggies taste like mushy cardboard sometimes.
- Get your fruit and vegetables when they are fresh. Locally grown, in season food tastes best because it can be picked at peak ripeness and is often bred for flavor rather than for shelf life. Great sources of yummy edibles are a CSA, farmer’s market, or your (or a neighbor’s) garden. Need help finding one near you? Check out www.localharvest.org.
- You know what tastes boring? Sugar and carbs. For reals. Next time you eat white bread (or any other carb-only food), sit and really savor the flavor. What does it taste like? Now try an animal cracker. And a pretzel. Sure, they taste different but they also all kinda taste the same. And that can get really boring. Now go out and try a leaf of butter lettuce. Then a sweet potato and a broccoli floret. And a mushroom. They all taste so different. What’s great about vegetables is that their flavors are all over the map. You can take one veggie and cook it differently and voila! Completely new taste. You can even mix veggies and fruits together (apples and pears on your salad) to sweeten up the dish. Which brings me to my next point…
- Experiment with new ways of making the same old vegetables. As a kid, I hated sautéed spinach (sorry, Mom!). It was so slimy and “gross!”. Then I went to college, and ate a salad with fresh spinach in it. Wow, what a difference! Same vegetable, very different taste. There are so many ways to eat a veggie or fruit – you can eat it raw or sauté, bake, boil, broil, blend, or grill it. You can slice, dice, shred, peel, purée, or julienne it, You can add an almost infinite variety of seasonings – dry rubs, sauces, or dips – or just mix it into your main dish. You don’t even have to stick to savory. Add some cinnamon to the sweet potato or eat celery with honey butter. The possibilities are endless.
- Do you torture your vegetables? If your boiled carrots disintegrate when pierced with a fork or your baked asparagus retains its shape as well as a clock in a Salvador Dali painting does, then you might want to brush up on your veggie preparation skills. EatingWell has a great starter guide to preparing vegetables. Other great resources are allrecipes.com (search for roasted + name-of-vegetable recipes) or youtube.com. I personally think grilling, roasting, and sautéing are a great way to get started cooking veggies – the resulting smoky (grilled), sweet (roasted), and savory (sautéed) flavors and relatively quick learning curve will keep you motivated to try more.
Hang Up #3: Prepping vegetables is annoying.
Why it ain’t so: “I’m not annoying; you’re annoying” says Baby Carrot. Joking aside, prepping vegetables can be a chore but it doesn’t have to be. Unless you are preparing a made-from-scratch vegetarian feast with no veggie repeated twice in any dish, you can usually prep the veggies for your meal in under 10 minutes. That’s less time than it takes to stand in line, order, and receive a frou-frou drink at your local coffee shop. And no one’s complaining about that 🙂
- Buy the pre-cut bagged fruits and vegetables from the grocery store. Yes, they are more expensive than the freestyle veggies at the farmer’s market. And yes, they probably do not taste as good (because they have probably been sitting on the shelf for a couple days), but they are easy and convenient. Sometimes, this pays off in terms of your happiness (Wait, I don’t have to cook and shell edamame to enjoy it? Sign me up!) and sometimes not so much (Boxed watermelon spears? Come on. Hearing the “snap” when you cut into the perfect watermelon is all part of the fun! Plus it’s so much cheaper!).
- Get kitchenware to help speed things up, like a food processor or salad spinner. The amount of time and money you will save yourself is mind boggling. The other day I sliced a few pounds of mushrooms in less than 2 minutes. If I were to chop them by hand…ugh.
- Batch prep veggies. Sometimes clean up is part of the issue. I personally hate cleaning the cutting board and knife every day then leaving it to dry (silly, I know). So, do yourself a favor and batch prep veggies. Know (or suspect) that you will need diced onion for several meals this week? Instead of chopping them once a day (then cleaning the cutting board each time), chop them all at once. You can even partition off the appropriate amount into containers or ziplock bags so that when you get home the veggies are “grab and go” ready for cooking.
- Multitask. Need an excuse to catch up on a podcast? Chop veggies while you listen to it. Need to be present while your kids do their homework? Cool. They do math and you chop veggies.
- Make sure you have good tools. Did you know that dull knives are annoying and more dangerous than sharp knives? It’s true! In order to cut something with a dull knife, you have to apply a lot more pressure to cut it. Which means that if the knife slips (because you know, it’s dull), you could wound yourself. Take a tip from pro chefs the world over and have a high quality, sharp knife. It’s both safer and faster to use. Win-win! Just make sure your kiddos don’t play with it.
- Turn veggie prep into a party. Who says you have to be the only one cutting veggies? Enlist your family and friends to cut and prep veggies together. You could play music, talk, or just divide and conquer. And if it’s just you? Enjoy one of your favorite beverages while you cook. It’s amazing how one little change can make it so much more enjoyable.
Hang Up #4: Vegetables are expensive.
Why it ain’t so: Okay, so some people have argued that getting the same number of calories is much cheaper in junk food than it is in healthy, fresh food (like salad). However, eating food that is not from a box is actually cheaper (and healthier) than getting the processed food. For example, the other day this is what I bought for about $35 at the farmers market:
1 dozen pastured, Araucana eggs (special treat for the kiddos)
2 bags of fresh arugula
1 bag of fresh spinach
1 pound of crimini mushrooms
6 baskets of organic strawberries
3 pounds of zucchini and summer squash
1 pound of green beans
1 pound of walnuts in their shell (for my kids to enjoy shelling)
1 basket of cherry tomatoes
1 bouquet of flowers
And this is what that same $35 bought me at the grocery store in processed food:
2 quarts of ice cream (on sale)
3 boxes of cereal
2 bagged salad kits
2 boxes of k-cup coffee
When you compare the sheer volume of food, you can see that farm-fresh veggies are actually affordable.
- Buy local, in-season vegetables. Nature has a way of making certain foods ridiculously abundant at certain times of the year. Take advantage of this and buy local, in-season produce. Find out what’s in season near you.
- Buy whole (read: not prepared) vegetables. Processed or prepped fruits and veggies are more expensive than their raw or “whole” counterparts because someone (or something) has to do he work for you (and therefore needs to be paid for). If money is an issue, buy the whole version and prep it yourself or hire out a local high schooler to batch prep it for you.
- Start a mini vegetable garden. If you have sunny dirt patch in your yard or on your balcony or windowsill, you can probably grow something whether its an herb, salad greens, or tomatoes. A pack of seeds will set you back just a couple bucks and will provide enough seeds for more plants than you can eat. Case in point: I had two (yes two) zucchini bushes last summer that produced more zucchini than our family could consume. So $3 on seeds provided us with a summer supply of zucchini (and zucchini bread). If you do end up with more food than you cam eat, you can gift it to your friends, neighbors, or your local food bank. Plus, gardening is a fun pastime. There aren’t many hobbies where you can essentially “earn” money for your labors of love, but growing your own food is luckily one of them.
- Don’t buy everything organic. Yes, some foods are better organic (like strawberries) because their conventional counterparts are loaded with pesticides. But other foods don’t have to be organic in my book, especially if you don’t eat the outside peel (like oranges, avocados, bananas). Check out EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists to see which produce has the most (and least) pesticide residues and buy organic (or conventional) accordingly.
Hang Up #5: I don’t have time to make veggie dishes during the week.
Why it ain’t so: Have you ever timed how long it takes to heat up a frozen pizza (20-30 minutes) or get take-out (20-30 minutes)? Did you know you can cook a meal full of veggies in that same amount of time? And the best part is you don’t have to leave home to do it.
- Add pre-cut veggies to convenient foods. For example, you can add broccoli florets and peas to boxed mac n’ cheese. Just toss them into the boiling water when you add in the pasta.
- Add a veggie soup to dinner. Warm up some tomato or minestrone soup when you have grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch.
- Cook or prep “ahead” on the weekend so that you have go-to dishes during the week. For example, I like to make extra salad (minus the tomatoes and dressing) ahead of time so that I prep once and have 2-3 days of fresh greens (without the bagged salad price).
- Use bagged salad kits as the basis for meals. Okay, so now you’re spending a little extra dough, but you’re coming out waaaaay ahead in terms of nutrition and price. A few of my favorite hacks: Adding leftover or rotisserie chicken to Asian salad kits (“Chinese chicken salad”) or avocado and pre-cooked proteins (hardboiled egg, black beans) to southwestern salad kits (“taco salad”). You end up with a delicious meal that tastes like a $14 restaurant entree but for just $2-4 per person.
- Enjoy vegetable sandwiches. Who says meat and cheese have to have a monopoly on sandwichdom? Veggie sandwiches are quick, healthy, and delicious too. My favorite: An avocado and hummus sandwich with tomato, cucumber, lettuce, and shredded carrots. You could even have a “sandwich buffet” where everyone DIYs their meal to their liking. More veggies to everyone; less prep for you.
So there you have it. Over twenty ways to get yourself to love (and eat) veggies. Try them out and let me know how it goes!