It’s not just kids who resist eating vegetables. The latest reports show that less than one-third of American adults are eating the recommended five servings fruits and vegetables every day.
Believe me, I know how this happens. Even as a professional nutritionist, I have sometimes struggled to follow my own advice! I’d load up my fridge with fresh produce with the best of intentions. But something always got in the way of actually eating them. I just never seemed to have time to make a salad for lunch. Then, we’d end up eating out for dinner while that day’s vegetables wilted in the fridge. On busy days, dinner is often the only meal that includes any vegetables at all, and how many servings of steamed broccoli can you eat at one meal?
But recently, I’ve discovered a couple of really simple strategies that have literally tripled the amount of fresh vegetables we eat every day. And I’m not talking about adding grated carrots to your oatmeal or switching from gin-and-tonics to Bloody Marys. Here’s what’s worked for us:
First, I found a couple of really easy ways to prepare vegetables that turned them from a duty into the best part of the meal. One way is to cut the vegetables into bite-sized pieces, toss them in a bit of olive oil, spread them on a foil-lined baking sheet, season them with sea salt and pepper, and roast them in the oven at 350 until tender. It couldn’t be easier and it brings out a wonderful, sweet, earthy flavor. This method works well with brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips, asparagus, beets, rutabaga, and even string beans.
The second method is even quicker and works well for lots of super-nutritious vegetables, such as spinach, chard, beet greens, arugula, and broccoli (which needs to be steamed or par-boiled first). Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a large skillet and add one clove of fresh garlic. Saute the garlic just until golden (about two minutes) and then add your vegetables. Continue to saute until vegetables are tender, about three to five minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and cracked red pepper if you like.
Both cooking methods turn ordinary vegetables into side dishes so savory and flavorful that you’ll find yourself reaching for seconds on the veggies before you’re half-way through your entree. In fact, we have found that we love them so much that we now often replace the starch food in a meal (bread, potatoes or rice) with a second or third vegetable instead.
Of course, we are adding a bit of heart-healthy fat in the form of olive oil but nothing here is going to sabotage your diet. Studies show that diets rich in vegetables and using olive oil as the primary dietary fat are very effective for both weight loss and weight maintenance. And even though I use the same ingredients (olive oil, salt, and pepper) to cook so many different vegetables, these cooking methods really bring out the individual flavors of the various vegetables, so it never gets boring!
Lastly, forget the bottled salad dressings and learn how to make a good, simple vinaigrette. It doesn’t take more than a minute and it I guarantee you will eat more salads and enjoy them more once you abandon those goopy bottled dressings. Here’s the simplest and best salad dressing I know:
Pour 2 tablespoons of seasoned rice vinegar (available in the Asian section of your grocery store) into a large salad bowl. Whisk the vinegar briskly with a wire whisk. With the other hand pour a thin stream of olive oil into the bowl, whisking the whole time. (You can also use walnut or hazelnut oil.) When the dressing thickens and turns slightly opaque, it’s done. Now add your salad greens to the bowl and toss to coat. Top with grated or chopped raw veggies, egg, nuts, or left-over roasted vegetables from the night before. Delicious!
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“Top with grated or chopped raw veggies, egg, nuts, or left-over roasted vegetables from the night before. Delicious!”
Leftover vegetables from the night before? Yeah. Right. No matter how many vegetables I make, they all seem to be gone by the end of the meal. Once you go to the effort to buy, clean, spice, and cook them, they alway seem to disappear. (This seems to be a general rule. Have you ever noticed that at parties the veggie trays always disappear before the plates full of cookies are empty?)
I’ve found that I really don’t enjoy the act of eating a salad. Too much effort for the reward. But I still want the benefits of green leafy veggies in my diet. My solution? Instead of eating them, I drink them. I toss a couple of ounces of spinach in a blender with my morning glass of milk. Sometimes I’ll add a quarter ounce of ginger or an ounce of frozen banana for extra flavor. Sometimes I’ll drink it straight up. Sure, it looks green. But it TASTES like . . . milk. For minimal extra effort I’ve gotten a couple of servings of vegetables in before I’ve finished breakfast.