Finding vegetables you like to eat

cruditesIt’s not that hard to get five servings of vegetables a day if you actually like vegetables. But some people just don’t like many vegetables. (Or they don’t don’t think they do.)

So I’ve been thinking about ways to help the vegetable-averse find veggies that they enjoy. Because who wants to 5 servings a day of something they dislike?

The universe of vegetables and vegetable preparations can be sorted into a few broad categories, which I’ve listed below. One way to expand your repertoire is to work from what you like. If there’s one type of vegetable you enjoy, chances are good that you might also like others in the same category.

The categories that are usually most successful with vegetable-averse people are the Crunchy and the Caramelized. Although you might think that Covert vegetables would be a good way to sneak vegetables in,  the veg-shy among us often find the idea of hidden vegetables more horrifying than helpful.

Crunchy

Many people only enjoy raw vegetables. They’ll eat salads and crudites but that’s about it for veggies. The flavor profile  of this category is usually mild and/or a bit sweet; the texture is crisp.  There’s enormous variety available in this category but many people get stuck in a rut with the same two or three vegetables.

In addition to the usual romaine, lettuce, baby carrots, and grape tomatoes, try multi-colored bell peppers, endive (make great scoopers for dip), jicama, sugar snap or snow peas.

A little hummus, guacamole, or yogurt-based dip can make a vegetable platter more appealing (and more filling). Learning how to make a decent vinaigrette can also be game-changing. (Quick video demo here.)

Caramelized (aka the Gateway Drug)

The preparation most likely to convert a vegetable hater into a vegetable eater is oven roasting.  A thin coating of oil and half an hour on a baking sheet in a hot oven brings out the natural sweetness in vegetables. This ridiculously simple technique can be applied to an infinite variety of vegetables with universally pleasing results.

Cut vegetables into bite sized chunks. Toss with a bit of olive oil. Spread on a baking sheet so that there’s room between each piece and season with salt and pepper. Then roast at 400 degrees F until browned and tender. Baking times will depend on the vegetable but ranges from 25 to 50 minutes. (When in doubt, let them go a little longer.)

Try this first with mild/sweet vegetables like butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and carrots. If things are going well, take a chance on cabbage, beets, cauliflower, green beans, Brussels sprouts, and turnips. Sliced onions and whole garlic cloves are also delicious, if you like those flavors.

Once you get the hang of this, you can combine vegetables with similar baking times on the same sheet. In the summer, I do this on the grill, using a grill basket.

More good tips here: How to Roast Vegetables

Covert

There are lots of ways to “hide” vegetables in unexpected places: you can shred carrots or zucchini into muffin batter, puree steamed cauliflower into your mashed potatoes, and even sneak roasted beets into your brownies. In my experience, though, people who don’t like vegetables (yet) are not big fans of this approach. They can taste the spinach in a green smoothie, thank you very much, and they don’t appreciate it.

Transparent

Vegetable lovers often enjoy their vegetables cooked very simply: steamed tender-crisp and topped with nothing more than a sprinkle sea salt or lemon juice, or quickly sauteed in a bit of oil.  These preparations are best reserved for the freshest possible produce because there’s absolutely nowhere to hide. A slightly elderly green bean can be rescued by oven-roasting but will not fare well in a transparent preparation. Because transparent preparations are  a way to showcase the unadulterated flavors of vegetables, they’re often not terrible successful with the vegetable averse.

Piquant

These are vegetables with very pronounced or bitter flavors: asparagus, fennel, radishes, rapini, mustard greens, arugula, fennel. This category is usually the last to be embraced by the vegetable shy. (That’s OK, more for me!)

Vegetables No-One Likes

Finally, I should mention that many a vegetable hater has been created by over-exposure to badly cooked vegetables. Even die-hard vegetable lovers are turned off by over-cooked broccoli, stinky cabbage, and mealy lima beans.  If all I’d ever encountered were canned or over-boiled vegetables, I’d be a vegetable hater too.

What?! That’s a vegetable?

Don’t forget that things like spaghetti sauce and salsa are vegetables! And egg rolls, pizza, chili, spanikopita, and casseroles can include substantial amounts of vegetables which can be counted toward your five a day!

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you have a no-fail vegetable dish that even vegetable haters love?

3 thoughts on “Finding vegetables you like to eat

  1. I love these tricks! Some things I have found are: until sugar and processed foods are cut out of the diet, vegetables will not taste good to the vegetable shy. All of the added sugar to packaged foods effectively numbs the tastebuds to other, different flavors. Once sugar is drastically reduced, one can begin to taste the natural sweetness in bell peppers, grape tomatoes, butternut squash etc.

    Is vegetable soup a possible “gateway” food for the veg shy? My kids have always eaten it up without any complaining. All the flavors seem to merge together. Adding whole grains such as barley or brown rice add to the texture and palatability.

    Thanks for all the great ideas, we’ll be implementing them for sure!

  2. I cannot speak for all vegetable haters, however, a technique that I have successfully used of the years is something I call my New Years Resolution Extractive Method. Each year, starting on New Years Day, I remove only one unhealthy food from my diet and add one healthy food. For example, this year, I eliminated any form of coiffee lighteners and strictly drink it black. Then, I added mushrooms into my diet. I’ve found small serving size cans of mushrooms at my local Costco and add a can into almost anything that I’m preparing from the morning omelette to the dinner beans. In both cases it took a bit of adjustment but it doesn’t take long to adapt. It woks for me.

    Thank-you for your positive approach toward helping others.

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