What is so important about vegetables, anyway? Most vegetables are true nutrient powerhouses. Getting enough fruits and vegetables, in a variety of colors, as well as parts of the plant from which they are harvested, gives your body a range of vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants, as well as plenty of fiber, water, and even a little protein. There is not an unhealthy vegetable out there, even the ubiquitous potato. What is unhealthy is often the preparation style of the vegetables, as well as the sauces used to smother them. What is more unhealthy is to avoid them altogether.
I get that there are many people out there who don't like vegetables, or at least certain ones. This dislike can stem from being force-fed poorly prepared vegetables as a child, or just having taste-buds too used to a diet of overly-processed foods. It's important to remember that as we grow and age, our tastes can change. I recommend trying something you thought you hated every couple of years- you might be surprised. Make sure to try it in a handful of preparations as well. Plenty of people hate Brussels sprouts that have been boiled to mush- and this preparation method also removes all the nutrients!- but if they try them roasted, they are pleasantly surprised.
Still, if you feel you are not getting enough vegetables, there are a few ways you can add them into your daily diet.
I'll admit, when I first heard the ingredients, I never thought this would be good, but I promise it is.
This makes four servings.
1 apple- I used a Gala, but Fuji or Granny Smith (for a tart smoothie) will work as well
1/2 banana- optional, but I tend to throw bananas that are turning brown in my freezer, so I always have some on hand. Plus it adds potassium
1/2 avocado- okay, I know this is where it starts to sound weird, but I promise you won't get a weird flavor from mixing avocado and fruit, and you're also adding healthy fats into the smoothie!
2 big handfuls of spinach- yes, spinach. Once again, the fruit offsets the flavor, so you don't taste the spinach either.
Enough filtered water to make it smooth- about 1 1/2 cups- sorry to be vague on this, but it really depends on what consistency you would like it.
A splash to 1/4 cup of orange juice- also optional, but it does add a bit more sweetness, and more importantly, it helps keep the green smoothie a nice green color if the smoothie is not being drunk right away. The vitamin C also helps with iron absorption.
Directions- chop the apple into medium sized chunks. Leave the peel on for added fiber and nutrients! Place in a blender with a cup of water. and 1/2 the avocado. Blend until smooth. Add the banana, the rest of the water, and the orange juice if using. Blend again. Add the spinach a handful at a time, blending between handfuls. Test the consistency, adding more water (or even spinach) as needed. Serve chilled. Keeps in the fridge for 3 days, and it also freezes well.
Each serving is 1.5 servings of fruit/vegetables!
Calories- 90 kcal
(Healthy) Fat- 4 gm
Carbs- 14 gm
Fiber- 3 gm
Protein- 1.4 gm
Plenty of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and folate, and a touch of iron.
There are a million recipes out there for green smoothies. They involve kale, nuts, coconut water, blueberries, chia seeds, and so many other healthy ingredients. Experiment, try new flavors!
I'm not sure when we Americans decided that breakfast should be high in carbs/sugars, but we need to stop. Breakfast cereal, muffins, pancakes, French toast, and similar are fine on occasion in small portions, but they tend to be the main event. Throw a side of high fat, high sodium bacon or sausage, and you're looking at the breakfast of non-Champions. Once again, these kinds of breakfasts are fine on occasion- I certainly enjoy French toast with turkey sausage- but a typical start to the day should be high protein, medium fat, medium carb, and definitely involve at least a fruit, but vegetables can absolutely be incorporated. I personally love an egg over wilted spinach or kale. The Green Smoothie above can also make a great breakfast on the go. Avocado on toast is a big thing these days. Here are a couple of links for ideas on how to add veggies with breakfast. The important thing is to make an effort to have veggies as often as possible throughout the day.
Vegetables also make great snacks. I love to have a mix of carrot, celery, cherry tomatoes, radishes, snow peas, bell peppers, cucumber and asparagus to dip into hummus or a Greek yogurt dip. Since I've been asked several times for my Greek yogurt dip recipe, here it is!
Greek Yogurt Dip
6-8 oz plain Greek Yogurt (whatever size container you can find will work)
Juice from 1/2 a lemon
1/4 cup finely diced cucumber
1 clove garlic- minced
1-2 tsp oregano
Pepper- to taste
Salt- a pinch
Optional- 1 Tbsp fresh dill, 1 Tbsp feta. Also, you can add the juice from the other half of the lemon to make a dressing, and/or use regular plain yogurt instead of Greek.
Mix all ingredients together. It's better if you make it a couple hours ahead of time to let the flavors meld together.
Peanut chicken stew- based loosely off of Palaver chicken, an African dish, this stew contained onions, bell peppers and spinach. It would have done well with the addition of carrots and/or sweet potatoes, adding even more veggie oomph. I will be making this dish again, and will include sweet potatoes.
Tandoori chicken pizza- based very loosely on CPK's version, this pizza contained roasted red onions and red peppers, as well as a spicy sweet sauce made from a nectarine. Like I said, this won't be a whole serving of vegetables, but there is nothing like the flavor of roasted red onions and red peppers.
Farro cakes with zucchini- (recipe found here). This was a great way to get not just vegetables, but also whole grains, as farro is an ancient wheat. It is delicious and nutty and makes a great spring salad as well (I will be talking about it in my next article on whole grains). While I linked the original recipe, I did make a couple of changes. 1- I didn't herb my goat cheese, I just used regular and it was delish. I did sprinkle an herb blend on top, though. 2- I didn't roast my tomatoes, I just used fresh. I liked it because the fresh tomatoes really brightened the whole dish. 3- I sauteed the zucchini with onions, garlic, red peppers, carrots, and celery. Sauteing can help remove the moisture as well as the method described by the original recipes author, plus I ended up adding a nice color variety to the recipe. The important note here is to have the same amount of total veggies as the recipe called for zucchini, that way the cakes can still bind together. Or you can just follow the recipe.
Turkey meatloaf (not pictured- I don't know how we ate the whole meatloaf without taking one single picture). Another great way to hide sauteed onions, garlic, carrots, celery, red pepper, and zucchini is to mix it into meatloaf. You do have to saute and then cook the vegetables on low heat until most of the moisture has evaporated, otherwise you'll end up with a mushy meatloaf, but this meatloaf turned out really good. I even made my own roasted red pepper ketchup as a topping. Ketchup is one of those foods with hidden sugars, and its surprisingly easy to make a small batch. A good recipe for the meatloaf is found here, and the red pepper ketchup, here. Just like with the Farro cakes, if you add any more vegetables than what the recipe calls for, just use a bit less of the vegetables the recipe does call for, and cook out most of the moisture.
Honestly, I could go on and on about vegetables, their benefits, and how delicious they truly are. The point I'd like to make here is just make sure you get enough in your diet. Throw some kale or spinach in soup, chop up some peppers, mushrooms and onions for an omelet or pizza, have snack portions cut up and ready to go so that you can take them to work with you. Just eat your veggies.