Four Ways to Get More Veggies in Your Life
It always amazes me when I meet someone who won’t miss a workout and tracks every calorie—but then rarely eats a vegetable. Working out regularly, cutting out added sugar and processed carbs, and eating lean protein are all very important, but if you aren’t eating green, leafy vegetables every day, you’re not as healthy as you think.
I know, I know—vegetables are hard. Most vegetables require cooking, and nothing is more frustrating than opening the fridge and finding rotten broccoli. While it’s easy to understand why you need to eat protein and cut out sugar, it’s often difficult to fully grasp the importance of vegetables. Can’t you just take a multivitamin and call it a day?
Just like you can’t take an exercise pill, you also can’t really take a vegetable pill. The science behind multivitamins is grim (), and unless you are pregnant or hoping to become pregnant soon (in which case you should be taking folic acid), multivitamins don’t offer any health benefits, and in fact could be harmful in large doses.
The evidence behind eating vegetables is clear, however. () Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables helps lower blood pressure, reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke, can prevent some types of cancer, and helps regulate blood pressure.
What’s more, eating leafy greens are essential for maintaining good gut health (). If you’re aware of the importance of gut health, you know the good bacteria in your stomach supports your immune system, your heart, your mental health, and even helps you maintain a healthy weight. ()
There’s no avoiding it, you have to eat your veggies. The good news is it’s not as hard as you think,
If you struggle to eat enough vegetables, here are some tricks to get more greens in your life.
1. Blend it up—add in green smoothies
For a long time I was very skeptical of green smoothies. I thought it broke down the fiber of the vegetables and made you hungry faster than eating whole vegetables.
It looks like I was wrong about that (), and consuming food in a blended form actually makes you feel full longer. It also doesn’t have a significant negative impact on fiber, and mashing veggies into tiny pieces in the blender makes the fiber more available to your gut bacteria.
There are some pitfalls with green smoothies, however. Blending up a bunch of spinach and chard with some yogurt and protein powder is not going to taste very good. One of the reasons we cook vegetables is cooking releases the natural sugars and makes them taste better. To overcome the bitter taste of blended vegetables, many green smoothies contain a lot of sugar, either from fruit, honey, or juice. Sweetening a smoothie with fruit is the best choice, just make sure to be aware exactly how much frozen pineapple you’re throwing in there and balance that with your fruit consumption for the rest of the day.
2. Salad, salad, salad
I don’t know how I would live without Trader Joe’s bagged salad greens. Just like my mom did when I was growing up, I make a salad every single night with dinner. I love the taste, and I also love having something on the table we can all eat with abandon. My kids happily eat their share, and I think part of it is just seeing a salad on the dinner table every night for most of their lives. They started out not eating salad at all, then began picking out what they liked, and now they often ask for seconds.
Making a nightly salad may seem like a lot of work, but I can make a salad in less than five minutes. It starts with shaking some Trader Joe’s spring mix into a salad bowl. It’s pre-washed and organic, so no washing required. Then I look around and see what vegetables—or fruit—I’ve got laying around. I usually put no more than two things in the salad, and I like to combine something crunchy or savory (like celery or fennel) with something a bit sweet (like citrus or tomatoes). A bit of fruit in a salad is a game-changer. I love the contrast between the bitter taste of greens and the sweet fruit.
Then I reach for my jar of homemade salad dressing, shake to mix it up,
and pour it over the salad. I don’t like store-bought salad dressing, so I always make my own. I wrote about my favorite homemade salad dressing recipes here () if you’re looking to start making your own.
3. Roast, don’t steam
Most of the people I meet who don’t like vegetables are accustomed to steamed veggies, which in my opinion is the worst way to prepare vegetables. My kids won’t touch kale—unless I roast it with some olive oil and salt and turn it into kale chips, then they fight over every last morsel.
If you think you don’t like vegetables, try the oven. Roasting vegetables brings out their natural sugars and imparts an appealing crunchiness. It’s also foolproof—an extra few minutes in the oven won’t ruin your broccoli, whereas over-steamed vegetables become almost inedible when over-cooked. I like to roast things like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts as well as root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, and beets.
Make sure you cut your vegetables into roughly equal pieces, so they cook at the same rate, and be sure not to crowd them in the pan. This will cause them to steam, not roast.
4. Join a CSA
You know how even if you don’t feel like working out, if you can just make it to the gym you usually find the energy to get in a great session? I think it’s the same with preparing vegetables—sometimes we need a little push.
For me, the push is our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), or farm share. I pay quarterly for a box of locally-grown, organic fruits and vegetables every two weeks. In the box are things that are easy to eat,
like strawberries, sweet carrots, and then some more challenging produce, like collard greens or turnips. Once the vegetables are in my house, however, I have to prepare them. I usually find it’s not as hard as I thought to incorporate the more unusual vegetables into our meals, and it forces me out of my comfort zone and helps me discover new recipes and dishes.
The CSA I use is BeWise Ranch (), but you can go to Local Harvest () to find one that works for you. An added bonus of a CSA is they support local farms and are good for the environment, because your food isn’t being flown in from halfway across the world.
Those are my top tips for eating more vegetables. I hope they help, and let me know your favorite ways to get vegetables in your life!