Most of us need little convincing that vegetables are essential to good health. Even so, here is a quick recap on their nutritional importance, as stated by the United States Department of Agriculture:
- Vegetables are a rich source of many key nutrients, including potassium, fiber, folate (folic acid) and vitamins A, E and C.
- Studies have shown that eating a diet rich in vegetables may reduce risk for stroke, cancer, heart diseases and type-2 diabetes.
- Most vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories. None have cholesterol. So, unless you pair them with fattening sauces or cook them in too much oil, they are an excellent aid to weight loss and fitness.
- Dietary fiber from vegetables, as part of an overall healthy diet, helps reduce blood cholesterol and may lower risk of heart disease. Fiber is important for proper bowel function. It helps reduce constipation and diverticulosis. Fiber-containing foods such as vegetables help provide a feeling of fullness with fewer calories.
- Folate (folic acid) is a much studied nutrient that helps the body form red blood cells. Women of childbearing age who may become pregnant should consume adequate folate from foods, among which vegetables and citrus fruits are prime sources. This reduces the risk of neural tube defects, spina bifida, and other abnormalities during fetal development.
Which brings us to the question: are you getting your daily quota of vegetables? Let me quote Harvard School of Public Health here: “If you don’t count potatoes—which should be considered a starch rather than a vegetable—the average American gets a total of just three servings of fruits and vegetables a day. The latest dietary guidelines call for five to thirteen servings of fruits and vegetables a day (2½ to 6½ cups per day), depending on one’s caloric intake.”
The problem with eating veggies is quite simple: many of us simply don’t like them very much. If you are among those who turn up their nose at the sight of broccoli and beans, here are some sneaky ways to have your veggies without having to confront their blandness or simplicity.
Being the mother of a fussy eater, I long ago discovered a happy trick: There’s a ridiculously simple way to sneak more veggies into almost anything: chop them fine or grate them. This makes them easy to blend into other foods that you enjoy. So, you could knead them into dough or mix them up in your salad, without thinking, “Ugh, eggplant!”
I am sharing some tried and tasted ideas to help you get your recommended daily servings of vital vegetables. Share your own ideas, too!
- Add plenty of peppers, onions and mushrooms to your omelettes and frittatas. Give a broccoli boost to scrambled eggs. Again, chopping them up real fine makes them unnoticeable. The only way you or your fellow veggie-hater might notice is when the omelettes start tasting way more luscious than they ever did!
- Lightly stir-fry a bunch of diced veggies in olive oil and stir them into cooked oats. This savory twist on the standard brown-sugar-and-fruit affair is sure to become your new breakfast hit!
- Toss finely chopped vegetables into soup or lentils—you will get more flavor, better texture and of course, all those nutrients. My favorite veggies to add to soups are finely chopped carrots, green beans, celery, and mushrooms. You can try your own combinations.
- When frying olive oil and garlic for your pasta, add a handful of baby spinach. It will wilt and cling to your pasta, lending a lovely twist to ordinary aglio olio.
- Cook rice with fresh peas. Sprinkle cilantro and mint leaves on the rice when done. This is one of the most comforting rice dishes in the world, best enjoyed with plain yogurt and a serving of crunchy salad.
- Think out of the sandwich box. Stuff the bread with more than your routine fillings. How about sliding in slices of cucumber, spinach leaves, kale, swiss chard, roasted zucchini and bell peppers? Wraps love veggies, too!
- Double the portions! In almost any recipe that calls for vegetables, you can double the amount without ruining the dish. For example, eggplant parmigiana. You can use twice as much eggplant in it, and the flavor will only be more delicious. If making a casserole, there’s even more room for tucking in a variety of veggies.
- Order your pizza with extra bell peppers, eggplant, olives, and mushrooms.
- Add pureed cauliflower to mashed potatoes. No one, including you, will notice—and the spuds will get a boost of both flavor and nutrients.
- White sauce does seem like an unlikely home for vegetables, but guess what: pureed cauliflower blends beautifully into the sea of cream, carrying with it a healing arsenal of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
- Making marinara sauce? Add some finely chopped veggies to the tomato and onion base. Peppers, eggplant, squash, beetroot, carrots, mushrooms—once cooked in with the sauce, none of these will make its presence felt in an unwelcome way. In fact, you are likely to be rewarded with more appreciation from unsuspecting kids!
- Do you bake breads and cake at home? Great! Here’s another chance to add vital nutrients to the goodies. Grated carrots and zucchini will enhance almost any bread, cake or biscuit. Corn can be tucked cozily into muffins.
- Pancake batter plays willing host to cooked and pureed carrots, pumpkin, butternut squash and zucchini.
- Dishing up salsa? Think beyond tomatoes and jalapeno. Try finely chopped green, red, and yellow bell peppers, cucumber, zucchini and such. They make a colorful, zesty, and nourishing appetizer to give company to corn chips.
- Almost any juice or smoothie can accommodate grated carrots, acquiring a beautiful pink hue in the process(or)!