Healthy Habits: Eat More Vegetables
Of all the healthy habits I have written about and will write about, this single one is probably the most essential healthy habit to develop. Vegetables should be the base of our meals and should at least fill up half of our plates, yet unfortunately they don’t most of time. We need to stop viewing vegetables as a side and instead as the most important part of our meal. I’m not saying that we should stop eating meat, but instead we should just be eating mostly vegetables with some meat or other protein on the side.
A well-balanced diet including a wide variety of vegetables is essential for good health, both physical and mental. They are packed with essential nutrients and vitamins that can help protect our body from developing many diseases from cancer and cardiovascular disease or depression and attention deficit disorder just to name a couple. It isn’t a guarantee that you won’t get those diseases, but it significantly reduces the risk. Having a nutrient deficiency causes all sorts of other health problems from the inability to lose weight, hormonal imbalances, poor immune system, cravings that you just can’t kick no matter what you do, osteoporosis, poor dental health, memory and behavioral problems are just a few.
While you may think that because you take a multivitamin you are covered, but because those vitamins are synthetic the body does not absorb them very well. The body is made to absorb the nutrients it needs from food, not a chemical compound developed in a lab. Something to also keep in mind is that many of these vitamins and nutrients are more accessible to our body when eaten with healthy fats like butter or coconut oil.
A standard recommendation for fruit and veggies is generally 5-6 servings a day. I am pretty sure that most people aren’t meeting that requirement, but I would advise an ideal goal would be eating 8-10 servings of vegetables a day. If you want to learn more about why I choose to follow such a high daily recommendation, check out Jonathon Bailor’s website called Sane Solutions. Now remember a serving of vegetables is only about a half a cup of most vegetables or a cup of raw leafy vegetables.
So the question then is how do we eat that many vegetables in a day. Start where you are at and simply add 2 more servings of vegetables a day. Once that becomes habit, add another 2 servings until you are where you want to be. But what if you don’t like vegetables? Chances are you just haven’t found some that you like. Vegetables taste amazing when they are prepared well. But even if you don’t like them, keep experimenting until you do because there just isn’t a substitute out there for vegetables. We need them and there is no way around it.
If you really struggle to eat/like vegetables, set yourself the goal to try a new one each week and prepare it in a few different ways. Soon you will find ones that you like.
There are a few things to remember when preparing vegetables to ensure the best taste–
- Never boil vegetables, unless you are making a soup or parboiling kale so that its nutrients are more accessible. Not only do they become limp and tasteless, but they also lose most of the nutrients into the water.
- Don’t be shy with healthy fats (butter, animal fats and coconut, sesame or olive oils, etc). They add so much in flavour and make more of the nutrients available for our body to absorb.
- Don’t forget to season with herbs, spices, sea salt or pepper. Get creative and experiment with different flavours.
I’ve compiled a big list of all kinds of ways to prepare vegetables and get more into your everyday meals. There are so many ways to prepare vegetables from raw, steamed, sautéed and roasted. I hope this article can help those of you out there that want to eat more healthy but just don’t know where to start. Start here and add some more vegetables into your diet.
Steam in a steamer or with an inch or so of water covered with a lid.
- Steam broccoli in a steamer or by simply adding an inch of water to the bottom of the pan and covering with a lid. Cook until the broccoli turns bright green and remove from the heat and take of the lid immediately, you don’t want the broccoli to keep cooking. After add a dollop or butter and a bit of salt.
Sauté on a medium heat.
- Sauté asparagus with butter, animal fat or a healthy oil (coconut or sesame) until bright green and slightly limp, then add salt at the very end after turning the heat off.
- Sauté mushrooms and kale in some butter or other healthy fat and a dash of balsamic vinegar. Salt or season after cooked.
- Frozen green beans are an easy staple at our house, I just toss them in the pan on medium heat and as they begin to defrost I add some healthy oil or butter and season with minced garlic and salt in the last few minutes of cooking. Sometimes I toss in some mushrooms and onions just to change it up.
- Stir frying is like sautéing but on a higher heat. When stir frying avoid using olive oil and instead use a sesame or coconut oil which are healthier on a higher heat. You can stir fry just about anything: broccoli, bok choy, onions, mangtout/snow peas, cabbage, celery, carrots, zucchini/courgette, kale, spinach, bean sprouts, peppers, etc). I usually add my veggies in at different times starting with the onion and then adding next what would take the longest to cook. At the end I add a splash of soy sauce, tamarind or coconut aminos to give it the asian flavour. I flavour with grated ginger, red pepper flakes and garlic. Garlic can burn quickly so I’d wait until nearer the end to throw that in.
Roast in the oven at a temperature of 180-200 C (350-400 degrees F). Cut into uniformly sized pieces, coat in oil and seasonings of choice and mix. Don’t forget to salt before cooking here. Roast until veggies are soft on the inside and slightly charred. Don’t be afraid of the burnt bits, they often taste the best. You can roast just one type of vegetables or experiment with a variety. Here is a great article that explains the basics of roasting if you haven’t done it before and want a bit more information.
- Root veggies like parsnip, beetroot, carrots, potatoes, and sweet potatoes taste amazing when roasted.
- Brussels sprouts are made for roasting (not boiling), they become nice and crunchy on the outside and sweet and soft on the inside.
- Broccoli and asparagus taste yummy roasted when drizzled with some lemon juice, oil, and some salt. Top with grated parmesan at the very end so it melts on top.
- Butternut squash pairs well with parsnip when a little maple syrup or honey is drizzled on before roasting.
- Roasted cabbage, kale, mushrooms, red peppers, purple onions and potatoes are a favorite combination in our house. Throw some good quality sausages on top for a whole one pan meal and roast until the sausages are done.
- Roast your veggies alongside your meat and it can pick up all the yummy drippings and flavours. I like to take those veggies (carrots, parsnip, onion) that are really soft since they’ve cooked so long with the meat and add them to a normal white potato mash. Its amazing! Thanks to Jamie Oliver for that suggestion.
Add more vegetables to your main courses. I’ve included a few ideas below to bring better balance to your traditional meals, but don’t feel afraid to experiment with anything.
- In a Bolognese sauce, kale, mushrooms, grated zucchini/courgette and green peppers add great flavour. You can either dice /grate them up and toss them in at any time or if you need to you could disguise them by cooking them with the tomatoes (and cooking the meat separately) and pureeing them before adding the meat. You will be left with a thick and flavourful sauce and the kids will be none the wiser. While I do think its better trust that your kids will actually enjoy veggies, if you are starting this healthy eating journey with older kids, you may have to ease them into it and getting them used to the extra flavour without the texture of vegetables is a good first step. Gradually you could puree the vegetables less and less until you don’t need to at all.
- If you are making a chili add in red or yellow peppers, kale, spinach and sweet potatoes are a nice addition as well. You could do the same thing with the chili as you did with the Bolognese sauce, just puree before adding the beans and meat.
- Pureed butternut squash, chopped broccoli, or grated courgette/zucchini work well in a macaroni and cheese to cut down the carb count added by the pasta. Just mix in before you bake it in the oven.
- A classic beef stroganoff already has lots of mushrooms and onions, but try adding some green peppers and/or spinach to it as well.
Eat veggies raw in a salad or just chopped up on the side with a dip.
- Spinach pairs great with cucumber, tomato, feta cheese, slivered purple onions, dried cranberries and a homemade raspberry vinaigrette (whisk in 1 part olive oil, 2 parts red wine vinegar, some red raspberry jam and salt and pepper).
- Arugula/rocket makes a great salad with cucumber, parmesan cheese, toasted pine nuts and a lemon vinaigrette (juice of a lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper).
- A chopped salad is just what it sounds like, everything is chopped into uniform sized pieces and tossed together with a dressing. A good combination I like includes romaine, cucumbers, green apples, purple onions, tomatoes, feta cheese, avocados and a splash or two of balsamic vinegar (no need to make a dressing).
- A more traditional salad includes romaine, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, radishes topped with a creamy homemade ranch dressing. Here is a good recipe for some ranch (though I’d add some parsley and onion salt into it as well) or I have a great dairy free ranch dressing recipe here.
- If you don’t like lettuces or greens yet you can try a salad without lettuce. Though I advise you to keep trying to make yourself eat leafy greens because they are so good for you and contain many nutrients that you can’t get from other foods. I tend to think you just haven’t found a leafy green salad that you like. Just keep trying new types. But in the meantime you can try a cucumber and tomato based salad. A classic includes tomatoes, cucumbers and slivered purple onions mixed with a white wine vinaigrette (white wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper and dill) or you can go with a more mexican inspired one that has tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, purple onions and cilantro/coriander tossed with lemon or lime juice and salt.
- There are so many healthy dips out there to pair with raw veggies from hummus to ranch. The best raw veggies to dip are cherry tomatoes, celery, cucumber, carrots, peppers, radishes and purple cabbage.