Serve raw vegetables at every meal. Nearly everyone likes carrot and celery sticks, cucumber slices, string beans, cherry tomatoes and/or green pepper strips. They’re healthy, they have virtually no calories, they have a satisfying crunch and they can substantially cut your consumption of the more calorie-dense main course. So make this a routine: place a plate of raw vegetables in the centre of the table, no matter what the meal is.
• Sneak vegetables into breakfast and lunch. One reason we don’t get enough vegetables is that many of us consider them merely as a side dish to dinner. If you really want to increase your vegetable consumption, you have no choice but to eat them at other meals. But how? Easy:
- • Choose salad as part of your everyday lunch.
- • Make scrambled egg a regular breakfast, using the egg to hold together sautéed vegetables such as peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, asparagus or onions.
- • Eat leftover veggies from last night’s dinner with breakfast or lunch.
- • Snack on cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and celery – all the time.
- • Make vegetable sandwiches using almost any vegetable that won’t roll out of the bread.
Start each dinner with a mixed green salad before you serve the main course. Not only will it help you to eat more veggies, but by filling your stomach first with a nutrient-rich, low-calorie salad, there’ll be just a bit less room for the higher-calorie items that follow.
• Purée veggies into soup. Potatoes, carrots, cauliflower and broccoli – just about any cooked (or leftover) vegetable can be made into a creamy, comforting soup. Here’s a simple recipe: in a medium saucepan, sauté 160 g of finely chopped onion in 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil until tender. Combine the onion in a blender or food processor with cooked vegetables and purée the mix until smooth. Return the purée to the saucepan and thin it with broth or low-fat milk. Simmer and season to taste.
• Order your weekly pizza with extra veggies. Instead of the same old pepperoni and onions, do your health and digestion a favour and ask for the artichoke hearts, broccoli, hot peppers and other exotic vegetables that many takeout pizza places offer these days.
• Once a week, eat a main-course salad. A salade niçoise is a good example: mixed greens, steamed green beans, boiled potatoes, sliced hard-boiled egg and tuna drizzled with vinaigrette. Serve with crusty whole-grain bread. Bon appétit!
Pack your spaghetti sauce with vegetables. Take a jar of low-salt prepared sauce and add in green beans, peas, corn, peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes and more. Like it chunky? Cut them into big pieces. Don’t want to know they’re there? Grate or purée them with a bit of sauce in the blender, then add.
Follow the golden rule: half of your dinner plate should be filled with vegetables. That leaves a quarter of the plate for a healthy starch and a quarter for lean meat or fish. This is the perfectly balanced dinner, say experts.
• Make a sandwich that has more lettuce and tomato than meat. Stack the meat component in the sandwich to no higher than half the thickness of a standard slice of bread. Then pile on low-calorie slices of lettuce and tomatoes to the combined height of both slices of bread.
• Eat a veggie burger for lunch once a week, and top it with a sliced tomato and lettuce. Veggie burgers taste better than you might imagine.
Open a can of low-salt soup and add a bag of pre-cut broccoli and carrots, either fresh or frozen. Voilà! You have a superfast and easy lunch or starter course that’s bursting with good nutrition and fibre. Flavour it with your preferred spices, herbs or spicy sauce and, as the soup simmers, it will simultaneously cook the veggies.
• Move your veggies to the top shelf of the fridge. As long as they’re bagged properly, they’ll last as well as they would in a vegetable crisper. More important, now they’ll be visible and enticing. In particular, keep quick-to-eat vegetables such as baby carrots, red and green pepper strips, broccoli florets, tomatoes and cucumbers as accessible as possible.
• Eat vegetables like fruit. Half a cucumber, a whole tomato, a stalk of celery or a long, fresh carrot are as pleasant to munch on as an apple. It may seem unusual, but who cares? A whole vegetable makes a terrific snack.
• Have a V8 or tomato juice. Although higher in salt, vegetable juices do provide the nutrition of a vegetable serving. Throw a 180ml can of vegetable or tomato juice into your bag in the morning; many come in low-salt forms. Remember: no matter how much your drink, it still counts as only one portion.
• Always start with mirepoix. This blend of onions, celery, carrots, parsley and bay leaves, pronounced ‘meer-pwah’, is a great way to sneak veggies into nearly every meal you prepare. Sauté 170g – or more – of the mixture (which you can buy already cut up and prepared in some shops) in two tablespoons of olive oil, then use this as a basis for sauces, stews and soups.
• Serve chilli, soup, stew, pastas or rice ato or green pepper. Then make sure you and soups.
- • Add chopped kale or other hearty greens to your next soup or stew. Just a couple of minutes is all that’s needed to steam the greens down to tenderness and add quantities of potassium, fibre and calcium to your soup.
- • Use low-sodium vegetable juice as the base for soups instead of chicken or beef broth.
- • Incorporate grated carrots and shredded cabbage in your soups, salads or casseroles. These coleslaw ingredients add flavour, colour and lots of vitamins and minerals.
Go vegetarian one day a week. You can do this by merely replacing the meat serving with a vegetable serving (a suggestion: make it a crunchy, strong-flavoured vegetable such as broccoli). Or you can dabble in the world of vegetarian cooking, in which recipes are developed specifically to make a filling, robust meal out of vegetables and whole grains. For those times, you should get yourself a good vegetarian cookbook. Try Reader’s Digest’s The Vegetarian Cookbook or an old vegetarian cookbook standard to get you started.
Use salsa liberally. First, make sure you have a large batch of tomato salsa filled with vegetables. One good approach: add chopped yellow peppers and zucchini to store-bought salsa. Then put salsa on everything: baked potatoes, rice, chicken breasts, sandwiches, eggs, steak, even bread. Don’t save it just for tortilla chips. It’s too tasty and healthy not to be used all the time.
• Roast your vegetables. Here’s a great side dish that’s easy to make, delicious to eat and amazingly healthy. Plus, it tastes surprisingly sweet, and lasts well as a leftover, meaning you can make large batches to serve throughout the week. Cut hearty root vegetables such as parsnips, turnips, carrots and onions into 3 cm (1 in.) chunks and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt, freshly ground pepper and fresh or dried herbs. Roast in the oven at 450°F (230°C) until soft, for about 45 minutes, turning once.
• Use vegetables as sauces. How about puréed roasted red peppers seasoned with herbs and a bit of lemon juice, then drizzled over fish? Why not purée butternut squash with carrots, grated ginger and a bit of brown sugar for a yummy topping for chicken or turkey? Cooked vegetables are easily converted into sauces. It just takes a little ingenuity and a blender.
• Lose the bitterness of healthy veggies with a sprinkle of salt. There’s more about how to reduce the salt in your diet later, but the chemical reality is that salt helps to neutralize bitterness. For an added kick, try capers, olives or mashed anchovies instead of salt.
Grill your vegetables. If you use your grill only for meats, you’re missing out! Peppers, zucchini, asparagus, onions, eggplant, tomatoes – they all taste great when grilled. Generally, all you need to do is coat them with olive oil and throw them on. Turn every few minutes and remove when they start to soften. Or put chunks on a skewer and turn frequently.
• Go exotic. Every week, try to buy a slightly exotic vegetable, perhaps something that you’ve never eaten before. Here are some ideas, and some preparation and cooking suggestions:
- • Endive. This type of lettuce has a mild, slightly bitter flavour, and is packed with fibre, iron and potassium. Use it in salads and with vegetable dips.
- • Bok choy. An Asian cabbage, bok choy is excellent chopped and stir-fried in a bit of peanut oil and soy sauce. Or add it to the soup just before serving.
- • Kohlrabi. A member of the turnip family, this is also called a cabbage turnip. It’s sweeter, juicier, crisper and more delicate in flavour than a turnip, and the cooked leaves have a kale/collard flavour. Trim and pare the bulb to remove all traces of the fibrous underlayer just beneath the skin, then eat the vegetable raw, boiled, steamed, microwaved or sautéed, or add to potato casseroles.
- • Fennel. Also known as sweet anise, fennel has a mild licorice flavour. The feathery fronds can flavour soups and stews, while the broad, bulbous base can be eaten raw, or sliced/diced for adding to stews, soups and stuffing.