If there is one thing I say to almost every single patient it’s ‘eat more vegetables’. It sounds easy but creating a habit of regularly consuming between 2.5-5 cups of vegetables per day can be a challenge. I struggle on days I just don’t feel like cooking or I want to eating nothing but crackers and hummus all day. I put together some practical tips I use for myself and what I have seen work for patients to consistently eat more vegetables. You won’t be perfect every day (no one is) but creating a habit ensures that most days you will get the vegetables your body needs.
Change your mindset: Research shows it’s how you feel about how you feel that’s important. Let that sink in for a minute. It isn’t the stress that damages your system it’s how you feel about the stress and how you react to the stress. How does this relate to food? Well if your internal dialogue goes something like this “It takes me so much time to cook, this is such a chore I wish I could just snap my fingers and have dinner ready” that is setting you up to feel frustrated, annoyed, maybe even angry and give up! What if your internal dialogue around cooking dinner was something like this “I really value this time to crank up my favorite music/podcast and I love creating such delicious food”. This might create feelings of satisfaction, pride, happiness and dare I say joy? I know it’s easier said than done. It’s easy to forget that it’s very recent in our human history that our days can be full of anything BUT gathering, growing and preparing food. It’s quite incredible that we can go to a Farmer’s Market or the grocery store and prepare a dinner in under 2 hours. Your great-great-great grandmother would probably jump for joy!
Modify foods you love to incorporate more vegetables:
I was missing the comfort food macaroni and cheese so I combined butternut squash soup (sometimes store bought and sometimes home-made) with some rice noodles and tossed in a little onion and broccoli. It’s delicious and warm noodles covered in orange sauce really hits that craving for me.
-I am a big fan of using cauliflower instead of rice or mashed potatoes. I don’t have anything in particular against rice or white potatoes it’s just a way to increase my servings of vegetables.
-It’s really easy to add diced onion, bell pepper and zucchini to a pasta sauce.
-Puree kale in a food processor and mix it with ground meat before making burgers, meatballs, or meatloaf.
What tricks have you used to add more vegetables to your go-to meals?
Have the proper tools:
-Pick up a cookbook. I am liking Whole30 Fast + Easy for some creative ideas to easily make delicious meals that have plenty of vegetables.
-Properly sharpened knives make all the difference.
-Food processor and/or a good blender is very helpful in making creamy soups. I also use it to quickly chop up mushrooms, onions and kale to get them ready to add to meat.
Lower your standards (just a little): There is a false belief out there that to make vegetables you need to buy them fresh, wash them, chop them and then cook them. Well that isn’t the case. There are some short cuts that can help if #1 you are new to using vegetables and need an easy entry point or #2 are sick/busy and don’t have time to make fresh vegetables. Frozen vegetables can retain more nutrition than fresh (especially when you live in a frozen tundra half of the year) as long as you don’t microwave them. I don’t think frozen vegetables taste quite as good as fresh but in a soup, you really can’t tell. Frozen stir fry mixes are also good. It’s so quick to toss some frozen broccoli in a skillet! Keep some frozen veggies on hand for days you run out of fresh. Below are an example of some short cuts I use.
Shortcuts I use when I need them:
-Frozen cauliflower rice
-Pre-cut broccoli, cauliflower florets
-Bagged salad mixes with shredded brassica added
-Boxed soups like butternut squash soup
Start with small goals. Maybe add ½ cup of veggies to your meals for a week or two and slowly increase from there. In case you need ‘evidence’ to support the claim that vegetables are good for you here is a study looking at all cause mortality and shocker it’s inversely related to fruit and vegetable intake :)