By Debra Soufleris, B.S., DTR
According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 90% of Americans fall short in reaching the recommended vegetable quota of 2-3 cups per day. This—despite the fact that consuming a wide variety of vegetables is associated with better health and a lower risk for many chronic diseases. Research has also found that replacing high-calorie foods with little nutritional value, with lower-calorie nutrient-dense foods is a helpful strategy for weight loss. With so many of us looking to lose weight, this is an easy strategy to incorporate.
Making an effort to include more vegetables in your diet is extremely important. Veggies are incredibly nutrient-dense, and loaded with tons of cell repairing micronutrients and antioxidants. They are low in calories and high in fiber, which will help keep things moving along the digestive track and keep you satiated until the next meal. For more on the benefits of fiber, read my article about high fiber foods. So why are so many of us falling short on this important food group?
Some people find them inconvenient to consume, while others aren’t sure how to prepare them. Then there are those who may turn up their noses and just confess they simply don’t like their veggies.
Many of us already enjoy eggs for breakfast. This a great way to start the day, as eggs are a good source of protein and other essential nutrients. Why not add a few veggies to the mix to help boost the nutritional value of your morning meal? It’s super easy to toss in leftover veggies from last night’s dinner, or throw in some spinach and diced tomatoes. It’s so effortless, but often overlooked.
If you are more of a smoothie person, don’t just stick to fruits and protein powder. Toss in a serving of veggies to add some additional benefits. Aside from the usual spinach or kale, my absolute favorite vegetable to add is frozen riced cauliflower. It adds an extra creaminess and you will hardly notice it’s there, as it takes on the other flavors. Want to learn how to make a perfectly balanced smoothie? Try these delicious smoothie recipes.
An easy way to get a serving of vegetables at lunchtime is to create a delicious salad. I know; many of you think salads are boring—but they do not have to be. Toss in 2 cups of your preferred salad greens, top with as many non-starchy veggies as you like, pick a lean protein source, and finish off with a healthy fat. The options are limitless.
Instead of having a traditional sandwich, try having half alongside a vegetable-based soup. (Who doesn’t love a warm cup of soup on a cool crisp day?) In addition, toss some veggies on your sandwich for more crunch and extra nutrients.
Think beyond the usual bread or roll as a vessel to hold your sandwich. A healthier alternative to sneak in some added veggies would be to wrap your food in bib lettuce or collard green leaves. (Since the latter are a bit tough, I recommend blanching them first to soften them up.) If you like nori sheets (seaweed sheets), they can also do the job, and you’ll reap the additional benefits of iodine, which is great for your thyroid.
This is most likely the meal where most of us make an effort to include a vegetable. It’s pretty easy to add a side of broccoli or carrots to any meal. However, they don’t always have to be served as a side dish. Why not make veggies the star of the meal with your protein and carbs taking on a secondary role?
Veggie noodles are all the rage and are not going anywhere. We’ve all heard of zoodles, which are zucchini noodles used as an alternative to traditional white pasta. But why should zoodles get all the fame? There are plenty of other veggies that make for an excellent veggie noodle. Try spiralizing sweet potatoes, large carrots, cucumbers, or other varieties of squash for a refreshing twist on zoodles. You’ll find some are less watery then zucchini, and hold up to sauces even better.
If you are not willing to part with your pasta, no worries; you can easily add in any vegetables you like to ensure the meal is balanced. It’s easy to toss in some spinach, grilled asparagus, or diced tomatoes to increase the nutritional profile of any pasta dish.
I’m not talking about those puffed veggies chips that hardly contain any real vegetables and are more like plain old potato chips. I’m talking about delicious, easy-to-make veggie fries. Sliced zucchini, carrots, green beans, and even avocado will do. Just lightly bread them and bake until crispy. Of course, you can slice them into chips, add some olive oil and salt, and bake for a nutritious alternative to your favorite chip.
If you’re looking for a sweet snack idea, you can easily add some shredded carrots or zucchini to most baked breads for some added nutrients. Brownies are delicious with creamy avocado instead of oil, or you can even add some sweet potatoes to get some additional fiber and vitamin A.
There are so many ways to include a variety of delicious vegetables to any meal or snack. After all, they are the most nutrient-dense foods that offer an abundance of vitamins and minerals to help reduce your risk for chronic diseases and heal and repair the body post-workout. You can even try plant-based proteins. Additionally, since they are low in calories and high in fiber, they are perfect for anyone trying to drop some weight.