Everyone wants to eat healthier, and adding veggies is a great way to accomplish this goal!
At the best, healthy eating helps us to lose weight and feel better physically. At a slightly less pure level of intention, eating healthy gives us cheat room for foods we really love and/or wine. All. The. Wine.
(I know nothing about eating healthy for the sake of balancing my diet against the occasionally unhealthy things I like to cook and eat. Haha.)
One of the best – and easiest – ways to spruce up your diet, or that of your family if you’re cooking for a crowd, is to add more veggies. There are some ridiculously easy ways to add veggies to your diet. And there are also some less easy, but still worthwhile, ways to do so. Whatever your reason, whatever your preference, follow 13 of my favorite steps for adding veggies to your diet.
1. Limit Meat Consumption.
You certainly do not need to go vegetarian to limit your meat intake. But by process of elimination, less meat almost definitely equals more vegetables. For heartier meal substitutions, consider replacing your meaty main course with beans, mushrooms, or eggplant. Even subbing one dinner a week or a few lunches with a veggie main will up your intake.
2. Invest In – And Use – A Salad Spinner.
Nothing derails the salad train like a head of unprepared lettuce wilting in the crisper. Or unprepared lettuce in general. To remedy this, bring your salad greens home and prep them immediately by washing and sending them for a spin.
A sack of freshly prepared greens makes an inviting side for dinners or a ridiculously easy lunch to pack and take along to work. Plus, spun greens stay drier and crisper for much longer than ones that are simply washed and dumped into a bag. Don’t wash and dump.
3. Add The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone to Your Library.
This is hands down the authoritative book on vegetables and you need it if you want to eat more than ho hum salads and the occasional steamed broccoli side dish. Even if you’re not a vegetarian, NCVE will show you the ins and outs of cooking with veggies, making a well balanced plant-based menu, and conquering your strange CSA finds. Speaking of which…
4. Join a CSA.
CSAs (community supported agriculture) give you the opportunity to support local farms while feeding your family the freshest veggies on the planet for a season or two during the year. Many CSAs operate on a pay in advance system where you pay a few hundred dollars at the beginning of spring and get weekly veggie boxes throughout the growing/harvest season.
Others, like the one my family participates in, are based on a weekly opt-in system, where you can purchase a box for a set fee each week. Whichever method you prefer, joining a CSA will absolutely add more veggie variety to your diet. And don’t worry. With NCVE on your counter or Pinterest at your fingertips, you won’t wonder for long what to do with kohlrabi or garlic scapes.
5. Add Veggies to Your Breakfast.
Say what? Vegetables for breakfast? Pass.
Before you toss this idea, consider the very simple ways you can add veggies to breakfast a few times a week:
- Scramble up some eggs and wilted spinach.
- Eat avocado toast (you dirty Millennial).
- Cut up a sweet potato and toss a banana and some almond butter on top of it.
- Eat Greek yogurt and pumpkin.
- Throw an egg over some roasted veggies you have leftover from dinner.
See? That was easy.
6. Master Some Veggie Mains.
You can’t easily replace meat-centric meals if you don’t have fun vegetable applications with which to replace them. Remedy that by mastering a few recipes for vegetarian mains (again, this doesn’t mean you’re going vegetarian, so chill).
When we started eating a more plant-based diet, I spent a lot of time repeating recipes and tweaking them to my family’s tastes. Some of my absolute favorites are pumpkin soup and sweet potato tacos. They’re easy to prepare and make a very satisfying meal. Plus, we’ve all got vegetarian friends. Now you have something to cook when they come over.
7. Order Vegetarian Meals When You Go Out.
Many restaurants have come a long way in their vegetarian and plant-based offerings, and if you’re going to a restaurant that has a few good veggie options on the menu, take advantage!
Most Mexican restaurants have drool-worthy entrees like loaded veggie quesadillas, fajitas, and even burritos. I rarely order meat at our favorite Mexican joint these days, not because I’m being a vegetarian, but because I cannot. Stop. Eating. Their spinach enchiladas.
Chinese restaurants also have great veggie options, as do Japanese restaurants – any Asian or Indian restaurant, really. Veggies are the cornerstone of many diets throughout the world and often, restaurant variations on traditional dishes are incredibly delicious.
8. Avoid Veggie Dishes That Feature Foods You Hate.
This is common sense. If you don’t like something, you won’t eat it, no matter how it’s paired or prepared. For example, I hate lentils and tofu, and I have a severe sensitivity to quinoa (basically a vegetarian death sentence). Trying out veggie-based recipes that feature these foods isn’t going to elevate my opinion of the foods I don’t love because there are other foods that I enjoy eating in the mix. Instead, I’m simply not going to eat, or I’m going to eat a barely passable amount and be starving half an hour later. There’s no quicker way to turn yourself or your family against new veggies than to pair them with something that you (or one of your family members) hate. Instead, find recipes that sound good all around and focus on those. Instant veggie satisfaction.
9. Put Your Slow Cooker to Work.
Veggies are notorious for the amount prep time involved in getting them from your shopping bag to the table. But there are some shortcuts when it comes to veggie prep. Your slow cooker is one of them. Many people assume that the slow cooker is a bit of a one trick pony that’s great for simmering roasts and other big hunks of meat.
However, the same low and slow method you use on meat is absolutely brilliant when applied to certain veggies. Hard squashes, for example, practically prepare themselves when they’re left in the slow cooker for a solid six or eight hours. Check out slow cooker recipes featuring veggies, try one out, and your veggie-centric dinner will basically cook itself.
10. Put Greens in Your Smoothie.
Do you have a smoothie routine? Awesome! Add some spinach/chard/kale to your morning mix. If you’re skeezed about the flavor, add a touch of vanilla extract and you should be able to chug just about any combo.
Don’t have a smoothie routine? Start with some simple smoothie recipes – my go to is: one orange (segmented and frozen), one pear (sliced and frozen), two handfuls of baby spinach, a drop of vanilla extract, and a cup of whatever milk floats your boat – and get blending. Drink. Do this daily, and thank me later.
11. Stick Veggies in Sauces
I have yet to find a savory sauce that doesn’t play well with vegetables (or extra vegetables, depending on the type). Tomato sauce is a choice base that always does better with the addition of some celery, carrots, and greens. White sauces (think mac’n’cheese) are ridiculously improved with greens, squash, and jalepenos. Alfredo sauces are enhanced by cauliflower, turnips and even the odd sweet potato, if you’re feeling it. Mention a sauce. I’ll find you a veggie. Puree. Add it to sauce. But please just tell your kids/spouse/guest that there are veggies in the sauce. I hate being deceitful about things. There’s no sneaking veggies around here, okay?
12. Find a Veggie Burger You Really Love
No really. Veggie burgers are a great way to add an entire veggie-centric meal to your diet once a month, week, whatever. Don’t get the crap from a box though. Find a veggie burger that you make from scratch, with your hands, all old-fashioned like. You may have to cycle through a few duds before you find one that’s just right or that your kids/spouse won’t be able to stop eating. But with so many veggies to choose from, you can hardly go wrong! Our favorites are black bean burgers and spinach burgers (recipe to come).
13. Involve Your Kids in Cooking
Are you eating less veggies than you’d like because your kids aren’t cool with little veggie mountains parked next to the other, more exciting things on their plates? While you may not be able to bypass the simplicity of throwing together a steamed veggie amalgamation on a weekday night, chances are, if you involve your kids in the prep, they might actually eat some of it.
Case in point: my two-year-old is supposedly a mushroom hater. However, if I take the time to let her wash and cut the mushrooms (yes, with a real knife and hawk-like supervision), she’ll actually gobble them off of her plate. No involvement = no mushroom consumption. It’s a little thing – okay, sometimes it takes a boatload of time – but I think that this is a defining childhood activity that can foster a lifelong love for healthy eating. Steps off soap box.
I hope that this list has inspired you to get out there and eat more delicious, nutritious veggies. It’s by no means an exhaustive list of veggie hacks (so expect to see more, hehe), but rather a launchpad for sparking some cruciferous culinary creativity in your weekly menu. Happy vegging!