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Sneaking Vegetables into Your Daily Diet

Sneaking Vegetables into Your Daily Diet

Reader’s Digest Healthy Eating on 07/30/2012

The average American is lucky to get two servings of vegetables a day. Nutrition experts would have us eating five to seven helpings a day. This pretty much captures America’s health problems in a nutshell. If we ate more vegetables and fewer processed foods, we’d lose weight, clean our arteries, balance our blood sugar, and shut down a large number of hospitals. But getting from two servings a day to seven doesn’t come without planning or effort.

Serve raw vegetables at every meal.

Nearly everyone likes carrot sticks, 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 it a practice: A plate of raw vegetables in the center of the table, no matter what the meal is.

Take advantage of prepared veggies.

We usually don’t espouse prepared foods. They’re usually more expensive and high in artificial flavorings, sugars, and sodium. But when it comes to prepared veggies — bagged salads, prewashed spinach, peeled and diced butternut squash, washed and chopped kale — we’re all for it.

Numerous consumer studies find that we’re more likely to use bagged salads and other produce. In fact, the introduction of bagged, prewashed spinach in the late 1990s is touted as the main reason spinach consumption increased 16.3 percent in the United States between 1999 and 2001.

Sneak vegetables into breakfast and lunch.

One reason we don’t get enough vegetables is that many of us consider them merely 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. How?

  • Make salad a part of your everyday lunch.
  • Make egg scrambles a regular breakfast, using a scrambled 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.
  • Cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, and celery, all the time.

Make vegetable sandwiches.

Use 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 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.

Fill your spaghetti sauce with vegetables.

We typically take a jar of low-sodium prepared sauce and add in string beans, peas, corn, bell peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes and more. Like it chunky? Cut them in big pieces. Don’t want to know they’re there? Shred or puree them with a bit of sauce in the blender, then add.

Follow the Golden Rule: Half of your dinner plate should be 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, says Joan Salge Blake, R.D., clinical assistant professor of nutrition at Boston University’s Sargent College.

Move your veggies to the top shelf of the refrigerator.

As long as they are bagged properly, they’ll last as well as if in a vegetable crisper. More important, now they’ll be visible and enticing, say the nutrition twins. In particular, keep fast-to-eat vegetables like baby carrots, precut 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 not seem typical, but who cares? A whole vegetable makes a terrific snack.

Roast your vegetables.

Here is one of the great side dishes, 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 and serve throughout the week. Cut hearty root vegetables like parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, carrots, and onions into inch-thick chunks and arrange in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher or sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and fresh or dried herbs. Roast in a 450°F oven until soft, about 45 minutes, turning once. That’s it!

Grill your vegetables.

If you only use your grill for meats, you’ve been missing out! Peppers, zucchini, asparagus, onions, eggplant — even tomatoes — all taste amazingly good 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 skewer chunks of veggies on a bamboo or metal skewer and turn frequently. You can also buy grilling baskets that keep the veggies from falling through the slats in the grill.