The first question I get asked when people find out I am studying nutrition is “what do you eat”? The question’s broadness catches me of guard each time so instead of rambling off items I happen to be into that week I gave it some thought and took to typing. I would say the corner stone to my thought process of meal assembly is something most people wrinkle their noses at…vegetables. I used to be one of those people. I remember being forced to finish my canned green beans, the only vegetable I would eat and not the healthiest options by far, at the dinner table as a child before I could return to playing. As I have gotten older, learned more and developed my taste buds I have come to love this food group. Don’t be mislead it took time and baby steps to tailor my love of vegetables; physiologically/evolutionarily we are programmed to love eating sweet items full of quick fuel in the form of easily digestible carbohydrates. The funny thing about it is that the part people don’t like about this food item, the bitterness, can be contributed the phytochemicals which are great for health. Phytochemicals are naturally occurring properties that have many benefits like possibly preventing chronic disease and detoxifying properties. For example-lycopene, contribute to taste and coloring in tomatoes, many help reduce the risk of certain cancers. Vegetables are not only great for preventative health but also for weight management. They are very nutrient dense meaning the ratio between nutrients provided in a food item relative to its energy given. Vegetables are pack with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals for very few calories. This food group is also packed with fiber which has its own lengthy list of health benefits and takes longer to digest leaving you feeling fuller longer. Now that I have given a quick rundown on my favorite food group…here are some ideas on how to actually eat them.
Immediately after your grocery store or farmer’s market trip for the week, take the time to chop or slice up some of your fresh produce and store in a container in the refrigerator. This will encourage you to cook more and get your vegetables in even on your busy days. All you will have to do is prepare them as seen below.
*Traditional Salads-take a base of greens (lettuce, spinach or mixed) and add your chopped vegetables. There are so many varies, you can get creative and add items you like. I post and will continue to post healthy ideas on toppings and dressings.
*Non-traditional salads-chopped up fresh vegetables leaving out the base of greens while adding spices, toppings and a vinegar/dressing of choice. Below I have a cucumber tomato simple Greek inspired salad (sorry about the pink bowl-college kitchen ware still in use)
Super Simple Greek Salad:
- ½ cup sliced cucumber-skin cut off
- 1 Roma tomato
- 1-2 tablespoon reduced fat feta cheese
-Italian Blend Seasoning (an easy, cheap seasoning staple)
-vinegar of choice (balsamic or for this one I used a white vinegar so I didn’t stain my clothes black before heading out the door)
-cracked black pepper and salt to taste
*Raw Veggie Dippers- chopped up vegetables and then get creative with the dips.
Hummus, nut butters (EX: my favorite is celery and powdered peanut butter), reduced fat salad dressings, salsa, fat free refried beans, Laughing Cow cheese spreads!
Sweeter options go well with celery and carrots like the reduced fat cream cheeses (EX: Laughing Cow cinnamon spread with a few raisins), Bolt House blue cheese yogurt dressing -mentioned in previous post.
*Steamed-use the same chopped vegetables and throw them in one of my most used kitchen tools, the steamer basket-link below! Simply put basket in pot, fill with water almost up to the bottom of the basket but not quite, place vegetables in, set stove top to high, cover with lid and let steam for about 10 minutes. Use less time if you enjoy crispier vegetables and more time if you prefer softer textured vegetables. Also take into account the vegetable raw-if it is very crunchy raw like broccoli or cabbage it will take closer to 12 minutes but for squash or zucchini may only take 6 minutes.
Flavor add on ideas: Smart Balance spray, spray olive oil-also a most used kitchen tool of mine, Italian seasonings, cracked black pepper, a splash of fresh lime or lemon juice and sometimes a sprinkle of reduced fat parmesan or feta cheese.
Spray olive oil is sold in stores but save money by refilling your own-see link below!
*Roasted-I used to hear this term and think it sounded so culinary and intimidating but it is actually quite easy and takes little time and effort.
-preheat oven to 400 degrees
-cover a baking sheet with foil (makes for virtually no cleaning time afterwards)
-place chopped asparagus, zucchini, summer squash, tri colored peppers on sheet
The possibilities are endless here as well on which vegetables to use-think onions, cauliflower, broccoli and so many other options.
-spray olive oil
-sprinkle balsamic vinegar and red wine (if you happen to be having a glass while cooking-I mostly use a dryer red variety which happens to be my favorite to sip on)
-sprinkle Italian seasoning, cracker black pepper and salt to preference
-add a ¼ cup or less reduced fat feta cheese
-bake for 8-12 minutes depending on preference on texture, may take trial and error to find your ideal
These preparation suggestions are simple and delicious only utilizing a few tools and ingredients while still providing variety through style of preparation. The USDA recommends when planning your meal fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables to promote a healthy and balanced consumption of nutrients and aiming to get your 5 servings of fruits/vegetables in each day. I like this recommendation because in many recipes vegetables get used as garnish or to add flavor/color but they are not the main player. Filling half your plate ensures you get an actual substantial amount of vegetables. So unwrinkle your nose and try one of these ideas to begin your love affair with this awesome food group.