It's easy and you should be doing it all day long. Here's how.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals is part of what keeps us healthy and thriving. What does seem to come as a surprise to so many people is that they are not even remotely close to fulfilling their recommended requirements each day. We are all taught that we should have a full serving of vegetables with every meal, so why is it so many just don’t do it?
A lot of it comes from our culture of eating and the things we think of as being ‘proper’ meal choices. Much of that culture actually comes from years of subtle brainwashing by big food manufacturers convincing us that we are being healthy by eating their products. We’ve been coached to think that we should have cereal with milk and white toast for breakfast. We’re become accustomed to having a quick and easy sandwich for lunch, on soft white bread with condiments and processed meat and maybe a flimsy piece of lettuce. So where are all the vegetable servings? Perhaps some will show up at dinner time, but maybe not if dinner is to be pasta with tomato sauce, which seems like a serving of veg but generally is only about ¼ serving at best. A side salad can make a meal feel more healthy, but a salad is mostly air and a little moisture, best used as a base for your serving of veg rather than the serving itself.
It’s easier than most people think to just add a few vegetables to their favourite meals
This sample diet represents very little vegetable, which means almost no crucial vitamins and few minerals. I’ve had many clients journal their food intake for a week and I see a similar pattern, day after day. They didn’t recognize they may have only eaten what amounted to only one serving of veg over an entire week. Although people grow accustomed to eating this way, and might be uncomfortable with the idea of making a dramatic shift away from their favourite foods, it doesn’t need to be difficult. It’s easier than most people think to just add a few vegetables to their favourite meals, or to change the method of preparation to achieve the same taste but with a vastly improved nutritional profile. Here are a few of the tips that many of my clients have found useful in helping them shift their habits towards a more balanced way of eating.
If we start with breakfast, the best way to get more vegetables out of this time of day generally means a shift towards more savoury dishes. If you’re used to having something fast but sweet like cereal or a muffin for breakfast this means a little more planning and prep, but it doesn’t have to slow you down too much if mornings are a crunch for you. It can speed things up a bit to cook some things ahead for the week or even the night before. Eggs can cook really quickly when you need them to or can also be boiled ahead. Keep washed spinach in the fridge, throw a couple of cups worth in a pan with some heated oil or butter and in seconds it will reduce down enough to stir in some whisked eggs and scramble it up while your whole grain bread is in the toaster. This is mere minutes from walking into the kitchen to eating, but if that’s still too much time then try making these veggie frittatas ahead of time for an equally good grab-and-go option. This can also be a good time to get some of your fruit servings in. Try apple slices with nut butter or a bowl full of berries with a little plain yogurt and some easy homemade granola to satisfy your morning sweet tooth.
Meal prepping is an indispensible tool in sticking with a healthy eating plan. Roast up some tomatoes, carrots, yams or brussels sprouts, these are all great any time of day. Sauté a bunch of greens with a little onion and garlic and keep it in the fridge to add to scrambles or pasta later. Take all the above and pile them up on some dense, grainy bread with a scoop of chicken salad and you have a nutrient dense, satisfying sandwich that actually counts as a meal. They can also be added to salad greens with some grilled fish for a light meal, or you can build a bowl on a base of brown rice or quinoa with some high quality protein and a flavourful dressing for a filling lunch that will carry you through the rest of your day. These last two options are easily portable for taking to work or on the go.
If you were raised on ‘meat and two veg’ kind of dinners then this will probably be the easiest time to ensure you get that extra veg. Now is the time work on getting some variety so you can ensure you’re getting the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals. Try some new recipes with vegetables you don’t normally eat or may have never tried. A quick google search will give you all kinds of preparation ideas. And that favourite pasta dish? It too can be converted into a veg heavy, carb light option by using less noodles and adding whole cherry tomatoes instead of sauce and using loads of greens.
I have a few staple recipes that I offer to my clients that I’ve linked to above, and you can find others in the Foundation Recipes section of this site. I also send people to some of my favourite recipe resource websites that offer a lot of veg-centric meals that are tasty and satisfying without being complicated. Here are a few of my favourites for both interesting and unique recipes as well as simple classics done healthy:
Dishing Up The Dirt is a blog by farmer Andrea Bemis, a former vegetarian that offers both veg heavy and low carb as well as meat-based meal ideas. Her site is loaded with recipes that are healthy and focus on fresh ingredients and lots of flavour.
My New Roots is a plant-based recipe blog that some might call a little more ‘crunchy’ as it focuses on lots of alternative recipes to avoid the use of both animal products and a lot of grains. The recipes tend to be very tasty and are a good way to get some new ingredients to your kitchen.
Mark Bittman is a former NY Times contributor and has authored many cookbooks that cover cooking basics as well as a lot of vegetarian options. He focuses on healthy recipes but still cooks in a classic sort of way and helps remind you that you need to eat your veg!