Vegetables – when more is better!

By: Daniela Ochoa, dietetic intern

Eating a diet rich in vegetables has been associated with a reduced risk in chronic diseases. Vegetables provide essential vitamins and nutrients, they are packed with fiber and low in calories, making them the building blocks of healthy diet.1 The USDA MyPlate recommends that half of our plate be made up of vegetables; the goal is to have 3-4 servings of vegetables per day.1 But according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, less than 80% of Americans meet this recommendation.2 So what is one serving? 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or 2 cups of raw leafy greens is considered 1 serving of vegetables. Vegetables may be intimidating to some, but there are many ways to add them into your favorite meals!

For breakfast, smoothies are a great way to pack in tons of vegetables. The idea is to make your smoothies mostly vegetable-based and add in 1 fruit for flavoring. Some of my favorites to add in are spinach, cauliflower and zucchini. To make your smoothies creamier, freeze the vegetables or buy them frozen, that way you won’t need to add any ice! Another easy meal idea is to make frittata or scrambled eggs and add in tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, and truly any vegetable scraps or left overs to make a delicious and satiating meal. For lunch and dinner time, think about how you can add vegetables into what you are already eating. Throw in an extra cup or two of vegetables into your soup or stew. Shred some carrots to add into your pasta sauce or beans. Or start off each meal with a green salad with shaved vegetables.

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And if you’re concerned your family won’t be on board, think again! We are quick to assume that children won’t like vegetables, but they do. During our Teaching Kitchen lessons for the children, they happily ate Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese and Chocolate Beet Cake (shown in the pictures); and yes, they were aware there were vegetables inside! Another great way to get children excited about vegetables is to include them in the purchasing and cooking process. If children get to pick their vegetables and fruits from the grocery store or farmer’s market they are more likely to want to try it. Also, they can help you rinse the produce or measure out the ingredients for a recipe and will be more engaged and excited to eat it.

When making any change in our lifestyle, planning is key. Try to plan your meals ahead of time to save you time and money. Build your meals around seasonal produce; choose a vegetable and make it the center of your meal, have the grains and/or meat be side dishes or condiments. Most importantly, take it one step at a time. Make it a goal to introduce 1 new vegetable per week and build on from there!

References:

1.       All about the Vegetable Group. Choose MyPlate. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/vegetables. Published January 4, 2018. Accessed February 22, 2019.

2.       The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-1/healthy-eating-patterns/. Accessed February 22, 2019.