How I Tripled My Veggie Intake with Simple, Delicious Tricks
I'll admit that I've always been a salad girl. When I was an elementary ed teacher, I brought a salad to school every single day for lunch ... ask any of my former colleagues. I also usually brought some raw cut-up veggies (like broccoli, carrots, and red peppers) to dip in hummus. In addition, I typically had some sort of cooked vegetable and maybe another salad with dinner. I never used to worry whether or not I was getting an adequate amount of vegetables.
BUT ... after having kids and becoming a stay-at-home mom, my fine-tuned and carefully-selected meals went right out the window! After my second son was born, I basically lived in survival mode every day. Sometimes I ate breakfast; often I didn't. Sometimes lunch was a sandwich on gluten-free bread or almond butter on rice cakes; most of the time I ate some sort of protein bar. When my husband was working from home or was, at least, home for dinner, I "cooked" a little bit ... think Crockpot meals, heated-up marinated salmon from Costco, or gluten-free pasta. But when he was traveling (which was and is quite frequently), I "assembled" dinners for the boys, and I basically picked at their food or left-overs. There was barely a vegetable in sight!
As I began to do research for my book 360 Health, it became abundantly clear to me that I needed to increase my vegetable intake if I wanted to be healthy for my family now and in the future.
Simply put, vegetables are the single-most important food group to include into your diet. They are packed with phytonutrients. They deliver an abundance of vitamins and minerals with very few calories and tons of fiber.
Vegetables can help prevent illnesses like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and autoimmune conditions to name a few. Many veggies are even anti-angiogenic, meaning that they've been studied to actually stop cancerous tumors from growing or from forming at all. The more vegetables you eat, the better. In fact, intake of vegetables is inversely related to the risk for disease.
So, what's a busy mom (dad, grandparent, worker, adult, person...) to do? How can we get in more veggies without all of the hassle? And what if you really just don't like many veggies? What do you do then? Well, I have some easy tricks up my sleeve that I'm hoping will help you, too!
(Please note that I include links to some of the products I'll mention in this article at the end. If you choose to purchase anything from my website's links to Amazon, I may make a very small fee which helps to support the website. This is at no additional charge to you.)
Let's start with the first meal of the day. Normally, most people don't think about incorporating vegetables into their breakfast plate. But you can do so easily and without a lot of prep work.
*Smoothies: Each morning, I make a smoothie for breakfast. Many people think that a smoothie would never tide them over until lunch. But, let me tell you, if you add the right combination of fats and protein to your smoothie, you won't feel hunger for hours and hours.
Here's what I put in mine:
2 cups spinach (or kale)
5 or 6 baby carrots
1/2 a banana
1/2 cup frozen strawberries
2 Brazil nuts (for the selenium ... good for thyroid health)
1-2 Tablespoons almond butter
1/2 an avocado
1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1 cup water (or enough to fill my NutriBullet to the "max" line)
1/4 tsp Himalayan Sea Salt (read about the important benefits of HSS here)
1 scoop NutriDyn Fruits & Greens
2 scoops Great Lakes collagen hydrolysate (read about its healing effects here)
1 scoop grass-fed Paleo protein powder
Now, you don't have to use all of these specialty powders. However, I'd like to point out a few reasons why I use this combination.
For starters, notice the amount of veggies. The spinach and carrots are easily three servings of vegetables. The NutriDyn Fruits & Greens is said to have the antioxidant power of 20+ fruits and vegetables. There are other greens powders on the market, but this is the best tasting one I've found. Plus it has probiotic and prebiotic blends.
I add fruit for extra sweetness and for more antioxidants and fiber. Avocado is actually considered a fruit, but it has also some great fats and a host of vitamins. The Brazil nuts and almond butter also help to add satiating fat to the drink.
Lastly, the collagen and Paleo protein add a whopping 36 grams of protein. It's important to note that these are both from grass-fed sources and are also non-dairy. When consuming meat and animal products, sourcing is of utmost importance. (You don't want icky antibiotics or hormones in your food.)
I just put all of these into my NutriBullet and blend it up. You can use any blender, but if you want a creamy texture without a lot of pieces and pulp, I'd recommend something high-speed.
*Omelets: Another easy to make breakfast are omelets. Just crack a few eggs into a pan. Stir and let them sit for a minute. Add some spinach, bell peppers, mushrooms ... whatever you like, and fold it over. Voila!
I'm also totally ok with using the microwave. I'm not a person who shuns the device. Frankly, claims that microwaves harm the food (or us) just aren't founded. And eggs are so, so easy to make in the microwave. You can crack 2-3 eggs into a bowl, and whisk them. Put them into the microwave for 40 seconds. Scramble them (they'll still be runny). Top them with your choice of veggies (tomatoes, bell peppers, and spinach work well), and put them back in for another 20-30 seconds. Done! This is more of a scrambled omelet, but it's great, too. And if you sprinkle some Trader Joe's "Everything But the Bagel" seasoning on top ... yummy!
*Other: The above are just two easy ideas. There are, of course, other ways to incorporate vegetables into breakfast. You can even eat left-overs from the night before. Experiment and find what works for you! Oh, and one more tip, buying pre-cut veggies can make prepping so much easier, and you may find that you eat more this way too.
Lunch and Dinner
Since these meals are often interchangeable, suggestions for them are the same.
*Roasting: The ultimate and easiest trick for me to get in more veggies has been to roast them. It can be hard to get in enough veggies if you're eating them raw. Although raw veggies may retain more of the nutrient content, they are so liquid-filled and full of fiber that they can be difficult on your digestive tract and make you feel bloated. In fact, sometimes they can even be constipating if you're not drinking enough water to off-set the amount of fiber. But roasting veggies breaks down the fiber and makes them easier on your gut.
So, here's my secret ... I put an entire bag of veggies into a large bowl. They can even be frozen! My favorites are a bag of raw organic rainbow baby carrots, frozen broccoli and cauliflower mix, asparagus, red potatoes cut in half, or peeled and cut sweet potatoes. I dump them into a bowl and douse them with avocado oil. Avocado oil is my oil of choice because of its very high smoke point. (Olive oil or coconut oil work, too.) Then I add Spike seasoning (pictured below). I don't measure; I just sprinkle it all over the veggies. Then toss to coat them. Roast them at 450 degrees for 20-25 minutes (potatoes may take a bit longer). That's it! Super simple. And let me tell you, I have seriously eaten the whole bag of carrots this way.
If you are using frozen veggies, one tip is to put them onto the baking sheet and into the oven while it's preheating. Then roast for the same amount of time afterward. So cool! You don't even have to defrost them.
*Steaming: Just as with roasting, steaming helps vegetables become more easily digested. My tip here is to buy those microwaveable steam bags from the frozen section. Pop them into the microwave, and they're done in 3-5 minutes.
*Other: I love cauliflower rice and wrote about it here. You can add pesto, soy sauce, or coconut aminos to it or even use it in place of rice in a stir-fry ... doubling your vegetable content! You can also hide shredded veggies, like zucchini or carrots, in burgers or meatloaf. If you have an immersion blender, you can cook some vegetables in a pot, like cauliflower or butternut squash for example, then blend them up and add them to sauces for pasta OR turn them into soups by adding a little stock and spices to them. Have vegetable soup and/or salad at the beginning of your meals. Here's another site with even more ideas.
*Crudités with Dip: If I'm hungry between meals, this is when I might pull out a few pre-cut veggies and dip them into hummus or guacamole. As I mentioned, if I buy already cut veggies at the store, then there's no prep work. Other times, I'll buy a red bell pepper or cucumber and cut them up myself. It doesn't take long. If you're using guacamole especially, you're getting the added fat to help ward off hunger until your next meal.
*Juices: I'm not a fan of juicing as a meal replacement because the fiber and protein have essentially been removed. But as a snack, juices are great. Plus they give you a power-punch of micronutrients. You do NOT want to buy most store-bought juices for this because they're typically laden with sugar. You may find a couple that would work in the store, but they'd be in the produce department in a refrigerated section. Instead, you may want to buy an actual juicer to have at home. You can load cups and cups of vegetables and fruit into the juicer, and turn them in one concentrated drink. Here's a site that has some good juices you can make at home.
I'll be honest; I don't own a juicer. Instead, I just use my NutriBullet. But since the pulp isn't strained out, I end up with more of a smoothie (which is still delicious and has the bonus of fiber). Also note, because I'm not adding protein and fat to this concoction, it's really not filling enough to be a meal. Here's what I like to put into my green juices:
1/2 green apple
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 cup celery, roughly chopped
1 cup kale
1 inch slice fresh ginger root, peeled
2 cups of water (or enough to fill it to the "max" line of my NutriBullet)
If that combo isn't sweet enough, you could add some pineapple, 1/2 a banana, or a few drops of Stevia extract.
*Chips: Kale chips are awesome! I buy them at the store, but you can also make them at home in your oven. They come in a variety of flavors and go down very easily. I also like Jackson's Honest brand sweet potato chips. They're made with coconut oil and are about as healthy as you can get for a chip. I also like chips and strips made with cassava root. I wrote about these products here.
Yes, you can even make desserts with veggies! There are ways to disguise them in such a way that they add great texture and flavor.
*Breads: I love a good gluten-free dessert bread. My favorite is banana bread, but if I'm looking to pump it up with some vegetables, I'll replace two of the bananas with grated zucchini. To make it even more special and delicious, I like to add Enjoy Life dairy-free chocolate chips. Here is one zucchini bread recipe that doesn't contain too much sugar. I also wrote a blog post that included a recipe for sweet potato chocolate chip bread. It is a family favorite!
*Pudding: This is such a delicious and creamy pudding that you'd never know it wasn't really made with milk. This is a Chocolate Avocado pudding recipe. There are plenty of similar recipes on the internet, but I like this one because it uses coconut milk instead of dairy. It is truly yummy!
When buying vegetables, try to get organic when possible. It's important to try to limit exposure to pesticides and herbicides as much as we can. Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out a "Dirty Dozen" list of the the fruits and vegetables most highly contaminated with pesticides. For these 12 items, you'll want to buy them in their organic forms. The vegetables currently on that list are spinach, celery, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, and potatoes. The EWG also puts out a "Clean 15" list which lists produce that tends NOT to be contaminated and which you can readily eat in their non-organic form. Vegetables on this list are sweet corn, avocado, cabbage, onions, frozen sweet peas, asparagus, eggplant, and cauliflower.
Now, if cost of organic produce is an issue for you and your family, rest assured that eating any vegetables (even conventionally grown), because of their micronutrient and vitamin content, far outweighs the potential pesticide burden. In my opinion, it's a whole lot more important to buy meat that is grass-fed and poultry and eggs that are organic or pasture-raised. Those food items, when conventionally raised, are more problematic for our health. But that's a conversation for another day.
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