If you have a room full of nutritionists, health coaches, doctors, and nutrition researchers, they might not agree on much about nutrition (which is what makes nutrition so confusing!), but I can assure that they will agree on one thing: if we want to feel better and nourish our bodies, we need to eat more vegetables!
We all know that vegetables are important, but eating them consistently can be really hard. Plus, we all have that friend who committed to eating raw baby carrots with lunch every day and then couldn't even look at them by the end of the month (or week)!
Today, I want to walk you through my personal strategies for consistently eating 2, 3, 4, or more servings of vegetables every single day - without burning out! Let's get started.
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1. Expand your options with leafy greens
I'm a firm believer that most of us should be eating a serving of leafy greens nearly every day. A serving amounts to 1-2 cups raw or half of this amount cooked. The health benefits are fantastic! For one thing, research shows that those who eat around a serving of leafy greens every day have less cognitive decline over time - equivalent to the cognitive function of someone 11 years younger! Leafy greens are also associated with a healthy heart and help protect our eyes from macular degeneration.
Most leafy greens provide a sizable chunk of our daily need for vitamin A, vitamin K, folate, and magnesium - among other nutrients! These vitamins and minerals can be difficult to get enough of without eating greens on an almost daily basis.
I think I know what some of you are thinking: "Wonderful. You're telling me to eat a salad almost every day."
Yes and no. I do have a green salad with dinner probably four nights a week. My favorite no-brainer salad is mixed greens with store-bought Caesar dressing and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. I'll be honest, though. That does get old sometimes, so it's not the only way I eat my greens.
The good news is salads are not our only option. You can cook leafy greens and still get the benefits from them.
One of my favorite non-salad ways to spice up my greens is to sauté them with a little garlic, salt, and pepper. (I've been known to have second and third helpings of these.) Here's the breakdown:
Recipe from my kitchen. ;)
Fresh spinach, kale, or other greens
Extra virgin olive oil
1-2 Garlic cloves (or garlic powder)
Salt and pepper
Heat about 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a shallow pan on medium heat until it starts to shimmer.
Add 1 or 2 cloves of minced or finely chopped garlic to the pan and cook in oil for a couple of minutes until the pieces just barely start to darken.
Add a couple of large handfuls of fresh spinach or kale (OR a block of frozen spinach) to the pan and sauté until the greens get nice and wilty.
Add salt and pepper and serve when the greens are as wilty as you want them to be.
2. Roast (nearly) any type of vegetable
Ah, roasted vegetables: a cozy vegetable staple that gets me through fall and winter. (I still love having them year round as well.) This article is the ultimate resource for all things roasted vegetables. You might want to bookmark it because you'll probably want to come back to it often. The post details the temperature and amount of time it takes to roast multiple different types of vegetables. The time and temp vary because softer vegetables tend to cook faster at a lower temp than heartier vegetables.
Some of the favorite vegetables to roast in our home are Brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, and carrots. We buy them planning to roast them most of the time, but we also resort to roasting these vegetables when they've been sitting in the fridge for a few extra days and are looking a little too tired to be served raw.
The #1 roasted vegetable that Jeremy (my amazing husband) requests is roasted Brussels sprouts tossed with balsamic vinegar and honey. This is how it's done in our kitchen:
Honey Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Oven temp: 400 degrees F
Package of Brussels sprouts, cut in half - they'll be crispier this way
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Toss the brussels sprouts with about 1 Tbs. of olive oil and a little salt and pepper in a mixing bowl.
Spread them out in a single layer on a large baking sheet.
Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes (more or less, depending on how brown and crispy you like them).
Remove them from the oven and put the sprouts back inthe bowl you used to toss them with oil.
Add balsamic vinegar and honey to taste.
(I've used cheap and expensive balsamics - from Aldi brand balsamic salad dressing to $15-per-bottle aged Balsamic vinegar (a Christmas gift). Generally speaking, the fancier your balsamic vinegar, the sweeter it will be, so you might not need as much honey. A couple of teaspoons of each is a good start, but I encourage you to taste, taste, taste and add more honey or balsamic as needed to get it just the way you like it. I've made this recipe multiple times, so I just eyeball it now.)
Serve and eat. These are crispiest and yummiest when they're very warm. :)
3. Don't be afraid of vegetable dips
I can't tell you how many times I've had friends or clients tell me they've been eating raw carrots, pepper strips, celery, or cucumbers all by themselves without dip. This makes me sad. Don't get me wrong: I eat plain raw vegetables occasionally, too, but in my opinion there's a much yummier way!
People tend to think that dips "cancel out" the benefits of vegetables, but this just isn't the case. Ranch dip and hummus are my favorites.
4. Have them in or with eggs in the morning
This one is pretty simple. I like to add chopped peppers or sautéed spinach to scrambled eggs. Sautéed mushrooms (which also count as a vegetable) are delicious in eggs, too. Another trick is that some people like to steam kale or spinach by microwaving it for about a minute and then serve over-easy eggs on top for a quick breakfast.
One thing that I really want to experiment with is muffin tin eggs! Since I haven't made them before, here's the recipe I plan to try out. Look for the veggie-filled, muffin tin eggs on my Instagram feed this week. If you haven't followed me yet, my Instagram handle is @BudgetNutritionist! :)
5. Make extras for dinner and pack the leftovers for lunch
This is another simple hack. When you make my sauteed spinach recipe, make a little extra for lunch the next day. Put the leftovers in individual-sized reusable containers and pop them in the fridge. This makes packing lunches in the morning faster, too! :) I'm not a very fast-mover in the morning (or any time of day really) so any way I can save myself a little time is worth it.
Want all of these tips in a quick, one-page visual reference?
Grab my "35 ways to Eat More Vegetables" Cheat Sheet!
6. Change up your salads
Even though my #1 tip (see above) is to think outside of the (salad) box for leafy greens, I do love a good salad! I think the main reason we burn out on having salads regularly is that we use the same type of lettuce, same kind of dressing, and same toppings every. single. time.
No wonder we're bored.
Jeremy and I really enjoy mixing things up by buying ready-to-mix salad kits every couple of weeks. Our favorites from Aldi are the Sweet Kale and Asian Chopped salad kits. These are delicious and a lot cheaper than the name brand salad kits at other stores. We also change up the types of lettuce we buy to vary the texture and flavor of our salads. Some of the ones we like are spring mix, butter lettuce, and romaine. Really anything but iceberg is fair game, because iceberg isn't as nutrient dense as all other types of lettuce.
7. Use seasonings to spice things up
Here's the thing. In order to eat more vegetables on a consistent, regular basis, they have to actually taste good.
If you throw a steamer bag of mixed vegetables into the microwave and then serve them plain, don't expect to have a party in your mouth when you eat them.
It just probably isn't going to happen. Vegetables really are amazing, but sometimes they need a little help in order to reach their potential. :)
My favorite quick way to add major appeal to vegetables is butter-flavored olive oil and a little salt and pepper. The key is to mix them together in a bowl and coat thoroughly before serving instead of at the table (I learned this trick from my mother-in-law!). This is honestly all it takes to make a lot of lightly steamed (not mushy - bleh) frozen vegetables taste great!
Another favorite way to spice up vegetables quickly is steak seasoning. A little goes a long way, but this can really jazz things up along with a drizzle of regular extra-virgin olive oil.
Last but not least, a little squeeze of lemon juice can take roasted or steamed broccoli or asparagus to the next level. So easy and good. Just don't go overboard with it (I speak from experience - very sour).
Taste + Variety + Simplicity = The Secret to Eating More Vegetables
The bottom line is this: in order to eat more vegetables consistently and without burning out, these 3 key factors need to be present:
You have to enjoy the flavor of something if you plan to eat it often. Don't expect any food habit to last long if you don't make it taste good.
I've given a bunch of different ideas for ways to prepare and season vegetables that taste delicious. You might even find that vegetables are your favorite part of the meal sometimes!
If you're going to give vegetables a starring role in your diet, you're going to need more than just one or two kinds or you will get tired of them eventually.
Add variety on a daily basis by changing things up and experimenting with different vegetables and prep methods like the ones listed above.
Some of these tips are slightly more involved than others, but most of them can be quickly and easily tried on a Tuesday night after work. No massive prep time or special kitchen utensils needed. I don't know about you, but the easier it is to accomplish something, the more likely that I will actually do it!
This is a lot to remember!
Grab my Quick Reference Guide - it's all here on one page!
There you have it! These are my tried and true tips for eating more vegetables. Without them, I would probably still be a veggie-hater (yep, I used to hate vegetables).
Now I really want to hear from you! Comment below and tell me your favorite ways to include vegetables in your diet every day. :)