"Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie." —Jim Davis

Jim’s quote may have been facetious, but he’s onto something brilliant. All of us run the gamut from hiding, highlighting, to just having vegetables in order to meet what we “know we should eat.” Even the most avid vegetable lovers among us probably struggle with either the cost, hassle, or taste of meeting the USOC and UCCS guidelines for an athlete’s plate:

 

Half your plate full is a lot of vegetables, especially for a meal like breakfast. I mean, are we supposed to mix spinach in our oatmeal, throw cucumbers into our chocolate smoothie, or mash root vegetables into our waffles?

 

Actually, yes!  Let’s see how good of a veggie magician you are: Can you match the vegetables with an unexpected but seamless way to use them?

 

frozen cauliflower                                          alfredo sauce / chowder or pot pie base               

zucchini                                                           muffins                                   

carrots                                                             smoothies

fresh cauliflower                                             lasagna

                                                           

 

Since few of us need convincing that a variety of vegetables are a good thing, I’ll get straight into some suggestions for hiding, highlighting, or just having vegetables for three or more meals a day, starting with answers to the quiz above:

 

Frozen cauliflower is an excellent, neutral thickener to add to your smoothie.  In fact, triple up on the veggies in your smoothie routine by using this base:

 

•    1 cup milk of choice (I prefer unsweetened cashew milk)

•    ~2 cups spinach (or other leafy green)

•    .5 chopped cucumber (can also pre-chop and freeze)

•    .5 cup frozen cauliflower

•    1 banana

•    3 tablespoons hemp seeds (or a tablespoon or so of nut butter)

 

Then add your flavors of choice:

•    ~2 tablespoons cacao powder, vanilla to taste

•    3/4 cup blueberries, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, vanilla to taste

•    mint extract and/or fresh mint, cacao nibs

1/2 cup canned pumpkin, 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, vanilla to taste

Zucchini can be spiralized for pasta as I mentioned in a previous post. It can also be sliced on a mandolin or just very thinly with a knife into wide strips, and used in place of lasagna noodles, layered with sauce and cheese and baked just like the traditional version.  It can also be made into a delicious pizza crust.

Carrots are great in muffins and, of course, in cake!

Fresh cauliflower is basically a miracle food. It can be used to make dairy-free alfredo sauce, pot pie base, or chowder base.  It can be made into rice, or used as a mashed potato substitute.

Now, ideally, we don’t always have to hide veggies in order to eat them. We may need to start by disguising vegetables as cheese sauce or dessert, but the more we include them in our diets, the more we are likely to come to appreciate them for their own sake.  Because they make us feel good after we eat them, we can grow to crave them if we are in tune with our bodies, and start to pay attention to how different foods make us feel.

 

Not only may we come to intrinsically desire vegetables, but we can nurture a palate for all the range of textures and flavors vegetables have to offer. An unfortunate consequence of the typical American diet is that we have developed a dependence on comfort foods, and foods that have been highly processed and modified to appeal to us. We are addicted to creamy thick textures, fluffy cake textures, and crispy salty fare in particular.  If it doesn’t melt in our mouth and set off all kinds of happy sensations immediately, we are less inclined to chow on it.  However, we can train ourselves to savor the sharp earthy tang of a sautéed mushroom, play hide and seek with the subtle celery flavor of celeriac, and enjoy the nutty sweet crunch of a roasted parsnip.

Going a step further, joining a CSA or taking a weekly jaunt to a local farmer’s market and wandering around to look at all the beautiful colors and shapes can help get us hooked on the adventure of selecting, cooking and eating vegetables.  Picking out a robust-looking fennel bulb with funny green hair poking out of the stalks is a visceral, visual, olefactory and intellectual experience all in one. How heavy is it? Is it firm or squishy? Is the brown on the bottom ok? Should it have lots of stalks or doesn’t it matter?  What dish does this smell remind me of? What part do you eat?  And there starts a journey of discovery and risk-taking, with the potential to end in a fun dinner with friends over bowls of your experimental fennel soup.

If we can teach ourselves to be curious and playful with the world of vegetables, not only may we discover a relaxing and creative pastime, our bodies will reward us even further by running smoothly because of being nourished by the plethora of of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.

 

(Note: Many ask about supplements and powders that contain freeze dried vegetables and all manner of excellent nutrients. While many of these products are high quality and beneficial, the one thing cannot provide is the “vegetable experience.”  Mixing up a shake with green powders does not really challenge our dependence on creamy sweet treats.  It doesn’t teach us to be adventurous, discover new textures and tastes, or be involved with the process of preparing and eating food. In our busy lifestyles, sometimes we do just need a convenient way to get nutrients, and those mixes are better than a Frosty! However, they can’t take the place of real, whole foods in a diet.)

 

Here are some additional tips to include more veggies, on a more above-board level:

Breakfast:

•    Add chopped mushrooms, peppers, onions, greens, broccoli, tomatoes, scallions, asparagus, etc. to your morning scrambled eggs.

•    Top toast with avocado and tomato, sautéed onions and peppers, or your favorite vegetables

•    Make a savory breakfast bowl with eggs, beans or rice, tomato salsa, and sautéed greens or other veggies

•    Add shredded carrots or zucchini, or canned pumpkin, to your pancake batter, along with some cinnamon

•    Blend spinach into your milk of choice with some cinnamon and dates, and pour over oats. Let soak overnight for green overnight oats.

 

Lunch/Dinner

•    Use lettuce or a sturdy green as a wrap, in place of bread or tortillas

•    Use spiralized zucchini, butternut squash, parsnips, or baked spaghetti squash in place of pasta

•    Make a big batch of veggies at the beginning of the week, then you have them on hand to include in any meal. Use a different sauce each day to keep things interesting

•    Practice buying the rainbow at the supermarket: a red tomato, orange carrots, yellow pepper, green peas, etc. Try a different rainbow each week, then do some research to find a recipe for each thing you bring home.

•    Make soups! You can pretty much put any combination of any veggies into a soup!

•    Add chopped veggies to pasta sauce, chili, rice, casseroles, etc.

 

Snacks

•    Make or buy kale chips in place of potato chips or pretzels

•    Keep sliced celery, cucumbers, and bell peppers on hand for snacking with hummus or guacamole

•    Have celery with nut butter

•    Make a green smoothie ahead of time and bring it with you to work/school/daily routine