We all know that eating vegetables is healthy, and many of my clients often lament that they know they would be better off if they ate more, but they just “can’t” get themselves to do it. Are you in the same boat? If so, you’re in the right place! In today’s blog post, I’ll tell you all about 3 steps to eat more vegetables (and actually enjoy them!) today. Get ready to be a healthy, energized, veggie-loving machine!
Step One: Get Smart.
Before we worry about eating more vegetables, we need to understand where we stand today. When I ask most clients how many servings of vegetables they eat per day, they say “2 or 3.” I say, “that’s a great start!” then ask them to actually count their vegetables through the entire following week. Almost inevitably, they’ll come back with their head hanging low, saying they thought they ate a lot of vegetables, but it turns out they only had 5 servings that entire week!
So, to get started, open up a note on your phone, and commit to tallying every serving of veggies you consume from now until 7 days from now. A serving is technically one cup raw, or ½ cup cooked, but I like to use a fist-size as a metric, since we always carry our fist around with us, but most of us don’t walk around with measuring cups! If it’s about a fist-size, it counts as ONE serving. How many do YOU get on a normal week?
We’re about to get into why vegetables are so important, but if you already get 8-10 servings consistently every day, then you get a free pass and can skip the rest of this blog post! Assuming you don’t, though, keep reading on!
The second part of getting smart is understanding why it’s a good idea to eat more vegetables. There are literally dozens of benefits, but I’m going to boil it down to two: nutrients and fiber.
By “nutrients,” I mean the vast array of antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals that are abundant in vegetables. Veggies are the richest sources of all of these categories, and they’re critical for reducing inflammation, reducing risk of nutrient deficiencies, increasing energy, reducing risk of chronic disease, and more.
The second benefit is fiber, one of the most important nutrients in our diets (or, should I say, one of the most important nutrients that is lacking in our diets!). Fiber keeps us full on a very low-calorie intake, which is great for people watching their body compositions. Fiber is also linked to lower risk of heart disease! And, of course, it’s great to “keep things moving” for your digestion, and for your overall gut health. Did you know that fiber is the food for your gut bacteria, who control all types of functions from your mood and brain health to your immune health? Listen to episode 48 of Wellness Your Way for more on gut health!
The last piece of getting smart is to know that your taste buds actually can change. Eating more vegetables doesn’t mean hating what’s on your plate every day for the rest of your life! Far from it! There is a tiny piece of taste that is actually genetic, but a large portion of our taste preferences come from exposure. Let’s be honest … the first time you drank coffee or beer, did you really think it was the most delicious thing you had ever tasted? Of course not! But after repeated exposure to coffee, beer, vegetables, or anything else, our taste buds can adjust to truly enjoy – and even crave – those things more!
Let’s throw a little wrench in this. Did you know that the large food manufacturing companies often have scientists literally engineering human taste buds to test what excites them most? It’s sad, but it’s true! And when we’re eating a lot of processed foods, our taste buds adjust to those artificial, sweet, salty, fatty tastes … which makes us less likely to enjoy our vegetables. I VERY often have clients working on cutting back sugar, and they realize they can suddenly enjoy the delicious flavors of whole foods again! It is possible through gradual changes!
So, now you know how many servings of vegetables you’re consuming, how many I recommend consuming daily (8-10 servings!), why vegetables are important, and that changing your taste buds is a real thing. You’ve gotten smart! Let’s get tactical and then we’ll get specific.
Step Two: Get Tactical
When I say, “get tactical,” I mean let’s sketch out specifically how you will increase your intake of vegetables. I have several suggestions for you:
- Increase gradually. It’s better for your digestion (which takes time to adjust!) and your mindset to increase gradually. If you currently eat 2 daily servings, aim for 3 daily servings every day this week, then increase from there.
- Enjoy more of what you already This isn’t supposed to be punishment! If you love broccoli, eat tons of broccoli! If you love jicama, go to town! If you love zucchini, prepare it every way you can imagine! Yes, it’s best to get a variety of vegetables (because they’re all rich in different nutrients), but as you’re starting out, be sure to include anything you actually enjoy to make it more pleasant.
- Also try one new vegetable per week. To keep things exciting, try to look around the grocery store or Farmer’s Market to find a new (to you!) vegetable each week! The excitement of trying something new and learning how to prepare it often makes this process more fun! For plenty of ideas, check out my free seasonal produce guide here!
- Alternate bites. If you really don’t enjoy vegetables (yet!), it can be daunting to have a big pile of sauteed spinach on a plate next to the portion of the meal that you already enjoy. Many people will tell themselves to eat the vegetables first, but feeling like you’re “suffering through” the spinach can actually require more willpower and contributes to the spinach feeling like punishment. Instead, research shows that people end up liking the vegetables more when they alternate with bites of food that they already enjoy.
- Make it a competition. Got a friend or family member looking to get healthier alongside you? Make it a competition to see who can consistently reach their daily goal this week! Make it fun and get healthier together!
Step Three: Get Specific
Now you’re smart about why vegetables are good for you and how many to consume, you’ve gotten tactical about how you’ll increase … it’s time to get specific about what and when you’re going to eat. Here are a few tips:
- Start the day with vegetables. I know, I know … breakfast is often the most baffling time for people to fit in vegetables. But I find it pretty difficult to get to my 10 daily servings without including some vegetables at breakfast, and even better, I find my energy goes through the roof and my cravings plummet when I start the day with veggies. What are some breakfasts with veggies? Omelets or egg scrambles, vegetable-filled smoothies (here are some of my favorite recipes, crustless quiche, breakfast casserole, sweet potato brussels sprouts breakfast hash, or any of my favorite savory breakfasts, which you can find here.)
- Have veggie packs ready to go. Veggie packs are simply Stasher bags, or whatever container you want to use, filled with ready-to-eat, pre-cut vegetables that you can grab in any situation. If they’re as easy to grab as that candy bar or bag of chips, you’ll choose them more often. And if you follow my own commitment of having a veggie pack before any other snack during the day, you’re sure to get in a few extra servings!
- Use flavorings you love. What’s your favorite food? If you said pizza, top your vegetables with marinara, oregano, basil, and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese! If you said Mexican food, try some salsa, cilantro, and avocado. If you said something with more of an Asian flavor, try making a stir fry with some coconut aminos, ginger, and garlic. Whatever flavors you already love, add in some veggies and use your existing palate to your advantage!
- Invest in some seasoning blends. I love seasoning blends because they take the thought out of it and make it easy. Anytime I’m roasting vegetables, I’ll grab a seasoning blend, sprinkle on a hefty serving, and enjoy the flavor! A few of my favorites are Everything But the Bagel, Paleo Powder AIP All-Purpose seasoning, and Primal Palate Garlic & Herb.
- Try different preparations. It might take several preparations to find a way you enjoy a particular vegetable, and that’s OK! See how many ways you can possibly prepare broccoli, or Brussels sprouts, or cauliflower, until you find one you love!
Below, you’ll find a chart showing you recipes for spaghetti squash,
cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.
Each vegetable has a recipe for plain, creamy,
spicy / Mexican, Asian, healthy comfort food, and sweet.
This is just a starting place!
Try some of these recipes, then see how you can build out your own!
Congratulations! You’re now smart, tactical, and specific. All that’s left now is to get tasting! Go off and enjoy your vegetables … and the way you feel afterwards!
Now it’s your turn … What is your favorite vegetable, and how do you like to prepare it? Link up any recipes you love, too!