We know why, to some extent. Vegetables are packed with health-protecting compounds, including essential vitamins and minerals, fiber and a wide range of antioxidants, which destroy harmful free radicals in the body. Scientists have isolated and studied many of these plant compounds, but they have only scratched the surface. One thing they discovered is that taking the compounds in pill form does not have the same benefit. It is the fixed price of the vegetable which protects us. As preventative medicine and lifestyle expert David Katz famously put it, “The active ingredient in broccoli is broccoli.”
Yet about 90% of Americans don’t get enough vegetables (two to three cups a day for women and three to four cups a day for men), and about 62% of the vegetables we eat come from the same five sources. three of which are made with white potatoes, one of the most common being french fries, according to a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2022. Not that there is anything wrong with potatoes – they are nutritious- rich and damn delicious. We just need to diversify (and fry less often).
Vegetables have unique nutrient and antioxidant profiles, so greater variety is key to a wider array of health benefits. Color is a useful clue because different antioxidants impart different hues to foods. Harnessing the full product color wheel (including white) not only works in our favor nutritionally, it also makes our meals much more appealing.
In addition to the nutrients you get from eating more vegetables, there is a beneficial displacement factor. Opt for, for example, mushrooms and peppers on your pizza instead of your usual pepperoni, or dip sliced cucumbers instead of pita chips in your hummus, and you not only get more nutrition, you also reduce, for lacking, usually calories, sodium, refined grains and processed meats. But this is not an all or nothing proposition. Even if you get mushrooms, peppers and pepperoni on your pizza, you’re even better.
(I know, I know, mushrooms aren’t vegetables, botanically speaking. Neither are tomatoes, cucumbers, or zucchini, for that matter, but from a nutritional and culinary standpoint, they all count as vegetables. .)
Whether you’re a beginner ready to venture beyond the occasional baby carrot or a veggie lover looking to expand your horizons, here are simple ways to eat more plants.
Add a vegetable to what you already eat
There’s no need to revamp your life to incorporate more veggies – just mix them in with what you’re already making. Cooking pasta with tomato sauce? Add a handful of pre-washed arugula or baby spinach to the hot sauce to gently wilt it, or pile the greens on top of the finished plate to add a splash of fresh color and flavor. Chopped fresh baby spinach is also great to add to chicken noodle soup, minestrone, or ramen. If you’re up for something more adventurous, try escarole or dandelion instead.
Frozen peas, cauliflower or broccoli are ideal additions to mac and cheese. Add a handful to the cheese sauce to warm it up before incorporating the pasta. (Frozen vegetables are nutritionally comparable to fresh cooked vegetables; they’re also economical, often don’t require chopping, and are easy to keep on hand, so take advantage of them.)
When making a sandwich, venture beyond the usual lettuce and tomato. Pile on thinly sliced radishes or cucumber, grated carrots or sprouts. A handful of spinach or kale in your morning smoothie is basically undetectable, but adds nutrient-rich dark green leaves.
Get the recipe from Golden Chicken Chickpea Vegetable Soup here.
Sub-vegetables for part of the meat in dishes
Enhance meat dishes with additional vegetables to allow for a more manageably sized portion of meat while still keeping portions plentiful. Mushrooms do the job especially well thanks to their meaty texture and savory flavor. First sauté them so they’re nicely browned and release their water, then add them to almost any meat dish, from burgers and meatloaf to sloppy joes and stroganoff. This allows you to reduce the meat by about 1/4 pound per eight ounces of mushrooms used. Also add vegetable power beyond the usual carrots and potatoes to meat stews, with mushrooms, peppers, green beans and root vegetables like rutabaga, turnips and celeriac.
Get the recipe from Green beans puffed with lamb and aromatic spices here.
Use vegetables as wraps and balls
Don’t relegate vegetables to the realm of side dishes, they can do so much more. Cup-shaped lettuce leaves, such as Bibb or Baby Gem, make cute wrappers for all kinds of toppings — think anything you could put in a taco or sandwich wrap. You can also use collard greens or stronger kale leaves to make bigger, heartier wraps. (I like to blanch them first to tenderize them.)
Vegetables also make supreme balls for dips. Beyond the usual carrots and celery, try picking endives, radishes, snow peas and blanched broccoli, cauliflower and green beans.
Get the recipe from Jamaican Spice Cabbage and Beef Wraps here.
Flip the tale of the past, where protein gets all the culinary love, and adore the vegetable instead. Preparing vegetables in surprising and mouth-watering ways makes you crave more and can overwhelm vegetable naysayers. This doesn’t necessarily mean more work, just a change of direction.
Serve boldly flavorful dishes such as braised red cabbage wedges or honey-glazed carrots with carrot head chimichurri alongside simply seasoned roast chicken or fish, for example. Broccoli haters have been known to wolf down my flatbread pizzas with broccoli pesto, and even those who recoil at the thought of the boiled Brussels sprouts they were forced to eat as kids can’t take it. have enough of the vegetable when roasted and crispy and topped with apples and sunflower seeds.
Get the recipe from Pan-fried halibut and spring vegetables here.
I hope these ideas inspire you to incorporate more vegetables into your life, and in more variety. Start small, choose a few suggestions that you think are feasible, and build from there. It’s a habit worth cultivating, into the new year and beyond.