Vegetables: Painless Ways to Eat More of 'Em

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Do we need to review the fact that vegetables are good for us? I think not. The only people who might argue that we should cut down on vegetables are the Meatatarians and the Breatharians. And do we really care what they think?

The problem is, while there are some people who love vegetables, most of us have more ambivalent feelings. We don't tend to crave them the same way we do cookies. And there may even be some vegetables we loathe so much that if we accidentally eat them, we might spit them out into our napkins when no one is looking. (Hello, celery? I'm talking to you).

On the other hand, there are times, depending on the vegetable and the preparation, when we don't even notice we're eating vegetables. Or, even better--sometimes they actually taste pretty darn good!

But for many of us, the number of servings of vegetables we should be eating a day adds up to way more vegetables than we can pretend to enjoy. Those darn nutritionists keep upping the recommended amount--I've actually seen experts who say nine to eleven servings a day. And holy crap, eleven is a big number when it comes to vegetables!

So for those of us who struggle a bit, here are some reminders about how to get more vegetables in without undue suffering.

1. Seek Out Variety. This is harder than it sounds, because there's something a little bit suspicious about unfamiliar vegetables, isn't there? If it was really tasty and good for us, why didn't we grow up eating it?

Well, the good news is even as a grown up, you can learn to like new ones if you try them a few times. And having a bigger variety cuts down on the "chore" aspect of making sure you get enough.

For example, I didn't grow up with kale, and on first try, I frankly thought it was kind of bitter and yucky. But after a few tries, I actually kind of like it! As it happens, this Blogher post by Kayln has a whole boatload of things you can do with kale.

Don't think you're a broccoli fan? Well over at Kayln's own blog, Kayln's Kitchen, she's got a great sounding recipe for sauteed broccoli with garlic, pine nuts and paremesan. Or, try a new preparation of asparagus--an asparagus medley with cashews, courtesy of Lesbian in the Kitchen. (And thanks, Elisa and Everyday Goddess for the tips!)

2. Take Short Cuts. If you can afford to spend a bit more money, there are a lot more convenient options for fresh produce than there used to be. Remember when you couldn't enjoy fresh spinach without spending forever washing the dang grit out of it? Of course if you've got the time, it still makes sense to buy vegetables in their freshest, most natural state. But if you're trying to encourage more healthy side dishes and snacks, and you're pushed for time, take advantage of all those pre-washed, pre-cut or frozen options that you grab when you just can't face all that scrubbing and chopping.

3. Roast Those Veggies. This trick brings brings out the sweeter flavors, and can turn make otherwise "difficult" vegetables like cauliflower or brussel sprouts into something that actually tastes pretty wonderful. There's a recipe for mixed vegetables over at Make-Ahead Meals for Busy Moms. (And I'm no expert, but I just had roasted cauliflower last night--tossed in a generous slathering of olive oil and garlic, and baked at 400 degrees for about a half hour. Weirdly enough? I loved it!)

4. Don't Fear the Fat. Sure, it's not a great idea to totally drown every vegetable in butter, cream, mayonnaise, or bacon grease. But cooking with a a healthy fat like olive oil can makes a huge difference in flavor. Plus, many of the nutrients in vegetables need some fat to be best absorbed, so you're actually doing yourself a nutritional favor. And heck, if a little bit of butter can turn an otherwise bleak vegetable into something tasty and comforting? Well, I say that's butter well-spent.

Like cheese with your veggies? Check out Melting Mama's cauliflower Mac and Cheese recipe. Haven't tried it yet but it sounds great!

5. Blend Them Beyond Recognition. Regular Cranky Fitness readers know I'm a big fan of the Green Smoothie. Tossing some fresh veggies in a morning smoothie along with fruit and whatever smoothie base you like (milk, yogurt, kefir, fruit juice, protein concoctions, almond milk, etc) is a great sneaky way to get a vegetable in at breakfast. Spinach works especially well, but I've also snuck in bok choy, cauliflower, and asparagus. The trick is not to get too aggressive with the veggies at first, and keep the flavor very much in the background until you get used to it.

6. Dip Them. Use fresh veggies as a conveyance for your favorite healthy dip, like hummus, guacamole, bean dip, or, if you've got some calories to spare, peanut butter!

7. Hide Them. If you've got a favorite guilty convenience food or takeout option, sometimes you can at least redeem the meal somewhat by slipping a lot more veggies into the sauce. I find that while I love Indian food, the ratio of vegetables to sauce at most places is always way too skimpy--so I nuke whatever I've got around and toss it in there--makes for more leftovers too.

And if you're making soups or stews, you may notice that cooking things for a hell of a long time gives you the ability to cram more veggies in there--because some of them sort of dissolve and become part of the broth. (And you can use a blender to encourage this. Especially if you have picky kids at home, because "invisible" vegetables cause much less whining than visible ones.)

8. Take advantage of Farmer's Markets or Grow your Own: Fresh vegetables are sweeter and tastier than those that have been shipped from halfway 'round the world. So if you live somewhere where it's feasible, go for the freshest stuff you can find.

9. Salads Don't Have to be Boring: It's so easy to get into a fixed routine with salads, and before long you may feel like you never want to eat another one again. But it's amazing how changing up your dressing or adding a couple of new ingredients can make a salad something to look forward to again. Try goat cheese, pine nuts, fruit, avocado slices, or other healthy but tasty toppings. A few extra calories may be worth it to make the salad seem like something to look forward to rather to endure like a 20 year prison sentence.

So do you get enough veggies? And does anyone have other ideas as to how to get more vegetables into our diets?

[Note: This post is also scheduled to appear at the Blogher 10X club, where, if you're brave enough, you can join us for healthy challenges in the 10X forum].

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