Some days, I really don’t want to eat vegetables. I’m a trained Nutritional Therapist who values the amazing nutrient density of vegetables, but I have days when I just don’t want to eat them. Most often, my reason is that it seems like so much effort to prepare them. Washing, peeling, chopping, cooking. But then I remind myself that over the years I’ve learned how to eat more vegetables with minimal effort, and I’m sharing all these strategies with you.
Less often, my reason is because I want to eat french fries instead. Which, for the record, I do not consider vegetables. I consider them to be delicious fried potatoes (99% of the time in vegetable oil) with no nutritional value. Sometimes they are totally worth it and I eat them guilt-free. But I find it a little bit of a tragedy that they are a significant percentage of the ‘vegetables’ our children eat.
While that study is from 2009, it seems that in more recent data the trend continues for adults as well. According to this study from 2014, the majority of vegetables Americans eat (51%) are potatoes and tomatoes, most often in the form of french friends, potato chips, and pizza sauce. And this study from 2015 shows that only 9% (nine percent!) of American adults are meeting the daily recommended amount of vegetables.
It’s pretty clear that we have a problem with vegetables. What if eating fresh veggies was as easy as hitting the drive-thru for french fries or calling for a pizza? I can’t promise that it’s that easy, but I do think it can be much easier than many of us think.
Why You Want to Eat More Veggies
I can’t imagine that anyone will disagree with me that eating more veggies is a good thing. But this is the internet, so you never know. The importance of a diet rich in vegetables could fill an entire book, and I’m sure there are plenty out there, but here are my favorite reasons to eat vegetables:
- Vegetables are micronutrient (mineral and vitamin) power houses.
- Vegetables are full of phytochemicals, which aren’t considered ‘essential nutrients’, but are needed for optimal health and disease prevention. So, essential.
- Vegetables are a great source of another non-essential nutrient that is actually oh-so-essential: fiber.
- Vegetables are a great way to lower your risk for many diseases.
Wherever your veggie consumption is currently, consider adding another serving or two per day. Find a way to up your intake that works for you, and continue increasing as you are able. There’s no need to change overnight from one serving of broccoli with dinner to six servings throughout the day.
Not sure how many vegetables you should be eating? The USDA recommendations are for 2 – 3 cups of vegetables per day for adults. I personally aim for about six servings per day, which could be any number of cups depending on what vegetables I’m eating.
For me, this means I (roughly) eat two veggies per meal and they make up at about 50% of each meal, measured by what’s on my plate (I don’t count calories or macros, so I have no idea what my break downs look like in terms of numbers). My breakfasts tend to be a little lower and my lunch a littler higher, but in general I like to consume around 50% of my food volume in the form of veggies.
Outside of the reasons listed above, I feel really good when my diet is high in vegetables. I sleep better, have better energy, clearer skin, and better digestion when my veggie intake is high. I’m sure it’s a combo of the benefits of vegetables themselves and a reduction in whatever else is taking up room on my plate when I’m not eating as many veggies.
How to Eat More Vegetables Without a Ton of Effort
Eating vegetables does not have to be complicated if you don’t want it to be. There are simple ways to start incorporating more veggies into your diet. I’m a self-declared lazy cook who likes to eat as healthfully (and deliciously) as reasonable. Over the years I’ve come up with several ways to eat more vegetables while still keeping things super simple in the kitchen.
#1: Eat veggies at breakfast.
I’m not sure why, but breakfast has become a completely different set of food than lunch and dinner (at least here in the US), and often it doesn’t include vegetables. It’s tough to fit in six or so servings of vegetables per day when we skip them entirely during one meal. Adding just a single serving of veg to your breakfast helps.
My favorite ways to eat veggies at breakfast are making a frittata with leftover veggies (recent ones here and here), sautéing a side of spinach with scrambled eggs, eating mashed sweet potatoes (made ahead of time in the Instant Pot) with eggs and blueberries (for some reason it’s always this combo), or dropping a fried egg or two in a big bowl of veggie soup.
I realize all of these ideas have egg, and that is because I am eggs’ number one fan. If you aren’t someone who looks forward to eggs every single morning , or don’t/can’t eat them, try a root veggie hash, a green smoothie bowl, or replace the usual side of fruit with a side of veggies.
#2: Make your snacks count.
Like breakfast, snack time is another time of day when it’s easy to add in a serving of vegetables. If your regular snack includes crackers or chips, how able replacing with crunchy raw veggies?
I’m a huge fan of veggies and dips for snacks. I like the crunch of raw veggies and I’m not sure I need to explain why I like dips. (Does anyone not like dips? I need to know this.) Celery sticks, baby carrots, mushrooms, and bell pepper strips are my favorite, and I love to pair them with hummus, peanut butter, or my easy guacamole.
Another favorite is cherry tomatoes, avocado chunks, sea salt, and balsamic vinegar. Or asparagus wrapped with prosciutto (this one feels fancy). I should also add kale chips to the list, but I just can’t. THEY ARE NOT CHIPS. Let’s all agree to call them ‘kale bites’ or something from now on.
#3: Get your (veggie) soup on.
We’re going into the time of year when soup sounds good ALL THE TIME, and veggie soup is awesome. It’s full of nutrients from both veggies and bone broth, which make it such a winner for the winter months.
Veggie soup is so simple to make. My ‘formula’ is to simmer two pounds peeled (if necessary) and chopped veggies in four cups of broth. Then I add seasonings like salt, pepper, and spices. Once veggies are super tender (thrity-ish minutes depending on the veggie), I take out my stick blender, puree, and voila, veggie soup. Also known as four servings of vegetables ready for the fridge. You can double this formula and freeze, which I do often. (Make sure to freeze soups in something freezer-safe, like wide-mouthed mason jars.)Want to add more veggies to your diet? Check out my seven simple ways to eat more vegetables. Click To Tweet
#4: Embrace the salad.
Salads are the easiest way to eat multiple servings of vegetables in one bowl, and I typically eat a big one for at least one meal a day. When eating them this often, they can get boring if you don’t change it up from time to time. Here’s how I keep mine interesting:
- I vary the base. Butter lettuce, romaine, spinach, arugula, kale, etc. Switch it up weekly, mix and match, however you want to do it.
- I add lots of toppings. First, I start with veggies to get another serving or two in. I rough chop broccoli, cucumbers, mushrooms, peppers, etc. and toss them in. If I have leftover cooked veggies, like sweet potatoes or beets, I toss them in, too. Then I add whatever else I have on had, like berries, pumpkin seeds, chopped or sliced nuts, or dried fruit.
- I use yummy dressings. I have a super basic vinaigrette for when I need a dressing in a hurry (or I just dump olive oil and apple cider vinegar on it if I’m really pressed for time). When I have more time, I make my taco salad dressing (that tastes good on any salad, really), or a mayo based dressing, like this copycat of the Costco kale salad dressing.
If I’m eating a salad for lunch, I typically pile a protein right on top. My favorites are canned salmon, rotisserie chicken or baked/grilled chicken thighs, or leftover ground meat. If it’s a dinner salad, it’s most likely a side dish to our protein and another cooked veggie. There is no reasoning behind either of these, expect that this is how I do it. You do you.
Pro tip: Salads become infinitely easier if you also follow #6.
#5: Stick with your favorites.
Every time I hear a variation of “pick a new vegetable that you’ve never had at the market each week” I get a little twitchy. I mean, I get it. There is no denying that a diet rich in varied, seasonal vegetables is a good thing. A really good thing. But that also means researching and cooking this new vegetable, which takes time away from life.
I am not into making things harder than they need to be, so if gourmet cooking is not your hobby, permission granted to not buy that new veggie at the store. We all know it will just be composted in three weeks, anyway.
You know what’s a heck of a lot better than no veggies? Eating your favorite ones every single week, cooked the same damn way. After eight years of enjoying amazing weekly vegetable boxes in both San Francisco and Seattle, I realized this summer that it just isn’t our season right now. We are in a ‘buy giant bags of vegetables at Costco or Trader Joe’s’ season, and I’m totally okay with that. So we eat salads, green beens, broccoli, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and cherry tomatoes 90% of the time. We all like them, I can prep and cook them quickly, and they don’t end up wasted.
Do what works for you.
#6: Splurge on prepared veggies.
When it comes to our food budget, I prioritize humanely raised meats and fat, quickly followed by really easy to prepare and cook vegetables. (Here are tips on how to save money on organic food, if that’s important to you.) Precut, shredded, and/or bagged veggies cost a little more, but they are much easier to get on the table and the cost is worth it to me.
Trader Joe’s has the best selection, followed by Costco. My regular purchases are precut and washed lettuce and other greens, shredded cabbage mixes and Brussels sprouts, pre-washed and cut broccoli, beans, mushrooms, and asparagus, and cooked beets (because no purple hands).
And don’t forget frozen veggies! I’m a big fan of frozen root veggies particularly, as I mentioned in my article about real food for toddlers, because I find them to be a HUGE time saver. You don’t have to wash, peel, or cut! I can cook just as much as I need and toss the rest back in the freezer. I sauté frozen sweet potato and beets for us all the time for breakfast, and always make an extra portion for the kiddo’s daycare lunch.
Prepared veggies means that I create a lot of waste, and it’s something with which I’ve come to terms. My family’s health is my priority and right now this is how I can make a vegetable rich diet work for us. We do our best to recycle and compost. For now, it is what it is.
#7: Add a veggie boost whenever possible.
You don’t always need to think about full servings of vegetables. Consider where you can add veggies to up the nutrient quotient just a bit. For me, it’s usually with meatballs, salmon or tuna cakes, and ground meats. I take whatever leftover veggies we’ve got in the fridge, chop them small, and add them right in. It’s not usually enough to make up a full serving, but it’s something!
What’s your favorite way to prep and/or cook veggies? Leave your ideas in the comments so we can all learn new simple ways to eat more veggies!