You probably know that you should eat more veggies. Getting at least 2 1/2 – 3 cups of veggies per day is what’s recommended for optimal health, but most people don’t quite meet the mark. To help, we interviewed our friend Sharon Palmer, RDN, a registered dietitian and nutritionist who has great advice on packing more veggies into your diet in tasty and easy ways. Her new book, “Plant-Powered for Life”, is loaded with 125 veggie-packed recipes. You can find out more about Sharon, all of her books, and her delicious recipes on her website.
Read on for Sharon’s veggie tips.
Q: What are your favorite tips for getting younger kids to eat more veggies?
- Expose them to veggies! Studies show that if you expose kids to veggies—simply place them on their plate or at the table—they become more familiar with them and are more likely to try them. Don’t assume they won’t ever try them!
- Let kids get interactive with veggies. That means letting them cook in the kitchen with kid-friendly vegetable recipes, such as veggies on pizza, veggie appetizers such as a basket full of crudités, or adding veggies to a pasta sauce. Another way to get kids interactive with veggies is to include menu ideas that have an activity; such as dipping vegetable sticks (jicama, celery, carrot, snow peas) into a dip.
- Get creative. Let a blank plate be a canvas for kids to create broccoli “trees”, cauliflower “clouds”, and yellow squash “daisies”.
- Get up close and personal with veggies. Let your kids grow a green bean plant in a pot—a really fun exercise. Visit the farmers market where kids can try all sorts of produce and even talk to farmers who grew the food.
- Don’t be afraid to “hide” veggies. Studies show that this can work! Although I don’t recommend ONLY hiding veggies, you can get more of these healthy foods into the diet by mixing them into breads, muffins, pancakes (zucchini, carrots); pasta sauces (onions, celery, peppers, carrots); and smoothies (greens, carrots, beets, celery).
Q: If a parent is trying to get a teen to eat more veggies, what are some positive ways to do this?
- Find out what motivates your teen, as each teenager can be different! This can be the age where some teens start putting together the pieces on health and wellbeing. They may want to look and feel better. Eating veggies is a positive message. It’s not a concept they often rebel against as a teenager. Eating veggies is a “yes” message. You can tell them eating lots of veggies can help make their skin look better, help them perform better in school and sports, and look better overall.
- This is also an age that finds many kids starting to enjoy really good food, such as ethnic food, gourmet food, and more. Don’t be afraid to start getting more creative in the kitchen with veggie offerings, such as making tofu vegetable stir-fry, Thai noodle vegetable soup, or kale lasagna.
- Start a salad habit! As teens are developing and maturing, they may start to pick up some more grown-up eating habits, such as including a fresh, crisp salad at each meal, even when they’re opting for more classic teenage fare, such as burgers and pizza.
Q: Do you have any favorite super-fast veggie-packed dinners for weeknights when you only have 20 minutes but don’t want to order out?
A: My kids love my curried vegetable dish. I quickly sauté whatever fresh veggies I have on hand, such as onions, peppers, celery, carrots, and summer squash. Then I season it with garlic, ginger, garam masala (an Indian spice blend), canned tomatoes, and lite coconut milk. You can add cubed chicken or tofu to the mixture, depending on your family’s preference. I serve this over whole grain basmati rice. They love this meal, and you can cook it fast! My Orange Peanut Tempeh Stir-Fry with Red Rice is another fast, family-approved meal.
Q: What are your favorite veggie-loaded ways to use canned salmon and/or tuna?
A: My family’s favorite way to enjoy canned tuna is in a classic comfort food, tuna noodle casserole. I like to include a bright, flavorful vegetable when I do pasta dishes like this, such as green peas or broccoli. I make my own quick white sauce, thickening milk (or plant-based milk if preferred) with a bit of flour and seasoning it with a touch of olive oil, garlic, herbs (i.e. dill, basil, or oregano), and a pinch of black pepper and sea salt. Just boil up the pasta with the veggies included for about 8 minutes (not overcooked). Drain pasta and veggies and stir in white sauce and tuna. Place in a casserole dish in the oven and bake for 30 minutes until bubbly and golden.
Q: So many people were raised on over-steamed, mushy veggies. What preparation method do you think is the best for converting mush-fearful people into veggie believers?
A: I think this is a major stumbling block for people learning to love veggies—they didn’t have good ones when growing up! My favorite way to cook vegetables is the Mediterranean way. I simply sauté any fresh vegetable in a touch of olive oil and a splash of water until crisp-tender. You can add garlic, herbs, and a pinch of sea salt, too.
Another way is roasting vegetables; this brings out all of the wonderful caramelized flavors! Simply place any vegetable in a dish, drizzle with a tiny bit of olive oil and add seasonings as desired. Place in the oven on the top rack and cook at 375 degrees for about 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the vegetable, until golden brown and tender.
Q: In addition to main courses, we also love a great veggie-laden side dish. Can you tell us some of your favorites and/or any tricks you have for the best way jazz up a veggie side?
A: I love to sauté whole grains, such as cooked wheat berries, farro, rice, or quinoa, with a bit of olive oil, garlic, onions, and another vegetable, such as asparagus or zucchini. My kids love this, and it’s easy! Pasta dishes are always so delicious with an addition of veggies, such as tomatoes, spinach, or summer squash.
Q: And finally . . . if you could only eat one veggie for the rest of your life, which one would you choose (and why)?
A: That’s a tough one! I love them all! But I simply can’t live without green leafy vegetables, such as kale, spinach, arugula, and romaine. I eat a deep green fresh salad every day. My refrigerator ALWAYS contains a deep green leafy vegetable.
How do you pack more veggies into your daily meals and snacks? Let us know in the comments below!