As we finish out this week of the challenge, my last tip has to do with the way you structure your meals. In our society, meals are usually built around meat, with other food groups coming in to take a supporting role. I'm asking you to flip this on its head. Instead, focus first on the vegetables and fruits and then add in your meat or other protein option. When you do this, not only will you increase the quantity of produce in your diet, but you'll also be filling up on those fruits and veggies, which may help with weight loss, if that is your goal. For some, this might be difficult. If you're so used to thinking about your meals with only one structure, you may feel lost for how to switch it up. To ease into this idea, a likely familiar option is a stir fry. Choose a variety of veggies that you love and cook them in a pan with a little oil. Then, consider your protein option, whether it be chicken, grass-fed beef, pork, or tofu. Serve over brown rice and you've got an easy, plant-centric meal that is sure to please everyone. Another great way to get inspiration for this style of cooking is to look at websites like 101 Cookbooks and Vegetarian Times or buy a couple of vegetarian cookbooks. Resources like these will often have recipes that are chock full of produce and you can always add in a little meat if that is a deal breaker for you. However, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and try a vegetarian recipe now and then (come on in, the water's warm). By simply incorporating these recipes into your repertoire you'll start thinking about food in a whole new way and increase the produce in your life. So get out there and get cooking!
Frequenting your local farmers market is an excellent way to become more involved in your community. It also gives you access to locally grown, seasonal produce and the ability to talk directly with the farmer who grew it. Eating food that is in season and hasn't traveled thousands of miles to your plate means that the product quality is superb. The flavor of these foods is so much better than anything else you could buy. When I hear that people don't like a particular fruit or vegetable, I often wonder if the real issue is that they haven't had it at the peak of freshness. You may find that you enjoy something that you previously thought you didn't like at all. Another plus is that you'll be able to purchase produce that you can't find at the grocery store. From heirloom varieties of the classics you already know to vegetables you may have never heard of, the options will amaze you. Having this kind of variety in your diet will help to ensure you're getting all the nutrients you need, keep you from getting bored with your meals, and allow you to discover your knew favorites. To find a market in your area, check out Local Harvest or the USDA National Farmers Market Directory. Happy shopping!
for boosting the nutritional content of your favorite dishes. Now let me clarify, I'm not talking about doing this in place of eating fruits and veggies on their own. It's still important to have those foods on your plate, especially when it comes to kids. You don't want to send the message that produce isn't important. This is in addition to any other produce you might eat. Simply puree any fruit or vegetable of your choice and then start experimenting. For example, you could add these mixtures to pasta sauce or a stew. In baking, simply replace some or all of the oil with an equal volume of puree, like I did in these sweet potato waffles. One tip, if you need to cook the food before pureeing, is to steam or roast it rather than boiling to retain as many of the nutrients as possible. This way, you're not pouring them down the drain with your cooking liquid. So get creative and try something new! Who knows, you might just stumble upon a delicious combination.
Making soup is an easy way to get more veggies in your life that can be tailored to fit any taste. With a great recipe or a little creativity of your own, you can whip up something that can be satisfying as a meal, a side/starter, or even a snack. One of the best parts about soups is there are no rules. You can add in whatever ingredients you have on hand or use up food that you don't think you'll be able to eat before it spoils.If you make a big batch, you can freeze the leftovers and have your delicious soup whenever you want a no-fuss lunch or didn't make it to the store and have nothing to cook for dinner. This is also a great place to use any homemade stock. So go make some soup and enjoy the yummy results!
As I've mentioned before, one of my favorite, go-to methods for cooking any vegetable is roasting. It's simple and, once you know the basic recipe, the possibilities are endless. In general, you toss whatever vegetable(s) you've chosen with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and any other spices or herbs you like. Then you spread them out in one layer on a baking sheet and roast in a 400 °F oven for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. The cooking time will depend on the vegetable(s) you're using and how big or small you cut the pieces.
Roasted Butternut Squash and Broccoli
1.25 lbs butternut squash, 1-inch cubes
3/4 lb broccoli florets
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
1. Preheat over to 400 °F.
2. Toss squash and broccoli with olive oil, salt and pepper.
3. Spread mixture in a single layer on a baking sheet. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Slipping in more fruits and vegetables at snack time is a great way to up your produce intake. Instead of turning to options like granola bars, crackers, chips, or other vending machine fare, come over to the fresher side of things. You can go as simple or get as creative as you like. The point is to find something that you like and that fits in with your lifestyle so you can keep it up, rather than struggling and feeling like it's a chore. Honestly, this can be just as convenient as those pre-packaged snacks, with a little planning. Cut up veggies over the weekend and divide into snack sized portions so you can grab them right out of the fridge. Mix up a fruit salad that can easily be spooned into a container for later or served up after school. Here are some ideas to get your started.
- Veggies with hummus for dipping
- Fruit salad
- Beans and chopped veggies mixed with lemon juice or vinegar, oil, and your favorite spices (make a big batch and keep it in the refrigerator)
- Plain yogurt topped with fresh fruit
- Banana with peanut butter
- Celery with peanut butter
- Smoothie made with plain yogurt, berries, and spinach
- Cup of vegetable soup
- Sliced fruit (apples, pears, orange, peaches, etc.) with plain yogurt for dipping
- Lettuce roll-ups
- Fruit and/or veggie skewers
What's your favorite way to snack on fruits and veggies?
Breakfast is one meal where most people don't get in a ton a veggies, if any at all. An easy way to remedy this is to make an omelet that is chock full of your favorites. You can put whatever you like in yours, but here is the recipe for my typical omelet.
Vegetable Stuffed Omelet
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup onion, diced
1/3 cup white button mushrooms (about 3), chopped
1.5 cup spinach, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
Pinch of salt
Pepper to taste
Salsa and/or hot sauce
1/4 avocado, chopped
1. Heat oil in a small pan on medium heat. Add onion to pan and cooked until soft and slightly browned, about 2 minutes.
2. Add mushrooms to pan and cook until soft, about 2 minutes. Then, add spinach to pan and whilt, about 2 minutes more. Spread vegetables to cover bottom on pan.
3. Mix cheese into eggs. Poor mixture into pan over vegetables. Cook until eggs begin to set up, then add salt and pepper. Once eggs are no longer runny, fold omelet or (if you're like me) flip to cook other side.
4. Plate omelet and cover with your favorite hot sauce and/or salsa. Top with chopped avocado and enjoy!
Moving into our next week of the challenge, our focus will be on increasing the fruits and vegetables in our diets. Improving your diet is so often about what you can't have, but this week is all about adding things in. When you add more produce to your diet, you will increase the water, fiber, vitamin, and mineral content. Also, eating more fruits and veggies can help with weight maintenance and weight loss as it will fill you up and help you feel satisfied, pushing out higher calorie options. This week, we will approach this goal from two different directions: adding more produce dishes to your diet as well as incorporating it into foods you may already enjoy. By doing both of these, it will be that much easier to amp up the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat every day. If you're not a produce fan, do not fear. Remember that the way you prepare a food can make all a difference. Don't think you like broccoli? Try steaming, sauteing, roasting, serving with a tomato sauce, or blending it into a soup. Also, it can take several exposures before you can really determine if you like a food or not and, because your tastes change as you get older, foods you may have despised as a child might taste delicious to you now. You don't have to like everything, but the more you try and experiment, you might be surprised to discover your new favorite vegetable.