I no longer bother to make New Year’s Resolutions, because I learned long ago that I am most likely not going to stick with them. When it comes to making changes in my life, I will do it when I am fully ready and not a minute before. And the start of a new calendar year is rarely enough to make me feel ready. However, receiving a diagnosis of a major health issue like diabetes is enough make me feel ready instantaneously. Although I was always an active person and a healthy eater, facing diabetes made me commit more fully to a healthful diet and regular exercise. It’s been two years and I am happy to report that for most part, I have stuck hard and fast to this resolution.
Regardless of major health issues, however, we can all use more vegetables in our diet. The old recommendation of five fruits and vegetables per day has been upped to NINE servings, and the majority of those are supposed to be veggies. Let’s face it, cramming 5 to 7 servings of veggies into our daily diet isn’t easy, even when we love them. But as someone who can’t tolerate too much of the sugar in fruits, I’ve become fairly practiced at adding more vegetables to my day. As part of the launch of a new healthy, gluten-free living website called The Balanced Platter, I thought I would share some of my tips with you, along with two of my favourite ways to serve up vegetables.
1. Start at breakfast – this may seem like a no-brainer to some people, but for me this was something of a revelation. In my head, fruit had always been for breakfast, while vegetables were for lunch and dinner. Now I try to get at least two servings of vegetables before lunch time. If I wait until the afternoon, I find myself behind the game and it’s harder to cram them all in. It doesn’t have to be difficult, just throw some chopped vegetables in an omelet or lightly steam them and eat alongside your favourite breakfast foods.
2. Eat your veggies first – Vegetables are full of fiber and water, both of which help us feel full. But when most people sit down to a meal, they eat the meats and starches first, and the vegetables afterward. This means that they are going to eat less of the good stuff, because they feel so full from the other foods. I’ve been guilty of this many a time myself. If we reverse this pattern, and eat the veggies first, we have less room for the proteins and starches.
3. Simple preparations are often the tastiest – there’s no need to come up with fancy recipes for vegetables. Many of them often taste best when raw or lightly cooked. And this is the most nutritious way to eat them anyway, as vegetables lose nutrients when exposed to heat and water. If you don’t like them raw, a quick sauté or stir-fry is the best way to cook them. Just lightly steaming them is not too bad either. The only exception to this rule is soup. When vegetables are cooked in a soup, the nutrients leach out into the broth. As long as you drink all that brothy goodness, you are still getting the best the veggies have to offer.
4. Break out of your salad rut – Ever find yourself eating yet another green salad, chewing through all that lettuce and having it seem like work? Yeah, me too. But changing things up even a little bit can bring a whole new appreciation for salad. Try switching up the kind of lettuce you use, or using a mix of salad greens to vary the flavor. I’ve just recently discovered endive, and I love chopping it up to add a bit of a sharper flavor to my salad. Switch up the toppings and add avocado, nuts, or crumbled feta. Really, the possibilities are only limited by your imagination.
5. Leftovers make great leftovers – Stating the obvious? Perhaps, but it’s a very useful tip. Make more than you and your family can eat, so that you have a ready-made snack or veggie dish the next day. I love adding already cooked vegetables to my morning omelet, because it removes a step when I am in a hurry. I’ve come up with some fantastic combinations, too. I added some leftover Indian Eggplant to a frittata one day and it made for an amazing dinner.
6. Double up in restaurants – Many restaurant meals comprise a protein, a starch and a vegetable side. Let’s face it, that starch is usually just filler. If you are serious about getting more vegetables into your day, ask your server to skip the starch and double your vegetables. Most restaurants are fine with this sort of substitution. As someone who now does this on a regular basis, I can tell you that you will feel satisfied by this meal. And you will have the added benefit of feeling virtuous afterward!
7. Don’t skimp on the dips, dressings and seasonings – Here I am going to depart from your typical nutritional advice and tell you to go for broke if it gets those vegetables into you. There is a great deal of evidence coming to light that it isn’t FAT that makes you fat, but starches and simple carbohydrates. And even saturated fats are not the enemy they were once thought to be. So if drowning your veggies in ranch dressing means you will actually eat them, then do it. My only caveat: use homemade dips and dressings, so you skip all the junk and fillers in the store-bought brands.
Here are two of my favourite quick and delicious vegetable side dishes. Both are incredibly simple, highlight the flavour of the veggies themselves and take under 10 minutes to make. These are so simple, I can’t even call them recipes…
Steamed Cauliflower with Walnut Oil: Cut 1 head of cauliflower into 1-inch florets. Place in a large microwave-safe bowl and add 1 inch of water to the bottom. Cover and microwave on high for 3 minutes. Drain and drizzle with 1/4 cup toasted walnut oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Serves 4-6.
You can also make this with broccoli and you can change up the oils you use. Nut oils really compliment the slightly nutty flavour of cauliflower.
Spicy Stir-Fried Kale: Chop 4 cups of fresh kale, removing stems. In a large skillet, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium high heat. Add kale, two cloves minced garlic, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes and 1/4 tsp salt. Cook, stirring and tossing constantly, until kale is wilted and bright green. Serve immediately.