These shortcuts to healthy eating are a great way to celebrate National Nutrition Month
March is National Nutrition Month, and the theme for 2018 is “Go Further with Food”—which is about gaining more nutrients but also saving money. One way to improve your diet is to increase your vegetable intake. Almost everyone could benefit from more veggies on a daily basis. Even vegetarians often rely more on carbs and starches than the nutrient-rich vegetables that give our bodies and brains the vitamins they need to function throughout the day.
Lots of us are looking for ways to lose weight without a gimmick, and focusing on eating more vegetables does your weight a favor, since you’ll be filling up on nutritious foods that are less dense in calories. You’re also likely to eat smaller portions of less-healthy options—such as meat and processed foods—if you’re eating a lot of vegetables.
Here are some strategies for working more veggies into your daily rotation. Sample a few of these ideas and you’ll be well on your way to eating and feeling better!
- Keep frozen veggies on hand. They are easy to steam in the microwave in just a few minutes.
- Look out for vegetables in prepackaged bags that you can put directly into the microwave.
- Bags of baby carrots may be the easiest vegetable of all. They are pre-washed, inexpensive, and handy. You can pack them in a lunch, eat them with a meal, or grab some for a snack.
Keep it raw
Some raw vegetables don’t require chopping, since you can eat them whole, like baby carrots, mushrooms, pea pods, or cherry tomatoes. Others require a little prep time. Set aside half an hour a week to cut up some raw veggies you like—try squash, zucchini, broccoli, or cauliflower—and keep them in a clear container in the fridge. Add a little hummus for dipping and you have a satisfying snack.
Let color be your guide
Make a salad more interesting by adding some vegetables that are rich in color. Slice some red onion, try a yellow or orange pepper, or add grated purple cabbage for a splash of color. Cooked acorn squash or sweet potato make a bright and yummy addition. Grating radishes adds a little extra kick of spice as well as color.
Focus on textures
Part of what makes vegetables interesting is their texture. Pair something crunchy like raw greens with something creamy like sliced avocado. Cooked veggies in a salad are also a good way to mix things up.
Make salads accessible
- Choose pre-washed bags of greens, such as baby spinach. This turns making a salad into a snap—just pour the greens into a bowl, add some cherry tomatoes and a little dressing, and it's ready.
- Buy pre-mixed bags of salad for easy fixings. The greens are already washed and they often combine other healthy ingredients (such as nuts, seeds, dried fruit) that make things crunchy and tasty.
Work veggies into a smoothie
Morning smoothies are an easy way to sneak in a couple of servings of vegetables. You can toss in any cooked vegetable from the night before, but greens are a good option because they tend to be packed with vitamins. If you freeze raw baby spinach, you always have some on hand to add to your fruit and yogurt concoction. Don’t let the color of the smoothie put you off!
Make healthier eggs
If you’re someone who likes to start the day with eggs, then there’s an opportunity to work in a serving or two of vegetables. Simply add cut up onions, peppers, mushrooms, or spinach to your omelet, or—even easier—scramble them along with the eggs.
Add veggies to other dishes
- Shred some carrots and add them to meatloaf or a casserole.
- Breads and muffins can benefit from the flavor of grated zucchini.
- When you make pasta sauce, add chopped vegetables such as carrots, squash, and mushrooms.
- Make a lasagna and add a layer of portobello mushrooms or thinly sliced squash.
Fire up the grill
Veggies are great grilled—it really heightens their flavor. So thread some chunks of peppers, mushrooms, carrots, and potatoes onto a skewer, brush with a little olive oil, and get those over the flames. These are delicious on their own or mixed into a salad.
Discover the joys of roasting
Cooking veggies doesn’t have to be labor-intensive. If you toss bite-size pieces in some olive oil and season them with salt and pepper, they’re ready to go onto a cookie sheet and into a 400-degree oven. You can use this technique to make yummy veggie “fries” out of carrots, asparagus, and even green beans. They get a little wrinkly and brown, but the roasting brings out the natural sweetness. Broccoli and cauliflower are great, too.
Try a new vegetable entrée
A stir fry is a good way to get in several servings of veggies. Once you cut up mushrooms, peppers, broccoli, carrots, and sugar snap peas, simply sauté them in some oil with garlic and ginger. (Or you can buy stir-fry oil that already has these flavors added). Top with bottled stir-fry sauce or make your own with chicken broth, soy sauce, and cornstarch.
Tips for eating out
- Begin each meal with a small side salad.
- Always order a side of greens or some other vegetable. You can do this in lieu of, or in addition to, fries or a potato. The important thing is that your plate comes with plenty of vegetables.
- When you order a pizza, add a few veggies as toppings. Try broccoli, peppers, mushrooms, or a combination. Ask for extra veggies instead of extra cheese!
Looking for new recipe ideas? There are tons of online sources, but there’s one from the USDA called “What’s Cooking” that has lots of healthy options.
We hope these suggestions have inspired you to feel you can add some vegetables to your meals without much extra effort. You’ll feel better and know that you’re celebrating National Nutrition Month by helping your overall health. Keep the focus on veggies going throughout the month and into the spring!
This article is part of the weekly blog of the American College for Medical Careers in Orlando, FL. We care about the health and wellness of all of our students. We invite you to learn more about any of our professional training programs, including Dental Assisting, Medical Assisting, and Medical Billing and Coding. Please visit us online or call (407)-738-4488. We hope to hear from you!