EAT YOUR VEGETABLES: 15 TIPS FOR VEGGIE HATERS
Try these easy ways to get more vegetables into your diet. By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Expert Column
Vegetables are one of those foods people either love or hate. The problem with hating vegetables is that they are arguably the most health-promoting food group on the planet. If you aren’t eating vegetables, you aren’t getting all their amazing components like fiber, antioxidants, and other powerful Phytochemicals.
So what’s a veggie-hater to do? People who think they hate vegetables can definitely learn to embrace this colorful food group. But before we talk tips, we need to understand what causes some people to scatter when broccoli is served.
Are veggie haters born, or made? The answer seems to be both. Some of us have negative veggie experiences from our childhood that come back to haunt us as adults. Maybe you were forced to eat vegetables, or had to plow through a stack of green beans to get to dessert. Maybe you were served overcooked, mushy vegetables. Or perhaps some time in your life, you were on a fad diet where all you could eat were certain vegetables.
I trace my distaste for peas to a childhood memory of having to choke down a pile of them before I could be excused from the table. To this day you will never see me eat a spoonful of peas. I won’t pick them out of a casserole or fried rice, mind you, but they stand, 40 years later, as my least favorite vegetable (no offense, Green Giant).
“If veggies are only served in ways that don’t match your personal flavor preferences, they won’t seem exciting,” explains Karen Collins, MS, RD, nutrition advisor for the American Institute for Cancer Research. So if you love spicy food, you won’t like veggies served plain; or if you love simple, earthy flavors, veggies covered with rich sauce won’t appeal.
But there are also innate physical reasons why some people have an aversion to certain vegetables. According to Collins, a genetic trait has been identified that seems to make some people have extra- sensitive receptors for bitter tastes.
“They are sometimes dubbed ‘super tasters’ and they make up about 25% of the population,” says Collins.
The vegetables that tend to be the bitter offenders are cruciferous vegetables (those from the cabbage family, including broccoli and cauliflower), some of the leafy greens, and eggplant.
But there are ways to tame the bitter taste in these nutrition-packed vegetables. Check out the tips below for help on this, and for more ways to get vegetables past the lips of even confirmed veggie haters.
Eat More Vegetables Tip No. 1: Add veggies you almost like to dishes you already love.
Layer zucchini slices, chopped spinach, or cooked carrots into lasagna. Stir broccoli florets into macaroni and cheese. Toss whatever veggies you like (tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms, broccoli, asparagus) into an omelet or quesadilla.
Eat More Vegetables Tip No. 2: Try them in soup.
Embellish your favorite soups with added veggies. Some homemade soups already contain a nice amount of vegetables, but most canned and commercial choices can stand to have their veggie quota bumped up.
I love adding carrots to chicken noodle soup, and edamame or green beans to minestrone. Just add the raw or frozen vegetables while you are cooking or heating the soup.
Eat More Vegetables Tip No. 3: Slip them into salads.
Load your salads with all the veggies you enjoy (or at least tolerate). The options include cucumber, grated carrots, zucchini, green beans, onions, radishes, jicama, tomato, broccoli or cauliflower florets. You can even use spinach leaves instead of lettuce.
Eat More Vegetables Tip No. 4: Serve them raw.
Raw veggies can be more appetizing than their cooked counterparts to people who aren’t crazy about vegetables. The flavors of raw veggies can be milder than those of cooked ones. And the texture is crispy, rather than mushy.
Eat More Vegetables Tip No. 5: Take raw vegetables skinny dipping.
There’s nothing like a little light ranch dressing or onion dip to make a platter of raw veggies disappear. Make it super easy by using bottled light ranch, bleu cheese, or Italian dressing. To make light onion dip, stir onion soup mix into some fat-free or light sour cream.
Eat More Vegetables Tip No. 6: Sneak them into spaghetti and pizza.
Most people like spaghetti and pizza, which makes them a good place to sneak in some vegetables. Chop any vegetables your family likes (zucchini, onions, eggplant, broccoli, celery, carrots) and add them to the spaghetti sauce. The smaller you chop them, the less likely anyone will notice that they’re there. Vegetables can also be a tempting topping for your pizza, adding fiber and nutrients. Any combination of the following will work well: fresh tomato, onion, bell pepper, mushroom, zucchini, artichoke hearts, fresh basil leaves, and chopped spinach.
Eat More Vegetables Tip No. 7: Drink your vegetables.
There are several good veggie juices on the market (V-8 or carrot juice), even veggie-fruit juice blends that taste great. Or, create your own veggie blend juice by blending some carrot juice with a fruit juice (like mango, tangerine, or orange juice).
Eat More Vegetables Tip No. 8: Increase the fun factor.
Let’s face it: some vegetables are just more fun to eat than others. Corn on the cob (especially when grilled) continues to be fun into adulthood. So are veggie kabobs, and celery sticks filled with natural peanut butter or light cream cheese. And a zucchini half, tomato, bell pepper, or portobello mushroom stuffed with a savory filling can be as elegant as it is fun.
Eat More Vegetables Tip No. 9: Grill, baby, grill!
After you take your meat off the grill, why waste the hot coals? You’ll be amazed at how great grilled veggies taste. Before grilling, just brush veggies lightly with canola or olive oil, light Italian dressing, or the same marinade you’re using for your meat (make sure to use marinade that hasn’t touched the raw meat). Large pieces can go straight onto the grill (portobello mushrooms, zucchini halves, large pieces of eggplant, asparagus spears). String smaller pieces onto a skewer for a veggie kabob.
Eat More Vegetables Tip No. 10: Know how to cook the stronger flavored veggies.
The strongest tasting (and smelling) vegetables are those in the cruciferous family, along with some greens, and raw eggplant. Keep in mind that generally, the longer you cook these veggies, the stronger their odor and flavor will be. The exception is eggplant, which becomes milder with cooking.
Cruciferous vegetables include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts. Some research has found that people who dislike cruciferous vegetables tend to have a sensitivity for tasting a substance known as PROP (a bitter tasting component).
To cut the bitterness of these veggies, there a few tricks you can have up your sleeve. Add a little olive oil (or other fat) when stir-frying or sauteing; add something salty or sour (like a drizzle of light soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, lemon, or shredded Parmesan); or glaze the vegetables with something sweet (a small spoonful of honey or orange marmalade).
Eat More Vegetables Tip No. 11: Try them where you least expect them.
You might be surprised at how well vegetables can complement the featured ingredients in many of your favorite foods. Roasted red pepper, roasted or sun-dried tomato, and/or grilled eggplant all work well in hot or cold sandwiches. Raw tomato, spinach leaves, fresh basil, grated carrots, sprouts, sliced or grated zucchini, shredded cabbage (green or purple) go well in sandwiches, wraps, and pitas. Add grated or finely chopped vegetables to meat loaf, pasta fillings (such as manicotti), and fillings for Mexican entree fillings like tacos, enchiladas, and flautas.
Eat More Vegetables Tip No. 12: Be sensitive to textural turn-offs.
If your experience is mostly with canned or overcooked vegetables, give them a “fresh” start. You might be more willing to eat vegetables prepared in more texturally pleasing ways (lightly cooked stir-fry veggies, raw veggies, or veggies lightly cooked in a steamer or microwave, just to the point where they’re slightly tender but still have a nice crunch. Minimal cooking also keeps the color is bright and appealing. Consider a bright green asparagus spear, cooked just until crisp-tender. Then think about overcooked or yellow vegetables that are beyond soft.
Eat More Vegetables Tip No. 13: Even fast-food vegetables count.
You can even get vegetables at your favorite fast-food chain — as long as you like salads, that is. Look for side salads or salads made with grilled chicken and choose the light or reduced-calorie dressing. Use half of the packet of dressing (it’s plenty), and you’ll be adding just about 25-50 calories and 0-4 grams of fat to your salad.
Eat More Vegetables Tip No. 14: Don’t reward your kids (or yourself) for eating vegetables.
“Studies suggest that when we are rewarded for eating something, then the reward becomes the treat and we will not see the food itself as enjoyable,” notes Collins. When this is standard table practice for vegetables, we’re taught indirectly that the vegetables are the punishment we have to get through to reach our reward.
Eat More Vegetables Tip No. 15: It’s all about the cheese.
When all else fails, you can always sprinkle a little grated, reduced-fat cheese over the top. If cheese sauce is more your style, drizzle it over vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower and suddenly, it’s a whole different ball game. Here’s a recipe for Lower Fat 3-Cheese Sauce. There are also delicious recipes for vegan dairy-free cheese.
Drizzle this creamy sauce over steamed veggies for a tasty change of pace.
2 tablespoons of flour
1 1/4 cups of low-fat milk or fat-free half-and-half
2 ounces of part-skim Jarlsberg (or reduced-fat Swiss) cheese, grated 2 1/2 ounces of reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon of pepper
1. In a small saucepan, blend flour with 2 tablespoons of the milk or half-and-half to form a smooth paste. Using a wire whisk, slowly blend in remaining milk until smooth. Simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened.
2. Reduce heat and add cheeses, garlic powder, and pepper. Stir until well blended and cheese has melted. 3. Remove from heat and use as desired.
Per serving: 99 calories, 9 g protein, 5 g carbohydrate, 4.8 g fat (3 g saturated fat, 1.4 g monounsaturated fat, 0.2 g polyunsaturated fat), 15 mg cholesterol, 0.1 g fiber, 177 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 44%.