Vegetables are good for us. We need them to stay strong, healthy and at an optimal weight. There are components in vegetables that have been proven to help give us energy, keep our heart healthy and even prevent cancer. The USDA is now recommending 7-9 vegetables to get all of these proven benefits. The question before us now is how to fit all of these veggies into a daily diet. Starting the day with greens, mixing them into well-known dishes and spicing up traditional cooking methods are just a start to the tips provided below to start getting those 7-9.
Vegetables for breakfast?
Absolutely. Start the day off right with a balanced meal that begins with a little protein, a bit of whole grain and a dash of the green stuff. Beginning the day with vegetables allows a jump-start on achieving that goal of 7-9 per day. If a morning bagel is a typical craving then why not replace it with a piece of whole grain toast topped with fresh tomato, spinach, red onion and smoked salmon. Or, if eggs are a usual, add in some fresh spinach or arugula, red pepper and onion to get a whole serving of veggies. Have leftover beans? Heat them up, mix with avocado, fresh salsa and greens, wrap them in a whole grain tortilla and make it breakfast to go. Need something a little bit warm to start the morning? Try some soup to ease you into the day. Miso soup is a quick fix with some chard, vegetable soup or creamy squash soup.
Mix it up
We all have those regular meals that make it onto our plates each week. Why not add some veggies to routine dishes so that they are more nutritious? Lasagna is a delicious treat that makes it to the table quite often. Making the conventional with some spinach, red pepper and zucchini will up your vegetable count typically by 1-2 servings. As well, it will add fiber and reduce the calories in this traditional dish. Also, try adding different veggies to sandwiches, such as thinly sliced cucumbers, red or green bell peppers and radishes to increase the flavor as well as the nutritional value. Add carrots and celery to soups or chili that won’t alter the flavor much of this customary meal. Below are some other easy alternatives to the mainstays on your plate:
- Add even more veggies to a salad; try roasted tomatoes, snap peas, jicima or pickled asparagus
- Make that traditional pasta sauce with zucchini to add fiber and flavor
- Pizza is even more delicious with less cheese (or try feta, a naturally lower fat cheese) and loads of vegetables like onion, bell pepper, eggplant, spinach and garlic. Try using a portabella mushroom for a delightful alternative to the usual wheat-based crust for a pizza.
- Reduce the amount of chicken in your stir-fry and add more veggies, such as spring peas, asparagus and zucchini. Top with sprouts and raw water chestnuts for additional crunch and nutrition.
- Wrap up plenty of vegetables with burritos. Adding avocado, chard, peppers, cauliflower and broccoli with increase overall veggies consumed for the day
Cook your way to 7-9 per day
The majority of us have one or two tried and true methods for cooking our vegetables for each meal. Changing the way of cooking can add a completely new flavor and feel to dishes. Typical meals are made using a basic steaming or stir-frying approach to preparing veggies. To change the often-bland flavor of steamed veggies use wine or balsamic vinegar in the bottom of the steamer to add pizzazz to the meal. When stir-frying, use less oil and rely on lemon juice or soy sauce for additional moisture.
Also, try roasting vegetables in a small amount of olive oil, salt and pepper for a great flavor. Making them at the beginning of the week will ensure plenty of veggies to top salads, sandwiches, pasta and soups. Bake at 425 degrees for about 25 minutes, turning once, until browned on both sides for the perfect way to increase your intake of veggies. Baking vegetables in casseroles or quiches adds a new dimension to a healthy diet.
Research shows us that increasing vegetables can help reduce weight, heart disease and chronic illness. By using some of these simple tricks and easy tips you can easily get in all your veggies for the day and reap all the benefits to your health!
 Hung HC, Joshipura KJ, Jiang R, et al. Fruit and vegetable intake and risk of major chronic disease. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2004; 96:1577–84.
 He FJ, Nowson CA, Lucas M, MacGregor GA. Increased consumption of fruit and vegetables is related to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease: meta-analysis of cohort studies. J Hum Hypertens. 2007; 21:717–28.
 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, U.S. Department of Agriculture.