Within the wonderful, yet often wildly contradicting, world of nutrition, a piece of dietary advice that has stood the test of time is the importance of eating our vegetables.
They’re nutritional powerhouses, packed with micronutrients (iddy-biddy nutrients vital for health), phytochemical, dietary fibre, and so much more, and serve as the solid foundation of a healthy diet – and the more we enjoy them, preferably in a rainbow of colours, the merrier.
Working as a nutritionist, I’ve noticed a number of common threads of resistance when it comes to eating veggies; which regularly includes the perception that they’re about as exciting as a limp ice-burg lettuce salad or plate of boiled mixed veg…that is indeed dull, yes.
Given their superhero-like properties, veggies are far too important to be left an optional side dish at meals - but it’s also important, like anything eat, that we enjoy what we’re eating too!
If your typical intake sits at a few lonely peas in a bolognese sauce at dinner, consider exploring some of the ideas below - there are many delicious ways to celebrate the humble veg that will have you reaching back for seconds…or maybe even thirds.
Have fun with textures
Be it crunchy, smooth or crisp, the texture of foods impact our eating experience. Sure, boiled bean don’t sound that interesting - but, boiled beans tossed with a knob of creamy butter and a sprinkle of crunchy sesame seeds might.
Make veggies more exciting by getting creative with the textures in your meals. Play around with adding crunchy nuts and seeds, creamy avocado & cubes of feta cheese, or juicy wedges of fruit to salads. They’ll make for a more exciting mouthful, while adding a whole heap of flavour too.
Bump up family favourite meals
Meal bases, like meatloaf, burger patties or a bolognese sauce, all welcome extra veg to the mix. Nutrition aside, vegetables offer great merit from a culinary perspective - they add flavour, texture and moisture, all positively aiding how that end forkful will taste.
Next time you’re preparing a family favourite, try adding a few handfuls of veggies to the base - throw in grated carrot and courgette to a simmering bolognese sauce, or finely chopped spinach and mushroom to a raw meatloaf mix. This is ideal for picky-eaters who turn up their nose the moment a vegetable enters their peripheral vision - once cooked they won’t even notice they’re there.
Experiment with plant-based alternatives to favourite meat-based meals
Most meat-laden meals have a epic plant-based alternative (*most* - I’ve never taken to the idea of cauliflower ‘steaks’ aka a wedge of meaty cauliflower).
Next time you’re feeling creative in the kitchen, try whipping up a veggie-based alternative to a favourite meat-based meal. As you’re working within the realm of flavours and tastes you know you already love, chances are you’ll enjoy it.
Here are some ideas:
Grow your own
Gardening is a simple, yet incredibly powerful, way to form a deeper connection to where our food comes from...and with that can come an newfound appreciation for the humble veg. When you’ve tended to your own cherry tomato vine from start to finish, watching it grow and change, it’s near impossible to not then gorge on the fruit as they gleam like little rubies on a vine.
If your new here, start small - a little outdoor planter box with a few edible varieties or some herbs on your kitchen windowsill are more than enough to reap the benefits.
Order a veggie box
Veggie box schemes deliver fresh local (sometimes organic) produce right to your door, which will vary week to week based on availability and seasonality. While boxes are typically customisable, there’s loads of fun receiving a delivery of the seasonal unknown, and then getting creative in the kitchen using it up.
Keep in mind creativity doesn’t have to mean complicated - use what’s on hand to prepare a simple seasonal salad, colourful stir-fry, or oven-grilled bounty of veg.
Go old-school and preserve
Preserving is an activity that thrives on seasonal abundance, thriftiness, and completely embodies the waste-not-want-not philosophy. It’s all about taking whats in-season and typically surplus, and preserving it so you can enjoy it in the months to come. Think bottled peaches, aka sunshine in a bottle, over a steaming bowl of porridge during the cold winter.
Try your hand at a seasonal chutney or relish, sauerkraut, picked veggies or your own sun-dried tomatoes - you’ll feel so chuffed with yourself! Online has plenty of recipes or head to your local library for some great books on the topic.
Explore a new cuisine
Many cultures are replete with vegetarian-based meals, some forming the foundations of a cuisines - if you travel the world you might just find it to be a veggie-lovers oyster. Spice it up in the kitchen by trying new meals from different cuisines. Here’s some ideas:
Mexican: beans, beans beans, guacamole, tomato salsa…
Middle Eastern: hummus, falafel, fattoush, tabbouleh, baba ghannouj…
Greek: spanakopita (spinach-filled pastry), dolmas…
Indian: dahl, chana masala (chickpeas and tomatoes), aloo gobi (cauliflower and potato), vegetable korma…
Play and get creative
There are some pretty nifty things you can do/replace with veg. Step outside the comfort zone with these creative takes on classic ideas:
Instead of a regular pizza base try a cauliflower pizza base. It still looks like pizza, tastes like pizza and you can even pick it up like pizza too. Here’s a recipe.
Instead of potato mash try sunshine mash. For a gloriously golden mash add sweet potato and carrot to the mix - it gives the traditional variety a run for its money in the taste department, while also adding colour and nutrients.
Instead of noodles try sprialising! This which is when you turn veg into faux noodles. They have a similar look-feel to noodles, so are fabulous in pasta/noodle-based dishes. You’ll need a nifty machine called a spirliser to do so (it kind of looks like a giant pencil sharpener), which can be picked up cheap at homeware stores.
Instead of burger buns try a lettuce wrap. Use a big piece of lettuce as you would a burger bun - wrap it around the filling, and take a big juicy mouthful! Like spiralised veggies, these are ideal if you're on a lower-carb diet or would prefer a lighter meal.
Make rainbow vegetable skewers. A fun way to literally ‘eat-the-rainbow’. Chop up different coloured veg into bite-sized pieces (e.g. red onion, capsicum, cauliflower, broccoli, cherry tomatoes), drizzle with oil, thread onto skewers, and then grill in the oven or over the BBQ.
Finally…perspective is everything
When when we eat to the recommended servings of veggies per day we’re supporting our general health across a plethora of avenues (e.g. weight management, preventing nutrient deficiencies, supporting bowel health and regularity, assisting hydration - the list is endless!), and also helping protect our future health, by reducing our risk of disease, like heart disease, stroke, and some cancers, like bowel (1).
The daily simple act of eating veg is an effective, safe and well-researched, way to help protect our health today and of the future.
So, to conclude - let’s all go snack on a carrot!