6 ways to add vegetables in your diet, how much you really need, and meal ideas!
Jamie Staley, NASM-CPT, Pn1
Do you feel guilty for not eating enough vegetables?
Most people do either because they hardly eat any or because they think they need to be eating massive amounts of them.
To start, let us review why we need vegetables in our diet. What purpose do they serve? Primarily micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and dietary fiber. If weight loss is your current goal, they also add a lot of volume for very few calories which can make sticking to a calorie deficit more enjoyable and sustainable.
Vegetables are not a macronutrient, which means you do not need them in huge amounts. The nutrients your body needs in large quantities are protein, carbs, and fats. So please stop doing challenges where you eat absurd amounts of vegetables every day. It is a good way to spend a lot of time in the bathroom.
So even though we don’t need them in massive quantities, most people are still not getting enough.
Recommendations vary, but the USDA My Plate model calls for 1-3 cups per day.
Serving sizes differ based on what type, but you can also look at labels for some types of veggies to see what counts as one serving.
Bottom line? Don’t overthink it. Take stock of what your vegetable intake currently looks like and find ways to slowly add to it.
1. Start small
If you are dealing with a picky eater (including yourself) start with very small steps that you will hardly notice. Examples:
- add a finely diced pepper into your taco meat
- make a fruit smoothie with a handful of spinach (you won’t taste it, but it will change the color)
- add extra veggies to your sandwich (spinach, arugula, tomato, cucumber slices, etc.)
2. Rethink your sides
This is mainly a dinner strategy, but can also work for lunches. Have whatever a typical meal is for you or your family, but add veggies on side. This could be a side salad, roasted veggies, steamed veggies, etc.
Roasting vegetables is usually a great way to get amazing flavor and texture and works extremely well for people that are thrown off by bland or slimy vegetables.
Two of my favorite vegetables to roast are sweet potatoes and brussel sprouts.
Roasted sweet potatoes make a great addition to burrito bowls and are super easy! Cut your sweet potatoes into small to medium sized cubes (I leave the skin on), toss in a bowl with avocado oil or extra-virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, cumin, and paprika. Place on a baking sheet with aluminum foil and bake at 400 degrees for about 20-25 minutes, flipping halfway through.
Roasted brussel sprouts: take fresh (cut into halves or quarters) or frozen (leave whole) sprouts and toss with avocado oil or extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place on a baking sheet with aluminum foil and bake at 400 degrees for about 20-30 minutes (depending on fresh or frozen), flipping halfway through. Let cool and toss with balsamic vinegar and feta cheese. (If you are using frozen, do not dump the bag into the bowl because you will often end up with extra ice crystals that will make them soggy. Cut open the bag and take them out by hand.)
3. Don’t underestimate the frozen section
Fresh vegetables do have a wide array of benefits, but mostly if they are in-season and local. Even still, frozen vegetables have all the same nutritional benefits of fresh and are often a fraction of the price.
In addition, you don’t have to worry about them going bad 3 days after you buy them.
Heading for the frozen vegetables also allows you greater variety in different blends and not just committing to one vegetable at a time. Some also come lightly sauced, which add a nice flavor.
My favorites from the freezer section:
- cauliflower rice or mashed cauliflower
- stir-fry blends (just add chicken or shrimp for an easy meal)
- green beans
- peas with sauce
- Broccoli Normandy blend from Sam’s Club (broccoli, cauliflower, orange and yellow carrots)
4. Make salads interesting
If you aren’t a fan of salads, I implore you to do a little leg work on this one and find a salad you like! Here’s how:
- vary your base. Don’t just use iceberg lettuce and call it day. Add in a mix of greens like spinach, green leaf lettuce, arugula, and more.
- add in a good source of protein. Chicken, shrimp, salmon, tuna, steak, etc.
- mix in more veggies that are finely chopped. Peppers, carrots, broccoli, cucumber, etc. Even roasted vegetables if you want.
- add some crunch. Nuts, tortilla strips, croutons, etc.
- finish with a high-quality dressing. I personally like Bolthouse dressings because they are lower in calories. Homemade dressings are also super easy and a great way to add amazing flavor! Even a mix of high quality olive oil, red wine vinegar, oregano, salt, and pepper is delicious!
5. Make them convenient
If you want to add more veggies into your snacks and meals, prep them ahead of time and keep them visible.
- keep carrots and celery sticks in glass jars submerged in water on a shelf eye-level in your refrigerator
- buy single serving hummus, guacamole, or dressing for dipping and keep them with the prepped veggies in the fridge
- make a snack plate that includes veggies, but offers other items as well (cheese, fruit, nuts, etc.) in a divided container that is easy to grab
- make a normal-sized smoothie with a mix of fruit and veggies (even protein powder if you are really getting fancy) and store it in a few smaller containers for snacks
- make a salad bar for the week with all ingredients ready to go. When it comes time to eat, just assemble and go!
- roast a big batch of vegetables at the beginning of the week to use for sides
6. Look for inspiration everywhere
If you feel like you are always eating the same vegetables or always preparing them the same way, look for different ideas! Recreate restaurant favorites at home, look at Pinterest, consult your favorite food bloggers, or buy a new cookbook!
Lastly, give it time. It can take awhile to adjust to eating and actually liking vegetables, especially if you are used to a highly-processed diet. Approach adding in vegetables as a challenge or an experiment, which can also help the picky children in your life!
How Can I Help?
If tackling your nutrition on your own feels too intimidating and confusing, I can help! I am a Level 1 Certified Nutrition Coach through Precision Nutrition, one of the most reputable nutrition companies in the world.
I will coach you through individualized action steps to meet your goals and help you formulate a plan for change that fits your life, instead of trying to make your life fit a plan. I’ll give you the accountability, real information, and guidance to make lasting nutritional change.
Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s chat about your goals!