Jennifer Hanes MS, RDN, LD
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So everyone has heard that they should be eating more vegetables. But what if you don’t like vegetables? Not one is going to gag down food that they don’t like 2-3 times a day…
The truth is, most Americans aren’t eating enough vegetables. Estimates vary, but approximately 10% of Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables.
So how many vegetables should you be getting in each day?
There are several ways to go about this. About 30-40% of everything you eat in a day should be vegetables.
Less abstract is to say that you should get 4-5 servings of vegetables every day. A serving of vegetables is 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw.
4-5 servings of vegetables could look like this:
- Snack of 1/2 cup raw carrots with hummus
- 1 cup of vegetable soup before lunch
- Sandwich stacked with tempeh, lettuce, and tomato; mashed avocado instead of mayonnaise for lunch.
- 1 cup salad before dinner
- 1/2 cup roasted broccoli with dinner.
That doesn’t seem quite so scary, does it?
Why should you worry about eating vegetables?
There are lots and lots of health benefits of eating enough vegetables.
They fill us up and help us maintain our set-point weight range, which in turn decreases our risk of certain conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.
Vegetables contain a lot of phytochemicals, tiny compounds that act as antioxidants, normalize cholesterol levels and blood pressure, help fight cancer, reduce inflammation, prevent DNA damage and aid in repair, and more.
The fiber in veggies(and fruits and whole grains) helps to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol, keeps your GI system regular, and helps stabilize blood glucose levels.
Fiber also feeds the gut microbiota, which can, in turn, play an immense role in your mood and mental health.
Why don’t people like vegetables?
If they’re so good for us, shouldn’t we naturally be drawn to them?
Many vegetables have a bitter flavor, due mostly to the various phytochemicals found in them. Bitter flavors can signal an inedible plant in the wild, sort of a warning from the plant to leave it alone.
Because of this, bitter flavors are challenging to get used to, making many people swear them off after 1 or 2 bites.
Some people are averse to the texture of vegetables. They don’t like the crunch of the raw veggies or they had boiled, mushy vegetables growing up. This is an aversion that is somewhat easy to overcome by learning how to cook vegetables properly.
Many people never got used to eating vegetables. Their parents didn’t eat a lot, so they weren’t exposed to them. We tend to eat how we did growing up, so our diet may reflect that of our parents.
So how do we learn to like vegetables when there are so many excuses not to?
Method 1: Eat more fruit
Increasing your fruit intake first gets you used to eating more plants. In general, people are more accepting of the sweet flavor of fruit than the bitter taste of some veggies.
So, to eat more vegetables, begin by first practicing getting enough fruit every day (2-3 servings).
Once you are consistently eating enough fruit every day, gradually add in vegetables. Make a goal for 1 serving per day, then increase as you get used to them.
Despite common social media claims, fruit does not cause diabetes, weight gain, or other deleterious health effects.
Alternatively, if you are still anti-veggie after your fruit goals are met, you could further increase your fruit servings and try again later.
Method 2: Make a list of vegetables you are willing to eat
Cucumbers, carrots, peas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and lettuce are generally well-liked. But maybe you like other vegetables, such as beets, asparagus, or greens.
Once you have your list, start to incorporate these vegetables more frequently.
You can add these acceptable veggies as part of meals, such as a side dish or a part of a casserole, or they can make great snacks.
Carrots and hummus are good. Cucumbers are yummy when dipped into Greek yogurt. And speaking of dips…
Method 3: Utilize dips, sauces, and toppings to complement your vegetables
These accompaniments can help cover or reduce the flavor of the vegetable. Think ranch with raw carrots or cheese sauce on steamed broccoli and cauliflower. This works exceptionally well with young children.
Of course, we want to get to the point where you like vegetables without unnecessary calories and salt, but this is an excellent place to start.
Method 4: Hide your veggies
Stick them inside something that you already like:
- Make a fruit smoothie and throw in some raw spinach.
- Grate zucchini or carrots into spaghetti sauce.
- Mix riced cauliflower in with your mashed potatoes.
- Pureed butternut squash makes incredibly creamy and rich mac and cheese.
- Blended soups work well too. Love tomato soup with grilled cheese? Pacific Foods has an excellent red pepper/tomato soup. Or take a blended soup recipe you already love and add to it.
Hiding your veggies will get you used to handling them in your kitchen.
Method 5: Vary your cooking method
If all you remember from childhood is soggy, flavorless Brussels sprouts, try them again, but prepared differently.
As much as I loved steamed and roasted broccoli, I can’t stand the stuff raw. If I had tried it raw and then refused to try it a different way, I would never have learned how much I love broccoli when it’s cooked right.
Try different cooking methods too. Roasting, boiling, steaming, grilling, stir-frying, sauteing, and raw all impart different textures and flavors to the vegetable, so be willing to try them all!
For what it’s worth, roasting vegetables seems to be the cooking method that most people enjoy. Set your oven high, 425-450 degrees F. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and seasonings of your choice, then leave them alone for a bit.
You’re looking for a slight char on the veggie.
Method 6: Be willing to try them again
When learning to increase your vegetable intake/variety, it may take 7-10 tries before you learn to like them. Your taste buds really are attuned to what you usually eat and they need to be trained when new foods enter your diet.
Consider imposing the “3 bite rule” on yourself. Every time you try a new food, take three regular-sized bites. You can stop after three bites, or keep going if it’s not terrible.
Method 7: Aim for a mindset shift
If you go in thinking you’ll hate it, you will. Think about what the vegetable can do for your health. Think about how well you seasoned it. Or how much you trust the recipe writer (or cook) on other foods.
It’s the whole idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Check your facial expression too. A grimace on your face will make your experience worse, no matter what positive thinking you’re trying.
Method 8: Grant yourself leniency
You’re not going to go from hating vegetables to eating 4-5 servings per day overnight. And you shouldn’t expect yourself too.
Gradually add vegetables in variety and volume. This will be more effective at inducing long-term change.
Additionally, know that you won’t learn to like every vegetable. I am done trying raw broccoli in the same way that my son is done trying mushrooms.
If, after 7-10 separate encounters with a vegetable prepped in a particular way, you still hate it, that’s okay. Set that one aside for a bit and move on with either a different vegetable or a different cooking method.
You can always come back to it later if you really want to!
Method 9: Learn to cook
You don’t have to be a contestant on Chopped. You just need to learn the basics. Learn when food is done, not over or undercooked—experiment with what flavors you like and which ones go well together.
Well placed vinegar and lemon juice take a dish from boring to super yum. Fresh herbs are hugely different than the dried spices and herbs from the spice aisle.
Learning to make even vegetable cuts so everything cooks evenly makes a better final product.
While you’re learning to cook, practice making the dish look good. Remember we eat first with our nose, then our eyes, then our mouth. So consider color and texture and the visual appeal when choosing a vegetable.
Time and time again, I’ve heard that going vegetarian has made someone a better cook. And for a good reason. If you’re only willing to eat vegetarian, and you don’t like vegetation, what option is left?
Method 10: Consider the season
In all honesty, the only tomatoes I eat in the winter are canned or jarred. That’s because fresh tomatoes suck in the winter.
They’re bland. They’re mushy. They’re not worth eating.
But in the summer? I’ll eat those things raw all day. Every fall, I lament not taking advantage of summer tomatoes. It doesn’t matter if I ate them every day.
Learn what is in season, and you’ll have the best veggies every day. Consider hitting up your local farmers’ market. They’ll tell you what’s up.
Aim for convenience. If you’re not used to prepping vegetables, this may be the most limiting factor in fitting in vegetables.
So start with convenience.
If you budget allows, there are plenty of prewashed and precut options in the grocery store. However, there are plenty of easy to prep veggies in their original form.
Simply rinse off cherry tomatoes. Slice a cucumber. A whole carrot only takes a couple cuts to get down to an easy to manage size for a snack.
Some convenience foods in the grocery store actually work out cheaper.
A bagged salad can come with a bunch of different veggies, toppings, and dressing for way cheaper than if you were to buy the ingredients separately and they come together faster.
Leave a comment and let me know!
What is your biggest struggle with getting in vegetables? Is anyone a vegetarian that doesn’t eat vegetables? It’s probably more common than you think!
Jennifer Hanes MS, RDN, LD is a registered dietitian, mom, wife, and vegetarian in North Texas. She has dedicated Dietitian Jenn to be a source of information, ideas, and inspiration for people like her, vegetarians that live with people with different dietary beliefs and/or needs in a multivore household.