How do you like your vegetables? Crisp? Cooked? Hidden?
Sometimes it’s hard to get all the required servings of vegetables into your diet in a day. Here are some ways that I have added vegetables to my family’s diet, even when using ready-made menu items.
1. Cut up in the Fridge
Raw vegetables are good for you! Cut up vegetables and put them in your fridge. It’s way easier to choose vegetables when they are already cut up in the fridge. Put them in portion-sized zip-loc bags or Tupperware containers, so you can select a container of different varieties of vegetables if you want a quick snack, or grab a couple of bags for your work or school lunch. You should be able to cut up 3 days worth of most vegetables without them going mushy.
I cut up carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower and peppers, and then add cherry tomatoes, and put them in a container in the fridge. Then every day, I take out what I want to eat that day and put them in my lunch container. If I have them, I add mushrooms, long English cucumbers and green onions in the morning (I don’t cut these up for longer than 1-2 day storage, as they could get kind of squidgy).
I used a 750 ml yogurt container for my daily lunch veg and I would STUFF it full of vegetables. It would take at least half an hour to eat all of them at lunch time.
My Cholesterol Experiment
I first started getting serious about eating more raw vegetables when I was in my early 50’s. I read a book on cholesterol. There is good and bad cholesterol, and you want more of the good and less of the bad (to paraphrase an entire book into one sentence!) My cholesterol rates and ratios were well within the acceptable range and my doctor was not concerned at all, but I wanted to see if I could lower my cholesterol anyway.
I felt that one way to improve this ratio would be to eat more raw veg, even though I didn’t really like all of them. I didn’t like cucumbers at all, and I didn’t really enjoy raw celery and broccoli. But I wanted a variety, not just carrots! To make them more palatable and give them some flavour, I took a small container with about 2 tablespoons of salad dressing to dip the veg in (calorie-wise Caesar is my favourite). And I persevered. After about a month of taking my big container to work every day, I started to like them more and more. Just a few months later, I got to genuinely like them. It got so I could not imagine a lunch without my big container of veg. I even LOVE cucumbers, celery and broccoli. I do still prefer them dipped in a tiny bit of salad dressing.
Anyway, after a year, my total cholesterol was lower, and the good/bad ratio was much improved. Total cholesterol to ‘good’ cholesterol ratio went from 3.0 to 2.2 in 2 years. (Lower is better.) I continued with the daily raw veg for the next 8 or 9 years until I retired. For some reason, when I don’t have to go to work, I don’t follow the routine of cutting up my veg every day. I guess I will re-evaluate after my next cholesterol checkup!
2. Frozen Veg
Keep store bought frozen vegetables in the freezer for days when you just can’t think of what veg to have for supper, or if you just don’t feel like peeling, chopping and cooking. It doesn’t hurt to have a couple of your favourites on hand for such days. I keep green beans, peas and corn. If you have a garden and freeze your own vegetables, that’s even better.
3. Roasted Vegetables
Discover the pleasure of roasted vegetables… cut them up kind of big, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and oregano (and/or other favourite herbs and spices), spread out on a lightly greased baking sheet, and roast in the oven (325° to 350°F). The only trick is that some of the vegetables take longer to cook than others, so I add faster-cooking veg later on. For example:
- Potatoes and carrots first for 15 minutes.
- Celery, peppers, onion (big onion, not green onion) next for another 15 minutes.
- Cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, grated garlic for another 15 minutes.
- Mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, green onion if you like, for the last 15 minutes.
For each bunch you add, toss with oil and spices first, then take the tray out, mix them all together, and put back in the oven. Use whatever veg you like, adding them at the appropriate time, depending on how long they take to cook.
4. Save Vegetable Water
When you cook vegetables on the stove, use as little water as possible. Use a little bit of water in the bottom and steam them (or if you have a steamer, use that). Then save the water that the veg has been steamed or boiled in to use in other things, like soup, stew, or cooking rice. A handy way to save the veg water is to put it in ice cube trays and freeze it. Then put the veg cubes in an airtight container to use for future cooking. I wouldn’t save the water from starchy vegetables like potatoes or yams though, especially if using it for rice; it would be too starchy. Potato water is excellent for making gravy for roast beef or chicken though.
Just don’t use your vegetable ice cubes for your rum and coke. Well, I guess that might make it more healthy!
5. Add to Anything
I add vegetables to just about anything. When I get chicken or hamburger out of the freezer to cook for supper, I will usually get several vegetables out of the crisper at the same time and start cutting them up. Even if I don’t know what it will end up being, I know that there will be lots of vegetables mixed in with the meat. Here are some suggestions for getting your vegetable servings:
- When making chili con carne, use at least twice the volume of vegetables as ground beef. After browning the meat, add the canned tomatoes, canned pork’n’beans, and kidney beans (if you like them, which I don’t), and then add lots of cut up veggies… celery, onions, garlic, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, mushrooms, snap peas. Add the chili spices and salt and pepper, and simmer, covered, on low to medium-low for an hour or two, stirring occasionally. I also add a handful of macaroni to my chili. It stretches the meal and it’s good! This is an easy, healthy one-dish meal with all kinds of nutrients. It keeps well in the fridge, and always tastes better the second day. It also freezes well, so you don’t have to get sick of it by having to eat it 6 days in a row, and you have a ready-made meal in the freezer for those extra-crazy days.
- Similarly, when you make lasagne, add vegetables to the meat portion in a ratio of about 1 to 1 meat to vegetables. My favourites for lasagne are onions, garlic, celery, broccoli, peppers and mushrooms, but you can add whatever kinds of vegetables you like. Cook them with the hamburger (or cook separately and then combine with the meat). Experiment to see which ones work for you and your family. And add some thawed frozen spinach to the cottage cheese mixture for an additional veg serving.
6. Convenience Food Too
If, like me, you occasionally (or frequently) find yourself driving home at 5:00 or 6:00 at night and have no clue what to have for supper, it’s OK to turn to ‘convenience’ food. You can ‘health it up’ by adding vegetables to many of the foods that we buy in cans or boxes!
- Campbell’s chicken noodle soup with added vegetables was one of my go-to standards when my kids were growing up. You just cut up a few vegetables; I usually used carrots, onions and celery, and then whatever other vegetables were in the house, maybe peppers or broccoli. I didn’t measure the vegetables, but if you need a guideline, I would say for one can (284 ml/10 oz) of soup, use one medium carrot, one stick of celery and half an onion; for other veg, you decide! Chop them pretty small. Boil the vegetables in a little bit of water until they are soft-ish, maybe 15-20 minutes. Then open 2-3 cans of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup and add it to the vegetables with enough additional water to get to the 1 can of water for each can of soup. That may be anywhere from 0 to 1 or 2 cans of water, depending on how much water you used originally for the vegetables, and how many cans of soup you are cooking. Bring it back to a boil and continue until the vegetables are done.For serving, cut a couple of slices of cheddar or mozzarella cheese into cubes and put it into the bowls before adding the hot soup. The cheese will melt and be nice and gooey. Add some crackers and you have all of the food groups covered!
- Who doesn’t like pizza? Well if you don’t, you can skip to the next point! Store bought frozen pizzas have become so cheap in the last few years. You can get a regular size pizza for anywhere from $2.50 to $4.00 if you wait for the sales. Add your favourite veg cut up fairly small and sprinkled on the pizza. I buy the meat pizzas and then add onion, pepper and mushrooms, and sometimes fresh tomatoes when it comes out of the oven. I often add some grated mozzarella and cheddar cheese on top before cooking, but you don’t have to if you want to be extra-health-conscious!
- Another convenience food I liked to keep in the freezer is the single-serving meat pies – chicken, turkey or beef. You could do the same with family size meat pies. They do have some vegetables in them, but you can step up the nutrition by adding some of your own. I find there is too much sauce in them anyway, so adding vegetables spreads out the sauce.Cook the meat pie per instructions. Actually, I like to combine the microwave and regular oven cooking methods to speed it up – cook in the microwave for ½ to ¾ of the time, then cook in the regular oven for ¼ to ½ the time. The oven cooking browns the crust nicely.In the meantime, cook some vegetables, whatever you have in your fridge… carrots, onions, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower. Or if you are in a big hurry, use vegetables from the freezer which cook faster. When the meat pie is done, dump in out onto a plate, open it up and add some of your cooked veg and stir it up so it’s mixed as if the extra veg were already part of the pie.
7. Ideas from the Internet
There are thousands of recipes available to us at the click of a button, so many that we can get overwhelmed or spend so much time looking for the perfect recipe, that there is no longer time to cook supper!
If you want a vegetable recipe, start with a base vegetable, say cauliflower, and look up ‘cauliflower recipes’ or ‘cauliflower casseroles’. I like Pinterest because it provides a picture of each recipe and you can quickly scroll through until something catches your eye. Cauliflower is a great vegetable to use a base veg. There are so many things you can do with it. And even with the wonderful cauliflower recipes, I usually add other vegetables, like red peppers and garlic.
8. Is Nothing Off-limits?
Yes, even desserts can be made with vegetables. And not just carrot cake! There are cakes which call for avocado or zucchini or tomatoes or rhubarb or sweet potatoes. And of course there are fruit pies – apple, cherry, rhubarb, pear. I know these are also full of sugar, but at least they have fruits or vegetables in them! Look them up in Google search or Pinterest. There are lots of ideas.
Eat Your Vegetables
So, there are some ideas on how to incorporate vegetables into your diet. Eat more vegetables than meat. You’ll save money and stay healthy!
How do you make sure you eat enough vegetables?
‘Til next time…
From Your Mom