I remember many a traumatic evening of facing vegetables on my plate as a kid. I attempted all the familiar maneuvers: hiding peas in my napkin; “accidentally” flinging a few cooked carrots onto the floor when trying to reach for something; dramatically gagging while trying to swallow zucchini and insisting that my body just could not force them down; refusing to eat succotash and having to stay at the table after everyone else was done until that evil concoction was consumed.
Then came some miraculous day…
I don’t remember how old I was, but I’m pretty sure I was a late teenager. I don’t remember how we arrived at this fabulous understanding, but I think I asked my mom if I could eat some raw carrots instead of the cooked ones I was attempting to choke down for the 4829173rd time.
The raw ones I had no problem with. It was just something about those cooked carrots I could not tolerate.
She said yes!
And so thereafter I continued to do so: eat some raw celery or carrots or radishes or mushrooms instead of whatever cooked veggies I was not learning to like, no matter how many times I had to sit in front of them for hours until I ate them.
Now, I didn’t dislike all cooked veggies. Green beans were fine, as were beets and green peppers and Brussels sprouts. I didn’t even mind canned spinach.
And then as the years progressed and I ate at a wide variety of places, where food was prepared in a wide variety of ways, I found out that I actually love vegetables. I remember the moment I tasted asparagus and thought, “why has no one told me how delicious this is before?!” I remember realizing that snow peas and sugar snap peas are a pretty darn tasty alternative to canned peas. And that I could eat pretty much any previously-intolerable cooked vegetable, including carrots, Lima beans, and peas, when they’re combined together with a sauce and lots of other things – like a stir fry or vegetable soup.
But I’m 50 years old and I still don’t think I could sit down with a plate of plain peas, carrots, or Lima beans and eat them straight.
I’ve discovered something very similar with “healthy eating” in general. When we’re constantly told that we’re supposed to eat more fruits and vegetables for better health (along with exercise, which I’ll give 10 tips for in another post), I think most of us picture one extremely tasteless, intolerable meal after another. With a plate full of traditional tossed salads spritzed with some kind of “lite,” virtually undetectable dressing and a dry, bare chicken breast. And snacks involving a carrot stick (even if I don’t mind eating them, they’re not my idea of a go-to snack) or an apple (again, don’t mind them but they’re hardly a thrill to me).
Here’s the thing though: that’s not the only way to eat healthier! Since there are so many different theories about what’s healthy, I’m only going to write about fruits and vegetables in this post. They seem to be the one food group every theory & diet agrees on. Even so, there are those that advocate eating raw, and there people with allergies to fructose. This list is meant to be a starting off point. You will have to research and modify according to your own needs and philosophies.
So if you’re feeling like you need to make some diet changes but don’t know where to start, here are some ideas…
1. One. Step. At. A. Time.
This does not have to be an all-or-nothing venture! You can start very, very small and then keep building so it’s less of a shock to your system and you aren’t feeling totally deprived. The quickest way for many of us to throw in the towel is by making those grandiose vows of “I’m swearing off junk food and dessert forever and I’m going to have grapefruit and water for every snack for the rest of my life”… and then breaking that vow by 9:30 a.m. the first day and then making a second vow to never think any of those stupid ideas ever again because they don’t work.
So maybe choose ONE of the ideas that follow in this list. You might do them once a week or every day, and either way is ok. Don’t worry about cutting anything “junky” out, just try adding something healthier in. Simply getting used to purchasing some different foods when you go grocery shopping or preparing something different to snack on at work is a step in the right direction! It can easily build from there!
An example in my life: I want to start making more homemade household cleaners. It’s more economical and arguably a lot better for health than using sometimes toxic ingredients. My first step was just looking up recipes. That was about four months ago. A few months after that my oven desperately needed cleaning. I thought I’d try a homemade oven cleaner, and it actually worked really well! However, I haven’t gotten organized enough to put together the homemade all-purpose cleaner, dryer sheets, and window spray. And that’s ok! I’ll eventually add all those. It doesn’t mean I’ve failed because I haven’t made a complete switch yet.
The same holds true for your diet. One little choice and piece at a time is a step in the right direction!
2. Try all the fruits.
In my family, my oldest daughter is all about the citrus fruits. When she came home for college breaks I always made sure to have pineapple in the house because it’s her favorite. And she often used to ask for grapefruit for breakfast. But she has some kind of actual phobia about strawberries, and she could pretty much take or leave any other berries. My husband likes almost any fruit, but some of his favorites are grapes – particularly green ones – and pineapple. He takes some clementines and apples every day for lunch. I’m all about berries, mangoes, and I could eat an entire watermelon. Everyone in the house likes bananas. You get the idea. If I only bought a few kinds of fruit, some of us in the family wouldn’t be getting fruit in their diet.
My go-to fruits are a new revelation for me. When I was growing up, fruit pretty much meant apples, oranges, and grapefruit. We’d have peaches in their season too. I know my parents got other fruits but those were the main ones. To me, they’re fine but I’d choose something else first. If I eat them I still find myself wanting something else to satisfy my taste buds. A raspberry though? Wow. I could eat the whole container. Mangoes, watermelon and blackberries give me totally satisfied too.
Hint: I discovered that the type of wine I like matches the kind of fruits I like. I like red wine, which typically has the berry “notes,” as opposed to white wine, which tastes more of apple/pear/grapefruit. I also have no desire to drink the hard ciders, and I’d choose a strawberry daiquiri over a pina colada or screwdriver any day. Seeing a pattern? So maybe take a cue from some of the beverages you drink – if you choose them for drinking you could actually like choosing them for a snack or part of your meal too!
So have some tastings with your family or a group of people. Buy some of all different fruits and I bet you’ll discover a collection that you actually enjoy! Serve it with delicious cheeses and wine, or some other kind of treat that you enjoy. You could try different families of fruits at a time: citrus then melons then apples & pears then berries then grapes. There’s also cherries, kiwi, peaches, plums and on and on… you’re bound to find a bunch of fruit you like!
3. Try all the vegetables.
Unfortunately there don’t seem to be any alcoholic beverage parallels to vegetable eating; however, all vegetables don’t taste the same and I’d be willing to bet you that we can all find some that we actually find delicious!
As I described above, I just can’t develop an affinity for some cooked veggies. But I gladly eat roasted Brussels sprouts or cauliflower as my entire lunch. I’d take cabbage or sauerkraut over French fries any day. I love broccoli any way it’s prepared and I’ve recently discovered how much I like squash. I’d happily snack on radishes but celery sticks do absolutely nothing for me.
So have another tasting! There are so many vegetables, and even more than with fruit, so many ways to eat them (see #6 below). Have everyone choose one or two recipes with the veggies they like, and get together with your favorite drinks. You might be surprised at how creative and delicious this can be. Take your time and build your repertoire!
4. Eat them in their most natural state.
I’m not an expert but I’m guessing it’s better to eat broccoli & cauliflower smothered in cheese than macaroni & cheese or no broccoli & cauliflower at all. Or to eat jalapeno poppers, portobello fries or green bean fries instead of tater tots or French fries. Or chocolate covered strawberries & fruits with dip rather than just plain chocolate or candy. You’re at least getting varied vitamins and nutrients into your body by eating various fruits & vegetables.
But to truly try to reap the benefits of a healthier diet, we also need to reduce / eliminate the grease, sugar, breading, white flour, and saturated fat that are so harmful. Tired of aches & pains? Headaches, brain fog, and lethargy? Getting this stuff out of your system can do wonders for your quality of life.
So keep taste testing until you find fruits and vegetables you like in their most original, natural, fresh state – not canned, jarred, or juiced by a company and treated with preservatives. Not dripping in grease or sauces or dips. Support your local farmers by visiting Farmers’ Markets. Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group that delivers fresh produce from local farms to its participants.
5. Find ways you like fruits prepared.
There are some fruits that I love to eat by themselves and some that I seem to like mixed with others. For example, I happily eat watermelon, mango, cherries and raspberries plain. But I don’t want to just pick up strawberries, blueberries, or kiwi and eat them by themselves (probably because sometimes they’re too tart). A fruit salad together though – yum. Putting strawberries in a smoothie with a banana and some coconut milk – also yum.
Fruit salad is also a way I get fruits into my body that aren’t necessarily my favorite. Apples or cantaloupe mixed in with several other fruits help mellow their taste for me.
There’s also “juicing.” I don’t own a juicer and don’t know much about it but I do have the most fantastic memories of the freshly squeezed orange juice that my grandmother used to give us when we’d visit her in Florida. So recently I bought a citrus juicer and – as I said in #1 this doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing deal – I don’t always have the time or enough oranges in the house to make it but I’m thrilled to have O.J. freshly squeezed sometimes. I would never sit down and eat orange slices but juicing them… that’s heaven. And much healthier than the carton version.
So try fruits in a variety of ways and see where your sweet spot is (pun intended)!
6. Find ways you like veggies prepared.
I think this is like finding a pot of gold, because for a lot of people fruit is easier to eat than vegetables. There are two parts of finding ways to eat veggies, just as there were for eating fruits: First, eating the ones you like, and second, eating the ones you don’t like.
Maybe you only really had canned or frozen vegetables growing up and you don’t like a single one, so you don’t even attempt to eat them when you go out for dinner. Or you’ve only had traditional salads with iceberg lettuce and they bore you to tears. Or the cooked vegetables you’ve tried are all too mushy or too crunchy for your liking.
First, I would say that there’s absolutely no substitute for fresh vegetables. I can’t think of a single one that tastes good frozen or out of a can. Maybe frozen brussels sprouts and canned corn. That would be the only ones for me, but I still wouldn’t buy them that way because fresh is healthier and tastier. So whether you’ve only tried them frozen or canned and think you hate them all, or whether you just usually buy them that way, start trying some fresh ones.
Second, there are numerous ways to prepare vegetables, and seasonings can make all the difference in the world. Personally, bland and/or mushy vegetables are inedible. The crispier and crunchier the better, particularly if it’s a vegetable I don’t love (e.g. mushrooms). Steaming, broiling, roasting, stir frying, casseroles, crock pots, and soups are some of the many ways you can cook vegetables. From appetizers to main dishes. Some olive oil, garlic, himalayan pink salt, grated parmesan cheese, soy sauce, cilantro or oregano (not all together!) are additions that make them finger licking good as far as I’m concerned. But you might like yours completely differently. Experiment! Any single vegetable is going to taste differently depending on how it’s prepared. And because we live in the luxurious internet age, a simple search will yield tons of different recipe ideas. I’ve found new ways of cooking cauliflower and zucchini that I never would’ve conceived of on my own. That’s just one example; Google a veggie you can stomach and start there!
Third, we can find ways to eat the veggies we don’t even like so that we can reap their benefits. Like I said above, I still don’t think I could eat a pile of cooked carrots or Lima beans. In fact I know I couldn’t. The gagging and evasive maneuvers would come back immediately. But since different vegetables have different vitamins and nutrients, I make sure to eat as many as I can. So either having the raw version or putting them in a stew, soup, or stir fry makes them totally palatable for me.
7. Find your magic ingredients.
My little list in #6 gave you hints as to the magic seasonings I love. It’s sort of the same discovery as I had with the parallels between the alcoholic beverages I like and the fruits I like. There are seasonings in Asian, Mexican, Greek, and Italian foods that I find irresistible, such as fresh* cilantro, basil, garlic, feta cheese, or ginger. So when I found recipes using these ingredients for various vegetables, it opened up a whole Pandora’s box of possibilities. I’m able to put veggies in every dinner with very little effort now. I’m sure you can to! Think about what types of foods and seasonings you like, and search for veggie recipes that use them. It could change your whole opinion on this matter!
*Discovering the difference between fresh seasonings and jarred ones is similar to eating fresh vs. canned or frozen veggies. No comparison. They don’t even taste like the same species let alone deserve the same name. These simple ingredients could be the difference between making vegetable eating a chore and a delight. Try it!
8. Get creative with salads.
I guess like all children of the 70’s & 80’s, the only salad I ever knew existed during my formative taste-developing years was made with iceberg lettuce, chunks of sliced carrots & celery, maybe some onions, and a bottle of salad dressing. I have no desire to eat that. And even many of the salads in restaurants are just totally unappealing to me. They don’t have my “magic ingredients” in them and they’re too much lettuce.
But… some baby field greens or spinach with my magic ingredients included or chopped salads or starting with shredded cabbage or shaved Brussels sprouts as a base…. well that’s a game changer in my book. Not only would I gladly eat them but I choose it mouthwateringly and happily over anything junky. I also love tomato/cucumber/onion salads and broccoli salads / slaw. Voila, more veggies! Adding fruit to a green salad is also delicious. Berries and apples are frequent salad additions for me. Other ways to jazz up a salad include sunflower seeds, nuts, and your favorite fish or meat if you eat that… the possibilities are endless. And great next step is to make the dressings yourself using fresh, clean ingredients.
So pick up some different types of salad base veggies and search for salad and dressing recipes. I think you’re going to find more ways to eat them too!
9. Use veggies as substitutions.
This is like finding a $20 bill in a coat you haven’t worn in awhile as far as I’m concerned. If I can this easily eat something that is higher in vitamins and nutrients, usually much lower in calories, natural instead of factory made and processed, and tastes just as good then I feel like I’ve found some kind of IRS loophole or something.
Super easy, almost too good to be true examples:
* Spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles instead of boxed pasta
* Cauliflower “rice” instead of boxed rice
* A cabbage wrap (which I prefer to lettuce because I think it actually has flavor, but lettuce is also a perfectly viable substitute) instead of a tortilla, sandwich bread or hamburger bun
* A portabello mushroom instead of a hamburger bun
* Sliced cabbage instead of egg noodles
I’ve also seen many recipes on Pinterest for cauliflower pizza crust but I haven’t tried any yet to vouch for the idea.
Lastly, you can very easily substitute a variety of veggies in place of white potatoes to give your body more vitamins and nutrients: yams, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, acorn squash and cauliflower all make perfectly delicious alternatives for mashed potatoes.
10. If all else fails, hide them…
Another freebie. Not traumatic or difficult whatsoever. It’s super easy to get those infamously healthy “green leafy vegetables” into our systems without even tasting them. Put handfuls of spinach or kale into a blender with your spaghetti sauce. Chop up mushrooms or carrots or cauliflower in a food processor and add to any dish with a liquid base. Put zucchini or avocado in brownies, cakes, and cookies. Even though desserts wouldn’t be the optimal way of getting vegetables in the diet, if you’re going to be eating them anyway, why not add some vitamins to it?
Homemade smoothies are also a tasty way to hide veggies and fruit. Make a daily smoothie in a blender with milk (not juice), ice, and a variety of combinations of fruits. Put a bit of your less favorite fruit in with a bigger quantity of your favorite ones. Put a handful or two of spinach or kale in it. Remember, the main point is going for fresh, clean produce. There are all kinds of pre-mixed smoothies on the grocery store shelves and frozen food aisles. There’s no reason to drink them this way and it sort of defeats the whole purpose. Cut out the middle man and practice eating food in as close to its natural state as possible. The packaged ones often add sweeteners and preservatives. Some suggest you mix them with juice. Some are made with cow’s milk or yogurt that many people allergic to, whereas your homemade smoothie can be made with almond, coconut, hemp, or rice milk. Finally, store bought smoothies cost more because they’re a convenience food. Making your own is a perfect way to use over-ripe fruit that you wouldn’t want to eat otherwise, and the leafy greens that go bad if you’re not eating salads constantly. You can also freeze excess fresh fruit and brown bananas for use later.
So there you have it. Try it and let me know how it goes! Let us know if you have additional tips! Check out my Pinterest for dozens of fruit & veggie recipes.
Keep moving forward,
Abby (firstname.lastname@example.org )
These are some great suggestions! I love most fruits and vegetables, but my husband doesn’t. I often sneak them into recipes because it’s better than nothing. Now I just need to get him to work on trying them.Thanks Abby and good luck with hubby! It’s funny how it used to be only kids who didn’t want to eat their veggies but I know so many adults who don’t eat them either.Jebbica( email@example.com )
Great ideas! I have had a lot of friends try to get me into juicing, but I really just don’t like it at all. I’ve found that I can “hide” veggies in things by taking mixed various veggies, putting them in the Ninja blender (or other food processor/blender), pretty much pureeing them, and adding them to marinara sauce or soups or in bread. I always feel kind of bad for people who don’t like vegetables. Thanks for stopping by Food & Fitness Friday!That’s interesting about juicing! Everyone raves about it but I wondered if I’d like it either. And yes, hiding the veggies is pretty brilliant and easy!Jayni( firstname.lastname@example.org )
Thank you for these ideas! I found an asparagus recipe that called for a sauce made out of low-fat mayo (Miracle Whip for me), yogurt (I used greek), some lemon juice, and a little dill. The asparagus was so good with the sauce! I realized that I could use the sauce on other veggies or food items to give them a new kick. It’s amazing what you can do with just a little creativity.EXACTLY Jayni! Great example and thanks for sharing the recipe!