By Krista Haynes, RD, CSSD
It’s not the end of the world if you don’t like vegetables, but they are the pinnacle of health when it comes to your diet — these fiber-filled rockstars are key players when it comes to healthy digestion, weight management, satiety, longevity, and disease prevention.
But good news for veggie haters: Over time, your taste buds reduce in number and size, thus rendering your taste senses less sharp so things you hated as a kid you might actually enjoy as an adult.
You still might not go from veggie hater to veggie lover overnight, but with a few simple mental shifts and some handy tips in the kitchen, you’ll be on your way to becoming a big fan.
If you need some inspiration, there’s no lack of healthy living blogs — including our own! — that feature an endless number of ways to prepare vegetables.
And if all else fails, you can always go the sneaky route: Researchers have found that “hiding ” veggies in your favorite recipes can help boost your vegetable consumption and decrease total daily caloric intake for the double win.
The Benefits of Eating Vegetables
You’ve been told to eat your peas — and other veggies — for as long as you can remember. But do you know why? Here are three good reasons:
1. Vegetables provide a nutrient bang for your caloric buck
A side-by-side comparison illustrates that for almost the same number of calories, you can either consume 32 baby carrots with two tablespoons hummus or an ounce and a half of pretzels.
Both are crunchy snacks, but carrots and hummus are a more nutrient-rich snack choice. Not only can you eat a bigger portion, it also provides fiber, healthy fats, protein, quality carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients.
In her research, Dr. Barbara J. Rolls, Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Penn State University, found that eating vegetables promotes satiety, thus resulting in fewer total calories consumed.
In laymen’s terms: Foods like big bulky salads or vegetable soup may help you feel more satisfied, even if you’re eating fewer calories.
2. Fruits and vegetables can help you stay “regular”
Talking about fiber might not be sexy, but when it comes to feeling full and losing weight, eating enough fiber can help make that easier.
Fiber is the indigestible portion of plants and takes longer to move through the digestive system, which can promote that “full feeling.” Fiber also adds bulk to your stool, which helps keep things moving along.
But most Americans only get approximately 16 grams of fiber per day, significantly less than the USDA Dietary Guideline’s recommendation of 25–38 grams for women and men respectively. This is mostly due to an over-consumption of packaged, processed foods void of fiber, and a diet lacking in fiber-rich fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
If you’re looking to add more fiber to your diet, for every fruit serving aim for two veggie servings until you reach seven to nine total combined servings per day.
3. Vegetables are versatile
Stay with me here: You may have grown up eating soggy boiled green beans or overcooked broccoli, but as an adult, you have the power to stop cooking veggies until they turn into mush.
A new cooking method (roasting, perhaps?), seasonings and sauces, or simply combining different colors and textures can take your veggie game to the next level.
How to Make Vegetables Taste Good
Find your “starter” vegetable
There are all kinds of vegetables out there and they all taste different. If you don’t already have a favorite veggie, take advantage of opportunities to taste-test different ones at a restaurant or at a dinner party — or if you’re feeling brave, get in the kitchen and start experimenting.
When you come across something that you like, this is your “starter” veggie. Popular vegetables varieties include:
- Leafy greens (spinach, kale, romaine, arugula, dandelion greens, bok choy)
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts)
- Allium (garlic, onion, shallots, leeks)
- Root vegetables (sweet potato, carrot, parsnip, celery, radish)
- Gourds (squash, pumpkin, zucchini)
- Nightshades (eggplant, tomato, white potato, okra)
- Beans and legumes (black beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, soy beans, lentils)
Once you’ve found your starter veggie, you can start experimenting with different preparations until you find the right one for your taste buds.
Experiment with cooking techniques
When you’re iffy on veggies, roasting them is usually a good place to start because it brings out the natural sweetness of each vegetable through a process called caramelization.
Not a fan of roasting? Consider using the grill. Grilled kabobs may spark fond memories of backyard barbecues. Associating vegetables with happy times can help reframe your disdain for them.
Add sauces, herbs, spices, and dips
While it may be counterintuitive to add calories just to get you to eat your veggies, when done within an overall healthy diet, you can still achieve the weight-loss results you want — and eventually, you may find you don’t need the dips and sauces at all!
Dip raw celery or jicama in hummus, spread some all-natural peanut butter over celery sticks (add raisins for that classic ants on a log treat), or kick up your green beans with fresh garlic. Or try this recipe for Acorn Squash or these Balsamic-Glazed Brussels Sprouts.
Some people have a certain taste receptor gene that can increase sensitivity to bitter flavors found in certain vegetables like brussels sprouts, broccoli, and kale. But with the right flavorings (lemon or cinnamon) and preparation methods (sautéed with fresh garlic or roasted with coconut oil), an otherwise bitter leafy green or floret can become a must-have side kick to your main dish.
Mix it up
Try multiple veggies at once instead of singling them out. Something like this Winter Superfoods Bowl can help you combine various flavors and textures into a mixed dish that may suit your taste buds quite nicely.
Go stealth mode
We all know that cheese and bacon can make anything taste ten times better, and sure you can smother cauliflower in cheese and call it Cheesy Cauliflower Nachos, but why not add veggies to the foods you already love?
Some sneaky ideas:
- Add puréed veggies to your pasta sauce.
- Mash cauliflower into mashed white potatoes.
- Blend baby spinach into your fruit smoothie.
- Add puréed pumpkin to your pancake batter or prepared oatmeal.
- Top your pizza with mushrooms.
- Mix half spaghetti noodles with half zucchini noodles.
- Add chopped mushrooms or carrots to your hamburger patty, or better yet, be brave and make a black bean veggie burger.
How to Buy Vegetables
Whether you buy fresh, frozen, pre-cut, or canned depends on how you plan to cook your vegetables — and how much time you have to prepare them.
“Fresh is best” most of the time. When looking for the perfect produce, select vegetables that aren’t wilting and still look vibrant. If your grocer doesn’t carry what you’re looking for, head over to the freezer section.
Frozen produce is basically fresh produce that was frozen at peak ripeness, thus “locking in” all the valuable vitamins and phytonutrients.
In addition, stocking up on frozen produce can help minimize food waste with its longer shelf-life compared to fresh fruits and vegetables.
If you’re pressed for time, pre-cut vegetables may be your saving grace. Heat, air, and light are three elements known to degrade certain nutrients, so keep in mind, the tinier the pieces, the more surface area is exposed to oxygen, thus resulting in nutrient loss.
If possible, choose a package that was freshly prepared at the market and store it in a dark, cold refrigerator.
Canned vegetables often mimic your worst nightmare when it comes to this food group — limp and lifeless. Plus, the preservation process degrades many valuable nutrients.
The only exceptions to this rule are puréed pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling!) and butternut squash, tomatoes, and canned beans. Check the label to make sure your canned veggies are low-sodium or no-salt added.
If you’re concerned about exposure to BPA (bisphenol A), then look for BPA-free cans or glass-jarred veggies.
How to Prepare Vegetables
Feeling fancy? Make your veggies resemble something you already adore: cauliflower rice or mashed cauliflower, zucchini noodles (i.e. “zoodles”), carrot fries, cauliflower pizza crust, broccoli tots, cauliflower breadsticks, or swap portobellos for a burger patty and top it with some lettuce and tomato.
Here are five cooking methods, ranked from top to bottom in the order you’re likely to enjoy most:
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Cut your veggies into similar-sized pieces. Items that cook quickly (broccoli, cauliflower florets) can be roasted without additional chopping, and items that take a little bit longer to soften (beets, sweet potatoes) should be cut into about 1-inch cubes to help everything cook evenly.
Arrange in single layer on a large parchment or aluminum foil-lined baking sheet and drizzle with coconut or olive oil, then toss to coat.
Add herbs or spices like fresh rosemary, thyme, chili powder, or cumin for additional flavor. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, depending on type of veggie, turning once or twice during cooking to brown evenly and ensure they don’t get too crispy.
Note: Softer, smaller veggies require less time than dense veggies like roots and tubers.
Prepare grill to medium heat. Cut vegetables so they are large enough to lay flat on the grill without falling through.
Lightly coat veggies with coconut or light olive oil, and add a dash of salt and pepper. Grill to desired tenderness. Cook times vary, depending on type of veggie, approximately four minutes (asparagus) to 10 minutes (bell peppers).
Wash and chop vegetables so they are evenly sized. In a large skillet set on medium-high heat, add a tablespoon of extra virgin olive or coconut oil and chopped garlic.
Add vegetables and continue to cook and stir until desired tenderness (you can easily insert a fork, but not overly mushy), about five or more minutes. Season with herbs and spices.
Note: Leafy greens will wilt faster than other vegetables so add those in the final minute of cooking.
Add about an inch of water to a large saucepan. Place a steamer basket into the pan and fill with vegetables in their ready-to-eat form. Just like roasted vegetables, dense ones (like the root veggies) will take longer to cook. Cutting these into smaller half inch cubes helps reduce the amount of time to doneness.
Cover with the lid and steam on medium-high for two to 15 minutes, depending on the size and type of vegetables (spinach and asparagus take less time to cook than tubers or root veggies).
Be careful not to overcook to the point that green veggies turn brown or bright veggies turn dull. Cook to the point where a fork can be inserted, but the veggie is still a bit firm. Almost any veggie works well when steamed. Season to taste.
Wash, chop, and chow down. You may want to dunk these in a healthy dip or combine in a salad and drizzle with dressing so they’re not so boring. However, if munching on raw celery or carrots is your thing, then by all means carry on!
The Bottom Line
Even if you’re a lifelong avoider of vegetables, take heart: With an open mind and a little creativity and crafty cooking, you can start adding more of this healthy food group to your diet.