According to the food pyramid, to maintain sufficient overall health, we need to consume three servings of vegetables daily. I agree that three is good. However, I believe four is better – and five? Now you’re talking my lingo. Vegetables supply us with a plethora of vitamins, minerals, and fiber keeping our immune systems ready for battle and organs running smoothly. Unfortunately, for many people, forcing down five servings of vegetables can be disheartening and downright depressing. If your love of vegetables ranks in the “I’d rather not” category, I’ve got good news and great ways to penetrate that vegetable world. Following are just a few sneaky ways to keep your veggies in the mix.
Try adding shredded zucchini to spaghetti sauce — homemade or even from a jar. Typically, zucchini’s mild flavor is undetectable amongst the flavorful Italian spices. Shredded zucchini can be added to chili for an extra blast of veggies as well. Toss a cup into your meatloaf to keep it moist as well as reaping added health benefits.
Zucchini is a great source of fiber, vitamins A and C, potassium and folate. Because it is dense in water, it also is low in calories. When using a zucchini, don’t forget to thoroughly wash the outside, as you certainly want to utilize the nutrient-rich skin in your recipes. Zucchini is easy to shred with a basic cheese grater and one large zucchini will typically yield two cups of shredded healthy bliss.
One cup of cauliflower brings to the table 25 nutrient rich calories, packing a hefty punch of vitamin C, folate and fiber. My all time favorite cauliflower magic trick is turning cauliflower into mashed potatoes. Start by peeling and cutting a few potatoes, readying them to boil. Then, thoroughly wash the white bulbous heads of the cauliflower and toss them into the pot of water to boil with potatoes. I use a 2:1 ratio of cauliflower to potatoes. After boiling for 10-15 minutes, simply mash the cauliflower and potatoes together in a bowl. Try adding some low-sodium chicken broth or even a few tablespoons of fat-free ranch dressings to add flavor and creaminess. I’ve even been known to toss a teaspoon of horseradish into to the mix for a spicy potato mash.
Ever eat a mushroom the size of your fist? Try-a portabell-a! These ferocious fungi are rich in minerals; especially the much needed, and often neglected mineral selenium. Selenium is found in our rich soils and has cancer-fighting properties. One big ol’ portabella will only cost you 20-30 calories, so dig in!
Wash off a few mushrooms, pluck out the stems, brush with a dab of olive oil and toss them on the grill for a nutty, smoky, beefy treat. Some varieties are even big enough to use as a “bun” for a turkey burger. For the bite size mushrooms, add a dab of hot sauce into the center before grilling for a healthy hors d’oeuvre.
My all time favorite veggie packed lunch, is a classic pizza… made in a nontraditional manner. Sprinkle a quarter cup of low-fat shredded mozzarella onto a whole grain, low-fat sandwich wrap. Top off with bite size pieces of zucchini, green peppers, green onions, carrots, or mushrooms. Well-rinsed canned kidney beans or chickpeas will add additional fiber as well as protein to the mix. Top your creation with a few tomatoes slices, a sprinkling of basil, then and pop into to a 400 degree oven for a quick seven minutes. Be ready to enjoy a delicious and healthy eating experience.
My final friendly vegetable is, arguably, not a vegetable at all, but rather a fruit. However, I would be remiss to not include this vitamin-packed, cholesterol lowering, fiber-rich gem – the avocado. Use it as a sandwich topper – mash a ripe avocado, add a sprinkling of salt, pepper and a squirt of lemon juice. Two tablespoons of this creamy, yummy treat will yield only 50 calories and 4.5 grams of fat (which, by the way, is the healthy mono-saturated version) as opposed to mayo which presents you with 100 calories and 9 grams of fat. You will be giving your body a healthy helping of B vitamins and, believe it or not, fiber as well.
As you can see the next time you hear the phrase “three servings of vegetables a day” you need not despair. Remember, it doesn’t take eating a mountain of raw broccoli (although, I find that rather delicious as well) to be healthy. Let your imagination run wild as you trip the light fantastic to a healthy new you!