Current dietary guidelines recommend consuming at least 2 1/2 cups of vegetables per day, but less than 1 in 10 Americans actually meet this goal.
What’s more, if parents aren’t eating their vegetables, you can bet that their kids aren’t either. In a recent study, nearly 40% of teens reported eating vegetables less than once a day, with median vegetable intake at less than 2 servings daily. So what’s the big deal? What harm comes from eating a few less salads and keeping your distance from kale? Well, aside from missing out on great taste, a lot.
What vitamins are in vegetables?
Vegetables contain a variety of nutrients important for your body, including:
- Vitamin A – for healthy eyes, glowing skin, and increased protection from infections
- Vitamin C – a powerful antioxidant and essential nutrient that helps heal wounds and keep gums and teeth happy and healthy
- Potassium – helps maintain healthy blood pressure
- Fiber – decreases the risk of coronary artery disease, maintains regular bowel movements, and regulates blood sugar levels
Even if the list of nutritious benefits stopped there-which it doesn’t-vegetables are still an arguably important part of our daily diet. Veggies are beneficial to our health and wellness, reducing the risks of chronic diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease and hypertension. So how do we get more veggies into our daily diet?
Three easy ways to boost your veggie intake
Add a variety of fruits and vegetables into your homemade smoothie to pack a real nutritious punch. Unbeknownst to your taste buds, you can include a full serving (1 cup) or more of dark leafy greens in these delicious smoothie recipes. Jjust don’t forget the fruit! Try these combinations and you’ll be begging for more.
- 1/2 a frozen banana, broken into chunks; 1/3 cup plain yogurt; 1 heaping Tbsp. of peanut butter or nut butter of your choice; ½ cup frozen strawberries; 2 huge handfuls (about 2-3 cups) of fresh spinach; water to thin. I call this the “PB & J” smoothie. Serve in a colored cup with a lid and straw and you’ll never even guess that 2 servings of veggies are inside!
- *1 large 14-oz smoothie or 2 small 7-oz smoothies. For 14-oz serving: Calories: 250; Total Fat: 10g; Sat Fat: 2.4g; Carbohydrate: 31g; Dietary Fiber: 5g; Sodium: 193mg; Excellent source of Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, Calcium, Folate, Magnesium, Manganese, and Vitamin B2
- 1/2 cup frozen sweet cherries; 1/3 cup plain yogurt; 1 handful (or about a cup) of fresh spinach; 2 leaves of fresh kale, stem removed; ¼ cup orange juice; water to thin; maple syrup to sweeten, if desired. Sweet and tart, this concoction will start the day off right, and you get an added calcium kick with the kale!
- 1 large 14-oz smoothie or 2 small 7-oz smoothies. For 14-oz serving: Calories: 150; Total Fat: 1.6g; Sat Fat: <1g; Carbohydrates: 28g; Dietary Fiber: 2.8g; Sodium: 95mg; Excellent source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, Folate, and Manganese
2. Veggies…for Breakfast
Including a serving of veggies before noon is a great way to get ahead on your daily needs.
- Celery with a bit of nut butter is both filling and nutritious. The protein and healthy oils from the nut butter combined with the fiber in the celery will keep you satisfied for a longer period of time. And, you’ll be one serving closer to your daily needs! Sprinkle some wheat germ on top for a tasty, sweet, and fun textured treat with a kick of vitamin E.
- For breakfast lovers, eggs are the perfect compliment to those lonely veggies sitting in the fridge. An omelet loaded with mushrooms, peppers, and onion with a sprinkle of cheese is a hearty meal to start your day off right.
- For a baked breakfast bite, try veggie-based muffins like carrot pumpkin or the zucchini muffin recipe below. Indulge in a lovely baked good while chipping away at your daily vegetable needs.
- 1 egg, ¼ cup cane sugar, 2 Tbsp maple syrup, 1 ¼ cup finely shredded zucchini (squeeze and pat with paper towels to release excess moisture), 3 Tbsp coconut oil (melted), ½ tsp vanilla, heaping ½ tsp baking soda, 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour, heaping ¼ tsp cinnamon, and a dash of salt. Mix all the ingredients together until just combined and then distribute batter evenly into 6 paper-lined muffins cups. Bake for about 20 minutes at 325°F, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- *Makes 6 Muffins, serving size = 1 muffin. Per Serving; Calories: 200; Fat: 8g; Sat Fat: 6g; Carbohydrate: 30g; Dietary Fiber: 3.3g; Sodium: 178mg
3. Mixing Magic
Add vegetables to other recipes you love.
- Spaghetti sauce is the perfect canvas to get creative with your veggies. Frozen chopped spinach blends in seamlessly to most recipes. Finely diced, sautéed carrots, celery, onions, and mushrooms add nutrition without compromising flavor. Blend the sauces in a blender or food processor before serving and your picky eaters won’t know the difference.
- Butternut squash mixed into mac and cheese is a fun new twist that adds a touch of sweetness and another servings of vegetables.
- Pile high a healthy frozen pizza with fresh cut veggies. Afraid your little one won’t be fooled? Make the pizza from scratch using a pre-made dough or a simple homemade dough recipe. Then add the veggies into your pizza sauce. Try pumpkin puree and fresh spinach and make sure to blend well so the extra vegetables fit seamlessly into your pizza-night fun.
Be creative; see what other recipes might benefit from a little veggie pizzazz! With extra veggies in your diet, both your taste buds and your health will thank you. You’ll be up to five servings in no time and wonder how you ever survived without all that veggie power.