8 Ways to Increase Your Veggie Intake

Eat your vegetables!

How many people does this send into some sort of panic? Visions of your mother force feeding you peas until your plate is clean?

While everyone has different needs and concerns when it comes to nutrition, there is one common theme that can almost always be applicable. Eat more veggies. I don’t care how many you eat already, you can always eat more. And with so many variations on cooking techniques, seasonal veggies, and ways to disguise them, there are almost no viable excuses as to why you aren’t getting enough of these wonder-foods in your life.

Vegetables provide us with essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and other nutrients that help our bodies to be highly functioning, disease fighting machines. But, I am well aware that that fact alone is not enough to get some people to eat enough vegetables. Some people don’t like the taste of many veggies, some don’t know how they should cook them, and some feel that they aren’t convenient. Today I’m going to give you 7 of my favorite tips to include vegetables in your life, and no matter what your excuse is, you’ll be a veggie eating machine in no time.

1. Green up your smoothies. Adding spinach or kale into any berry smoothie (1-2 cups) is a great way to add a nutrient punch without altering the flavor. Yes, the color will be a little off, but I promise you the flavor will not suffer. Spinach is a great source of iron, which many people (vegetarians especially) may not eat enough of, and Kale is a great source of Vitamins K, A, and C just to name a few benefits.

This was a berry smoothie made with spinach. Yum! 

2. Prep and Store Smartly. Don’t have enough time to chop bell peppers and carrots every day? Prep your favorite veggies early on in the week. Store them in clear containers and place them on the front of a shelf in your fridge. You’re more likely to eat what’s right in front of you, and veggie strips dipped in a little hummus can be a very satisfying snack mid day (the fiber is filling and will help keep you full longer than a sugary snack).

3. Beef Up Your Salads. Many people think that a salad for lunch is not nearly enough… And those people are usually the ones for whom a salad consists of a few pieces of lettuce, maybe a tomato or two, and a couple slices of cucumber if they’re lucky. Personally, I eat salads almost every day of the week for lunch, but they are not wimpy bowls of wilted lettuce… They are overflowing with filling veggies, protein, seeds, and other goodness. On a typical week day, my salad consists of spinach, grilled chicken, black bean salad, broccoli slaw, bell peppers, carrots, cucumbers, feta cheese, hard boiled egg, and sometimes salsa. (Salsa is an excellent alternative to dressing, by the way). If you beef up your salad with enough vegetables (that you can pre-cut at the beginning of the week, as per point #2!), add some protein and healthy fats (avocado, egg, etc.), and you’ll be golden. With plenty of fiber, protein, and fat, it’s not just a salad, it’s a meal chock full of essential, and healthy, nutrients.

This is my usual salad… Look at all of that flavor and nutrient packed goodness!

4. Disguise them in other foods. If you’re a pasta eater, chop up a few extra bell peppers and mushrooms and hide them in the sauce. Add some roasted veggies to a home made pizza.  As stated above, add them into your smoothies. Add more than a recipe calls for into soups, stews or casseroles.  If you don’t love veggies, there are plenty of ways to combine them with other foods so that you can hardly even taste them, you just have to be a little creative!

Ok, didn’t make this one myself, but this is a pizza we ordered recently. Salad on a pizza? Ok by me! 

5. Include them in your breakfast. Eggs and veggies make an excellent combo. In particular, broccoli, eggs, and spinach are a flavor match made in heaven if you ask me! Other great add-ins to eggs are sauteed mushrooms, bell peppers, and even asparagus. I recently cooked up an awesome scramble with spinach and broccoli-slaw, and it was a delicious and quick meal, with extremely little prep time or clean-up. Veggies can be a great way to add a little more of a nutritional value to an otherwise bland or predictable breakfast, and can give your meal that staying power to keep you satisfied until lunch rolls around.  Another quick and sneaky way to add a tiny bit of veggies to your eggs? Salsa! I swear, salsa with eggs is one of the best flavor combinations ever.

Eggs, broccoli, spinach, and feta. Quadruple yum! 

6. Get creative with cooking methods.  Veggies can be cooked in so many ways! Roasting, steaming, stir-frying, the list goes on and on. I’m a fanatic when it comes to roasting veggies, especially broccoli, asparagus, and brussells sprouts. Every time someone tells me that they hate brussells sprouts, I ask them if they’ve had them roasted yet. It improves the flavor by about 1000% and turns them into a tasty addition to any lunch or dinner. All you need is an oven, a little olive oil and seasoning to your taste, and about 10-30 minutes for cooking time, depending on the oven and type of vegetable you’re preparing.

7. Challenge yourself with variety. Many people struggle with eating enough vegetables because they get stuck eating the same ones over and over again, or they just remember horror stories of peas-gone-bad from their childhood.  Adding in a little variety can open  you up to a whole new world of flavors and textures, and experimenting with these can add new elements to recipes you’ve been making for years. One way to do this is to commit to buying a set number of veggies each week (say, 3 veggies each week, one of which you haven’t tried before). Doing this can add a fun challenge to grocery shopping and cooking, and may even lead you to new recipes! You could also consider joining a local CSA or farm share, in which case you have no control over the veggies you receive, so it’s kind of a tough love approach to trying new things.

8. Spice it up! No need to reach for the heavy, creamy dressings or fake cheese sauces to make the veggies go down easier. It’s amazing how just a few spices can turn your everyday vegetable dish into something delicious. Curry powder, chilli powder, ginger, rosemary, oregano, or my personal favorite, Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute, all turn veggies into something new. Take, for instance, the veggies that Will and I cooked up last week. Instead of the usual sautee of zucchini and squash that we do pretty much every week, we followed this recipe (substituting sweet potatoes for regular), added in a few more spices, and voila! A whole new way to enjoy our veggies. And you know what? It was scrumptious.

So there you have it: My top 8 ways to include more veggies in your diet. It’s really not that hard, right? Even if you can’t afford fresh produce every week, frozen vegetables are an excellent and healthy alternative. Including more vegetables in your diet can yield positive changes in every aspect of your health, so what are you waiting for?

Did I miss anything here? What’s your most creative way to include more vegetables in your diet? How many servings of vegetables would you say you eat per day? Do you tend to eat the same ones again and again or do you eat a large variety of veggies?

Fun Foods Friday – Party Edition

I know I’m a couple weeks late on the 4th of July, but it is mid-summer which means that most of us are going to BBQs, pool parties, picnics, etc. more often than not. So I thought today I’d bring you one (or two actually) of my favorite recipes to make when I’m invited to a cookout/party.

They’re both easy, tasty, and asked for repeatedly every time I make them.

Homemade Pita Chips and White Bean Dip! Say it with me: Yummmmm.

The pita chips are my own recipe, and the White Bean Dip is actually from Giada DeLaurentiis. Enjoy!


Garlic Parmesan Pita Chips

Ingredients:

2 Bags 8″ Pitas – (4 Pitas each) I usually buy 1 bag of regular and 1 whole wheat, but it’s up to you!

1/3 C Olive Oil – You’re going to want to use a high quality EVOO, it will make a difference.

2 Cloves Garlic, crushed

Salt/Pepper – To Taste

2 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions:

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cut each pita in half horizontally (split it into its 2 separate pieces) and then into 1/8ths. My pieces rarely end up perfect triangles though, you can really cut them as big or small as you want, or in whatever funky shapes you want. Mix olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and parmesan (and whatever spices you decide to throw in) in a medium sized bowl. I like to let the mixture sit for at least a half hour before dressing the chips, to let the garlic really infuse the EVOO a little bit. In a large bowl, place about  1/4 of the pita pieces. Drizzle a portion of the olive oil mixture over top, (you won’t need a ton), and then hand toss until all chips are lightly coated. Spread pita pieces in a single layer on a cookie sheet (I like to put them “rough” side up), and sprinkle lightly with sea salt and/or a little bit more parmesan if desired. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool, and repeat the process with the rest of the chips/oil until all are complete! 

They are really very easy, and cool fast. My only tip is to make sure that you cook them enough — if they are undercooked they tend to get chewy and taste stale. It may take you a couple of batches to figure out the exact right time for your oven and the right color to take them out at!

Of course, you can try so many different flavor combinations. I didn’t add the parmesan until the last time I made them, but I loved it so much I’m going to keep doing it. Herbs such as rosemary or oregano would also be a delicious addition! I personally prefer these to the store bought ones because they taste “real”. Besides, making up your own flavor combinations is way more fun, and they really aren’t that much work.

And to pair with the pita chips, a perfect  summer dip is White Bean Dip. If you’ve never tried it, you may be skeptical like I was. But it’s a very light dip with citrus and garlic flavors, perfect for a casual summer cookout!

I followed this recipe from Giada DeLaurentiis, from her book Everyday Italian. The recipe is also very easy, and pairs perfectly with the pita chips. She says that this is the italian version of hummus, so I’ll take her word for it. Either way, it’s a great little way to mix it up instead of the usual guac or hummus (although I do love both like crazy), and it also seems like it’d be a great sandwich spread if you have leftovers!  She also has her own recipe for pita chips on here, and although I haven’t tried her version, I’m sure they’re delicious as well.

Assemble the ingredients (click the link above for the recipe page from The Food Network), throw in a food processor (I used a magic bullet and it worked perfectly), and you’re good to go!

Now dig in!

Enjoy your weekend everyone! Do you make homemade pita chips? What’s your favorite chip dip?

 

Cooking Ahead to Make Life Easier

I totally missed the boat this week on What I Ate Wednesday, the foodie-voyeuristic trend of the healthy living blogosphere. Not that I’ve participated in one of these yet, and I don’t have any definite plan of doing so in the future, but I did have some food pictures all ready to post this week.

And then life happened.

This week has been a whirlwind (Wait…it’s ONLY Thursday??) and on top of a busy schedule full of late nights at work, I also have an exam on Friday that I’m trying to prep for. So that means.. You guessed it… No time for blogging.

Cue: Sad puppy dog face

However, here I am with a quickie post on this beautiful Thursday because I just can’t stay away!

Since I knew this was going to be a crazy week from the get-go, I knew that I would have to do a little bit of prep on Sunday and Monday in order to actually have food to eat for the rest of the week. So THIS is what I did:

Thai Peanut Chicken Stir Fry

First, I went to the grocery store and loaded up on an assortment of veggies… Bell peppers, mushrooms, green cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. These were all chopped and the peppers, broccoli and cauliflower were sent into the large fry pan first with a little bit of coconut oil, while the chicken was cooking separately.

Ooh..Colorful!

Into the pan they go…

Once these got to be a little bit tender, in went the mushrooms and cabbage to round out the veggies, and I also added the chicken and Thai Peanut sauce at this point.

All of this simmered together for a little while until the veggies were tender and it became one big mess of Thai-Peanut flavored goodness.

I used this San-J Thai Peanut sauce, which was very good!! If you’re going to go the store bought route, I definitely recommend this. It’s gluten free, has no artificial anything, and the ingredient list is short. Yes, it has high sodium but anything with a soy-sauce base is going to, which is ok in my book sometimes.

And because I have NO time this week, I made a crap ton of this stuff to last me. I ended up getting 3 full meals out of it served on a bed of brown rice. I also saved a bunch of the cooked veggies before the peanut sauce went in, so that I could make a personal sized Veggie Flatbread Pizza later on in the week, using a Trader Joe’s Whole Wheat Flat Bread.

These things are Perfect for quick personal sized pizzas!

Finding ways to transform your meals and reuse ingredients is key when cooking ahead of time and in large quantities. I knew that I would need pre-made dinners all week, but also knew that I wouldn’t want to be eating exactly the same flavors every. single. day. So I got a little creative! Since there are literally a million and a half things you can do with cooked veggies, having a bunch of them made at the beginning of the week is a great idea when you know you won’t have a ton of free time coming your way.

And before I forget, I also made these coconut almond flour pancakes from Clean Eating Chelsea. Chelsea caught my attention with these about a week or two ago, and I couldn’t wait to try them. I think the name says it all, but they are DELICIOUS. And filling too!! If you’re looking for a good pancake recipe that will stick with you and completely satisfy, than look no further. I can’t show you any pictures of mine because they were a complete visual fail, but just trust me that they were scrumptious! (Or better yet, make them yourself and test them out!!)

Do any of you have to do massive food prep to start the week? Did anyone eat Pie yesterday for Pi Day? Happy Eating everyone!

Raid Your Pantry – Trans Fats in Hiding

I’m going to start today’s post with a story:

Back in my college days, I did an internship at a local hospital, where I spent most of my days handing out Saltine Crackers and Ginger Ale to patients (in between bed-pan cleanings, of course).  One fine day, I went to give some kind old gentleman his Saltine Crackers as usual. However, this particular guy was not very pleased with his food selection. Upon reading the label, he threw them at me yelling “I’m Not eating any of that partially-hydrogenated CRAP!!”  Meaning, of course, the partially hydrogenated oils on the ingredient list.

Now, at the time, I thought he was Bat Sh*t Crazy. But as it turns out, he knew his stuff. As we know now, partially hydrogenated oils = trans-fats = devil food. Trans-fats are not to be lumped in with the other fats I mentioned here and here, as these guys have actually been shown to lower your HDL (good cholesterol) and raise your LDL (bad cholesterol), contributing significantly to coronary heart disease.  Trans-fats DO exist in some animal products in trace amounts, so it may be virtually impossible to eliminate them completely, and the National Academy of Sciences has  “recommended that trans fatty acid consumption be as low as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet”.  To make it simple, avoiding all natural sources: almost impossible. Avoiding processed sources: totally possible.

Fast forward to present day.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that Will (mah boyfriend) was going through the kitchen throwing away some of our spices. Now, considering the fact that this is someone who gets very upset about throwing food away, this was something that was extremely out of the ordinary. When I went to investigate, it turns out that he was throwing these spices out for good reason. A reason that will probably surprise a lot of you: They had trans-fats in them.

Shocking, I know.

While most of us have gotten the memo about the evils of trans-fats and cleared our homes of all the processed crap that contains this stuff (…right?) I bet one place you never thought you had to look was in your spice cabinet.

Now, I’m not talking about the legitimate spices, like oregano, basil, thyme, etc. I’m talking about the spice mixes. The ones that we found in our kitchen alone were:

McCormick Garlic Sea Salt

McCormick Montreal Chicken Seasoning

McCormick Vegetable Medley Seasoning

Of Course none of them list trans-fats on the nutrition label, but a closer look at the ingredient list revealed the culprit:

Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (aka Trans-Fat City)

And as I’m sure most people are aware of by now, companies are allowed to list “0 Trans Fats” on the nutrition facts, as long as the amount per serving is less than .5 grams. Before you yell at me, yes, the amount that you’d be getting from one shake of the spice jar is miniscule.  But the kicker is that trans-fats accumulate in your body, which  means that if you have a little here, and a little there, they will add up, and they may very well do you harm in the long run.

After we found this little devil hiding in our pantry, I took it upon myself to do a little investigating. I actually went to our local grocery store (Shaw’s) and stood in the baking aisle, reading the ingredient label for just about every single spice.  Yes, I did get a few weird looks, but hey, it’s worth it in the name of public health, right?

As for the results of my spice-snoop: I have both good news and bad news for you.

First, the good news:

The spices that I had in my pantry were a little bit older (probably at least a couple of years, honestly), and in my new search I found that McCormick has apparently smartened up and eliminated the trans-fats from their ingredients, including in the spices mentioned above. YAY McCormick!

And Now, for the bad news:

As I got through the McCormick spices, I was happy to see no partially-hydrogenated oils on any of the ingredient lists. However, I did find some on a couple of other spices from a company called Lawrys: in their Garlic Salt and Garlic Powder.

(Sorry about the blur, I was trying to take these relatively quickly before I was asked to leave for creeping on the spices for too long)

I know it’s a little difficult to read, but both of these include partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never even considered that there may be trans-fats in the spices that I’m using, especially something that seems so simple as garlic salt.

So I guess I have two major thoughts here:

  1. Lawrys: Get your act together. You know better. 
  2. It is worth taking the five minutes to check your own pantry. If you are like me and tend to hold on to spices for a while, you just may have some of these old McCormick spices that have trans-fats in them, and there are clearly some brands that are still using them today, unfortunately.

And on those lines, just because I was in the baking aisle, I decided to scope out some pudding mixes as well since I’ve been seeing quite a few recipes on blogs that include pudding mixes as sweeteners for greek yogurt/cottage cheese/etc. What I found was that all of the Jello Brand pudding was trans-fat free (Yay!!), however my store (Shaws) brand, was not (Boo).

So finally, just a reminder to be careful because trans-fats can hide in the sneakiest of places, the foods where you would least expect them. Have any of you had to eliminate foods you like because of trans-fats? Do you pay attention to food labels and ingredient lists?