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?

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Extra! Extra! TOO Much Extra.

Howdy.

How was everybody’s weekend? Mine was pretty flipping fantastic. From snowboarding, to great times with friends, to fabulous food, this weekend had pretty much everything. Although, in the midst of all of this “everything”, I began to realize that there has been a little bit too much of “everything” lately. A few examples of recent awesomeness within the past couple of weeks…

Cappuccino and Berry Bread Pudding from Flour in Cambridge, MA. To die for.

Will came home with these one night from Berry Line, my favorite fro-yo place. How could I ever turn that down?

Not so much of an indulgence as a work of art. This was from our Friday night Sushi date at FuGaKyu in Brookline, MA, and was special made as an off-the-menu surprise!

Indulgence is not a bad thing, but overall my food intake has increased lately, for no good reason (And I’m not just talking about this weekend, this has been a noticeable trend as of late), my treats have become a little bit too frequent, my sleep patterns have been way off, and I’m starting to feel a little off because of all of this. So what can I do about it? And more importantly, what can you do about it if you’re in a similar position to me (whether now or in the future, because I’m pretty sure everyone goes through phases like this)?

Make like Christina Aguilera and…

Take it back to basics. 

I’m not saying to stop indulging all together, or to strip your diet down to spinach leaves and egg whites (the horror!), but I am saying that it’s helpful to take some time to take things down a notch. How?

  • Really work to be mindful of extra (nonsensical) snacking, whether that means leaving yourself post it notes around the house, keeping yourself otherwise occupied instead of meandering into the kitchen every 30 minutes, keeping a food journal, or whatever works best for you. Personally, I’m a creature of habit. For me, it’s all about creating patterns during my day, creating a new habit and forcing myself to stick with it for a few days. After that, it becomes natural.
  • Think about hunger vs. thirst vs. boredom vs. emotions. Sometimes these all can blur into one, and it can be difficult to distinguish why you’re reaching for that mid-day snack when you just at lunch an hour ago.  Keeping a food journal for a week or two might help you pinpoint things like this if you are having a hard time figuring out your patterns.
  • Remember that treats are treats. Treats do not need to be an every day occurrence (although try telling me that when I’ve got chocolate on the brain). The funny thing is, the more that you indulge in extras, the less satisfying they become, which leads to more, and more and more….. Keeping something as a true once-in-a-while indulgence makes it that much better when you do get to have it.
  • Decrease your added sugar intake. I try to watch this on a regular basis, but you’d be surprised at how often sugar is added to foods that you would never think of. And I’m not going to get into the physiological effect of too much sugar right now, but to make a long story short, the less sugar you eat, the less you crave. It’s pretty simple.
  • Keep it colorful. More than likely, the more colorful veggies and nutritious foods you’re eating, the less crap you’re eating.
Yes, this is all stuff you’ve heard before. But sometimes, doesn’t it help to just take it down to a basic level and start fresh?

For me specifically, I know that I go through these over-indulgent phases every once in a while, but I am also pretty good at realizing what is going on and stopping it before it gets out of control. I also know that for me, it usually stems from stress or another emotional place, so really keeping my stress levels in check is a way that I can keep the rest of me healthy as well.   Getting back on my normal track just takes a little self talk, a lot of self discipline, and the realization that I really do feel a whole heck of a lot better once I get through one of these patches.

So after this way-too-much-of-everything epiphany yesterday, I ate some great fresh whole foods and had an amazing (and ass-kicking) stadium run to clear my head. I prepped some delicious food for the week (which I will be showing you in a few days!), and after having refreshed over a long weekend I am more than ready to take on this week at work.  The most important thing is to not let this become yet another stressor. Just accept the fact that some changes need to be made, give it some thought, make a plan, and move on.

What about you guys? Do you ever go through phases where there’s just a little too much extra everything? What tools do you use to scale back and re-focus?

My Favorite Things

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens… 

THESE are a few of my favorite things.

Happy Friday! Today, I just thought I’d take some time to share some of my favorite things with you all, so that maybe they can become some of your favorite things too! Because really, they’re all pretty awesome.

Ready?

Trader Joes Organic Creamy Peanut Butter. Seriously, this stuff is like crack.

Speaking of Peanut Butter… This is Buckeye Ice Cream from Toscaninis in Cambridge, MA. Hands down the BEST ice cream I’ve ever had. And you can get it in a microscoop (shown here). Perfect size for a little indulgence!

My new favorite breakfast! Oats cooked in Almond Milk, with a touch of brown sugar, a few raisins, and about a Tbs of PB plopped right in the middle. I also put some almond slivers on this one. De-li-cious.

Roasted Veggies! ALL veggies are better roasted, in my opinion. My faves are broccoli, brussels sprouts, and asparagus. Yum!

A great cup of coffee (or in this case, a Dirty Chai) is always appreciated. And some good latte art doesn’t hurt either! This is at Taste Coffe House in Newton, MA.

Ok, getting away from the food here. My absolute favorite workout of all time: stadium runs at Harvard Stadium. I took this while running one night, under the lights. Love!

On days when I can’t get to the gym, my pull-up bar is where its at! You can see the strap around my right knee; I do them assisted so that I can do more than 2 in a row 🙂

Moving on from all things nutrition and workout related — My triple wrap bracelet from Marc Bernstein NY. I’m actually madly in love with this bracelet, it’s kind of unhealthy.

My Nieces! Olivia above, and Maya below. It was Maya’s 3rd birthday last week, Happy Birthday little M! These girls are so amazing because they are so different from each other, and they are both so ridiculously adorable, unique, polite and friendly. And their mom is a pretty cool blogger to boot!

That’s all for now…

I realize that this is a big mishmash of things, most of which aren’t related. And I also realize that it would be creepy if some of these things (namely, my nieces) became your favorite things too. But for the rest of it, enjoy!

Happy Friday everyone!

My Food Philosophy

If you read a lot of fitness and nutrition blogs, you’ve probably been hearing a lot about a few things: IF (Intermittent Fasting), Paleo, Clean Eating, among other things. I do not follow IF, if only because I’m a ravenous beast in the morning when I don’t eat breakfast. Paleo doesn’t appeal to me for a number of reasons. But just because I don’t follow these practices, doesn’t mean that I think they are wrong, I just think that they might not be the best for me.

My food philosophy has little to do with strict rules and guidelines, and more to do with treating yourself well.

My very loosely followed guidelines are something like this:

  • Eat REAL foods whenever possible. Vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, real butter(!), fruits, etc. When you’re eating real, unprocessed foods, your body is better able to process and absorb the nutrients that it needs.
  • Even when snacking on “bad” foods, eat real foods!* What is a Dorito anyway? What is that color? If you want to eat some scrumptious snack foods, then by all means go ahead. But try to at least eat something that is made from just a few real-food ingredients. My general rule is that if there are things on the ingredient list that you A) can’t identify, and B) can’t pronounce, then it’s probably not real food. Stay away! *Note: I’m a firm believer that there are actually no “Bad” foods. Just try to keep this kind of stuff to a minimum, and you’ll probably want it less anyway. See below.
  • Eat more of the good stuff, and you’ll crave the fake stuff less. See, when I was in my early 20s, I ate all the convenience foods I could find. If it was frozen and made with some sort of cheese product, I was probably eating it. And it showed. And I craved it every day. Now that I eat much cleaner, even looking at that type of food in the grocery store makes my mouth go dry and my stomach turn a little bit. Stop eating non-food crap, and you’ll stop craving non-food crap!
  • Appreciate quality over quantity. Real butter. Gourmet cheeses. Eat a candy bar. Are you satisfied? Probably not. Now eat a square of high quality, gourmet dark chocolate. Are you satisfied now? Most likely.  Higher quality foods will satisfy you more than overly processed foods every time.
  • Eat some fat. Peanut butter is my lifeline, and eggs are good for you! Try having a little bit of full fat, high quality cheese, and you’ll probably be 10 times more satisfied than eating 5 pieces of low-fat cheese. Not only does quality make a difference, but fat is satiating and including a moderate amount in your diet will help you to stay more satisfied than gorging yourself with any non-fat processed replacement.

So there you go. These are my loosely followed food “rules”. I say loosely, because I believe that there is room for just about anything in everyone’s diet, within reason.  I am by no means the perfect eater, and I fall prey to sweets and snacks just like the rest of the world. But I understand that deprivation leads to self-control chaos, and indulging every once in a while helps to keep me sane and happy. Besides, what is a world without cupcakes and self-serve Fro-Yo?

Mixx Frozen Yogurt in Boston, MA. My Kryptonite.

What did I miss? What are Your food rules?