We knew it was bad, but not this bad: Nearly 90 percent of Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This is something we should all be embarrassed about, since meeting the fruit and vegetable recommendations is incredibly straightforward: The most recent edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests that adults consume just one and a half to two cups of fruit per day, and two to three cups of vegetables.
The research shows that it’s worth it: Plant-heavy diets have been proven to reduce your risk of developing type-2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer. For that reason — and because it’s completely ridiculous that grown adults are refusing to eat their greens (I’ve eaten at least two salads this year already, so I’m feeling super judgey) — I reached out to a bunch of plant-based chefs and a nutritional therapy practitioner to figure how to eat more vegetables without having to force down another sad salad.
Dana Murrell, executive research and development chef at Green Chef: I love using cauliflower rice — either in place of rice, or mixed in with regular rice. I also enjoy sauteing or roasting a mix of vegetables and putting them in tacos: Sweet potatoes and mushrooms are one of my favorite combos. They still provide the heftiness of meat because of the umami profile coming from the mushrooms. Finally, I love to roast whole carrots or beets to use as the featured vegetables in a dish.
Sarah Heilman, executive sous chef at Green Chef: I second cauliflower rice — that’s a good sneaky vegetable. Another way to sneak vegetables into your diet is to purée cauliflower into a soup or sauce as the creamy element (instead of using heavy cream). You can also add puréed sweet potato into a red sauce or bisque.
Baked parsnip fries (or other root vegetable fries) are also awesome! Using applesauce as a substitute for oil while baking is great. Pumpkin pancakes (add puréed pumpkin into pancake mix) are a good winter recipe. I also get my boyfriend to enjoy eating more vegetables by making spiralized vegetable noodles (from zucchini or sweet potato). Lastly, I always throw a large handful of spinach into my eggs in the morning.
Andrea Nordby, head of culinary at Purple Carrot: I have a few tips, actually:
- Sneak them into smoothies — in addition to kale and spinach, you can blend frozen zucchini, summer squash and even butternut squash into smoothies for a nutritional boost with a neutral flavor.
- Swap mashed banana, avocado or cooked sweet potato for butter and oil in baked goods (brownies, banana bread or muffins).
- Pickle them: Make big batches of pickled veggies to amp up grain bowls and sandwiches. Keep it simple with cucumbers and carrots, or go crazy with cauliflower, radish and fennel.
- Build a better bolognese sauce for pasta: Add finely chopped butternut squash, celery, mushrooms and/or parsnip to a classic recipe, or swap out the meat entirely for vegetables.
Laurie Hammer, nutritional therapy practitioner: Freeze greens in a ziplock bag. Once they’re frozen, crush them up into small pieces while they’re in the bag. Store them in the freezer, and add those tiny pieces to meatloaf, meatballs, soups and smoothies. They’ll be barely noticeable!
Soups are also a great way to sneak more veggies in. If you family doesn’t like onions, blend them up and use them as part of your broth. You can actually blend any vegetable that might otherwise cause noses to turn up: For example, I often blend greens, zucchini, onions and kohlrabi. I also blend up veggies and sneak them into my homemade spaghetti sauce.
Roasting a medley of veggies or cooking the medley in a crockpot is another super easy way to combine flavors, colors and textures to disguise certain veggies. Add different seasonings, like basil, oregano and smoked paprika, to mix up the taste a bit. Always keep a large pan of those vegetables in the fridge for easy reheating.
As far as fruits go, blend them into a smoothie with full-fat Greek yogurt or coconut milk (and don’t forget to sneak those greens in too — blueberries hide the green color very well). You also can make jello with grass-fed gelatin, raw honey and fresh fruit. Another option is blending up several kinds of fruit, then pouring the liquid mix into popsicle molds for a quick-and-easy treat.