Eat Your Vegetables

Think you hate veggies? These tips could change your mind

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

We know they're good for us. Just like it was yesterday, we can hear our mothers urging, "Eat your vegetables!" as we sat at the family dinner table. But growing up doesn't automatically turn us into vegetable lovers. To many of us, it still seems next to impossible to eat several servings of vegetables a day.

Still, there's no denying we need vegetables. They're rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and important phytochemicals, and they're generally low in calories. So what's a vegetable hater to do?

Why We Hate Veggies

I can trace my distaste of peas to a childhood memory of sitting at the dinner table, unable to leave until I choked down every last pea. Researchers believe past experiences with vegetables may affect how we feel about them now. Here are some other reasons you may dislike certain vegetables:

  • Some vegetables, such as those from the cabbage family, have a bitter flavor, and some people are genetically less tolerant of this taste than others.
  • People who have followed diets that taught them to think of vegetables as "rabbit food" or "legal" diet food may associate vegetables with horrible memories of crash dieting.
  • If your experience is mostly with canned or overcooked vegetables, give them a "fresh" look. You might be more willing to eat vegetables prepared in more flavorful ways (with herbs and spices or sauces, and cooked to maximize color, flavor, and texture).
  • Blame your mother! Some researchers believe that those children exposed to fruits and vegetables early in life are more likely to end up liking them

Here are some tips to get you on the road to enjoying vegetables. Just choose those you think will work for you:

  • Add veggies you almost like to dishes you already love. Layer zucchini slices into lasagna. Stir broccoli florets into macaroni and cheese. Toss tomatoes into an omelet. Slide peppers into a cheese quesadilla. You get the picture.
  • Try them in soup. Embellish your favorite soups with added veggies. Many commercial soups already contain a nice serving of vegetables. I love adding carrots to chicken noodle or fresh green beans to minestrone. Just add raw or frozen vegetables while you're heating or cooking the soup.
  • Tuck them into salads. Load your salads with as many raw veggies as you can: cucumber, grated carrots, zucchini, green beans, onions, radishes, jicama, tomato, etc. Or try spinach leaves instead of lettuce.
  • Serve them raw. Raw can bring out the best in vegetables that have a strong taste when cooked, such as cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, or spinach. And when you have some delicious low-fat dip in front of you, a platter of raw veggies seems to disappear. Use bottled light ranch or Italian dressing, or make your own.
  • Sneak them into spaghetti. Add finely chopped zucchini, mushroom, onions, eggplant, or yellow squash to spaghetti sauce. The smaller you chop them, the less likely you are to notice they're there.
  • Have fun! Certain vegetables are just more fun to eat than others. Try corn-on-the-cob wheels (slice cooked corn into 1-inch thick disks), fill celery sticks with peanut butter or light cream cheese, or enjoy a zucchini or bell pepper with a savory filling.
  • Drink up. Try V-8 or carrot juice. Or blend some carrot juice with a fruit juice you enjoy, such as orange or tangerine.
  • Pizza pizzazz. Top your pizza with any combination: tomato, onion, bell pepper, mushroom, zucchini, and artichoke hearts.
  • Grill them. After the meat or fish is taken off the grill, why waste the hot coals? You might be surprised how great grilled veggies taste. You can probably use the same marinade you're using for your meat. (Just marinate the veggies separately, using marinade that hasn't touched the meat.) Make a kabob with chunks of vegetables (eggplant, carrot, bell pepper, mushrooms, zucchini, and other squash). Soft vegetables won't need precooking, but firm ones such as sweet potatoes will benefit from steaming or microwaving before they hit the grill.
  • Fast food vegetables. You can even get your vegetables at a fast-food chain -- as long as you like salads. Wendy's, for example, offers a Caesar side salad (with 70 calories and 4 g fat, not including dressing) or a side salad (35 calories, 0 g fat). Ask for the fat-free French, low-fat honey-mustard, or reduced-fat creamy ranch dressing. Use half the packet and you'll add about 50 calories and from 0 to 4 grams of fat.
  • When all else fails, there's always cheese sauce. Drizzle it over broccoli or cauliflower, and suddenly it's a whole different ball game. Here's a recipe for a lower-fat version.

3-Cheese Sauce

Drizzle this creamy sauce over steamed or micro-cooked veggies for a tasty change of pace.

2 tablespoons of flour
1 1/4 cups of low-fat milk or fat-free half-and-half
2 ounces of part-skim Jarlsberg (or reduced-fat Swiss) cheese, grated
2 1/2 ounces of reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon of pepper

  • In a small saucepan, blend flour with 2 tablespoons of the milk or half-and-half to form a smooth paste. Using a wire whisk, slowly blend in remaining milk until smooth. Simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened.
  • Reduce heat and add cheeses, garlic powder, and pepper. Stir until well blended and cheese has melted.
  • Remove from heat and use as desired.

Makes 6 servings.

Per serving: 99 calories, 9 g protein, 5 g carbohydrate, 4.8 g fat (3 g saturated fat, 1.4 g monounsaturated fat, 0.2 g polyunsaturated fat), 15 mg cholesterol, 0.1 g fiber, 177 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 44%. Journal as 1/2 serving (4 ounces) of cream-based soup OR 1 cup low-fat milk.

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