Friday, March 14, 2014

Seven quick ways to eat your vegetables

Is this post proof that I'm misusing Seven Quick Takes, or that I'm taking it to a new, exciting level? 


Eating vegetables is very important to me.  It's pretty much the one thing every healthy-eating school of thought agrees about: we should all be eating more of them.  (I did read a comment on the Weston A. Price Foundation saying that vegetables were a waste because their nutrients are all gone by the time they reach the store.  But that isn't true, and it's not even the view of the WAPF -- at least, Nourishing Traditions has a huge section on vegetables that convinced me to try a lot of new ones!)

It's also important to eat a variety of vegetables, in a variety of ways, because you don't get the same benefits from peas as from squash, or from raw carrots that you get from cooked carrots.  Some vegetables are really best cooked (like eggplant) and others I  prefer raw (like cucumbers) but for things that can be had multiple ways, it's good to mix things up.

Some people actually think that as long as you eat some vegetables, you're all clear.  But there are nutrients that are only found in certain types of vegetables, so that if you rule out all orange veggies (for instance), you're selling yourself short.  Besides, one helping of spinach a day is hardly keeping you out of deficiency.  At best, it may keep you from chronic constipation.... or not.


When I was growing up, we had one fruit a day, max, plus a vegetable at dinner if it happened to be contained in a casserole.  Vegetables weren't really the focus, and we couldn't afford fresh ones very often, so I thought I didn't care for them.  But when Grandma came by our house with a box of sweet corn and homegrown tomatoes, I definitely became a vegetable lover pretty quick!


I hope to raise my kids with a variety of delicious vegetables too.  But there are a few obstacles -- budget and pickiness.  Both of my kids ate everything with relish when they first started eating solids, but now they do gravitate toward meat and starch (Michael likes meat and Marko prefers starch) and often leave the veggies sitting on their plates.  I don't force them to finish -- it's just a sign that I need to try something different to tempt them to try.  But oh, how I hate wasting food when it's all so expensive!

As far as budget goes, it's good to just browse the produce section and see what's cheapest each week.  Usually that ends up being what's in season, either locally or in one of the big produce-growing parts of the world.  The less perishable things, like squash or carrots, are often cheaper because they are easier to transport before they go bad.  I don't buy organics at this point.  Better to buy a lot of vegetables than only organic vegetables -- the nutrients in any vegetable will help you combat any toxins you happen to consume.

In most cases, fresh is better than frozen, which is better than canned.  However, since vegetables are frozen straight out of the field, often the day they are picked, they can sometimes be more nutritious than what's been sitting on the shelf all month.  (They may not be as tasty, though, sadly.  At least the kids think not.)  And one vegetable at least -- tomato -- actually increases in some nutrients when it's canned.


Breakfast:  I admit vegetables aren't usually a big part of our breakfasts.  We start with fruit (because my kids wake up ravenous and fruit is pretty much instant) and then have something else after.  Eggs with spinach, dandelion greens, onions, or mushrooms are often a hit -- especially if I keep them all on my plate and pretend I don't want to share.  (Ah, kids -- your perversity is so easy to manipulate sometimes.)  In the summer, I often get my hands on a few enormous zucchini and make zucchini bread or muffins.  Carrot muffins are good any time of year.


Lunch: I made it a resolution of mine some time back to try to make vegetables the centerpiece of lunch.  It doesn't always happen, but I try.  The reason is that the same veggies that get ignored when sitting beside a chicken leg and some mashed potatoes somehow get eaten right up when they're the only thing offered.  And if I'm making just the veggie dish, I have time to make something really tasty.

A few big hits:
Fried eggplant with marinara sauce
Veggie wraps -- lettuce, tomato, cucumber, sprouts if you've got 'em, even a few green beans don't go amiss!  In midsummer I replace lettuce (which has bolted in my garden) with purslane, which grows wild in the yard.  The secret to a good wrap is a good dressing -- ranch and homemade mayo are both hits.  A few cubes of cheese are a hit with the kids, but chickpeas are good protein for wraps too.
Burritos -- refried beans don't count in my book, but lettuce, tomato, corn, and homemade salsa all do.  Putting the same things in a bowl works, too, but the kids often pick out their favorite things and leave the rest, whereas when it's hidden away in a tortilla, they'll eat almost anything.
Green beans with hollandaise sauce
Tomato and cucumber sandwiches
Sweet potato fries, sometimes with homemade mayo to dip them in (don't knock it till you've tried it, mmmmm)
Creamed collard greens -- for that matter, creamed anything
Pumpkin or squash with butter and curry powder
Any kind of vegetable soup -- blended soups seem to go over better with the kids, but some days Marko in particular will turn his nose up at soup, the barbarian.
Quiche, with whatever veggies I have thrown in
Pasta with vegetables in it -- though they sometimes pick them out.  A lasagna-type sauce (marinara sauce mixed with ricotta) goes over pretty well with spinach mixed in.
Mac 'n' cheese with pumpkin puree added to the sauce -- you can even leave out the cheese altogether and season with sage and thyme instead.  As an extra perk, it's as bright orange as Kraft.  The kids seem to go for bright colors.
Salad -- I don't serve this to the kids.  I just make it for myself a bit before our usual lunchtime, put on a really good dressing, maybe some canned salmon or chickpeas, and dig in.  They swarm around like a couple of vultures and eat almost the whole thing, as a prelude to their own lunch.  If I put some in their own bowls, forget it.

These things are surprisingly satisfying -- veggies are often higher in protein than you'd think, and my dressings are usually fatty -- but sometimes we have some other food too, after the veggies.  I don't tell them we're having anything else, but if they're still hungry after the veggie course is gone, I suggest PBJ, quesadilla -- you know, the usual suspects.


I don't really push veggies for snacks much, but some days we just have cucumber slices or green pepper slices with dip and are happy as clams.  Celery with peanut butter is sometimes good, though they will try to lick off the peanut butter and get more.  Occasionally they want a plain carrot, but they rarely finish one.  Pickles or pickled green beans or some other fermented goodie always get eaten up. If we have avocados, they gobble them up with lemon juice and a little salt.  One time I made artichoke dip with crackers and we all loved that --  I should try spinach dip too.  If the veggie IS the dip, they don't think to pick it out.


We do the traditional meat-starch-veggie combo most nights, but I could use some ideas.  On the one hand, if I'm going through all that trouble making three courses, I don't feel much like doing something interesting with the veggies.  On the other, no one really likes plain frozen peas, corn, or broccoli, and it seems like that's all we ever have.  Occasionally we have canned green beans or asparagus, cucumber slices, salad, or boiled cabbage.  A good dressing helps, but making a sauce or dressing at five pm is always an iffy proposition.  Having something already in the fridge is so handy.  Pesto, lemon-parsley sauce, homemade mayo, teriyaki sauce ..... if I have it already made, and can put it on the vegetables, the kids like everything better.

Sometimes we have casserole or soup, but Marko at least is happy to pick out his favorite ingredients and leave the rest.  Sometimes we bribe him to finish, but it does give me peace of mind to know that he has plenty of vegetables the rest of the day.  I just eat his leftovers after he's left the table.

In my book, potatoes aren't vegetables -- although, for a starch, they're surprisingly nutritious.  With their skins, they are a good source of vitamin C and potassium.  We just use them so often as a source of calories that I feel like we need something else to switch things up.  I also don't count tomato sauce or onions as vegetables, just because they are seasonings in so many of our meals.  But of course they are quite healthy too.

Do your kids eat vegetables?  Do you?  Which are your favorites?  How do you get them into your diet?

The Quick Takes are all at Conversion Diary.  I hope no one gets mad at me for veggifying Quick Takes, but I had a boring week!


Amy said...

I always mean to make more dips, then forget to buy the ingredients. But artichoke dip is a great idea. We'll leave out the spinach, though, as my 3 year old's phobia of green foods is such that he picks around fresh parsley!

Enbrethiliel said...


I actually really like these quick takes! I wish I had more time to plan meals, to shop for food, and to cook, but my full-time job is determined to be a buzzkill. =(

Right now I'm really into fermenting grains and culturing dairy. My first attempt at homemade yogurt wasn't too hot, but I think my sour porridge will turn out right.

#1 -- Right now, the best ways for me to get vegetables into my diet is to buy a pack of frozen mixed veg, get it mushy in a soup pot, puree it, and freeze single servings so that I can have some soup each day. Someone told me that it's better to stir the cream in right before you actually eat it, so I save that for the reheating.

#2 -- After years of turning my nose up at anything green, I moved to New Zealand and suddenly fell in love with vegetables! It was because I lived in a hostel that provided catering for all the residents. You got your meat measured out, but you could pile your plate high with up to three kinds of veggies a night. Thanks to that experience, tomato-based pasta dishes just don't feel complete without a side dish of broccoli.

#3 -- That's interesting about tomatoes. I won't feel bad about getting canned from now on! Thanks for the tip. =)

#4 -- Vegetables aren't really a breakfast food for me, either. But eggs with spinach sounds good. I'd sautee the spinach with garlic and some lemon and then fry the eggs so that all that lovely yolk can run into everything. What do you do?

#5 -- These are great ideas! I really wish I could try them all! The only vegetable-heavy thing I make which my family cares to try is my variation of "lumpia" (fried spring rolls). Every household seems to have its own recipe, though everyone agrees that as long as you have ground pork and bean sprouts, you'll satisfy the purists. But I don't like bean sprouts! =P So I shred a lot of napa cabbage, grate some carrots, chop an onion, finely dice garlic and ginger, and season with sesame oil, salt and pepper. (Labour intensive, yes--so I always make a lot at once. I fry half and store the rest in the refrigerator for later in the week. Oh, Lord, my mouth is watering . . .)

#6 -- Vegetables with a dip would be nice, but I'm more of a salad person. You'd never know it from the meticulous spring roll maker I've just pretended to be, but sometimes I just want to throw everything into a bowl and be done with it!

#7 -- I might as well admit it. Filipinos don't really do vegetables. =P We'll have the occasional stew or soup in which meat and veggies float around together, but we'd be just as happy with only the meat. My favourite is a watery beef stew (more of a broth, really) with chunks of squash. I like to mash the squash into my rice, shred up the tender chunks of beef, season with fish sauce, and eat several bowls. (What inappropriate thoughts for a Friday in Lent, aye? LOL!) I'm not sure what cut of beef is used for this recipe, but I can find out for you.

Sheila said...

Amy, is it just a three-year-old thing? Marko used to eat everything, but this year he picks around so many things! And every once in awhile he declares he doesn't like chicken, or potatoes, or bread, or whatever thing we KNOW he likes, just to be contrary.

E, cream soups are delicious. This recipe changed my life: Or at least my cream soup. The hint to add a little acid changes everything.

Since I usually get spinach frozen (the fresh at the store is never all that fresh), I just thaw it, squeeze it out really well, and heat it up with butter before lightly scrambling the eggs in it. Onions are good in there. But sometime I want to make eggs florentine .... a lot of work, but sounds good!

A friend of my mother's used to make us lumpia. So very good! I never thought to ask what was in them, you just eat and enjoy. ;) Really, any kind of spring roll is good, and also Thai "fresh rolls" that are made in rice paper and dipped in peanut sauce. My mom and I got Thai on my visit and I've been wanting another helping of those ever since.

That beef stew sounds delicious. I rarely buy beef due to the price, sigh. :( We subsist on chicken these days, with pork or sometimes ground beef, but beef stew we haven't had since that time we bought a side of grassfed beef a few years back. Sniff. I like it over rice or noodles, John insists on potatoes .... of course. The nice thing is that you can make a giant pot of it and serve it over something different for each person, all week long.

Maybe John will shoot a deer for me and I can make venison stew with mushrooms and red wine!

Fantasizing about meat on a Friday doesn't break abstinence .... but it sure does make it more difficult! We are having salmon tonight and I am not excited about it. I wish I liked seafood more.

Sheila said...

I feel it necessary to add, now, that the salmon casserole was actually quite delicious. It was onions sauteed in butter, rice, salmon, carrots, peas, and a bit of mustard, garlic, and salt. Then cheese all over everything, because you can't go wrong that way.

And the kids actually ate it! Marko declared a few months ago that he doesn't like the fish I cook on Fridays (whiting, because it is the cheapest frozen fish) and it's like pulling teeth to get him to try a bite. But he does like canned salmon fine, and he ate almost all of his helping. Yay!

The Sojourner said...

I don't count corn as a vegetable (in my book it's a starch, like potatoes and pasta), but if I didn't count tomato sauce we'd only hit our meat-starch-veggie trifecta a couple of times a week. I'm a picky eater in general and my husband is fairly adventurous but isn't really fond of plain cooked vegetables.

Pro tip: Cut bacon into small pieces, pan-fry it, and then throw on green beans. (Preferrably fresh, but frozen will do.) Everyone I know loves this.

We both like a regular green salad, but chopping all those vegetables seems like too much work for the calories, and then the lettuce always goes bad before we finish it. :( Maybe we'll eat it more when we have several children and some of them are old enough to be kitchen slaves. :)

Sheila said...

You're right, corn isn't really a veggie .... I count it as one because I can actually get people to eat it. :P Sigh.

Bacon and vegetables are a delicious combination. Most bitter greens are great fried up in a little bacon grease and served with the bacon crumbled over -- dandelions, beet tops, radish tops, etc. They end up kind of crispy.

Another green beans secret -- though it only works with fresh -- is to saute them lightly in butter and then sprinkle with parmesan. Mmmm.

That is the trouble with salad. Have you ever tried mason jar salads? You can find tutorials online. That way you can knock out all the chopping in just one day a week, and eat the salads the rest of the week. I'm not really sure why I stopped making them; it was pretty convenient!

The Sojourner said...

I might have to try that sometime, and I will definitely try the green beans + parm thing when they come back in season. (I can often get them on sale for 99 cents/lb around here.)

Enbrethiliel said...


I made some soup today, with mixed results.

First, I made the "mistake" of forgetting about it while it was cooling and leaving it in the pot all night. But that may have actually helped the flavours! (I don't know about you, but the savoury dishes I make always taste better after they've aged a bit. I make amazing leftovers! =P)

But then I saved the cream for when I was actually going to eat the soup . . . and of course it changed the lovely slightly-salty, savoury richness I had just accomplished. Clashed with it, even. =/ I'll either stir the rest of the cream in tonight while I still have soup saved in the refrigerator or just not use any next time.

I also decided to try your tip and use a bit of acid. And I thought malt vinegar would be a good idea because I had just bought a bottle and wanted to be thrifty. Well, it's either not such a great complement to corn, pea and carrot soup, or the cream threw everything off more than I thought.

I'll have to give you a second report for the next bowl of soup!

Sheila said...

The recipe I linked doesn't actually call for any cream. That's the advantage, for me, because I rarely have cream. Adding an oil (while blending) and a teeny bit of acid is meant to replace the cream, not be in addition to it. Maybe that's why the cream clashed .... acid and dairy don't get along so great, unless you're looking for ricotta cheese.

Enbrethiliel said...


I didn't really follow the recipe. I just came away from it thinking, "Add acid to soup right before eating." =P And I assumed I could do it with cream-based soups. LOL! Since I still haven't added the cream to my main supply, I'm going to try it with just malt vinegar next time and see how it tastes.

'Akaterina said...

Some things we do here, especially during the fast, is various takes on Tex-Mex favorites. It seems anything between a tortilla and covered in cheese is good.

Portobello mushrooms--cooked right really do taste very similar to steak. I usually slice very thin because my daughter is a big one on texture.

Refried Black Beans--black beans, an onion, garlic to taste, salt and pepper to taste. I add ancho chili powder, but you can add whatever. The kids love this in quesadillas with sauteed onion and bell pepper.

Another huge hit at our house is carrot pasta sauce, a recipe my mom gave me:

*5 to 6 large carrots (cleaned and chopped--size doesn't matter because you will process it later)
*1 to 2 celery stocks (as above)
*1 red onion
*3-4 garlic cloves (I actually put in more like 6)
* olive oil
*tomato paste (recipe says two heaping table spoons, but I usually us a whole 6 oz can)
* dash of red pepper flakes (optional, but we like it)
*1/4 chopped fresh basil (or about 1 tbs dried)

--chop the veggies and saute in olive oil
--once the veggies are soft, add the garlic, tomato paste, and red pepper.
--once blended well, allow to cool and then add to a food processor (I usually wait 10 min or so). Add the basil, salt&pepper to taste and blend.

We like our sauce as a kind of chunky consistency, but the first few times I made it for the kids I really made it smooth. You can play with the amount of olive oil and the flavors. I tend to like more carrot than celery, but Andrew likes more celery and red pepper.

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