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How to Pack More Veggies Into Meal Time

Photo by: iStock

You know you should pack more veggies into your, and your family’s, mealtimes. After all, vegetables are some of the most nutrient-dense foods you can consume. The minerals, vitamins, fiber and phytonutrients in vegetables promote metabolic efficiency, mental and physical wellbeing and reduce your risk of chronic disease.

But, getting vegetables at mealtime can be challenging. The goal is to get seven to nine servings per day, but prep takes thought and work. Not everyone enjoys the taste, and sometimes it’s easier to just leave them off the plate.

With a little planning and creativity, you can put more veggies on your family’s menu. And, it won’t a lot of work to get these extra nutrients either.

Vegetables to Emphasize

Many people stick to the starchy, lower-nutrition vegetables, such as corn and potatoes. But anything “green and leafy, like broccoli, cauliflower and spinach are high in vitamins A, C, K, iron, calcium and fiber” and “offer lots of nutrients for growing bodies,” explains Colette Raymond, a registered dietitian in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

When you do serve potatoes, go for the sweet potato variety. “Kids love fries,” says Raymond. She suggests cutting sweet potatoes into strips, adding a few tablespoons of heart-healthy olive oil and baking at 450 degrees F until brown – about 10 to 20 minutes.

Lunchtime Ideas

For adults, lunch is sometimes consumed at your desk, eaten in the car or skipped altogether. If you pack lunches for your kids, it can be a challenge for veggies to find a place among the snack packs of cookies and chips.

Instead of a bag of tortilla chips, slice up zucchini and cucumbers into coins or offer carrots and celery sticks. Pack alongside a small container of hummus, chive cream cheese or ranch dressing for dipping. “Anything kids can eat with their fingers and dip into something is always a hit,” says Raymond.

Grown-ups can make a super big salad for lunch topped with lean protein – such as grilled chicken or tofu — and kids and parents alike can add extra veggies to sandwiches. Add sliced peppers, cucumbers and avocado along with the standard lettuce and tomato.

Sneaky Suggestions

If you or your family are anti-veg, consider some sneaky ways to still get those greens…and yellows, reds and purples.

Raymond recommends adding leafy greens to a breakfast, or after-school, smoothie. Spinach is mild in flavor and is the least detectable. Or, she says, “disguise veggies, such as shredded zucchini, in sweet breads and muffins. Finely chopped cauliflower blends right into scrambled eggs.

At dinner, blend veggies into spaghetti sauce—shredded carrots and summer squash work well.

Adding seasoning to veggies helps a lot too. Herbs, lemon juice, garlic and spices punch up plain flavors. For example, roast cauliflower and broccoli that’s been tossed with Parmesan, chopped garlic and olive oil; add a squeeze of lemon juice and serve alongside chicken or steak.

Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef and a Certified Nutrition Therapist. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University. She’s the proud mom of two kids, who love dance, rock climbing and animals.

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