Raise your hand if you’ve ever been served a plate of mushy peas, overcooked broccoli, slimy carrots, or a wilting salad. Has anyone, then, been forced to eat those vegetables before being allowed to leave the table? Negative experiences like these are enough to make a person go years without eating vegetables simply because of the poor memories. Others may avoid veggies because they dislike the taste or texture or because they don’t know how to prepare them.
Vegetables have numerous health benefits including prevention of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and many other diseases; they aid in weight management; and they support healthy regulation of bowels, metabolism, mood, and most processes in the body. In fact, a single dietary modification that supports improvement for many chronic health conditions is to increase vegetable intake such that the portion of veggies at a meal is equal to or more than the other portions of food on the plate. This can be a tough feat, though, for someone who has bad memories of or really dislikes vegetables, for any reason.
The good news is there are a lot of options to try, and a simple difference in the preparation of vegetables can completely change the texture, flavor, and overall experience. If you’re one who struggles to eat enough vegetables, try some of the ideas below. And remember, it takes time for our taste preferences to change. Be patient through the process and keep these things in mind:
- It may take a few tries with the same veggie before you learn to like it. Give each new vegetable a fair chance before ruling it out completely.
- For those veggies you don’t like right away, try it prepared a different way (raw veggies taste different than cooked veggies, and different cooking methods can change the flavor, too).
- Experiment with different vegetable options and be willing to be a little adventurous.
- Remember that our tastes change over time. If you didn’t like a food as a child, or even at your current age, it doesn’t mean you won’t like that same food a few years down the road. Don’t be afraid to try again.
- You may decide there are some vegetables you don’t like, and that’s okay. Eat the ones you enjoy.
- Again, because this can’t be said enough, be patient through the process and try to have fun with it.
Idea #1 – Try new vegetables that belong in the same “flavor family” as other veggies you already know you like. Vegetables (and fruits) can be lumped into groups with other fruits and veggies that have similar flavor profiles. For example, carrots have a slightly sweet flavor and will taste more similar to snap peas or bell peppers than radishes, which are somewhat spicy. When you try foods with similar flavors, you will be more likely to quickly find new veggies you may enjoy. Click through a full list of “flavor families” here.
**Please note: all veggies should be washed in lukewarm water (no soap) before cooking and/or eating to remove germs and bacteria.**
Idea #2 – Roast your veggies. Cooking vegetables at a high temperature for a length of time allows the natural sugars in the veggie to come to life in the flavor. Don’t like broccoli, cauliflower, or brussels sprouts? Give them a second chance, and this time try roasting them.
Here’s how to do it: heat your oven to 400°, chop your vegetables into similar size pieces so they cook evenly, spread veggies in a single layer on a baking sheet, drizzle with cooking oil, toss with a spatula so the veggies get evenly coated, and bake for 20 minutes. You can stir half-way through the cook time to get a nice browning and crisp on the surface of two sides. Try roasting asparagus, brussels sprouts, zucchini, yellow squash, cauliflower, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, cauliflower, sweet potatoes (double the cook time), and more.
Idea #3 – Prepare veggies on the grill. The concept here is like roasting veggies, but grilling gives a slightly different flavor due to the direct heat from the flame. Be careful not to char your veggies!
Here’s how to do it: chop your veggies into similar sized pieces, place in a bowl and toss with a small amount of veggie oil, place in a grill pan or skewer on kebob sticks, then place on the grill. Cook time will vary based on the heat of your grill and the veggies you’re using, but 5-10 minutes should do it. If using a pan, stir midway through cook time, or turn the kebobs after a few minutes to achieve even cooking. Err on the side of under-cooking; you can always put food back on the grill, if needed.
Idea #4 – Sauté vegetables. This method usually softens veggies more than grilling or roasting, where veggies become crispy on the outside. This is one of the quickest ways to prepare veggies, and is a great method for cooking veggies before adding to other dishes, such as a burrito or fajitas, stir-fries and casseroles, or eggs. Using different oils will provide a slightly different taste, as well. Coconut oil leaves a slightly sweet, tropical flavor; sesame oil is savory and a little nutty; and canola or avocado oils are very mild, leaving little taste at all.
Here’s how to do it: heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat, add your chopped veggies, and cook for about 3 – 5 minutes, stirring often. The longer you cook veggies, the more their texture will break down, meaning they will become mushy. Veggies are often enjoyed more when they’re thoroughly cooked but still retain a little crispness. If at first you don’t succeed, adjust the cook time and try again.
Idea #5 – Steam veggies. This may be the “purest” way to prepare veggies, meaning nothing is added or taken away in the cooking process. Steam from simmering water rises to cook the vegetables so they retain all nutrients (boiling vegetables in water decreases the nutritional content because vitamins and minerals will “leak” into the cooking water, which later gets tossed out), and no additional flavors or nutrients are added via a cooking oil. Steamed vegetables have a slight change in flavor from their raw form, and texture will depend on how long the veggies are steamed.
Here’s how to do it: Fill a sauce pan with an inch or two of water. Place a steam basket in the pan and load your chopped veggies into the basket. Cover with a lid and heat over medium-high heat on the stove. Once the water begins to boil, the steam will begin to cook the veggies. Allow veggies to cook for 7-10 minutes, or until they reach your preferred texture. Use a gloved hand to pull the basket out of the pan, and transfer veggies to a serving bowl (you can also use a spoon to transfer the veggies). Enjoy plain or seasoned.
Idea #6 – Spice up your veggies. Spices and herbs can completely change the flavor of a vegetable. If you’re getting tired of the same 3 veggies you like so far, change up the flavor to keep it interesting while you experiment with other options. Garlic, ginger, lemon pepper, rosemary, basil and oregano, thyme, sage, parsley, cilantro, cumin, turmeric, simple salt (a little goes a long way) and black pepper, red pepper flakes, balsamic vinegar, lime juice, lemon zest, a drizzle of honey, a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, Cajun seasoning… The options are nearly endless! Mix and match as you please.
Idea #7 – Add veggies to foods you already love: pizza, eggs, stir-fry, pasta dishes, casseroles, tacos, burritos, sandwiches, the list can go on… If you’re just learning to like vegetables, chop them into smaller pieces (the flavor in each bite will be less significant) and cook them first, using any method above. Some suggestions to try: thin sliced zucchini, red onion, and mushroom on a pizza; spinach, yellow onion, and bell peppers in scrambled eggs; broccoli, snap peas, and carrots in stir fry; sun dried tomatoes, asparagus, and yellow squash in a pasta dish; broccoli and cauliflower in a casserole; lettuce and tomato or a cabbage slaw on tacos; sautéed onions, peppers, and fresh veggie salsa in a burrito; spinach, tomato, and onion in a sandwich. Be as creative as you want!
Idea #8 – Make (or buy) fresh salsas to add to meals or enjoy as a healthy snack. Fresh salsas can be a great topping for eggs, burritos, open-faced sandwiches, casseroles, grilled meats, and more. It’s a fun and flavorful way to add veggies to a meal. Search the internet for ideas that sound good to you, and keep in mind you can go spicy, mild, sweet, and savory with salsas. Tailor the flavor to the dish you’re preparing. Salsas can also be a nice way to get veggies in your snacks: top a piece of whole grain toast with a ¼ avocado and your favorite salsa or enjoy salsa with some tortilla chips. Include some beans in the salsa and you’ll add a healthy dose of protein and fiber!
Idea #9 – Get creative with salads. Salads can be a main meal, side dish, or snack; and they don’t always have to include lettuce or other greens. Great options for snacks are this quinoa salad or 3-bean salad. Eat with a fork or use as a topping on a few tortilla chips or whole grain crackers. Don’t like something in the recipe? All salads (and most recipes in general) are completely adaptable to your preferences! Swap for veggies you enjoy better, dice ingredients into smaller pieces, try adding some fruit to salads, or make any other modifications that make you happy. And remember, we can’t learn to like new things if we don’t step outside our comfort zone every now and then.
Idea #10 – Snack on raw veggies or include them as a side dish with meals. Keep in mind, enjoying vegetables with a dip doesn’t make the veggies any less nutritious. Rather, it gives additional nutrition, which can be beneficial if you choose healthful dips a majority of the time. Hummus adds smooth, satisfying protein with lots of flavor. Peanut or almond butters add creamy, filling fats and protein that are heart-healthy. Low-fat cottage cheese mixed with a dry ranch dressing packet will offer a more nutritious dip (loaded with protein, calcium, and vitamin D) than a traditional dressing. Or add some spice with a homemade buffalo sauce-infused dip (mix ¼ cup plain Greek yogurt with 1 tbsp buffalo sauce).
What ideas will you try, and do you have others to offer? Share in the comments section below.