There are about as many nutritional factions out there (keto, vegan, Paleo, plant-based) as there are fan theories about Taylor Swift's personal life (Kaylor hive, assemble!), but if there's one thing that nutrition experts of all stripes can agree on, it's that Americans aren't eating enough vegetables. Despite vegetables being an important source of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and other nutrients, only 9.3 percent of Americans are hitting the recommended intake of two to three cups of vegetables per day. Fam, we've got some work to do.
This is certainly a priority of mine in the new year, but I'm finding it trickier than expected. After a few days of going ham on cauli rice and veggie noodles, I get bored and go back to throwing frozen broccoli into my chickpea pasta and calling it a day. In this spirit of this year's ReNew Year challenge with Liz Moody—which is focused on adding more plant foods to your diet—I tapped some experts to get tips on how to add more vegetables to your plate in a way that feels sustainable, not forced or gimmicky. (And without relying on salads and smoothies alone, because let's be real: that can get old, fast.)
1. Blend them into store-bought pasta sauce
Think of this as the next step up from putting jarred sauce on veggie noodles. "Simply toss a store bought marinara in the blender and add whatever you have on hand—bell peppers, eggplant, kale, you name it," suggests Whitney English Tabaie, RDN. "It won’t affect the flavor much, but your body will reap the benefits," she says. I, for one, can't wait to pair this with my microwaved chickpea pasta. Bonus points if you pour the finished sauce over a plate of spaghetti squash.
2. Turn leftovers into an easy sauce for protein or salad dressing
Clearly, vegetable sauces are king, and also work to help you use up leftover cooked vegetables. "You can easily blend leftover veggies with some extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil, add in some salt, pepper, or spices and a little bit of nutritional yeast or [vegan] Parmesan and you’ve got a sauce that’s great for protein or pasta," says Serena Poon, celebrity chef and founder of Just Add Water. With the addition of a little extra liquid, you can turn it into a dressing for salads or bowls.
3. Add them to soup
"Make a comforting bowl of soup featuring cauliflower or zucchini," says Vandana Sheth, RDN, author of My Indian Table—Quick & Tasty Vegetarian Recipes. "It will taste creamy and smooth without any cream." Plus, you reap the nutritional benefits of these powerhouse veggies. Both cauliflower and zucchini are high in fiber, which—and I'm struggling to find another way to put this—keeps you regular and helps your digestion.
4. Sneak veggies into your morning oatmeal
It's day 809,743,5937 of the pandemic and you've already made every other iteration of the breakfast staple, why not throw some vegetables in there? English Tabaie says that pumpkin and shredded zucchini make great additions to hot oatmeal, and pair well with sautéed apples and cinnamon for sweetness. Or you could make your oats savory and top them with sautéed greens, avocado, and an egg.
5. Bake with them
While the term veggie brownies doesn't sound particularly appetizing, Poon says that some of the best brownie recipes have ingredients like hidden beet and sweet potatoes in them. "Vegetables are more versatile than you realize," Poon says. They can be used in a variety of desserts. Here's a recipe for a chocolate cake made with beets to get you started.
These black bean brownies also hit the spot—without actually tasting like black beans:
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