Trying to make smart and healthy food choices on a daily basis can be a daunting task if you haven't already adopted simple habits that override the instinct to opt for what's familiar. In fact overhaul diets are almost ALWAYS doomed to fail because it feels like, especially if you’re not already in the practice of eating a lot of vegetables, you need to throw out most of the items in your refrigerator and cabinets and start from scratch. Extreme plans, pre-portioned meal-services, and elimination and deprivation diets almost always leave people feeling dependent, yo-yoing , or at the very least counting down the days until they are done and can 'go back' to normal
But the best way to incorporate healthy eating, longterm, is start small and easy. And remember you are not embarking upon a diet that is going to end at some point. This is a permanent, simple, lifestyle switch. In order to make it permanent, it needs to be simple enough to do every day and at every meal.
This is why I recommend one simple solution - the 'crowd out' method.
Focus on adding rather than subtracting with your meals and you will naturally eat better without feeling dependent on a crash-diet and also without feeling deprived.
Try a few of these simple ways to include more veggies into your diet. Keep cooking the meals that you love but add in a little extra goodness and notice how these small changes can make a big difference in how you feel over time.
1. Add spinach (or your favorite green) to almost any dish!
Spinach is an awesome way to add mega nutrients to your meal without adding a lot of calories. And spinach mild enough in flavor that it can be added in both savory and even sweet dishes without making a major change to the overall taste. Here are some of my favorite spinach-adds:
Add a bunch of spinach to your favorite scrambled eggs or frittatas. Season and serve up the eggs in your usual way. The spinach adds fluffiness to the eggs, and makes the dish go so much further!
Add spinach (or broccoli florets or peas) to your favorite pasta or sauce. Since peas and broccoli take longer to cook than spinach, I will often cook the peas or broccoli with the pasta water, so the veggies and pasta cook together. With spinach I add at the very end as the heat of the dish will wilt the spinach without needed extra cooking.
Add spinach to your favorite smoothie. Whether or not it’s a green smoothie, the greens will blend down and won’t overpower the smoothie’s flavor. A little spinach added to a chocolate smoothie (or even a chocolate milkshake) is such a great added boost of vitamins and nutrition! You won’t even notice the greens are in there because the chocolate flavor is so strong!
2. Layer Veggies On Top
Any dish that you can deconstruct and add various toppings, like pizzas, fajitas, tacos, and burritos, is an invitation to bring lots of extra veggies and color to the party!
If you normally load up your tacos with cheese and meat, add a few different colored peppers, sliced or diced tomatoes, and whatever lettuce, green, or cilantro you like (remember, herbs are greens too)!
If you’re making pizza at home, opt for lots of colorful veggies as toppings. You can still have the meat toppings on your pizza if you like, but maybe scale back the sausage and pepperoni, and add mushrooms and extra peppers instead. You can also make your pizza low carb, and take the veggies up a notch, by using a cauliflower crust (either by making your own cauliflower crust, or by choosing one of the many great store-bought options now available)! If you're ordering from your favorite pizza place saute some veggies on the stove while you wait for delivery and add them on once your pie is delivered.
Creative Lasagna Layers
You can even throw in a layer of zucchini or eggplant to your favorite lasagna or casserole recipe. If you normally make a meat lasagna, substitute one layer of meat with your vegetable of choice but keep the meat in the other layers. The vegetable layer will add a nice texture and contrast without feeling like you’re sacrificing one of your favorite meals!
3. Get familiar with bowls
The family-favorite burrito bowl.
Since my first visit Chipotle, I’ve become a fan of making my own burrito bowls at home. It was such an a-HA! Burrito bowls are easy and when I make them at home I can even batch cook a lot of the ingredients making room for meals later in the week.
For my favorite home bowl, I’ll take brown rice, and either chicken or beans, and lots of veggies and toppings to round off the bowl. My favorites are tomatoes, corn, onions and peppers, and I like to use a variety of types of lettuce. Make-your-own-burrito-bowl nights have taken off in my house, and we now have bowls for all different types of cuisine throughout the week!
Not only are the bowl dishes quick and convenient, but the bowl is a perfect canvas for whatever cuisine you love, and whatever vegetables, protein, and toppings you’re craving or have on hand.
I’ll create an Asian stir-fry with brown rice, chicken, and lots of veggies (usually, water chestnuts, sugar snap peas, carrots, and broccoli). You can make any of the bowls vegetarian and opt for tofu or no protein at all. You can even choose cauliflower rice (either homemade or store-bought) as a great low carb substitute to rice!
Honestly at my house we could have a different type of bowl every night of the week.
Just work with a base layer of your choosing such as rice, quinoa, or cut the carbs by halving that with lettuce. Select your favorite lean protein. Add lots and lots of delish veggies. Then depending on where you are drawing your inspiration top with your favorite herbs and seasonings. It's best to save the treat-like toppings, such as cheese and creamy sauces and fried bits, for the very top. You will still get the flavors you love without sacrifice. Bowls are awesome because with just a little modification of the seasoning and toppings you can get inspired by Greek, Middle Eastern, TexMex, Thai, cuisines... the possibilities are endless and delicious!
4. Bake your veggies in!
You don’t have to cook all your veggies into your food. A lot of veggies can be baked in! Avocado, zucchini, and pumpkin are great options for baking vegetables. Their consistency is perfect for adding to baking mixes, and they’re mildly flavored so it’ll seem like they disappear once they’re baked in. But don’t worry, you’re still getting all the great nutrients these veggies have to offer!
It doesn’t need to be Autumn to use pumpkin. Keep some canned pumpkin on hand all year and add canned pumpkin to your weekend morning pancake or waffle mix.
Zucchini is a mild flavor that can be baked into a wide variety of muffins, breads, and mixes. Just like adding spinach to smoothies, you can add zucchini to a chocolate bread or cake batter, and you won’t even taste it! Just be sure to chop it up finely and drain any excess water so the zucchini doesn’t change the consistently of your baking mix.
You can also add avocado to any chocolate pudding or chocolate mousse recipe. The creaminess of the avocado makes it a perfect match for chocolate! And, once again, you’ll not only get the chocolate flavor, but also the added smooth texture of the avocado.
5. The Not-So-Secret Trick: Prep your Veggies!
A lot of times, we neglect adding veggies because we’re too busy, and the extra time and effort required to slice and dice all those veggies just isn’t there. Here are a few time-saving tips to help you include veggies regularly in your meals:
When you’re prepping veggies for a meal, chop, and prep ALL the veggies you have on hand and reserve the chopped veggies for other meals during the week. If you’re cutting up veggies for tonight’s stir fry, chop everything now, including what you don’t use tonight, and save the rest in a sealed container in your fridge. That way, when you might be tempted to just have rice and chicken in your dish tomorrow night, or a casserole with no added veggies, you’ll have pre-chopped veggies that you can add-in to your dishes and serve up in no time!
Go frozen (Over Canned)
There are plenty of great frozen veggie options that will help you save time. I always have frozen spinach and peas on hand. So, if I have a busy week, and I’m not sure how many fresh veggies I’ll be able to get through within the next few days, having frozen veggies on hand ensures that I can eat my veggies and can cook them up quickly.
Frozen veggies retain more of their freshness and nutrients than their canned counterparts, and when it's an off-season time frozen is often a better option so that you can maintain a variety of vegetable options that taste great and are cost effective. Also, frozen veggies won’t go bad since they can last in the freezer for months! Whatever your favorite veggie staples are, that you can incorporate into dishes on a regular basis, stock up and freeze them.
How to make this shift permanent?
Don't ever consider yourself deprived!
Cooking delicious nutrient-packed food isn't hard and it also doesn't make you feel deprived. Have fun, be creative, and keep it simple!
Just because you’re eating your veggies, it doesn’t mean you can’t continue to eat the food you love. In fact if you find ways to add more healthful ingredients to foods you already love you are going to be much more likely to make those dishes over and over again.
Adopting the crowd-out method means adding in more good stuff; so stick with foods that you crave, cooked the way that you like, but start intentionally incorporating healthier additions and watch what results that can have over time.
You’ll start to notice a difference in your overall health and wellbeing with these small changes, and you'll probably also end up having more fun cooking and eating along the way!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hannah (Kaye) Pintea is a Yoga Teacher, Personal Trainer, and Group Fitness Instructor from Chicago, IL. She has been coaching clients and leading training teams to success for the last decade, and it is her approachable, upbeat and compassionate attitude that leads to lasting success for her clients and trainers. When Hannah isn't coaching classes in studio or online she is hanging out with her husband and their fur-babies in the near-west suburbs of Chicago. Ready to sweat with Hannah? Check out her OnDemand Classes.