We’re all familiar with the image of the freckle-faced kid who refuses the bite of broccoli. But the truth is, some people never outgrow a distaste for vegetables. That’s especially true for folks with a heightened sensitivity for bitter flavors. For others, it’s a texture thing. And some former picky eaters may just never have gotten around to really trying veggies, much less buying and cooking veggies.
The reason vegetables are so closely linked with “healthy eating” is because they’re loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, hydrating fluids, and special plant compounds that help fight disease – all for relatively few calories. There’s evidence that a fruit-and-veggie-heavy diet may be linked to lower risk of health problems like heart disease and possibly a healthier weight too.
So, before I get into veggie substitutes, let me make a case for vegetables (I’m a nutritionist – I can’t help it). I hope you’ll consider a couple of things:
- A little butter and salt can make all the difference. A sprinkle of kosher salt or a slick of butter in the skillet can make vegetables taste so good you’re more likely to eat them – and eat more of them. Some people figure that the salt and fat practically cancel out the health benefits of veggies, but that just isn’t true.
- There might be some vegetables that you’d actually like. “Vegetables” is a big category with a wide variety of different flavors and textures (and cooking techniques) – so by dismissing the entire food group, you might be missing out. There’s a whole lot more to vegetables than iceberg lettuce salads and mushy, overcooked green beans. Roasting gives crispness and brings out veggies’ natural sweetness. Some veggies – like snap peas, bell peppers, and carrots – are sweet, not bitter. And Brussels sprouts have come a long way since you were a kid.
- You can eat them without tasting them. Consider blending some pureed or finely-chopped veggies into your sauces, casseroles, and meatballs. You’ll nab the nutrients but probably won’t even notice the veggies!
If you’re still not a fan, here’s some comforting news: You can get the same vitamins and minerals from fruit. For example:
- Vitamin A is found in carrots, sweet potatoes, and spinach – and in cantaloupe, apricots, and mango.
- Potassium is found in artichokes, broccoli, and bok choy – and in nectarines, kiwi, and pomegranate.
- Folate is found in asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and mustard greens – and in oranges, papaya, and bananas.
Fruit is also a good source of fluid and fiber, both of which make fruit filling. Just keep in mind that fruit also tends to be more calorie-dense than vegetables and higher in natural sugar – that’s especially important to know if you’re trying to keep blood sugar in check. And it’s best to eat whole fruit than drink the juice because it’s more satisfying and fiber-rich that way.
And don’t forget that whole grains and protein foods from beef to lentils are also high in many nutrients, so make the most of your choices in those groups too.