Reconsidering the Humble Vegetable
Have you ever felt like adding more vegetables into your diet is a chore? I’ll readily admit it - I have. As much as I love veggies, there have been days when I’ve felt lack-luster about finding new ways to get my kids to eat them, or trying ones we weren't used to.
As a frequent cook, I’ve found myself reaching for the same go-to veggies each time I shop, falling back on family favorites until they become the same old thing week after week.
Five Tips for Curing the Vegetable Rut
In fact, soon after my family really hit a groove with our regular weekly meal planning, we hit our vegetable rut. We had no problem coming up with proteins to eat or a variety of grains to compliment them, but when it comes to vegetables, we had trouble moving beyond the tried and true dishes we were already getting tired of.
The cure? Taking a step back and reconsidering the humble vegetable. We made veggies fun again by embarking upon a quest to find new ways to use them, considering the larger family of each vegetable type and reintroducing ourselves to veggies we’d long since written off (eggplant, anyone?).
Here are a few tips we’ve learned over the years that have changed the way we plan for vegetables in our meals.
Make veggies the main dish. Don’t limit yourself when thinking of the “hero” ingredient of a meal. Meats and grains don’t need to take center stage all of time - they also make great embellishments to dishes in which vegetables play the main role. You don’t need to be a vegetarian to eat like one. A range of hearty veggies will fill you up, and you can compliment them with grains or protein to provide balance.
- Consider veggies as a blank canvas of possibilities. When is the last time you really tasted a broccoli or sweet potato rather than dousing them in sauce or cheese or some flavoring ingredients you’re convinced you need to get them down? Our palates change as we age, and sometimes you need to try things for the first time - again - at various stages of life.
- Learn the vegetable families. Tired of potatoes? Well, stop eating them for a while! Explore the large family of root vegetables available to you - you’ll find that most of them can be cooked and used just like potatoes, but are usually healthier for you. Rutabagas, celery root, sweet potatoes, parsnips - the list goes on. Whether you like potatoes’ starchy crunch or the buttery way they blend with anything cooked with them, you can find these traits in other tubers and roots that add variety without straying too far from the texture and taste you’re used to. Pro-tip: yes, you can “mash” other vegetables besides potatoes.
Use vegetables to “season”. Do you miss that dash of sugar you’re tempted to add to give a dish the right depth? Even if you don’t cook this way, you may find yourself craving restaurant food - most of them rely on added sugars to make foods more palatable. Many vegetables have an inherent sweetness to them that can provide this depth on their own without the added sugars.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. Write your ideas down before you lose them! Keep a list of veggies you like so you can change things up from week to week without coming up with new ideas each time. Hang your list on the fridge so it’s right by you when you open it up to see what you need to buy for your next week of healthy meal planning.
Reconsidering Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts are a perfect example of a vegetable we’ve reconsidered in my family. I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere in the past decade, suddenly Brussels sprouts became an “it” food again. For a while there, history took it down a dark detour into tasteless territory. Grandma’s old boiled sprouts were the perfect soggy, bland recipe for an unfinished plate.
Now there are countless recipes online showcasing the tastiness of the Brussels sprout. And with good reason - Brussels sprouts are full of nutrients! In just a half cup of cooked sprouts, you can find protein, fiber, vitamins K, C and A, folate and manganese. You’ll also find a rich antioxidant content, specifically kaempferol - an anti-inflammatory compound that may help reduce cancer cell growth and improve heart health . These compounds can help lower your risk of chronic disease.
They are the perfect example of a veggie you should give center stage to from time to time - they contain omega-3 fats - the beneficial kind you find in fish and seafood. Even better, they offer all this goodness while also being low in calories. The best part, though? They genuinely taste good. Brussels sprouts are the perfect vegetables to try again, without all the fluff (or blandness) you may be used to. Try the simple recipe below to taste their nutty goodness and smile as you think about all the nutrients you’re getting.
Prep Time: 10-15 Minutes
Cook Time: 15-20 Minutes
Paleo, Grain-Free, Gluten-Free, Nut-Free
Makes: 4 servings
Ingredients You’ll Need:
- Brussels sprouts
- Sweet potatoes (yams, sweet potato or stokes sweet potato)
- Olive oil
- Sea salt
- Rosemary, chopped (fresh if you have it, or dried)
- Parsley, chopped (fresh if you have it, or dried)
- Thyme, chopped (fresh if you have it, or dried)
- Any other Paleo spices you enjoy (paprika, garlic powder, onion powder)
Materials You’ll Need:
- Parchment paper
- Baking sheet
- Preheat your oven to 400 °F.
- Chop the vegetables into bite-sized chunks.
- In a large mixing bowl, toss veggies with oil, salt, herbs and any other Paleo spices you’re using.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and top with veggies. Spread them out so they cook evenly.
- Roast for 15-20 minutes.
- We had these roast vegetables recently with sausages and beef liver (well, Josh and I had the beef liver - our kids aren’t that adventurous yet).
- This recipe is a super easy dinner option, and the prep doesn’t have to take that long - ask a helper to cut up the veggies, or give someone the task of cleaning the Brussels sprouts, since they take the longest.
- Use the leftovers with bone broth in the morning - it makes a great breakfast. Or, save them for lunch. Cold leftover roast veggies make a great salad topping as well.
Going Paleo and Sticking to It
In case you’re not familiar with it, the Paleo diet is based on what our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate thousands of years ago when they were living off the land around them. With a focus on whole foods in conjunction with an active lifestyle - it took considerable energy to hunt and gather food! - the Paleo diet attempts to recreate the way humans ate in a time before processed foods or lifestyle diseases (obesity, diabetes, heart disease).
Paleo vegetables play a huge role in the Paleo diet for their whole-food nature and the fact that they’re the heroes of the “gatherer” part of hunter-gatherer. One of the best ways to stick to the Paleo diet when you’re still learning the ropes is finding ways to make vegetables sexy.
More Paleo Veggies to Try
- Broccoli & Cauliflower- (they can make a GREAT base for any meal if you roast them with garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil and puree them)
- Carrots- So easy, just cut them up and roast them with ghee or coconut oil, salt, and pepper and they make any dish a little sweeter and more substantial.
- Snow Peas- these sweet little veggies make the perfect on-the-go treat with hummus or just on their own!
When in Doubt, Have a Paleo Meal to Go or Meat & Veggie Bar
Of course, for my family, incorporating vegetables is now par for the course - finding more ways to include them in our snacks and meals was the very reason Wild Zora came to be! Adding veggies to meat as I developed healthy and protein-packed snacks for my kids gave birth to the Wild Zora meat and veggie bar.
As far as we’ve come, however, and despite all the great routines we’ve developed by sticking to eating Paleo and cooking at home nearly every night, we still find it challenging to include enough tasty veggies in our meals.
When we’re traveling, running errands, adventuring or are just too tired for food prep, Meat & Veggie Bars are a great fall-back and have a whole serving of organic veggies and fruits.
When my kids and I are just heading out for a short hike or to run to an activity, I bring meat and veggie bars that have an entire serving of organic veggies and fruits. These are some of my kids' favorites: