Increase Your Veggie Intake for National Nutrition Month

Follow these tips for healthier eating in March to look and feel better

Let’s face it—hardly anyone eats enough vegetables. Even vegetarians can be more focused on starches and non-meat sources of protein than getting in plenty of leafy greens and colorful vegetables. If you’re someone who can’t seem to get the recommended servings of veggies every day, you’re not alone. We have suggestions for ways to sneak them into your eating routine that won’t feel too much like work.

March is a great time to focus on improving your diet, since it’s National Nutrition Month. Get inspired by this year’s theme—“Go Further with Food”—and find ways to gain more nutrients but also save money. (That fast food and processed food is rarely inexpensive.)

An added benefit of making vegetables a bigger percentage of your meals (and snacks) is that you’re likely to lose weight. Vegetables tend to have a lot of water and fiber, both of which can take up space as you’re eating, without the calorie density of other foods. You may also find that if you focus on filling half your plate with vegetables, by default you will eat smaller portions of meat, carbs, fats, and perhaps even dessert. Give it a try for a few days, and see how it goes. It might not be as big a sacrifice as you think!

Start with these shortcuts for working vegetables into your eating routine:

1. Buy vegetables that are packaged for convenience

You’re probably more likely to snack on veggies or throw them into a recipe if they’re already chopped, so buy them that way at the grocery store. Another option is stocking your freezer with frozen vegetables, which generally are just as healthy as fresh ones. This makes cooking them a breeze. Some even come in bags that you can stick directly into the microwave for steaming. To make salad preparation simple, buy the prewashed tubs of greens—whether you like baby spinach, baby kale, or any of the other varieties. A salad is easy to prepare when all you have to do is remove the greens from a package, put them in a bowl, and add dressing! Top with a handful of cherry tomatoes for color.

2. Make raw veggies look appealing

If you do take the time to cut up raw vegetables, leave them at the front of your fridge in clear containers or Ziploc baggies, so you can see what you have and are more likely to reach for them first. Prepare yourself a lovely looking little snack by putting pieces of a bright, colorful vegetable—like an orange pepper or yellow squash—in a little bowl and enjoying it as a treat at snack time. If you want some healthy fat and protein to accompany it, have some hummus or yogurt-based dip on the side.

3. Choose vegetables you can use whole

Don’t want to bother chopping? Then buy bags of baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms (technically a fungus not a vegetable, but very nutritious), or pea pods. You can eat these on their own or toss them into soups, on top of salads, or into casserole dishes for added flavor.

4. Have a green smoothie

You might already enjoy a breakfast smoothie, with fruit and yogurt. But this is a great place to get in an extra serving (or two) of vegetables, and barely even notice it! Add big handfuls of baby spinach, baby kale, or the mild Swiss chard, and watch your smoothie turn green! (Don’t worry—the fruit will still cover up most of the flavor of the greens.) For a boost of freshness, add in fresh herbs such as parsley or cilantro—stems and all! If your greens start to get a little wilty, don’t toss them; stick them in the freezer and use them as backup for smoothies when you’re out of fresh greens.

5. Get out the grater

You can grate carrots or zucchini and add to a meatloaf, casserole, or even dessert breads that feature spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Grate half a head of cabbage to make a yummy slaw, with either creamy or vinaigrette dressing. Try grating some radishes into salsa or guacamole for a little added spicy kick.

6. Add a layer of veggies to favorite dishes

That lasagna you love would be even better if you added a layer of Portobello mushrooms on top of (or even instead of) the noodles. Pasta sauce is delicious with chunks of slightly sweet carrot, green or yellow squash, or mushrooms.

7. Choose from the rainbow

Ensure your diet is rich in color as well as nutrients. When you’re at the grocery store, choose items that are bright and appealing—like a yellow bell pepper instead of a green or red one, or red cabbage or radicchio for some vibrancy. Cook butternut squash, acorn squash, or sweet potato and toss the chunks into a salad.

8. Get roasting

Turn up the heat in your oven to 400 degrees, chop and toss your veggie of choice in some olive oil, add salt and pepper, and 20 minutes later—voila! You have a delicious side dish. Roasting brings out the natural sweetness in almost anything, so try this with carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, asparagus, and sweet potato. The more crinkly and brown they get, the more flavorful they will be!

9. Stay focused when you eat out

Going to a restaurant is a good opportunity to try new vegetables you might not cook at home. Begin each meal with a small side salad. Then order a side of sautéed greens or other vegetable they are serving that day. You might find you can pass over the fries or baked potato. Same goes for pizza—make sure when you are choosing toppings you add some vegetables. Broccoli and peppers are a delicious addition.

These ideas can get you started, but there are plenty of other nutritious new recipes at the USDA site called “What’s Cooking.” Ask friends for their favorite way to cook with or use vegetables.

Spend what’s rest of March focusing on your vegetable intake, and you’ll develop some healthy new habits that will stick with you all year long. Before you know it, it will be time to put on those spring clothes, and you’ll be glad you did!

This post is part of the weekly blog of Seacoast Career Schools. We offer training programs to be a Medical Assistant, Health Claims Specialist, Massage Therapist, or Dental AssistantReach out to us online or call (800)-758-7679 to learn more. We also invite you to schedule a tour of one of our two campuses, in Manchester, NH, and Sanford, ME.

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