NUTRITION

Healthy Eating 101: Adding Vegetables to Any Meal

Add more vegetables to your meals easily and boost your nutrient intake.

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By Aimée Suen

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You get most of your nutrients from the foods you eat and digest. Your body can’t make all the nutrients it needs to run, meaning you have to get them through food. While multi-vitamins may seem like a silver bullet to get everything you need, the best way to get the nutrients you need is from a variety of high-quality fruits, vegetables, and protein.

One of the best ways to get a variety of vegetables in your meals is to eat them throughout the day so you have plenty of opportunities to eat and enjoy all the different vegetables available in the season. For people who just eat one serving of vegetables with dinner and maybe lunch, this could be a really new concept. Below are lots of ways you can easily incorporate vegetables in every meal, including breakfast.

Breakfast

Most of the time when you think of breakfast, vegetables don’t usually factor into the normal picture, but you can easily add veggies to breakfast and have it not feel forced.

Make a Green Smoothie: Smoothies are a great way to add several servings of veggies to your meal. Go with a green smoothie that’s lightly sweetened with fruit to keep your blood sugar stable. You can add kale, spinach, or other salad greens for the base.

For additional vegetables, you can add cucumbers, celery, wheatgrass, beets, zucchini, carrots, ginger, and a whole lot of other vegetables. To add sweetness, toss in a small amount of berries, bananas, or apples. To get the most nutrients of your smoothie, enjoy it right away after blending and get no-spray or certified organic vegetables.

Veg up Eggs: Enjoy scrambled eggs, an omelette, or a fried egg for breakfast? You can easily add vegetables to these. You can add classics like bell peppers, mushrooms, avocados, and onions, as well as serve them on a bed of greens. You can also add in some roasted sweet potatoes for some extra fiber, beta-carotene, protein and vitamin C. Also consider beets, carrots, and any of your favorite seasonal vegetables that you like eating eggs with. Top with a homemade or organic salsa to add even more vegetables to your plate.

Frittata/Quiche up Breakfast: Frittata and quiche are not just for lunch and dinner. You can add any and all vegetables that you like and enjoy it for breakfast. You can have it without crust (frittata) or with (quiche). Add in any greens, summer or winter squash, carrots, peppers, beets and other root vegetables. There’s no limit to how many greens you can add in.

Snacks

Vegetables can fit into your snacks as well, without feeling like you’re eating a full, formal meal.

Go for the Green Chips: Kale chips were just the start of taking greens and turning them into a chip-like form. There are several greens that you can make or buy baked into crispy chip form, including kale, collard greens, Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts, and many others. You can also snack on seaweed as well, which is high in calcium, iron, and vitamin K.

Take a Dip: Dips aren’t just for parties. You can enjoy a small bowl of dip, made from beans (like hummus) or vegetables, full-fat yogurt, with vegetables instead of chips. Cucumbers, carrots, endive, snap peas, and most vegetables you find in crudité platters would be great vehicles to eat the dip with. You can make dip out of any greens (which would be more of a pesto, and still very much counts), beets, sweet potatoes, winter squash, carrots, roasted peppers, cauliflower, and of course, avocados.

Veggie “chips”: If you love a crunchy snack, you’ll love vegetable chips. These aren’t actually chips, rather thinly sliced vegetables that have been baked or dehydrated until crisp like chips. Some companies make them and you can also really easily make them your own out of beets, taro root, jicama, carrots, sweet potatoes, summer and winter squash, radishes, and many more. If you want to increase your fullness, enjoy these with some protein or fat, like a full-fat yogurt dip, piece of organic cheese, or some nuts.

Lunch and Dinner

Lunch and dinner recipes have so many opportunities to add more vegetables to it, you’ll have no issues upping your vegetable intake here.

Make it a Salad: Consider serving your meal on a bed of greens. If you’ve got vegetables as a side dish already, you’re ahead of the game. You can use spinach, kale, swiss chard, or go with a salad mix with an even bigger variety of greens.

Go Protein Style: Got a wrap or sandwich on the menu? Ditch the bread and wrap it in greens instead. Large lettuce leaves and lightly steamed collard green leaves make for great wrapping greens. You can also add more greens to your wrap or sandwich with julienned vegetables inside or spreading a pesto dip inside.

Add a Pesto: Pesto is a dip of sorts typically made from basil, but pesto can be more than just basil. You can make pestos with other herbs and greens to add more flavor, variety and nutrients. You can add your pesto to pastas, wraps, sandwiches and salads.

Add Additional Vegetables: Look at your recipe and see if you can easily add other vegetables to your meal. Soups, salads, casseroles, lasagnas, quiche and many other dishes are so flexible, you can add as many extra vegetables as you’ve got in your fridge.

Double Down on Sides: If you’ve got on vegetable side, add another. If you’ve got a starchier vegetable side, like sweet potatoes, corn, carrots, or winter squash, have your second side be a non-starchy vegetable, like greens, any cruciferous vegetable (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels, cabbage), peppers, summer squash, or any of your other favorite seasonal vegetables.

Swap out Grains with Vegetables: Go grainless with your next meal and replace it with vegetables instead. Dish calls for rice? Blitz up some cauliflower in a food processor until it’s in a small rice form and use that instead. Need a noodle? Roasted spaghetti squash is an easy way to replace noodles in your next spaghetti dish. You can also use a spiralizer, mandoline or julienne vegetable peeler to turn carrots, sweet potatoes, zucchini, daikon, or beets into noodles instead. Making a lasagna? Replace the pasta with eggplant or sweet potato slices or a layer of cooked spaghetti squash.

Add a Side Soup or Salad: You can also add a small side salad with an olive oil or yogurt based dressing with a few raw vegetables to up your vegetable intake. If you want something warmer, make a pureed vegetable soup to enjoy with your meal. You can add more than one vegetable to your pureed soup and easily make and freeze big batches so you can always have it on hand.

Turn to Soup: Vegetable soups are great and easy ways to add any and all vegetables you have. You can add a variety of root vegetables, greens, and whatever seasonal vegetables you love to make it a heftier and satisfying soup. It’s also a good way to clean out your crisper drawer at the end of the week.

When you’re picking vegetables to add in, go for a variety of colors and vegetables to get a better variety of vitamins and minerals. Farmers markets and CSA boxes will have more color varieties of certain vegetables you probably haven’t seen in the grocery store, and they’ll also be the best way to get the most seasonal (and nutrient-rich) produce.

Start with one meal and one suggestion. Slowly add in more to other meals as you get more used to seeing where you can boost your vegetable intake. You can also think of this as a challenge or a game: how can you fit in more vegetables into this meal? Which of the suggestions above will make your meal even tastier and more enjoyable? Keep it fun and enjoy making your meals overflowing with vegetables.

Healthy Eating 101 will return with other greens you can try in your recipes besides kale.

Aimée is a healthy food blogger at Small Eats. After gaining weight in college, she decided to start eating, cooking and living healthier. Since then, she's lost weight and gained a wealth of recipes and food knowledge that she couldn't keep to herself. Aimée's interested in learning about food, where it comes from, and ways to make healthy food accessible and approachable to everyone.

Second Photo Credit: mama_mia/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: Brent Hofacker/shutterstock.com; Fourth Photo Credit: Alena Haurylik/shutterstock.com; Fifth Photo Credit: Billion Photos/shutterstock.com