Ask the Dietitian: Flavorful Vegetables
By Masha Fox-Rabinovich, MA, RD, LDN, CDE, outpatient dietitian at Washington Adventist Hospital
This year marks the 41st Annual National Nutrition Month, and this year’s theme is “Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right.” However, in my work as an outpatient dietitian, my clients often respond to healthy food choice recommendations with:
- How am I supposed to enjoy the taste of that?
- Is it even possible for healthy food to be delicious?
My answer is, absolutely! There are so many ways to make healthy foods taste good. If you want to eat more veggies, but not compromise on flavor, keep reading.
First and foremost, choose fresh or frozen vegetables. Keep them on hand. If they’re out of sight, then they’ll be out of mind. Don’t choose frozen vegetables that have highly processed ingredients added, such as various sauces and seasonings. These ingredients add flavor, but they also add unhealthy fats, sugar, and sodium, turning perfectly nutrient-dense vegetables into sub-par options, health-wise.
Q: What can I do to enhance the taste of raw or cooked vegetables?
1) Drizzle extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle a spoonful of grated parmesan or cheddar cheese over steamed vegetables. You may be surprised how much you appreciate the natural flavor of the vegetables; while at the same time you are adding a heart healthy monounsaturated fat and a complete protein with a sharp taste.
2) Mix vegetables into savory or starchy recipes. For example, I add a bag of fresh baby spinach leaves to every batch of mashed potatoes I make. It’s a simple extra step that adds nutrition and flavor. Make your mashed potato recipe as you normally would. As you start mashing, add the fresh spinach and keep on mashing. The heat from the potatoes will wilt and lightly cook the spinach, and will produce your signature mashed potatoes, but now with beautiful green specks throughout, and added vitamins like vitamins A, K, folate, and other B vitamins, added minerals like manganese, copper, iron, calcium, and potassium, and other micronutrients. Experiment with adding dark leafy green and other colorful veggies to more of your favorite recipes, like casseroles, soups and stews, and meat dishes.
3) Serve hot pasta and rice dishes over fresh uncooked spinach, arugula, or other salad greens. Greens make for a wonderful base layer to a warm starchy dish, adding tons of nutrition to the dish. Greater intake of leafy green vegetables reduces risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and other chronic conditions.
4) Increase the number of types of vegetables served as meals. Offer both raw and cooked veggies at the same meal. At lunch and dinner, your plate should be a “healthy plate.” A healthy plate is one that is half non-starchy vegetables, one quarter starches (grains such as rice, bread, or pasta, or starchy veggies like potatoes, corn, or peas), and one quarter proteins. Eating half a plate of a single type of vegetable can be a little overwhelming. Personally, I find it hard to eat half a plate of any one food. But a quarter-plate of a steamed veggie like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and another quarter-plate of raw veggies – like a handful of cherry tomatoes and cucumber slices drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar – is not only doable, but also appealing both visually and in terms of taste.
5) Enjoy scrambled eggs or omelets with vegetables tossed in. Add chopped onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, and any other veggies you like. You’ll still get the rich taste of the eggs, but with more flavors and nutrients. The variety of colors, flavors, and textures that the vegetables bring will add a complexity to the dish that will taste good and look good (we eat with our eyes, you know!).
As National Nutrition Month comes to an end, remember to continue incorporating smart eating practices to your daily routine all year long. Small changes you make today and continue to stick with will become habits that are key components of a healthy lifestyle.
Check back tomorrow for tips on how to enjoy healthy proteins! Do you have other questions about food or dieting? Please share your questions in the comments section below.