When I gave up meat a decade ago, my mother thought I would starve to death. After all, she’d spent the last 20 years watching me strategically push vegetables around my plate so that it looked like I had eaten some.
Ten years ago, vegetables were my archenemy. Today, I’m their biggest cheerleader. Here are some tips and tricks from a vegetable convert on how to make sure you are getting your fill:
1. “Beef Up” Your Favorite Dishes with Veggies
There are probably dishes you make all the time that could pack a meaner vegetable punch. Eating Spaghetti? Try adding onions, mushrooms and spinach to the sauce. Stir-fry? Add bulk and texture with bamboo shoots, bean sprouts and snow peas. Fajitas? Try sautéing some more unusual veggies with those onions and bell pepper strips: I like sweet potatoes, mushrooms and zucchini in mine.
2. Snack Smarter
I eat a lot of snacks, so I always come prepared. My lunch bag always has at least two pieces of fruit. If that’s my only option, that’s what I’m going to choose! And if I’m leaving the house for more than a couple of hours, you can usually find an apple in my purse.
3. Go for Ethnic Cuisine
The hardest restaurants for me to eat in are those that describe themselves as “American.” The menus are usually full of big, meaty dishes or fried, cheesy things. Do yourself a favor and head to a local Indian, Thai, Middle Eastern or Ethiopian restaurant and order something off the vegetarian section. You will not be sorry.
Make your own connection between food and conservation this Earth Day and throw a Picnic for the Planet. Join all the others who are putting their dot on the map and taking the Earth to lunch.
4. Practice Makes Closer to Perfect
I’m not a naturally skilled cook, but I’ve learned a few tricks over the years. I try and make one new recipe a week. Blogs are my favorite places to find recipes – the authors are usually honest about how good the dish actually is, tell you what they’d do differently next time, feature some drool-worthy photos and are often eager to answer any questions you have.
5. Don’t Rely on Meat Substitutes
This is a classic rookie mistake for people who decide to try vegetarianism because your gut instinct is to try and re-create all the meat dishes you are used to. Sure they taste really good and are great to have on hand for a few meals a week, but they are expensive and processed. They can also stunt your culinary creativity. Dishes that naturally showcase beans, whole grains and vegetables – like Tuscan Bean and Kale Soup or Curried Chickpeas with Quinoa — are your best bet for healthy, veggie-filled meals.
6. Visit Your Farmer’s Market
There’s nothing much better in the culinary world than a farmer’s market in peak season. But for a cooking novice, it can be a bit intimidating. So turn it into a bit of an adventure. Ask the farmers about vegetables you don’t recognize and tips on cooking them. Or see what other people are choosing and ask them what they plan to make. Too shy? This is why they invented the Internet.
7. Join a CSA program
This tip is the advanced placement version of tip #6. By joining a community-supported agriculture program, you have the farmer’s market delivered to you. Each week you’ll get a box of vegetables – whatever is in peak season. You don’t get to pick in choose what’s in your box – but you get the freshest vegetables out there. Joining a CSA means you get to play Iron Chef with a mystery vegetable every week.
So, what’s your favorite way to eat your veggies? Post your own tips, suggestions or recipes in the comments section below.
Image Credit: Ron Dressel via Flickr Creative Commons