Making Vegetables Center Stage

We explain how you can make vegetables the center stage.I’ve always been a fruit person. My favorite breakfast out used to be a fruit/yogurt/granola plate; I’ve always found it’s just easier to plug an extra apple or banana into a meal or snack than it is, say, asparagus or broccoli. But lately, although I still haven’t given up my sweet breakfast for an omelet with peppers and onions, I have been sneaking veggies into a lot of the rest of our meals — and it’s been surprisingly delicious and easy. Here are some tips to make sure you’re getting your daily share of vegetables, no matter the season.

If you are eating breakfast out, add veggies to any egg dish rather than falling for a plate full of pancakes or waffles. It’s a lot easier to go overboard on fat and calories when you’re consuming a dish filled with empty carbs, so picking eggs at a restaurant is much more safe and nutritionally sound.

You can ask for egg whites; you can ask for anything to be sauteed in oil rather than butter; you can even go without cheese (although I think that’s the best part!). Pick a side of fruit, juice and/or coffee and you have a real winning meal.

Even if you’re used to a sweet snack, you can still make it happen with veggies — dip some celery and carrots in nut butter rather than ranch or blue cheese dressing. This will ensure you’re getting protein, good fat and fiber, no mystery ingredients in that creamy tub of white stuff and you’ll even get a satisfying crunch out of the whole deal. Great for kids, of course, would be adding raisins on top — just don’t pile too many on there or you’ll be increasing your intake of calories and sugar, although from a natural source.

For lunch, the options are endless. Some of my favorites are veggie paninis and wraps; raw or roasted, you can either add hummus for flavor in a cold wrap or cheese, olive oil and garlic to a hot panini for flavor and that extra something that makes your meal feel more decadent and special. If you can’t take your lunch with you, look for vegetarian options on any deli menu as opposed to something meat based — you’re virtually guaranteed to get more greens and less fat no matter what you choose. Even, alas, a veggie pizza is better than a pepperoni pie.

Snack number 2 can be difficult, if you need something mid-afternoon like I do. The best thing I can suggest is a smoothie that hides vegetables inside with the fruit and liquid, like kale or spinach — adding citrus juice to the mix will mask the flavor and cut any bitterness, and again, it will sort of feel like a treat. But if you’re on the road or out and about, opt for something salty this time if you’ve already indulged in a sweet morning snack: Take along some pre-made kale chips, stop by the deli at Whole Foods, order an early veggie-based dinner and eat a small portion to tide you over or pick up a Chicken and Hummus Bistro Box at Starbucks (which also contains fresh vegetables).

Dinner is another endless bounty. If you haven’t exhausted your favorite breakfast or lunch option already, try that here — add a side salad to your grilled sandwich or some whole-wheat toast to your eggs for more substance. You can also try experimenting with veggie stir-fries, soups (wilting greens before serving any soup is quite possibly the easiest nutrition booster of all time) and, of course, main-course salads; we literally just throw everything but the kitchen sink into a big bowl of spinach or arugula and everybody’s happy.

This isn’t to say you have to give up meat, but I’m guessing you won’t do this every day…it’s just comforting, to me at least, to see that there really are ways you can bump up your veggie intake without feeling like you have to uncover every last corner of the produce section at the store.

Wasn’t that easy? Just remember to opt for organic versions of high-pesticide veggies like celery, sweet bell peppers and greens (spinach, kale, lettuce, collards) and you’re good to go. I would argue that if you’re in a pinch, of course, conventional veggies are better than nothing, but if you’re at home just try to take that extra step of washing or scrubbing them down a bit more. Treat yourself right this way and you’ll feel more satisfied and energetic to boot.

Spinach Salad with Kale Chips

This Spinach salad is fantastic with Kale chips.As the organic spinach is on sale at Target right now, I picked up two clamshells the other day and thus we had salad again for dinner last night. With only a few cherry tomatoes from my mom’s garden and the rest of the blue cheese, though, it was looking kind of bare, so my wife suggested we throw in the rest of the leftover kale chips from the weekend. It was delicious!

The contrast in color (it was red kale) almost made it look like radicchio, and it gave great flavor and crunch to the spinach, which can be a rather boring taste if not seasoned well. With any luck we’ll go back tonight for more spinach, although I did pick up some organic romaine at the market yesterday. I went to the store without my wallet on Monday. Oops. Luckily as I was stopped in the middle of the street in front of my house trying to decide where to pick up my groceries I decided that the closest store would be best, so I was literally just a few blocks from home, and they held my two bags at the front while I went home for my cash.

In the past something like this would have totally humiliated me, but I think I took it pretty well in stride. The day kind of went downhill from there, but at least I picked up the following real foods, for under $20:

  • Pack of three organic romaine hearts.
  • Can of wild Alaskan salmon to make salmon cakes.
  • Three $1 packs of organic thyme, oregano and parsley to season the fish cakes (I have breadcrumbs at home, and if I don’t get to buy farm-fresh eggs this weekend I may try a substitute).
  • Sliced mozzarella cheese for sandwiches.
  • Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar snacking cheese.
  • Two cans of red kidney beans to make my favorite bean griddlecakes — although I’ve never used this bean before for this dish, I’m sure they’ll be as delicious as ever. But I really should get eggs for these too.
  • One bag long-grain brown rice — now that I know how to make brown rice in my rice cooker, this is a quick and easy side and is also great with a little garlic oil, cheese and leftover vegetables for lunch. This is a new favorite vegetarian option of mine!

So although the universe was trying to keep me from walking out the door without my wallet yesterday morning — we tried to go twice, but my son was hysterical in his car seat, so I took him out and we played for a while longer first — the fail turned into a save, because I only spent $20 for all those goodies.

Hopefully on the way home from work today I’ll be able to stop at Whole Foods to see if my almond butter, agave for the wife, Crofter’s, local honey and maple syrup are on sale. I’m kind of making do without all that for now, especially since I don’t have my favorite Great Harvest bread to enjoy with the almond butter/Crofter’s concoction, but it would feel like a very accomplished “staples” trip if I could pick them all up at once.