This post was originally published 2/16/11 by Sarah (during our first pilot run, when we were still assigning homework!)
For your Warrior homework this week, Anne Marie and I decided to give you two specific challenges, to be done over the next two weeks. (Remember we don’t meet next week during February break.)
I’d like to introduce you to your first, true food challenge, aside from keeping your food journals, of course. Veni, Vidi, Veggie: I came, I saw, I veggie’d! Over the next two weeks, we’d like you to eat vegetables twice a day, for at least 7 days of the next 14.
For some of you, this will be a piece of…broccoli. For others, it will be more of a challenge. If you’re not already in the habit of prioritizing vegetables and working them into your diet, then read on. We realize that changing one’s habits is not easy. You’re probably not going to eat more veggies just because we’re telling you to. The motivation needs to come from you, so hopefully this post will inspire you to put those veggies on the pedestal that they deserve!
How many of us grew up hearing, “Don’t forget to eat your vegetables!” at every meal? Depending on your family’s attitude towards food, you may have learned to enjoy and eat a wide variety of veggies at a young age, OR you might have gone in the other direction and developed an aversion (or a neutral, take-it-or-leave-it feeling) towards anything green. I know I was a super picky eater as a child and basically refused to eat vegetables of any kind, even when I decided to become a vegetarian at age 17. I don’t know WHAT I was eating back then – probably lots of fruit and bread. My family used to joke that I had become a “fruititarian”. What about you? It can be very instructive to reflect on your own “food story” and how it has changed over the years.
It wasn’t until adulthood that I discovered my love of vegetables. There’s basically not a vegetable that I don’t enjoy – BUT, loving veggies does not always translate into preparing them and eating them every day. It often seems like too much work, what with all the chopping and cooking and figuring out how to make them taste good…
I don’t know about you, but I get very motivated when I understand the real benefits of doing something that I already know I “should” be doing. Michael Pollan, the politics of food guru, has a very simple maxim: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Eating tons of vegetables is not only great for your health – plants are packed with nutrients that the body needs – but eating a diet of fresh, whole foods also takes you out of the vicious cycle of engineered, manufactured food consumption. For an in depth look of the politics behind the American food industry, read Michael Pollan’s 2007 NY Times Magazine article Unhappy Meals. It’s pretty shocking and motivating.
Another tactic that I’ve used when changing my habits is to make a commitment to try something new and to see how I feel as a result. I’ve had the experience of eating copius amounts of vegetables, 3x a day, for 3 months straight. (Full disclosure: my diet also included lean meats/fish, whole grains, fruit and some dairy and was part of a fitness program – see below.) Let me tell you, I’ve never felt so energetic or so clean and lean as I did during those months. It was a very revealing experiment that taught me how much better I could consistently feel in my body, how much enjoyment I could glean from eating plants, and how easy it was to prepare it all once I got into a groove with it. But don’t let me tell you – I encourage you to come up with your own experiment!
Finally, it helps to be reminded and inspired by other people’s experiences with the wonderful world of vegetables…and to have some handy tips on making veggie consumption easier and less of a chore. Recipes, anyone? Share ‘em in the comments section. Here are my top veggie tips to (hopefully) inspire and motivate you:
- Shop mindfully. Whether or not you are committed to eating organic, buy what’s fresh. Locally grown is best in terms of length of time between field and table. If a bunch of greens is starting to look wilty in the store, it’s going to wilt even faster in your fridge. Whole vegetables will stay fresher longer than bags of pre-cut veggies, but you’ll have to determine whether the time saved on chopping is worth the higher price/possible difference in freshness. Flash-frozen veggies are high in nutrients, but I find that frozen veggies lack flavor and texture so are best used in recipes where they are not center stage. All the choices can seem overwhelming, so I generally…
- Buy 3 or 4 different fresh, whole vegetables in an array of colors. This week, I bought green beans, 2 bunches of broccoli, 2 large sweet potatoes, and 3 red/yellow peppers. In order to get the most bang for your buck in terms of nutrients (and to stave off vegetable boredom), buy a “rainbow” of colors and chop them all in different shapes (i.e. peppers in rings, sweet potatoes in diagonal wedges, zucchini in strips).
- Cook a whole bunch of veggies at one time. If you’re steaming, do one vegetable at a time – if you mix them, some will be soggy, some will be crisp. But steaming only takes a few minutes per veggie. Roasting (w/ a very small amt. of oil, spread on a cookie sheet and baked at 425) is another good option. Today, I lightly steamed the broccoli, peppers and green beans (separately), and sauteed the cut-up sweet potatoes w/ a tiny bit of oil and some hot sauce for kick.
- Once you cook all your veggies, mix them up in a giant container and store in your fridge. Having a combination of veggies will automatically make them taste interesting, and having them all prepared will make for an easy rest of your week!
- Eat those beautiful, prepared vegetables whenever possible. Cover your dinner plate with them, or snack on them in between meals. You really can’t overdo it on the vegetable front.
- If the thought of eating relatively plain veggies makes you gag, then try adding a small amount of something with big flavor – such as balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, cracked pepper, or parmesan cheese.
Finally, here are two great blog posts written by my “wellness teacher”, Patrick Reynolds, creator of the Peak Condition Project, the fitness program I did over the summer.
This one’s about eating vegetables (gasp!) for breakfast.
Here’s another one that discusses healthy eating – it goes beyond veggies, but has a lot of practical ideas in it.
How do YOU like to eat your veggies?? What kind of early experiences did you have growing up? What do you see as the benefits of incorporating plants into your diet? What’s your favorite, easy veggie preparation technique? I look foward to reading your comments!