[October 5th, 2010 in the Dining section of the New York Times, Jane E. Brody wrote an article called “Even Benefits Don’t Tempt Us to Vegetables.” At the end of the article, Brody asks for opinions of why America won’t eat their vegetables. What follows is my response.]
I eat plenty of food during the day so why is it that I can’t seem to consume enough vegetables? If I treat vegetables as an afterthought, waiting to be “fit in” to my daily routine, like an optimistic visit to the gym, even I know it just won’t happen.
Nutritionists bombard me with technical information proving why vegetables are good for me. They label some of them “super foods.” I know vegetables are good for me. That’s not the problem. But no matter what cape my broccoli puts on, it won’t swoop down to save the day unless I actually eat it.
Maybe the problem is less about the actual vegetable and more about the stigma surrounding the unfortunate food group. If simply adding vegetables to my diet doesn’t work, then maybe I need to fundamentally change how I am thinking about them. What if I manipulate my daily routine by swapping out the unhealthy food, those with empty calories, and replacing them with nutritional ones like vegetables?
I can identify three basic concepts that will get me eating more vegetables, every day.
1. I don’t need to be a trained chef in order to prepare vegetables.
I visit the farmer’s market or the produce section of my grocery store and bring home some vegetables. Now what? When did vegetable-preparation become so complicated? I look on line for how to cook broccoli, for example, and I find an array of recipes from a mushy casserole to a sauté with exotic ingredients, smothered in cheese. No one tells me that I don’t need to add anything at all in order to eat broccoli but perhaps a little heat to soften up its raw crunch. A lot of vegetables can be consumed raw. Most vegetables may also be steamed, baked or sautéed. Then all I have to do is put them on a plate and enjoy. Sure I can add some butter or olive oil and salt or I may need some tips on how to peel or chop or steam, but vegetables don’t have to be gourmet.
2. I need snacks with calories that count.
I eat snacks for a reason; I get hungry between meals. Snacks need to satisfy my hunger, give me energy without making me feel too full so I can go about my day until the next meal. Who said junk food is the only snackable food group? Companies have been perfecting junk food’s packaging, shape, taste and texture for years making it more irresistible each time. There is no way vegetables can compete on the outside. But when it comes to the inside, there is no choice. Vegetables will give me the nutrients I need without the unwanted fat, sodium, sugar or calories. A veggie snack truly gives me more bang for my buck when I consider nutrition first. Why not grab some carrots and dipping sauce or a bowl of steamed peas for a snack? How about rushing out of the house with a bag of snap peas or sliced up bell peppers? Why does a snack have to be shrink-wrapped with a shelf life of over a year?
3. I won’t eat what I don’t crave.
In between meals, my energy drops and I look around for a snack. I grab a bag of chips or a muffin or maybe even an organic granola bar. I eat the junk food and I feel satisfied. The next time I need a snack, I crave junk food. It is a cycle. My body wants what my body knows. If I satisfy my cravings with junk food, I will only crave it again the next time hunger strikes. Consider the alternative. My energy drops and I grab a vegetable snack (an avocado and salad dressing or lightly steamed string beans, for example) or even an apple. I feel satisfied after my snack and so the next time I am hungry, I crave another veggie or fruit snack. Could it really be that simple? My body craves what I give it. If I don’t reach for vegetables, my body will never know what it is missing or be able to ask for more. The same goes for meals. If I don’t include a vegetable as an integral part of dinner, I won’t miss it and then I will never eat it. But if I eat vegetables every night, when I do forget, I will miss them and crave vegetables.
If I keep vegetables on a silver platter saved for special occasions, they will never have the opportunity to infiltrate my everyday life. Super foods may have super powers but I need them to put on their street clothes and meld into my daily routine without all the excitement. Eating vegetables should be no big deal. America needs to pop the mystery bubble that makes vegetables appear unattainable and take them off the to-do list that simply never gets done.