If you love vegetables and just naturally eat them like crazy, good for you. You’re lucky to have such a healthy craving.
But if you’re like most people, what you really love is meat…white carbs, such as bread and pasta…and cheese. You have vegetables on your plate, but basically what you do is eat around them and occasionally pick at them. You almost never finish them.
Hey, I understand! And, happily, I have a solution for you—a great way that you can naturally eat more vegetables that requires almost no effort and actually is enjoyable.
This idea is remarkably simple, yet it is backed up by research. It all started when nutrition researchers at Penn State University gave volunteers a lunch of pasta and vegetables once a week for four weeks. For three of the meals, researchers served half a plate of pasta and half a plate of one vegetable (either broccoli, carrots or snap peas). For one of the meals, investigators served the pasta along with all three of those vegetables, side-by-side, in amounts that added up to the same total amount of vegetables as before. Researchers didn’t say anything to the volunteers about the changed menu—they just served it.
And what they found was, when participants were served the pasta along with the variety of vegetables, they ate more veggies—48 more grams, on average (about an extra half-cup). And this happened automatically—there was no coaching about nutrition and no finger-wagging about not eating enough vegetables!
Unfortunately, when participants ate more of the veggie medley, they didn’t eat less pasta, as researchers had hoped. But previous research has suggested that larger amounts of vegetables (about two to three times the amount used in this study) are needed in order to reduce the consumption of other foods on the plate.
WHY VARIETY MAKES A DIFFERENCE
Now think about your meals at home and in restaurants—how often do you have a pile of just one type of vegetable staring up at you from your plate? In contrast, a medley of veggies that have a variety of tastes and textures is more appetizing because your palate doesn’t get bored by the same experience over and over again—it’s refreshed and revitalized by the sensations of different foods, which makes you want to keep eating them, said lead study author Barbara J. Rolls, PhD.
I think this “veggie medley” strategy is so simple and powerful that it’s a keeper. While increasing the amount of vegetables that you eat by one-half cup each meal may not seem like a lot—in the long-term, it adds up!
MIX IT UP AT HOME
According to the US Department of Agriculture’s “MyPlate” guidelines (www.ChooseMyPlate.gov), it’s important to fill half your plate—every plate, every day, at every meal—with veggies and fruit.
You can add a variety of veggies to meals in a few different ways. One convenient strategy is to use frozen, prepackaged medleys. There are lots of them in any supermarket, and some of them are quite good. But to keep from getting tired of those, you also can create your own mixtures using fresh vegetables. The key, said Dr. Rolls, is prepping the vegetables ahead of time, such as each Sunday night, and then putting them into sealed containers in your fridge. That way, when you come home feeling groggy on a weeknight, you can quickly grab the containers, cook the contents however you wish and eat.
Here are some creative—yet practical—medleys to try…
- Breakfast: When cooking an omelet, toss in a veggie mix that you don’t normally see on diner menus—zucchini and butternut squash. Spice it up with onions and green peppers, if you like. Adding parmesan cheese and oregano will give it an extra zing.
- Lunch: Wrap a whole-wheat tortilla around grilled chicken or turkey and your favorite grilled veggies—such as sliced mushrooms, asparagus and eggplant.
- Dinner: For a savory side dish, sprinkle peas into a sweet potato—it’s a surprisingly delicious combo.
Sources: Barbara J. Rolls, PhD, professor of nutritional sciences and Helen A. Guthrie Chair of Nutritional Sciences, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, and author of The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet (William Morrow Cookbooks). Her research was published in Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Learn more about her smart eating strategies at www.Facebook.com/VolumetricsDiet.