Vegetables. Those things your parents made you eat so you could have what you really wanted: cake. As an adult, I now eat it to be healthy. And also, so afterwards I can have cake. As I attempt to lose weight, I know that vegetables are a way to get nutrients I need, while also providing fiber to keep me full longer. But besides just throwing them on top of salads, or using them in their natural form, how do you shove them down your gullet while not feeling intense sadness? Creativity, friends, creativity.
As I try to eat more healthy meals, I know that cutting back on “empty carbs” (white rice, white bread, pasta, sugars- really, a war on whites) is necessary to feel full longer and get the nutrients I need. BUT- it also means my food tastes like sadness and regret. So figuring out how to work more healthy food into my diet that I actually WANT to eat is important. And I find that hiding the vegetables in my food (as if I were a toddler) is the best way to do this.
Cutting out starches and grains is never going to happen for me. I love them. But I’ve started changing the types of grains I eat. I use brown rice instead of white, I use whole grain pasta (I also tried the veggie enriched pasta, but it wasn’t as good for you as you might think), and I do whole wheat bread rather than white. Having grains that are higher in fiber allows me to eat less and not feel like I’m starving (which results in my eating an entire cake rather than one piece).
Adding vegetables to many of my staple foods became easier as recipes and products became more available. Many of these items are billed as replacements for the item you’ve been eating for years. Cauliflower mashed potatoes instead of white potatoes, replace your rice with riced veggies (vegetables shredded into small pieces that resemble rice), thin spiral cut vegetables in place of pasta. I have tried all of the above, and while good, I did not find to be a true “suitable replacement” for the items they claim they are just like. However, using these items with the original is an excellent option. I added riced cauliflower to my rice in chicken tikka masala, and found that it added a perfect taste to the dish without taking anything away from the original. I would have missed having no rice, but cutting back on the rice and adding finely cut cauliflower was the perfect compromise. The same is true of baked and mashed potatoes. Mixing cauliflower into the potatoes is subtle, not overpowering. Mashed cauliflower is not a true replacement for mashed potatoes, but adding them in with potatoes gives you a serving of comfort food with a serving of health, and that’s a compromise I think most people can make without feeling like they’re compromising at all. And that’s what every diet needs.
If I was told that in order to be healthy I could only eat bananas and brussel sprouts I would die of starvation and grief in no time. However, when I find things that I like and that I know are good for me, I have no problem loading up on them. And adding veggies to your current recipes is far easier than you might think:
Use a grater or food processor to make raw vegetables “rice sized”
Add to your favorite recipes and season/cook as required
Cook cauliflower until soft
mash into paste
Add to mashed or baked potatoes, season as required
Use a peeler or food processor to create “spaghetti noodle” vegetables (usually squash, cucumber, and zucchini are best for this)
Add to pasta, season as required
DONE. Easy. Simple. Even someone who sucks at most things like I do can do this. And that says a lot.
And if this all seems like too much work, the frozen aisle of most grocery stores sells products that are fast and little to no work. Green Giant has riced veggies, cauliflower mashed potatoes, and even veggie tater tots. I tried the Broccoli and Cheese Veggie Tots by Green Giant, and they were very good. Again, not a replacement for tater tots, but an excellent substitute. I am also a fan of anything covered in cheese (ANYTHING- cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting are one of the most delicious things on earth), so the advantages of a broccoli cheese veggie tot is not lost on me.
Making comfort foods healthy is not always possible, and there is a time when loading up on mac and cheese is just a necessary guilty pleasure. But when done right, adding some nutrition to an overall non-nutritious dish is possible. Vegetables can be used in most dishes to add flavor and substance to a meal, without giving up all the flavor you love. Making a dish healthy is great, but if it tastes like dirt and depression, you will not want to eat it. But adding vegetables in creative ways to dishes you love is a way to eat healthy AND happy- and that is well worth the effort.