Health Habits: Eating Vegetables Even When You Hate Them

Most of the time, vegetable aversions come from lack of exposure at young age. Set an example and see everyone’s health benefit from the delicious additions to your meals.

A common complaint dietitians hear when meeting new clients is the dislike of vegetables.  We all know that vegetables are an important source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates.  They’re part of a healthy diet, help with weight loss, and reduce risks of chronic diseases such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and cancer. That sounds like something everyone wants, right? So, why isn’t that enough for us to learn to love them? 

Knowing that vegetables are good for us and eating enough of them are two different things.  It is easier said than done, but how do we go about changing that habit? Do we force them down or make the children eat them without first setting the example?  That may not be the best answer, so this situation requires thinking outside the box.  Long-lasting changes happen when we discover things that are possible.  We won’t know what works for us unless we try.  

There are several things we can do to make eating vegetables more pleasant. 

1. Eat or cook them with fat.  Adding fats to your vegetables help the body absorb its nutrients. Vegetables such as bell peppers, carrots, dark leafy greens, and sweet potatoes have the fat-soluble vitamin, vitamin A.  Adding salad dressing or cheese to your leafy greens will increase vitamin absorption.  Cooking vegetables with olive oil or butter works the same way.  Some other fats to consider are guacamole, nut butters, and hummus. 

2. Change how you prepare them. If you know you don’t like them steamed, stop steaming your vegetables.  Try roasting broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and sweet potatoes. They are great and easy to roast. Roasting helps bring out their natural sugars.  Try sautéing and mashing as well.  

3. Sneak them into popular dishes. Add them to your spaghetti sauce, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, pancakes, and puddings.  Finely chopped mushrooms cooked with beef before adding to marinara sauce adds extra B-vitamins, protein, and antioxidants to your meal.  Butternut squash or sweet potatoes lend to the deep yellow/orange color of mac and cheese. Try adding some cauliflower to mashed potatoes, shredded zucchini with cinnamon in pancakes, and avocado to pudding. 

4. Drink the vegetables.  A high-powered blender comes in handy for making juices, smoothies, and soups.  It’s also an easy way to get several servings in at once.  Combine them with your favorite fruits to make it more palatable.  The sweetness of the fruit may help with the stronger vegetable flavors.  

5. Create a positive experience.  Make trying new vegetables or preparation techniques fun.  Invite the family to take part, or host a smoothie creations party with close friends. Having positive experiences related with the foods we eat can help train the brain to like new foods. The taste buds also need repeated exposures (roughly 20) to become accustomed. 

Whether it’s you needing help to incorporate vegetables in your diet or you’re looking for ideas to encourage your kids to eat them, these are great tips for everyone.  Most of the time, vegetable aversions come from lack of exposure at young age.  Set an example and see everyone’s health benefit from the delicious additions to your meals. 

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