For The Week: Creative ways to add vegetables to your meals

Lindsay Guentzel helps you spice up your meals with veggies.
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Lindsay Guentzel

When it comes to eating produce, I always thought I was a fruit over vegetables kind of person. And then I made an actual effort to eat more vegetables and the craziest thing happened: I actually started to like them, even crave them. It’s like the experts were right all along. Who knew?

Sarcasm aside, vegetables are incredible – incredible for your health and incredibly easy to avoid completely. That’s why this week we’re focusing on creative ways to add vegetables into some of your favorite meals.

Here’s where I introduce myself. Hi, my name is Lindsay Guentzel and I’m a food writer for Bring Me The News. I’m a self-proclaimed meal prep expert and For The Week is my weekly column where I share everything I’ve learned over the years with you.

Have a topic you want to learn more about? A question you want me to answer? Your own tip you want to share? I would love to hear from you. You can email me directly at lindsay@bringmethenews.com or connect with me on social media @LindsayGuentzel. This column is all about making your lives easier so it’s important that I’m writing about topics you are interested in.

So let’s dive in and talk about easy, creative ways to fit more veggies into your meal plans.

3 to 5 servings of veggies every day? Here’s how

Veggies are good for us. Essential for our well-being. They should be a no-brainer for our diets. But sometimes fitting them in feels like so much work. So much unenjoyable work.

So let’s fix that. One of the biggest setbacks for most people is feeling overwhelmed by the amount of veggies they are supposed to eat each day. The task is just too much to accomplish so instead of tackling some of it, we just give up.

One very simple way to help stop this pattern is to start cleaning and cutting up your vegetables so they are in your fridge ready to go. Some people find it easiest to fit this time in right after they get home from the grocery store; I tend to take care of my veggie prep on Sunday afternoons. I set up my laptop in the kitchen, turn on my favorite reality TV show that my boyfriend refuses to watch and I get all of our veggies ready to go for the week. That way, when I open the fridge on Wednesday afternoon and start thinking about what’s for dinner, I’m not overwhelmed by a bunch of vegetables still fully intact in their plastic produce bags.

Tip: Clean, cut up your veggies ahead of time

Cleaning and cutting up your veggies ahead of time gives you so much meal freedom because instead of wasting any more time prepping, you can just dive right into preparing your meal. Plus you are making one mess and one set of prep dishes to clean up instead of having to deal with all of that over and over again every day when you cook.

The other setback many people face when trying to add more veggies to their diet is they think they have to be munching on giant heads of broccoli all day long. While three to five servings is a good amount of vegetables, when you lay out the actual serving sizes it’s much more manageable than our brains can comprehend. For most vegetables, you are only looking at ½ cup of cooked veggies. Leafy greens are a cup but that’s the biggest serving size. 

Tip: Add small amounts of veggies to meals

Hiding veggies in meals isn’t meant to trick you. I’m not suggesting you replace your ground beef with riced cauliflower and call it a day. I’m suggesting you try adding small amounts of diced and minced veggies to dishes you already make as a way to increase your vegetable intake without feeling like you have to eat a giant salad at every meal. You will be surprised by how easily most vegetables adapt to their surroundings when seasoned right. This method is great for people who like to prepare meals -- taco night, casseroles, pasta dishes.

It was actually our own taco routine that got me thinking about this method. I love Mexican food but it is very hard to work vegetables into the routine. So one night, I chopped up cauliflower, onion and carrots and added them to my ground beef. A packet of taco seasoning and some diced green chiles and you couldn’t tell the difference. It was a calculated response to a problem I was having. I love Mexican food and I want to eat more vegetables -- how can I do that at the same time?

Below I’ve included some of my favorite sneaky meal ideas for you. Some are more obvious -- like using vegetable noodles instead of pasta. But what I want you to do is think of the meals you make regularly and try envisioning ways you could add vegetables into that routine. It doesn’t have to be a crazy amount; remember, small changes add up over time.

Cauliflower

Whether you use fresh cauliflower or bags of frozen riced cauliflower, this high-in-fiber vegetable is great to have on hand for mixing up meals. Why? When diced, it cooks quickly and takes on seasoning well -- so you can hide it easily! As I mentioned above, I add diced cauliflower to our meat on Taco Night. It’s mild flavor works well with bright, bold spices to trick even the pickiest eaters.

Other ideas for cauliflower? Add a bag of riced cauliflower to your macaroni and cheese or favorite pasta dish, mix up some in your burger patties, add it to your scrambled eggs or mash it up into your potatoes.

Here’s a great list of cauliflower-inspired recipes to get your creativity flowing. 

Carrots

Growing up, I was not a fan of cooked carrots. Which immediately throws my mother under the bus because I learned to like them as soon as my boyfriend started making them for me (Mom, I’m sorry. It’s not you, it’s me). What’s great about cooked carrots is they add a nice, subtle sweetness to your dish which can work well with lots of different cuisines.

If you’re a baker, adding carrots into your recipe is an easy way to sneak in veggies without altering the flavor of your treats. This technique also works well with breakfast foods -- baked oatmeal, muffins, egg bakes. And of course, carrots are an easy addition to most Italian dishes because they balance with the acidity in tomato sauce.

One way I love to prepare carrots? In bacon fat. I cook up bacon, remove it from the pan, then add the carrots to the fat. After they are tender, I chop up the bacon into pieces to serve over the top.

Zucchini

Zucchini is a great vegetable to cook with because of its mild flavor but it also has a ton of water in it and can turn to mush very quickly. That’s why you always want to pick out small, firm zucchini. The bigger the zucchini, the more water inside its flesh and the quicker it cooks. Hence -- the easier it is to get stuck with mushy zucchini.

I like to press out as much water as possible from the zucchini with a tea towel before cooking (sprinkling salt over the exposed flesh can also help absorb the excess moisture). I slice the zucchini and lay it out across the cutting board before gently pressing the towel down over the top.

Shredded or diced zucchini is an easy addition to burgers and meatballs. Really, you can add zucchini to most dishes without worrying about it throwing off the flavor. The zoodles kick from a few years ago taught a lot of us how to make Italian food with zucchini. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of zoodles. If I want pasta, I would rather have pasta and then add zucchini into the sauce. But I do love using zucchini in lasagna. It’s a great way to get all of the things you love about lasagna without the added carbs.

My Zucchini Lasagna Recipe

Spinach

Spinach is probably the easiest and least utilized vegetable to add into your current routine. Why? It cooks down to nearly nothing and can be slipped into any meal without too much fuss. A great idea I learned years ago is to buy fresh spinach packed in plastic clamshells and keep it right in your freezer. It keeps it from going bad while still being accessible for meals.

Breakfast? Add it to your scrambled eggs or pump up your smoothie. Lunch? Swap out the iceberg in your sandwich or layer it into your rice bowl. Dinner? Blend it into any and all ground beef -- burgers, tacos, meatballs, lasagna, pasta, stir fry.

Tip: Don’t Strive For Perfect. Just start.

My therapist shared this quote with me and it’s the perfect one to pass along for this topic.

“If we strive for perfection, there is no room for growth!”

I know I struggle with this. Trying to go from zero to perfect on day one and when that doesn’t happen -- because that transition isn’t logical or attainable -- I get frustrated and tend to give up. You should not expect to wake up tomorrow and go from eating no vegetables to eating all of the colors of the rainbow in one day. That just isn’t reasonable. What’s reasonable is working on getting better one meal at a time. To be aware of your goals and to make an effort to start adding in vegetables when you can.

You might start off by eating the same vegetable every single day. While variety is helpful in getting the proper balance of nutrients, eating the same vegetable every day is also better than eating no vegetables at all. That improvement is a win! By being aware of your goals and making a conscious effort to find ways to modify your meals to include more vegetables, you’ll start to find it easier to balance vegetables in your diet.

Remember you can reach out to me directly at lindsay@bringmethenews.com with any meal prep or food question or comment. I love hearing from all of you!

Like what you read? You can follow my recipes, blogs and video here on Bring Me The News or on my website https://www.lindsayguentzel.com. Or follow me on social media @LindsayGuentzel on Twitter and Instagram. 

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