How to eat more fruits and veggies

Hopefully I’ve convinced you that fruits and veggies, aka F/V, are good for you. They contain valuable vitamins and hundreds of other chemical compounds, as well as soluble and insoluble fibre. Also, they taste good! When I meet people who say that they don’t like F/V, it usually means that a) they have only tried a limited range and/or b) they don’t know how to cook them properly.

My mom, love her dearly, cooked everything in the microwave when I was growing up. She didn’t use fat or salt. Dad loved all the ucky veggies: parsnips, turnips, Brussels sprouts. Between her cooking and his palate, my sisters and I suffered through a lot of dessicated Brussels sprouts and acrid turnips. Eechh. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered that Brussels sprouts can be delicious when lightly steamed and tossed with olive oil and sea salt, or sauteed with apples and smoked sausage.

If you’re one of those people who thinks F/V are nasty, try new kinds and new ways of cooking them. I find most veggies to be delicious even plain, but it’s amazing what a little butter or olive oil and some salt and pepper can do. Don’t overcook them; they’ll become flavourless and blah, and much of their vitamin content will be degraded. The majority of F/V are great when raw, although a few, such as tomatoes and carrots, are best eaten cooked, as humans can absorb their nutrients more effectively that way.

So here are some ideas to help you work F/V into your daily routine without too much effort. Most of them are simple enough that anyone with rudimentary culinary skills and a blender/masher/food processor can mistress them, so there’s no excuse.

  • Fresh chopped veggies. I find many plain chopped veggies quite flavourful. They make a perfect sitting-at-your-desk-need-something-to-crunch snack. If you want to add something, try mixing 1/2 cup cottage cheese with a splash of your favourite dressing for a dip. It’s really as quick to chop a whole pile of veggies as it is to chop a few, so next time you’re preparing dinner, chop some extra, put it into a plastic container or a ziploc bag, and take it to work with you. One guy I knew even brought green peppers to work and ate them like apples.
  • Veggie scramble or egg omelet. Put some aforementioned chopped veg into your next omelet. Or try some fresh fruit and cottage cheese. Even if you suck at making the fussier omelets, you can scramble. Use a small nonstick frying pan and grease it a little. Heat pan on medium heat. Beat 2 eggs or a few egg whites, whichever you prefer, with a splash of water and a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese (you can use any strong cheese but if it’s a softer cheese, add it later in the cooking process). Pour beaten eggs into the pan. While it’s starting to cook, wash and chop a couple of handfuls of spinach. Dump those in and stir to coat with egg. Keep cooking over medium heat, stirring often. It’s done when there’s no more liquidy stuff. This is a quick breakfast and you can dry your hair or whatever while the eggs are cooking.
  • Garbage salad. I call it this not because it tastes gross, but because you can throw in anything you have in your fridge. The North American whitey food salad is an abomination: some gloppy fatty dressing slathered over a bed of the excrescence known as iceberg lettuce (this is NOT FOOD!) with perhaps a few shavings of carrots, an anemic tomato or two, and the faintest hint of red cabbage—yuck. First of all, find some real lettuce that’s at least medium to dark green. A few leaves of red radicchio, which looks like a baseball-sized head of lettuce but with purple-red leaves, brightens things up nicely (by the way, did you know that Italians are fond of harvesting radicchio well into the fall and winter? Radicchio will survive even under a light coat of snow). Then get creative. Chop up some cooked beets or cooked green beans. Throw in some leftover veggies or cooked potatoes from last night’s dinner. Drop in a few berries or sliced apples, mango, or peaches. Dump in a few nuts or seeds. Maybe a cup or so of cooked grains – wild rice works well, as does quinoa. You can even slice some cooked chicken, beef, eggs, or seafood, or put in a can of tuna. Toss that sucker with a nice vinaigrette and shazam!
  • Quick cooked greens. Take some fresh spinach, swiss chard or beet greens (the green leafy tops of beets). Wash carefully and chop – it doesn’t have to be too finely. Heat a little bit of butter or olive oil in a nonstick pan. Toss the greens in, swirl them around for a minute or too until they’ve just wilted (don’t overdo them!), add a sprinkle of nutmeg and some salt/pepper, or some lemon juice and a little olive oil, and serve.
  • Roast vegetables. Cut up some veggies of choice, toss them with a bit of olive oil and salt, spread them on a baking sheet or in a roasting dish, and throw them into the oven set at 350 degrees F for 30-60 minutes (how long it takes will depend on what veggies you’ve used). Just about every vegetable will taste delicious when cooked this way, but good candidates include yams, zucchini, eggplant, parsnips, fennel, cauliflower, celery root, butternut squash, and carrots. Try roasting or barbecuing skewers of cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, and red and green peppers. You can even roast or grill fruit — grilled pineapple, peaches or mango slices are a delicious addition to the standard BBQ fare.
  • Vegetable smush. This one goes nicely with Sunday dinner or anything roasty. Chop veggies and either boil or roast them (boiling is quicker). Then smush em up with a bit of butter or olive oil and salt/pepper. Yams are swell this way – throw in a little cinnamon and a touch of maple syrup too. Another yam combo I like is chopped leeks lightly sauteed, then added to shredded uncooked yams with a bit of Dijon mustard, thyme, salt/pepper, and a shot of cream (you could use evaporated milk); mix the whole thing up in a casserole dish, cover, and slap it in the oven for 45-60 min or so. Cauliflower works well when smushed with a bit of yogurt and chopped green onion, or some coconut milk. Combos are also tasty. For example, try squash, carrots, or parsnips smushed with apples. You can also make a hummus-type Middle Eastern dip by using green peas smushed with fresh mint, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt. And of course, who could forget guacamole? Essential fatty acids and deelish – smush an avocado with lime juice and some green onion; some folks also like chili peppers in it.
  • Easy sauces. Tomato sauce is the most obvious here, but try my Martian spinach pasta sauce. It’s bright green, so don’t freak out when you see it. Cook up some spinach by boiling it quickly. Drain and throw it in a blender with some olive oil, pine nuts or walnuts if you have them, lots of fresh or dried basil, salt/pepper, and a healthy quantity of grated Parmesan cheese. Great mixed in with shrimp or chicken. If you’re vegetarian, consider throwing some cottage cheese into the blender too. Spinach is also nice in a tomato sauce. Tomato sauce hides many sins, so if you have leftover veggies in the fridge, throw them in.
  • Vegetable “pasta”. You can use your regular pasta sauce on top of vegetable “noodles”. Spaghetti squash, since it naturally has the texture of, well, spaghetti, is an easy choice. You can also thinly slice veggies such as zucchini and carrots into long matchstick shapes using either a grater, a peeler, or a food processor. Cook them up (probably sauteeing them in a little water is best), and serve them with sauce just as you would pasta.
  • Protein shakes. To a base of milk, water, or juice add a scoop or two of whey and any fruit you like. Frozen berries and a banana are my personal favourites. Frozen berries are handy because they store well in the freezer. If you’re lucky enough to live in a climate where berries are available fresh year-round for non-astronomical prices, eat them that way and endure my jealousy.
  • Salsas. Most folks are used to the regular tomato salsa, but try a fruit salsa. Peel and chop up one mango, a red pepper, a tomato, a couple of green onions, and some fresh coriander. Mix with lime juice and some hot peppers if you like. Great on top of chicken or fish. Peaches and bananas will also work nicely in this mix.
  • Quick blender soups. Every Sunday I whip up a batch of blender soup, put it into smaller jugs, and take one jug every day to work. Prep and packing time takes only about 10 minutes. Basically, cook up some chopped veggies in a bit of water, add some stock and spices, throw the sucker into the blender, and puree it till it has the texture you want. Good combinations include:
  • Carrot and apple: chop carrots and boil in a bit of water, enough to cover them. Peel and chop apples, and add them halfway through the carrots’ cooking. Add a chicken or veggie stock cube or two plus a pinch of nutmeg and two pinches of cinnamon. If you have some fresh or dried ginger, throw in a pinch of that too. Once the carrots and apples are tender, throw them in the blender with the water and about 1/2 cup of plain yogurt or lowfat sour cream and blend till smooth.
  • Lower-fat cream of broccoli: chop broccoli florets and boil in a bit of water, enough to cover the florets. This won’t take long – maybe three minutes if you add them right to the boiling water. Throw the broccoli and the water into the blender with a pinch of nutmeg and about 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of plain yogurt or lowfat sour cream, a couple of tablespoons of Parmesan cheese, and salt/pepper to taste. Cottage cheese will work if you’re out of yogurt, though it won’t blend as smoothly. This one’s good hot or cold.
  • Pumpkin or squash: chop some celery and onions and saute them lightly in a little oil or water. Peel and scoop the seeds out of your squash of choice. Chop it and put it into the pot with celery and onions. Add enough water to cover and simmer until squash is cooked. You can throw in a stock cube or two plus some thyme and salt/pepper while cooking. Blend with 1/4 to 1/2 cup of plain yogurt, lowfat sour cream, or cream. Squash is also good with apples and a bit of ginger, as in the carrot-apple soup recipe above.
  • Easy borscht: Peel and chop beets. Put into a pot and add a can of cooked tomatoes. Add enough water to cover beets. Simmer until cooked. While it’s cooking add a stock cube or two, plus a pinch of nutmeg, pepper, and salt to taste. Maybe a little thyme too. You could even try a bay leaf if you remember to remove it before blending. No need to be stingy with spices or creativity here. When cooked, into the blender it goes. You can either blend in the yogurt/sour cream or serve the soup with a blop of the stuff on top. Cottage cheese will also work for your blopping.
  • Fruit soup. Cold fruit soups are an awesome summer treat. I was first introduced to these one very hot day in July, when I popped into a local restaurant that featured a strawberry soup—deevyyne. First, a cantaloupe one. You can drink this one as a drink, too, if you like; this mix could go nicely with vanilla vodka… speaking purely hypothetically, of course. Take 1 cantaloupe, peel it, and scoop out the seeds. Chop into big chunks. Into the blender, pour 2 cups of unsweetened orange juice, a shot of lime juice, and about 1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon and cardamom. Fire up the blender and add chopped cantaloupe gradually (often if you add it all at once it sort of gums up the blender, so add it a bit at a time). Garnish with mint to serve if you like. I’ve tried adding other fruits in here too if I’m aiming to drink this as a juice. Banana works great, as do berries. Unsweetened grapefruit juice is nice. Mango left a bunch of little fibres in the mix, though. This cantaloupe-orange-lime stuff is a lovely base for a protein smoothie, too. Another recipe is a cold cherry soup. This is a great idea because hey, we’ve already read about how great cherries are, right? Suck on this anthocyanin blast, diabetes! Use fresh pitted cherries when they’re in season. You could use frozen or canned but much of the good stuff is destroyed in fruit processing, so since it’s summertime anyway, go with the fresh. Simmer cherries gently in a bit of water, enough to just cover them, until soft. Drain the cherries and set aside, but keep the liquid. In a little bowl, mix about 1 1/2 teaspoons of cornstarch with some more cold water, say 1/2 cup. Once the cornstarch and water is well blended, add it to the liquid that you cooked the cherries in. Don’t try to cut corners by dumping the cornstarch right into the warm cherry water – it’ll turn into a clumpy mess. Heat the mix for a few minutes, stirring frequently. This will thicken it up. Then add a shot of lemon juice and mix well. Taste it and decide whether you want to add a little bit of sugar; personally I prefer these things not to be too sweet. If you do, stir it in well. A little sprinkle of cinnamon wouldn’t go amiss here either. Remove from heat and chill. Once it’s good and cold, throw the mix into the blender with about 3/4 to 1 cup of plain yogurt or lowfat sour cream. If it’s too thick, add a little extra water. Serve cold.
  • This one comes from reader Andrea F.: Celery walnut soup. She writes, “Boil the celery in a bit of water and/or stock, then whiz with toasted walnuts, as many as you please. They add the only fat and protein in the recipe and the flavors are one of those ‘sum is better than the parts’ combos.” Quick note: walnuts are also a source of omega-3 fatty acids.