One key to better health is to eat plenty of vegetables. That’s true whether you’re omnivorous, vegetarian, or vegan.
According to the Centers for Disease Control:
Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help reduce the risk of many leading causes of illness and death, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and obesity.
Accordingly, governments worldwide have long promoted the “5-a-day” concept to encourage people to eat more vegetables. But some health experts believe that this recommendation falls short of what’s optimal. Good evidence suggests that people should eat at least seven servings each day.
If you want to step up your vegetable intake, how can you begin? In this guide I’ll show you easy ways to add more vegetables to your diet.
What are Vegetables?
Vegetables are the roots, the stalks, or the leaves of plants. In other words, vegetables are the edible non-fruit parts of any plant. They come in an incredible variety of textures, colors, and flavors.
Fruit, by contrast, is the seed-bearing food that forms from the flowers of plants and trees. Squash, pumpkin, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes are often regarded as vegetables, but in reality they’re all fruits. These foods grow from the plant’s flower, and all contain seeds. Regardless of their categorization, all these fruits are savory like vegetables and comparably nutritious. So for all practical purposes, you can think of these foods as vegetables unless you’re taking a botany exam.
Shopping for Vegetables
When it comes to home cooking, the only way to eat substantial amounts of vegetables is to buy (or grow!) substantial amounts of vegetables. So when you’re out shopping, make a point of surveying your grocery cart before you push it to the check-out lane. If you’re light on veggies, just head back to the produce section and make amends.
Supermarkets stock plenty of vegetables and fruits. But you can do better. Chances are there’s a farmers’ market in your community. Farmers’ markets offer fresher and higher quality produce than what supermarkets carry. The prices are often lower too. Best of all, you’ll be supporting your community’s local farmers rather than distant agribusiness.
Buying loads of vegetables won’t do you any good if they slowly rot in your refrigerator. Don’t let this happen. The best way to ensure you’ll actually eat the vegetables you purchase is to cook a bunch immediately after arriving home from the market. The chips and the frozen Mac & Cheez can wait until another day. Simply get into the habit of preparing your just-purchased veggies right when you get home, and you’ll significantly boost your total vegetable consumption.
Why Eat Organic Vegetables?
Organic food has become a huge industry. You should have no trouble finding organic produce for sale locally. Many natural foods stores sell primarily organic vegetables in their produce section. Unfortunately, organically-grown vegetables sometimes cost more than double their conventionally-grown counterparts. So it’s reasonable to ask: is it worth paying more for organic vegetables?
Organic produce carry far less pesticide residues than conventionally-grown crops, so that alone may be sufficient reason for you to choose organic whenever possible. That said, not all organic foods are grown to uniformly high standards. And just like seafood and honey, some purportedly “organic” farmers commit fraud related to mislabeling. On top of all this, a great deal of organic food is grown in conventional-style monocultures, and is trucked long distances.
But don’t let any of this dissuade you from buying organic. If you know what you’re doing, you can buy high-quality organic food at very reasonable prices. Check out our guide to organic foods for a comprehensive overview of the topic.
Easy Ways to Eat More Vegetables
Nothing will enable you to eat more vegetables like learning how to prepare veggie-heavy meals. Ideally, you’ll reach the point where you know several ways to prepare any vegetable you encounter. Let’s review some common preparation methods that work for practically any vegetable.
Roasting or Grilling
If you’re looking to eat more vegetables, learning to roast or grill is the best way to start. Nearly all vegetables are wonderful prepared in these ways. You can master the techniques for roasting or grilling vegetables on your first attempt. Line your baking sheet with parchment paper and cleanup will take two seconds—the time it takes to crumple up and discard the used parchment.
Another delicious preparation method is to cook broccoli or cauliflower on a George Foreman Grill. After grilling, just season with a little vegan butter or some coconut oil and salt. George Foreman-style folding grills save time over roasting since they trap steam and sear your vegetables from both sides simultaneously. However, you’ll face significantly more cleanup than what’s needed if you roast your vegetables in the oven.
Stir-fries are another sensational veggie-heavy meal. They’re easy to make, and perfect for serving over rice, pasta, quinoa, or any cooked grain. Stir-fries need never become monotonous. You can use a different assortment of vegetables each time and season them with any number of sauces including peanut sauce, teriyaki, garlic & tamari, or tahini dressing. Our stir-fry page will teach you to make this amazing dish like a pro.
Soups provide another delicious way to add vegetables to your diet. Five minutes is all you’ll need to start a batch of soup in an Instant Pot or slow-cooker. These appliances free you from having to babysit your soup while it’s cooking.
Our vegan soups page recommends several vegan cookbooks devoted entirely to soups, Instant Pots, and Slow Cookers. Just keep in mind that most soups contain a great deal of salt. In fact, salty snack foods like potato chips or tamari-roasted almonds typically contain much less sodium per serving than does soup. So if you have high blood pressure, you might want to go elsewhere for your vegetables.
Salads offer the most obvious way to add heaps of veggies to your diet. Many people’s only exposure to salad involves uninspired offerings. Salads made of iceberg lettuce, Italian dressing, and two or three other vegetables just don’t cut it. But a good salad made with an impressive selection of fresh vegetables and an inspired dressing is remarkably delicious.
Grated root vegetables like carrots, beets, and parsnips provide plenty of color and crunch. Also try adding purple cabbage and finely-chopped leafy greens like kale. The added color, nutrients, and textures will take your salad to the next level. Our vegan salad guide shows how to elevate your salads from OK to sensational.
You can make savory vegan dinner bowls inspired by any cuisine. Any bowl you prepare can include salad or a big serving of roasted or stir-fried vegetables. See my guide to vegan bowls for loads of ideas.
Hummus, Baba, and Dips
What’s the laziest possible way to prepare more vegetables? Just slice up a few of your favorites (like carrots, celery, or broccoli florets), and serve them alongside a bowl of your favorite dip. Any grocery sells hummus, and of course you can also make it yourself.
Baba Ghanouj is another delicious Middle Eastern dip, but it’s trickier to prepare than hummus. The good stuff is made in a smoky wood-fired oven. Your local Lebanese restaurant might make it better than you ever could, and sell it to-go. Note that some restaurants put yogurt in their baba, so you’ll need to ask.
You can find hundreds of recipes for vegan dips online. Nearly all these recipes are absurdly easy. Most of these dips need just 30 seconds in a blender.
And let’s not forget about guacamole, which is a delicious accompaniment to any plate of sliced vegetables.
Kitchenware to Help You Eat More Vegetables
A few inexpensive kitchen items can further help you ramp up your vegetable consumption.
First of all, buy a salad spinner. They may seem a gimmicky novelty but they’re essential to making a good salad. After rinsing your greens, a salad spinner quickly spins off a shockingly large amount of water—water that would otherwise dilute your salad dressing and prevent it from clinging to your vegetables.
Other essentials for preparing vegetables are:
- a good chef’s knife (Highly recommended: Victorinox 8″ 40451)
- a grater
- a baking sheet or roasting pan for making roasted vegetables
- a cutting board
If you often cook for many people at a time, a food processor is a must. They’ll save you enormous amounts of time spent grating or slicing.
Please see our cookware guide for the best options for all your vegan cooking needs.
Always Change Things Up
With so many delicious vegetables available, avoid eating the same varieties meal after meal. Prepare a different assortment each time and your meals will become more fulfilling.
When grocery shopping, pay attention to the seasons. You’ll get cheaper and fresher vegetables if you buy varieties as they hit their peak of season. Once you know that peas come into season in May and the best corn arrives in August, you can go out of your way to seek out those foods at their peak.
Try to bump up your vegetable intake during summer months, and visit your local farmers’ market whenever possible. Dark green leafy vegetables are among the most nutritious foods available, and are available all summer long.
Work as many differently colored vegetables into your meal as you can. More colors not only deliver greater visual appeal, but also a wider range of nutrients and a more enticing diversity of flavors.