Wdowik nutrition column: Eat your vegetables — and enjoy them more

Note to Reporters: The following column was written by Melissa Wdowik, an assistant professor at Colorado State University in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and director of the Kendall Anderson Nutrition Center.

If you are looking for the fountain of youth, look no further than your vegetable patch … or grocery store, farmers’ market, or roadside stand. This amazing food group is full of natural antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, all of which boost your health. Ample research points to their abilities to protect you against heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and some types of cancer. They are beneficial for your eyes and digestion, and they can help you maintain (or lose) weight.

Despite this evidence, many Americans report consuming less than a half cup of vegetables per day. Compare that to recommendations that, depending on gender and age, suggest eating from two to three cups of vegetables daily. If you are physically active (and I hope you are), you need even more. That may seem like a lot, but it is really not that difficult. The reasons given most often for not eating vegetables are expense, taste, not knowing how to serve them and time. Try these tips!

Expense. Be sure to buy vegetables in season and on sale. I also challenge you to make a few changes that prioritize your health. For example, cutting out just one specialty coffee drink, a box of brand-name cereal, and a candy bar each week can save enough money for that fresh asparagus and red pepper you’ve been thinking about trying.

Taste. Many people find vegetables boring or bland, which is no surprise if they are on the table either boiled or served with the same tired salad dressing every day. Try a variety of cooking methods (steamed, grilled, roasted) as long as they are not overcooked. Mix it up with raw vegetables such as pepper slices, cauliflower, and cucumbers with a guacamole or hummus dip. Also, think about shapes and sizes – someone who is not interested in carrot sticks may enjoy carrots cut like coins. A zucchini cut like a pickle spear may be more appealing than zucchini slices.

How to serve vegetables. Clients often ask what vegetables to eat and in what form. The best answer is to eat a variety from each of the subgroups: dark green, red and orange, beans and peas, and other vegetables, which include everything from A (artichokes) to Z (zucchini). It is important to consider a variety of colors: make salads bright with spinach, beets, and mushrooms; stir fry yellow peppers with broccoli and purple cabbage; serve a side dish of grilled sweet potatoes, onions, and eggplant. You might even try blending them into a smoothie or baking them into breads.

Time. Finding the time to prepare vegetables may be easier than you think. Wash and chop raw veggies as soon as you bring them home, and store them in the refrigerator in clear containers and bags so you don’t forget they are there. Consider prepping for dinner in the morning, and consider making enough for dinner so that there will be leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.

There are many good reasons to eat your vegetables. They should be a daily staple, and eating a variety – of colors, shapes, textures, temperatures, and tastes – will keep them enjoyable.

Melissa Wdowik, PhD, RDN, is an assistant professor at Colorado State University in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and director of the Kendall Anderson Nutrition Center.