Easy Ways To Add Flavorful Veggies To Your Meals
September 16, 2021
We’re in the midst of the fall harvest, and it’s a perfect reminder that this is when vegetables are often at their best and most flavorful.
To many people, adding vegetables seems like a chore. The fact is, nearly all of us need to up our vegetable intake. That does not need to be complicated. One thing we know about people who live in the Blue Zones – the parts of the world where people live not only longer lives, but do so while staying healthy and mobile – is that they eat a TON of vegetables. Good to know, but that might sound overwhelming.
Perhaps you also have bad memories of overcooked or canned vegetables that you were forced to eat as a child. If it is challenging for you, maybe you’ll find some inspiration at one or more of the great farmers markets around Northeast Ohio.
Fresh is Best
Fresh produce from the local markets will be a revelation. You might remember the awful taste of canned beets, but have you tried locally grown, roasted beets? You’ll be shocked that they are the same vegetable.
Nature’s bounty is at its peak. This is the best and most convenient time to eat foods that have been grown locally – which tend to have more intense flavor. This is because they are picked from the field at their peak ripening point – usually the same day or the evening before you buy it – compared to produce grown and harvested far away that is picked before it is ready and left to continue developing or forced to ripen chemically while in transit to your grocery store.
Choose whatever you’re drawn too – that can include sweet corn as well as yellow, green, orange or red vegetables you might not reach out for as frequently. Want to know what’s in season right now? The Ohio Farm Bureau has an interactive chart you can use.
Other Ways To Get Fresh
Perhaps you’ve thought about joining a CSA – that’s Community Supported Agriculture, programs where you financially support local famers up front early on in the season and then receive regular harvest allotments throughout the year – and learning how to prepare vegetables in new ways right now will inspire you for taking on new veggie adventures next year.
Or tell some of your friends who might be inundated with backyard veggies such as tomatoes or bell peppers that you’d be happy to take some off their hands. As a society, we waste 30 percent to 40 percent of our food supply each year- that’s 80 billion pounds. It’s time to be a part of the solution and make changes, even small ones, to reduce how much nutritious produce we let go to waste.
Find a local market convenient for you – including a weekly market at UH – and try it out. University Hospitals hosts the North Union Farmers Market each Thursday through the end of September on main campus. There are dozens of other markets around the region that might be more convenient and local for you, many open even later in the season – find one here.
By now, research has shown pretty consistently that plant-based diets are among the healthiest. But you don’t have to jump two feet in right away if you’re not ready – consider the Mediterranean Diet pattern of eating, which still includes small amounts of lean meats, fish and low-fat dairy such as yogurt or feta cheese, but puts a lot of emphasis on vegetables and beans.
Eating local is also the most sustainable way to eat, and in a climate like Ohio’s, this early fall season is the easiest time to start. To me, fall is the time when you learn just how good fresh, unprocessed foods taste - and that can have a powerful effect on how you eat going into winter and the holiday season if you make it a priority. You’ll find that some year-round options, such as vegetables grown hydroponically, also are filled with flavor.
How To Easily Add Veggies To Your Diet
Once you choose your veggies, here are a few ways to easily add them into your meals:
- Add spinach and finely chopped leftover veggies into a quick omelet, or turn it into a burrito with your favorite wrap. Or, bake the egg and vegetable mixture in a muffin tin – make several at a time – and then freeze. Thaw a couple each of the next two days to grab and go.
- Eat a salad at lunch as your meal base, adding protein and healthy fats on top. That’s a quick way to get in two or even three servings of veggies. (One serving = 1 cup of leafy greens or ½ cup of chopped or cooked veggies)
- Add a small side salad to dinner – maybe top some leafy greens with left over vegetables to reduce any food waste, and if you can roast those veggies, you’ll enjoy this even more.
- Sautee your favorite greens, such as kale and spinach, with a little olive oil and minced garlic. Add some white beans – cannellini beans are especially creamy – and you’ve got your protein too. Canned beans are fine, just make sure you rinse them under running water to remove any added sodium. Top with crushed red pepper.
- Make a tomato sauce for pasta – prepared is fine – and add some chopped veggies like spinach, summer squash and peppers to the sauce along with fresh herbs as it cooks.
- Roast vegetables in your toaster oven or regular oven, but make sure you put them on a pre-heated pan. Drizzle a bit of olive oil on them. The heated pan ensures the vegetables will caramelize and you’ll discover a sweet, almost nutty, flavor. Stir the veggies halfway through roasting to make sure all sides are caramelized and they don’t stick.
- Sprinkle a bit of dried parmesan on tomato halves and broil them. Delicious.
- Use up extras. Chop, blanch (if needed) and freeze excess vegetables to use at a later time. This is a great way to save the freshest local produce to have after harvest season ends and use throughout the winter.
- Make a fruit smoothie, but add a cup of greens like spinach - it won’t change the sweetness or the flavor. Make sure you pull the big stalks and stems off the greens as you put them in the blender.
Have a fun couple of hours of visiting your local farmers market – there are so many of them around the region to choose from now. Then prepare to have some of the freshest, most flavorful vegetables and meals, as well as happy memories of a crisp autumn day in Ohio.Peter Pronovost, MD, PhD, is Chief Quality and Clinical Transformation Officer at University Hospitals.