On your plate – vegetables

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As we gear up for the next round of US Dietary Guidelines, it’s great that we still have My Plate to guide clients about eating healthy, balanced meals. The newly launched My Plate Start Simple Campaign is meant to provide simple, sustainable tips to consumers for each food group. This is the first of a series to highlight each food group and simple ways to encourage your clients to “put their best food forward”. 1

Did you know that only 1 in 10 adults meet the recommended number of servings for fruits and vegetables according to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report? 2 With so much research supporting vegetable intake as a way to combat obesity, improve our gut microbiome, and reduce risk of cancer and heart disease, this is a crime. My clients often consider vegetables just at dinner. Why? There is such a wide variety of vegetables to choose from, we can be recommending them as part of all meals and snacks. Vegetables are low in calories and can be easily incorporated in several ways.

Let’s start with breakfast. Beyond adding peppers, onions and spinach to omelets or frittatas, vegetables can be roasted and served as a side dish. Asparagus, broccoli, kale or peppers add color and flavor to any plate and are a great source of vitamin C and fiber. Try a blend of roasted vegetables such as a California blend of carrots, cauliflower and broccoli. Add a dash of turmeric and garlic for color and spice.

Encourage fresh vegetables for snacks. Go beyond baby carrots and celery sticks and consider sugar snap peas, jicama sticks or fresh green beans with hummus or a yogurt-based, savory dip. Pepper strips, raw broccoli and cauliflower, cucumber slices and grape tomatoes are also easy to prep and pack for snacks.

Suggest frozen vegetables at lunch if time is limited. Mixed vegetables, broccoli or peas can be added to leftovers to easily increase vegetable intake. Frozen peppers and spinach are also great to have on hand and can be tossed into pasta dishes, soup or rice. I often use fresh spinach or kale in leftovers, too. They wilt down to nothing when cooked but pack a wallop of nutrients including beta-carotene, vitamin C and potassium.

Dinner is where most people think to include vegetables, but with meat-heavy fad diets, serving sizes are still likely too small. I advise clients to make half their plates vegetables and include a variety of seasonal favorites daily. The key is to keep things interesting. Toss seasonal fruit like apples, pears, citrus fruit or berries into a spinach or kale salad. Add onions, peppers and peas to rice or other grain dishes. Try zucchini and mushrooms in spaghetti sauce or Indian dishes. Vegetables are also great stir fried in Asian cuisine. Purple cabbage is beautiful and adds flavonoids such as anthocyanin to your dish.

Be creative! Meals need not be monotonous or tasteless to be nutritious. Remember, variety is the spice of life!


  1. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/start-simple-myplate
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2017/p1116-fruit-vegetable-consumption.html

Submitted by Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

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