Celeb Trainer Harley Pasternak: The Easiest Ways to Eat Your Veggies
Getty; Inset: Courtesy Harley Pasternak
Harley Pasternak is a celebrity trainer and nutrition expert who has worked with stars from Halle Berry and Lady Gaga to Robert Pattinson and Robert Downey Jr. He’s also a New York Times best-selling author, with titles including The Body Reset Diet and The 5-Factor Diet. His new book 5 Pounds is out now. Tweet him @harleypasternak.
It’s shocking. Despite all the research on how important vegetable and fruit consumption is for good health, just a small percentage of Americans eat enough of either to comply with the government’s dietary guidelines. Per My Plate, the graphic that has replaced the Food Guide Pyramid, half of what should be on your plates is vegetables and fruit, with somewhat more of the former. This translates to roughly two cups of fruit and three cups of veggies for adults each day.
The most recent report issued by the Centers for Disease Control provides what can only be seen as a failing grade. On average, adults ate only a single cup of both each day. But there was huge variation among the states: Not surprisingly, residents of California — where much of our native produce is grown — topped the charts, but still only 13 percent of residents of the Golden State ate enough veggies and only 17.7 percent ate enough fruit to get a passing grade. At the other end of the spectrum, just 7.5 percent of Tennesseans ate enough fruit and a measly 5.5 percent of Mississippians consumed enough veggies.
The Bad Rap on Vegetables
We all know that vegetables are low in calories and fat and full of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Nonetheless, they can be a hard sell if you’re not already a fan. Veggies face several hurdles, at least in the minds of many. Let’s look at the main objections, plus ways to overcome these obstacles.
Objection 1: Preparing veggies takes time and usually messes up at least one pot or pan.
Solution: Skip the prep. Most groceries now offer peeled and cut up vegetables, as do salad bars. The frozen food aisle is also bursting with an array of ready-to-cook vegetables, often in steamer bags that eliminate the need to wash another pot. Or use your own steamer bags to heat up conventional frozen products. Cooked properly, frozen is just as nutritious as fresh produce.
Objection 2: Veggies are perishable and may spoil before you use them.
Solution: Fresh veggies do have a limited life span but if you buy and store wisely you can avoid waste due to spoilage. Plan on eating the more perishable items, such as lettuce, spinach and other greens, as well as asparagus and green beans, first. Carrots and other root vegetables will last for weeks in the crisper of your fridge. The same goes for cabbage and other cruciferous veggies. Again, frozen vegetables are a good option, particularly if you don’t cook regularly. Finally, don’t buy any vegetable unless you know how you will use it. Any veggie that winds up in the compost or down the disposal is literally dollars down the drain. For a helpful guide to the shelf life of most common vegetables, see eatbydate.com/vegetables.
Objection 3: Veggies, particularly those grown organically, can be expensive.
Solution: Seasonal produce is almost always a better buy than veggies that have been flown in from another part of the U.S. or from Chile, Mexico or another country. Other ways to stretch your dollars include buying produce in larger bags, which usually cost less per ounce or pound. Just be sure you know you can use it all. For example, spinach can turn up in a salad one night, steamed as a side dish the next and with other leftovers in soup the following day. As long as they pass the visual test and you eat them soon, there’s no reason not to snap up reduced price items in the produce section. To decide where to best spend your hard-earned dollars on organic produce, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen lists, which indicate which fruits and vegetables are most and least likely to be sprayed with pesticides.
Objection 4: Many people simply don’t like the taste or texture of cooked vegetables.
Solution: Now we get to the real heart of the matter. If veggies don’t taste delicious, it’s no surprise that they remain on the plate. The most obvious fix, of course, is to eat them raw, either in salads or simply cut up. Carrots, bell peppers, celery, cherry tomatoes, jicama, radishes, cucumbers, cauliflower, mushrooms and even raw asparagus make great dippers with hummus, guacamole or another dip. But the real solution is to learn how to cook vegetables properly, which usually means not overcooking them. Veggies lend themselves to multiple cooking methods, from microwaving to steaming, stir-frying, braising, puréeing, roasting and even grilling. You’ll find dozens of videos on YouTube and cooking sites on all these methods. One of my favorite basic resources, which also lists when vegetables are in season, is cooksmarts.com.
Objection 5: Then there is the matter of habit — and no habits are more ingrained than those regarding food. Unless you’ve grown up savoring vegetables, they can be a hard sell, particularly if you — or your kids — are used to grabbing a frozen pizza or another one-dish meal you can pop in the microwave. Perhaps the biggest barrier to eating veggies is that they’re not meat or starch!
Solution: If you’re a confirmed meat and potatoes (or pasta) guy or gal, the way to eat more vegetables and to get your loved ones to do the same is to hide them or mute their taste or texture in other foods. In addition to adding kale or another leafy green to a smoothie or tossing veggie leftovers into soup or atop a pizza, here are five ways for veggies to go under cover. Hopefully, they’ll inspire you to come up with more ideas.
1. Blend them into a smoothie. I have never been a spinach fan, but I know what a nutritional powerhouse it is, so I hide it in smoothies, where the flavors of fresh or frozen fruits are the only ones I can taste.
2. Mash it up. Mash cauliflower or root vegetables like turnips with potatoes.
3. Hide in plain sight. Conceal that same cauliflower in your favorite mac ‘n cheese recipe. Broccoli’s color will give it away, but it’s yummy in the same dish.
4. Mix with meat. Toss chopped carrots, zucchini, winter squash or sweet potatoes into chili or shepherd’s pie.
5. Create a ‘grate’ surprise. Conceal grated carrots or zucchini in meatloaf or spaghetti sauce.
With these suggestions, I hope to see you continue (or become) part of the minority that gets enough veggies on a daily basis. Then share your knowledge with friends and family!
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