*Necessary Disclaimer: I am not a Registered Dietitian, and I am not a doctor. I’m not even that big, bro. Please, do not misinterpret anything on this site as medical advice. It’s not. Always consult a doctor before doing anything that might negatively impact your health, and always use caution when listening to an opera singing personal trainer.
*Unnecessary Disclaimer: Sometimes, I use profanity. I have people edit my work, but then I go back and change more things. If some profanity sneaks its way into here, I’m not sorry; you’ve been warned.
*Unnecessary Second Disclaimer: I am 45 year-old dad in the body of a 28 year old performer. I make bad jokes. I’m not as sorry as I should be.
*One last one: there aren’t any affiliate links in this article; I’m recommending things simply because I like them and believe that you will, too. If I do end up as an affiliate with anything linked here, I’ll update my information to make clear where those affiliations are.
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It was always a bit embarrassing for me earlier in life, not liking vegetables. I wished I did, and I’d force a couple down when I really had to, but generally, I just didn’t enjoy eating them. This was a bummer, as it not only made me feel like a picky child; it also made reaching or maintaining a healthy weight a major challenge.
Now, I eat vegetables. Lots of them. I eat more and more as time goes by, and I truly enjoy them. That last bit is new; I started eating veggies regularly a few years ago, but I didn’t get to a place where I could enjoy a steamed bag of broccoli with salt and pepper until recently.
How’d I go from no veggies to craving Brussels sprouts? Slowly. The way I started loving veggies reminds me of how I started loving black coffee: I started with coffee-free drinks that were basically milkshakes and slowly inched my way to the black gold that now tickles my taste buds every morning.
Here’s that story: the summer after my freshman year of high school, I took a chemistry course at Ohio University, where my dad works (I was/still am a nerd). After class, I would study and play chess with my friend at The Donkey. While there, I would get this delightful beverage called a Frescante (it’s like a Frappuccino, but tastier), only I’d ask for it without espresso; I didn’t like the flavor of the espresso. Then, a cute girl started to work at the Donkey during the hours I’d be enjoying my Frescantes and chess, and I wanted to be cool (because cool guys order sweet, frozen coffee for their post-chem chess games), so I started asking for my Frescantes the normal way: with coffee. Eventually, my taste buds adapted, and I enjoyed my sugary drink with a hint of coffee.
Fast-forwarding to my junior year, I was always tired because high school starts at some miserably early hour (around the same time most of my clients go to the gym, strangely enough). One morning, my dad stopped for gas on the way to school, and I smelled and saw this delicious-looking drink: it was a mocha cappuccino. I tried one, and I was hooked. Now, this drink was basically candy, but it was a step closer to black coffee from my Frescantes.
Fast-forwarding again, I was in Guatemala visiting my family. While there, I went to a café that was supposed to have nice coffee. I still didn’t really like coffee, so I ordered a cappuccino and added some sugar to it, and that was decent enough. Then, however, my older brother (who was and is much cooler than me), and my cousin (also cooler) started talking about how a real coffee drinker knows that putting anything in his coffee simply ruins it, and that good coffee was meant to be enjoyed black. With great shame, I stowed away my sugary cappuccino and ordered a black coffee in its stead. I didn’t love it, but I could stomach it, and it made me feel like a real connoisseur, and like someone my brother and my cousin would like. Eventually, after drinking black coffee with some regularly, I learned not only to tolerate it, but to crave its taste to the point that I don’t stop at my morning coffee; I also drink decaf coffee in the evenings.
And now: vegetables. Vanity and shame is what inspired me to learn to love coffee, but there are many, better reasons to learn to love veggies. Here are a few:
- Vegetables are very low in calories, which can help you to lose weight.
- Vegetables are full of fiber, which helps fill you up and keeps you full, helping you create a calorie deficit and lose weight (same article, because you really should read it).
- Vegetables contain things called phytochemicals, which can help improve health and overall well-being
- Vegetables, once you get used to eating them, can be quite delicious, and open you up to many new culinary experiences
- Eating vegetables makes you feel like an adult with an adult palate, and you don’t have to feel embarrassed at restaurants when everyone’s given a salad and you gag down two leaves of lettuce before pushing your plate away in shame
But how can you love these hideous health monsters? How can you go from chicken-fingers-only all the way to bags of kale (please, don’t ever eat bags of kale; I love veggies, but kale is fucking gross). As I do with most things, I recommend starting with something easy, and then gradually making your way towards your goal. Let’s approach some “low-hanging fruit” veggie strategies, and then go on to some intermediate steps before finally seeing if you’re reading to make the plunge to lightly dressed cabbage and bean sprouts (my weird, new fetish).
Level 1 Veggie Eating: The Frescante (For those who really, really hate vegetables):
You know you should eat vegetables, but the thought of broccoli touching your lips makes you gag. Is this you? Well, you’re in the right place. The following are a few easy ways to get past your first “I hate vegetables” hurdle:
- Add frozen spinach to a smoothie – Why it works: frozen spinach has a very mild taste, and if you put it into a reasonably tasty smoothie, you’ll hardly notice it. If you want a smoothie that tastes pretty much like candy, try this recipe: a serving of frozen spinach, 100g frozen bananas, 70g frozen berries, 1.5 cups unsweetened, vanilla almond milk, 1 Tbsp peanut butter, 1 scoop of Quest Peanut Butter Protein Powder, half a serving of walnuts, and a dash of salt. This smoothie is not super low in calories (it comes out to around 500 kcals), so eat it as a meal-replacement (I say eat because it will come out thick, which you want, and you should eat it with a spoon). Your smoothie will be green, which will make you feel like an obnoxious healthy person, but it will taste like a delicious, indulgent, “I’ve been a bad boy” type of treat. Here’s a low-calorie alternative (~160 kcals and ~25g protein): put 1 serving of frozen spinach, 2 packets of Splenda, a squirt of stevia, 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk, 1 cup of coffee (regular or decaf), sea salt (start with just a little bit, then add more and re-blend if things don’t blend properly), 1 scoop of Quest Chocolate Milkshake protein powder, and enough ice that the ice is tops out just under the same level as the liquids. Optional (but recommended) spices: vanilla extract, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
- Finely chop an onion to start a stir fry – This one is also easy: heat some oil in a pan (virgin coconut oil is particularly tasty in this context). Add some onion to that oil, and let it soften. Then, add some chicken (or another protein source) and cook it. Season it with salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, cumin, or whatever other seasonings you like. Also, consider throwing a few splashes of soy sauce (or tamari, if you like the finer things in life) in there. Serve it over a bit of rice, and you’ll be eating and enjoying veggies. Added bonus: onion cooking in coconut oil smells incredible!
- Slip some spinach into your sandwich – Another spinach one, but just because it’s so gosh-darn easy to sneak into things. Say you were going to make a turkey and cheese sandwich. Put a few leaves on spinach between the turkey and the non-cheesy side of the sandwich. Why that side? Because you’ll be able to put the cheese side down and enjoy that cheesy flavor (#sneakyspinach). If you heat the sandwich (#grilledcheese), the spinach will cook down a bit and be even less noticeable. Once you’re feeling brave, you can slip more and more spinach into your sandwich, and you won’t even feel like gagging!
- Mash some carrots into your mashed potatoes – Hang on! Take it easy! I, too, love mashed potatoes, and I wouldn’t fuck around with this beloved comfort food if it weren’t totally safe. All you do is this: when you boil the potatoes to mash, also boil some carrots. Make them small so they cook and mix well into your mashed potato mixture. You’ll do everything the same way you normally would for mashed potatoes, and they’ll be absolutely delicious (plus, they’ll have fun little orange spots in them, which makes your potatoes look exotic!). Start with just a few carrots until you trust that they aren’t messing up your potatoes, but after a few tries, you may end up using a ratio of 1:2 carrot:potato. I made these recently for a Christmas Eve dinner, but sadly, I didn’t have the foresight to take a picture. Perhaps I’ll add one later.
- Make a spinach, turkey, and goat cheese scramble – This was another starter veggie dish for me. Here’s what you’ll do: rip some deli meat turkey (you could use ham or roast beef if you want – ham is particularly tasty – but I like turkey) into small pieces and give it some color on a non-stick pan. Add goat cheese and spinach for about 10-15 seconds, then add your eggs and stir until cooked (you can have your eggs pre-beaten and to the side, but if you’re lazy like me, you can just crack them over the other ingredients and mix it all up in the pan). Add salt and pepper to taste (or other spices, if you’re feeling exotic), and enjoy. The spinach cooks down into practically nothing, and you can hardly taste its mild flavor over the stronger goat cheese and deli meat deliciousness. You can cook this recipe in butter if you’d like, but you probably don’t need any fat to keep things from sticking if you’ve got a good pan. Why a scramble instead of an omelet? Two reasons: 1) they’re faster and easier, and 2) you get more consistent egg:everything else ratio (some parts of omelets are heavenly, but the corners are just eggs – scramble > omelet).
Level 2 Veggie Eating: The Frescante With a Shot of Espresso (For those who realize that, in theory, veggies might be ok, but who want to work on looking them in the eye when eating them)
Maybe you already sneak in veggies every here and there; maybe you read this article and successfully incorporated a few level one strategies into your diet (if you did this, please shoot me a message on my Facebook page! I’d love to know I helped you down a couple leafy greens you might not otherwise have consumed!); maybe you’re just looking for a bit more of a challenge than what I outlined above. If this is you, try some of these ideas for consuming easily-recognizable-yet-still-highly-palatable veggies:
- Order fajitas – Peppers are freaking delicious. So are onions (see above). When well-seasoned and browned in oil, they’re downright amazing. If you go to a good Mexican restaurant and order fajitas, you should be given a sizzling (literally) plate loaded with those two easy-to-love veggies along with a protein of your choice. On the side, you’ll probably get some lettuce and some tomatoes (these can be your “extra credit” challenge, and are made palatable by the sour cream and/or guacamole that comes along with it. If you’re looking for the easiest point-of-entry for these vegetables, I recommend putting some lettuce, tomatoes, onions, peppers, protein, guac, and sour cream onto one of your tortillas and making a mini-burrito. Not only will you be downing pure joy with every bite; you’ll also be consuming four veggies (and some lean protein!) that you might not otherwise have enjoyed. #winwin #purejoy #bestlife #vivaMexico #hashtag
- Start a soup with a mirepoix – A mirepoix is a perfect and way to begin any soup, and by the time you eat those veggies – especially if you chop them into small pieces – they’ll be so soft that you hardly notice they’re there! Here’s a recommendation for a very simple soup: soften your mirepoix (extra credit/tastiness if you also put some garlic in there) in some olive oil. Separately, boil some potatoes in chicken broth. Add the mirepoix to the broth and allow it to keep boiling. Brown some chicken thighs, chopped into small chunks, in your mirepoix pan (so you don’t have to dirty an extra pan), and then add that to the soup. Recommended seasonings – basil, red pepper (if you like some kick), black pepper, and ginger in the pot; season mirepoix/chicken with salt, pepper, red pepper (again: optional), cumin (my secret ingredient – sssshhhh), and/or a bit of chili powder/paprika. Eat, and enjoy your happy life (this recipe is extremely comforting if you’ve got a cold!).
- Make a tasty casserole – here’s one of my favorite healthy casserole recipes: cook rice in chicken broth. Separately, soften an onion, and garlic in oil. Add chicken and slightly undercook it, along with some broccoli. In a baking dish, mix the cooked/partially cooked ingredients with some Greek yogurt, egg, bread crumbs, and cheese (you can play around with cheeses, but I’m partial to sharp cheddar). Extra credit if you add spinach (in case you couldn’t tell, I’m an advocate for adding spinach to pretty much everything, ESPECIALLY if you’re struggling to get veggies into your diet). Once everything is mixed, spread your mixture until it evenly covers the baking dish. Sprinkle some extra bread crumbs and cheese on top and bake it for around 25-30 minutes (cooking time can very greatly depending on how big a casserole you’re making). At the end, try broiling it for a few minutes to get a beautifully crispy top to your casserole. Let it sit for a few minutes (smarter cooks than myself swear this matters, but I mostly do it to torture myself), and then chow down! Be sure to season your ingredients throughout this process with at least salt and pepper. Other fun things to add during the process: lemon, basil, oregano, red pepper, onion powder, and whatever other spices you like.
- Order pho, God’s gift to man – If you’ve never had pho before, stop reading, Google where you can find it near you, go get it, and then thank me later. Pho is my favorite food, and it’s also a great way to eat some veggies you aren’t getting from the earlier ideas in this list: bean sprouts! Bean sprouts are magical and delicious, but they can look a little spooky (a weird, long, thin, clear, foreign entity that’s usually served raw), but don’t be spooked! Your bean sprouts will be served on a plate (usually next to some basil, lime, and – if you’re lucky – jalapeños) alongside a big, steaming, beautiful bowl of broth, meat, and noodles. Put them into your soup, and they’ll cook instantly, adding a delicate and magical “crunch” to your Vietnamese noodle soup.
- Make chili – Chili is delicious and nutritious, and it’s packed with easy-to-handle veggies. Here’s a (secret) recipe (don’t tell anyone) that will get you lots of veggies with very little veggie growing pains: start by cooking some bacon. Once that’s done, remove the strips and set them aside. In the bacon grease, cook an onion, some bell peppers, and some spicier peppers (jalapeños if you want moderate spice, habaneros if you like it HOT, or leave them out if you don’t like too much kick), garlic (there are those who would say to leave this out, but I love me some garlic), and some diced tomatoes (or grape/cherry tomatoes, halved), and – if you’re feeling crazy – some VERY finely chopped carrots (do not give people chili with huge chunks of carrots). Season with chili powder, salt pepper, and whatever other spices you hold near and dear to your heart. Set this aside in a strainer to get rid of excess grease. Now, cook some lean ground beef; if you get 96% lean beef, you won’t have to deal with the residual fit and you can cook it right in the pot. Season that with the same seasonings as the veggies. Add in your veggies, along with a couple cans of beans (kidney beans and black beans are both great for chili), some tomato sauce (plain – not the seasoned stuff for pasta) and some tomato paste, and a jar of your favorite salsa (preferably one that features similar ingredients to the rest your chili – you’re mostly doing this to get a big of extra volume so your chili doesn’t feel like a dense pile of meat and beans). Mix this all up, and then add your final ingredient: beer. I recommend a light beer when you’re just starting out (a wheat ale is a great choice!), but as you get more adventurous, you might try making an earthier, heartier chili using something like a porter. Let the chili come to a simmer, taste it for flavor, and adjust seasoning as needed (pro tip: you probably need more salt). Enjoy your onions, pepper, tomatoes, and (maybe) carrots in a way that tastes like a treat, as opposed to a chore.
- Make my favorite kind of pizza – This pizza is a staple in my apartment in Brooklyn. I use Trader Joe’s ciabatta flatbread, so if you don’t have a Trader Joe’s near where you live (and, for whatever reason, you’re not wiling to move to be near the world’s greatest grocery store), you may need to adjust cooking times. Here’s what you do: preheat your oven to ~425 degrees (I set mine at 400, but mine tends to run hot, so I estimate it’s around 425). On a large cutting board (or any flat thing, really), rub a light layer of olive oil on your premade crust. Spread a thing layer of pesto sauce on top (thing because pesto sauce has around 1 million calories per serving). On top of that, put a fuckton (+/- half a fuckton) of spinach (really load it up – it’ll cook down in the oven). On top of this, put some lean meat (Deli meat turkey works well, as does pre-cooked grilled chicken and pre-cooked roast turkey. Other meats are fine, but these are my personal favorites), and then add some low fat mozzarella (because it tastes almost identical, and you don’t want to get diabetes in your quest to eat a few extra veggies) on top. Now, things get super fun: put globs of full-fat ricotta cheese (because low-fat ricotta does NOT taste almost identical) all over, then sprinkle with tomatoes (halved cherry/grape/heirloom tomatoes work great, as do sliced/diced larger ones) and thinly-sliced garlic. Top with salt, pepper, red pepper, basil, and oregano for some Italian magic. Put it directly on your oven rack for ~10 minutes (don’t put it on a baking sheet, as it won’t get properly crispy). So you don’t have to clean your oven later, put something on the rack below to catch any melted cheese that falls off.
Level 3 Veggie Eating: The Iced Coffee With Milk (For when you want to enjoy your veggies instead of hiding them)
- Make chicken fried rice – This is the grown-up version of the onions in your stir fry from “level one.” Soften an onion, some shredded carrots, celery, and peppers in oil (once again, virgin coconut oil is my preferred oil for this). Add some garlic in at the end if you – like me – like garlic in everything (my youngest brother would tell you not to do this, and he’s a better cook than I am, but it’s my blog and I’ll garlic where I see fit). Season these things with salt and pepper, along with your choice of cumin, turmeric, ginger, cayenne pepper, chili pepper, paprika, cinnamon, and coriander (mix and match as you see fit – get creative, but if you’re trying a new spice, start with less and use more once you know you like it). Add in some chicken breast, chopped finely (because finely-chopped chicken cooks faster) and add more seasoning if needed (it may be seasoned by association with the veggies). Once the chicken is close to done, add in some finely-chopped broccoli (you’ll get the timing down for when to add chicken to the initial veggies, and when to add the broccoli, as you get more repetitions under your belt). Add a healthy few splashes of tamari to this combination, and if you’re feeling extra fancy, clear some space to cook up an egg (you can do this separately, or you can just make some space in your pan so you have less clean-up later). Add already-cooked rice to this (I cook brown rice at the beginning of the week because it keeps better than brown rice, and I have it on hand for things like this recipe), mix everything together, see how things taste and adjust seasoning accordingly (another pro tip: you’re probably going to want to add more tamari). Extra credit veggies: once things are almost entirely done, throw in some spinach and/or bean sprouts. Spinach will be mild and you’ll hardly notice it, whereas the bean sprouts will give a fun crunch and cool, nutty flavor to your fried rice!
- Roast those bad boys – Once you’ve been sneaking veggies into your dishes for a while, you may find that roasting them seems less scary. My two favorite veggies to roast: Brussels sprouts and broccoli. For great Brussels sprouts, preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Chop you Brussels sprouts in half and toss them in a bowl with some oil (either canola or olive oil will be just fine), salt, pepper, fresh thyme, and (optional, but highly recommended) finely-chopped bacon (once again, you can thank me later). Spread the sprouts out on a pan so they get some nice, dry heat (don’t have them piled on top of one another) for about 20 minutes, turn them around, and then roast another 20 minutes. Check for done-ness by popping one in your mouth. When in doubt, cook them more (slightly-overdone Brussels sprouts are much better than sad, undercooked ones). To roast broccoli, try this: preheat oven to ~400 degrees. Toss broccoli, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, other seasonings you like, and olive oil in a bowl until well-mixed. Roast for around 20 minutes (again, use your nose/taste buds to adjust cooking time) and enjoy. Either of these veggies are perfect compliments to a delicious protein and starch (#nompotatoes #freethepotato).
- Grill those mother fuckers! – Sorry, I get excited about grilled vegetables. Add some char to your veggies and serve them with some protein and a starch (e.g. grilled chicken thighs and grilled potatoes, sliced thinly). Great grilling veggies: peppers, onions, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and tomatoes. Here’s a super easy way to do this: cover half of the bottom layer of your grill with seasoned chicken breasts; put seasoned potatoes, thinly-sliced, on the other half of the lower part of your grill (put foil under these to keep them from falling in, and to make your life easier overall). On the top rack (the one that’s not directly on the heat), put some asparagus, covered in olive oil, salt, pepper, and whatever else you like. Close the grill, let cook for a bit; open the grill, flip the thighs, flip the potatoes, and jostle the asparagus around so you look like you’re working really hard at the grill (people will be #mirin’). Close the grill again. Check your meat with a thermometer (above 165 degrees is safe, but I find chicken thighs taste better at 175), eat a potato to make sure it’s not under-done (do NOT undercook potatoes; they’re a delicious food and deserve to be treated well), and your asparagus is almost certainly done (it’s probably been done for a while, depending on how you like your asparagus – if you get them where you like them earlier in the process, just put them on a plate and start nibbling). Enjoy!
- Make the kind of salad people who love themselves make – No sadly-dressed kale for you! Try this: in a bowl, mix ¾-1 cup of Newman’s Own Sesame Ginger Dressing (depending on your preferences), 1 cup of full-fat, plain Greek yogurt (Fage, because you deserve the finest), the juice of 1 small lemon, a bit of salt, and a bit of sweetener (I use a squirt of stevia, but Splenda, sugar, honey, or any other sweetener you like would probably be fine) to taste. Pour that over a BIG bowl (you’ve just made a lot of dressing) full of any combination of: shredded cabbage, shredded carrots, shredded chicken, shredded deli meats (for those of you who are lazy like me), lightly-cooked bean sprouts (to get the right amount of crunch on your bean sprouts, put them in already-boiling, well-salted water for about 30 seconds, and then cool them ASAP by either submerging them in salt water or running them under cold water), black beans, lentils, rice, potatoes, bacon (always recommended), finely-chopped apples (honeycrisp, because you’re worth it), mushrooms, pecans, walnuts, other nuts you like, or whatever other wild idea you have. This dressing makes the salad creamy and tangy and sweet and delicious, and I actually find myself craving it from time-to-time, which is a very new thing. Give it a go, and let me know how you like it (as well as what modifications you tried, and how those worked for you)!
Level 4: Black Coffee (For those who have reached true veggie enlightenment)
- If you’re chowing down on all the previously described recipes, you’re probably ready to try good, old-fashioned, boring, steamed veggies. Being able to enjoy these is a huge advantage if you like to look, feel, and perform your best. And no, it’s not because steamed veggies hold some magic power that other veggies don’t; it’s because steamed veggies are super easy to prepare (you can literally put a bag in the microwave for 3 minutes and have a finished product), and are often readily available at restaurants. If you haven’t had steamed veggies in a while, try ordering a side of steamed broccoli at a restaurant. If you find it’s a bit much to handle on its own, pair each bite of your vegetable with another side (baked potatoes for those who love themselves), or with your protein (because you are smart and you eat protein with each meal). Also, salt your veggies; it makes all the difference.
Level 5: Bulletproof Coffee (For those who want to feel superior to everyone else and/or make money off others’ ignorance)
- Kale – put it in a bowl, take a picture of it, post it to Instagram, pretend you like it, and tell everyone else that their taste buds have been ruined by years of processed foods and that you can cleanse them with your kale shakes. Added bonus if you somehow mention quinoa. Double added bonus if you share your affiliate links to cleanses and/or detoxes. *Kale is actually great when well-prepared, and this point is entirely a joke. If you love kale, please kale away. If you don’t, feel free to sneak some spinach into your smoothie.*
- Be a raw vegan – Veganism isn’t restrictive enough, and if you really think about it, cooking vegetables is cruel to the plant. Sure, being a raw vegan is unnecessary, difficult, and almost certainly not the best choice for your health, but how cool is it to see anyone else eat anything and immediately feel morally superior to them?
*Let me walk you off the rage-commenting ledge really quickly: I don’t endorse a vegan diet because it is an inherently nutritionally deficient diet. That said, I understand the many complex and well-though-out moral arguments in favor of veganism, and I support my vegan friends in finding a lifestyle that makes them feel at peace with their decisions as they pertain to food. Raw veganism, however, is unnecessarily pretentious, and I’ve yet to see a single good reason someone should follow that diet. And yes, I have seen Forks Over Knives.*
OK! This has gone on far too long. Vegetables are good things to eat. Don’t believe me? Yell at me in the comments (extra credit if you cite another blog), and I’ll be sure to get a good laugh.
Got easy-to-love vegetable recipes you enjoy? Share them on the comments, or let me know on Facebook.
Interested in other ways to look and feel better? Check out some of my articles linked throughout this piece. Here they are again, for your convenience:
How to Diet for You and Your Lifestyle: a guide to the basics behind weight loss, as well as some strategies on how achieve weight loss for yourself.
Eating For Your Goals Part 2 – A Primer on Macronutrients– for the more committed dieter who’s focused on losing fat while maintaining/gaining muscle.
So, You Want To Get “Toned” – if it is your goal to get toned, you’re almost certainly going about it wrong; check out this article to get things moving in the right direction!
Not sure where to start, or just think you might benefit from having someone to help you along your journey to your happiest, healthiest, most jacked-est self? Consider training with me.
And one last thing . . . I write these articles because I believe the best way to attract new clients is to demonstrate the value of my knowledge and expertise. The only way I can do that is if people see and read my articles. If this article helped you, or you know someone who might benefit from reading it, please consider sharing it on Facebook. Thank you!