How To: 5 steps to loving vegetables

Fork in plastic bowl of greens, carrots, cucumbers and meat
My lunch

I often hear people talk about how they don’t eat vegetables. I once had an executive producer who told a waitress at a restaurant that she “doesn’t eat vegetables” and wanted to make sure whatever she was ordering did not have a single one on the plate. Andy has similar stories of co-workers, and lately these stories come up when people see what we eat.

It’s like they feel like they need to defend their own eating habits.

It’s true that my family eats an insane amount of vegetables. They are a staple of nearly every meal, except breakfast, and only because my coach has me eating protein and fat only at breakfast.

But we didn’t always eat vegetables in large amounts.

It’s true my mom made vegetables available at every meal. There was always a salad or vegetable side — like lima beans, peas, broccoli or spinach. But when I was in high school, I rebelled, and fast food became a way of life when I was out with my friends. College wasn’t much better. I shudder to think what I ate. No wonder I hit my heaviest weight my freshman year and struggled to shed it over the next 10 years.

Even when I was a vegetarian, I didn’t eat as many vegetables as I do now. Grains were still a huge part of my diet. Pasta, rolls, rice were all featured on my plate.

When you go Paleo, meat becomes a natural part of your nutrition, but it does not comprise the majority of it, contrary to what many people believe. Meat MUST be balanced with fat and carbs, preferably huge amounts of leafy green vegetables.

While I never hated vegetables, I never LOVED them either. It took time for me to adjust my palette. It is possible to love vegetables. Here’s how:

Do a sugar-free challenge
(AKA junk-free, Whole 30, primal, paleo)

Vegetables taste sweet. I discovered this last year during the I AM Crossfit challenge when I gave up all chocolate, alcohol, dairy, and cut way back on fruit. Giving up sugar for a while totally changed the way I taste things. Without sugar to dominate my palette, I can actually taste other flavors. And guess what, vegetables taste sweet! Give me a bowl of Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, and I’m in heaven.

Kids look at vegetable bins
Kids don't hate vegetables! But sometimes you have to serve something 10 or 20 times before they will like it.

Sign up for a CSA

A CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) will deliver a share of whatever crops a farmer grows every week or every two weeks, depending on how it’s set up. Our CSA, through Johnson’s Backyard Garden, comes every week all year long. I don’t like food to go to waste, so I make sure that we eat whatever comes in our box. That means I’ve had to be creative and figure out how to cook vegetables I’ve never encountered before.

Invest in a good cookbook

I can’t stress the importance of a good cookbook enough, because if a recipe tastes bad, it’s much harder to overcome that aversion to vegetables. Not all cookbooks are created equal! I tend to shy away from celebrity chefs, many of whom write recipes that are hard to pull off on a weeknight (Yes — even Rachel Ray. 30 minute meals, my ass.)

My go-to cookbooks are from the editors of Cooks Illustrated magazine (Anything they’ve written. They’ve NEVER let me down), Deborah Madison (Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone), and Rick Bayless (Mexican Everyday). Lately we’ve added two new cookbooks to our collection and so far so good:

If you want to go the primal cookbook route, there’s always a few from Mark Sisson, and the ones with “paleo” in the title, like Everyday Paleo and Paleo Comfort Foods. I’ll be honest. It’s all a formula. Meat, veggies, spices. Some recipes are well-written. Some aren’t. If you’re going just for innovative or well-written veggie recipes, stick with the cookbook authors that have a proven track record.

Remember, just because you didn’t like a vegetable in one recipe doesn’t mean you won’t like it in another. I had to try five different okra recipes before I found the one that everyone in my family raved about. Sauteed okra with tomatoes is now a family favorite, and it even managed to turn Andy from an okra-hater to an okra-lover.

Eliminate grains

When you get rid of grains, you have to fill your plate with something, right? Instead of making it meat — make it vegetables. And the more you eat them, the more likely you are to learn to like them. So stop filling your plate and stomach with grains and make room for more vegetables.
Variety of vegetables at famer's market

Try a new vegetable every week

Eating vegetables I like really helped me eat more, but trying new ones made meals an adventure. I credit my CSA with forcing me down that road. As the seasons change, our box of vegetables does too, sometimes with varieties I’ve never heard of. Romanesco cauliflower? Golden beets? Rutabaga? Okra?

It’s just more fun when you try something new.

Grow your own

There’s just something about growing your own food that makes you want to eat it. My kids will nibble leafy greens all day, straight from the plants. They get excited when they harvest something and then it’s served for dinner. Somehow, that personal connection makes us all more likely to eat our vegetables. I’m not sure why that is, but I’m definitely glad it happens.

I guess the key to loving vegetables is to open your mind and mouth to the possibilities.

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Hi! I'm Cindy Brummer. By day, I'm a web & wordpress designer/developer/content strategist. And for fun, I'm a cook, Crossfitter, novice Olympic weightlifter, and mom to two cuties. Find me on Google+.