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.

Bonus:
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.

Rest Day Recipe: Two Kinds of Greens

Wanna see something cool? Check out these photos from my garden:

I have to be honest — ever since I went back to work full-time, I have stepped away from gardening. Andy took up the task and he not only kept our garden alive, he’s also helped it to thrive and expand. His goal is to grow way more vegetables than we can eat.

The bulk of our crop this fall is greens. Kale, collards, mustard greens, and bok choy are just a few of our favorites. We’ve also gotten into eating lesser greens that are usually tossed because people grow the plant for something else — vegetables like beets, kohlrabi, sweet potatoes, cauliflower and broccoli.

We make something green with every dinner. Sometimes it’s salad. Many times it’s cooked greens. Greens are a fast weeknight meal addition, and today I’m going to share a couple of our go-to variations:

Basic Braised Chard

Ingredients

1 bunch chard, washed
Fat (like coconut or olive oil)
Chicken stock
salt

Instructions

Remove stems from chard, but don’t throw out the stems. Chop the leaves roughly into large pieces. Remove ends from stems, then chop finely. Set aside.

In a deep pot or Dutch oven, melt a couple of tablespoons of oil over medium high heat. Add stems to the pot and saute for several minutes. When the chopped stems have softened, add several spoonfuls of chicken stock to the pot — enough to coat well. Stir the stems a few times, then add the leaves. Wilt the leaves, stirring frequently to cook evenly. After a few minutes, when all of the leaves have cooked down and turned bright green, remove from heat.

Salt to taste and serve.

Luke’s Favorite: Collard Greens with Coconut Milk & Lime

My 5-year-old loves the flavor combination! Kale can be used instead of collard greens. But don’t eat the stems of collard greens or kale — too woody!  You can add lime zest with the coconut milk for more lime flavor.

Ingredients

1 bunch collard greens, washed and stems removed
Fat (like coconut or olive oil)
1/4 – 1/2 cup coconut milk
Juice from 1 lime

Instructions

Chop the leaves of of the collard greens roughly into large pieces. Place the chopped leaves in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 1 minute. (Less if you use kale). The key is to make sure none of the leaves dry out.

In a deep pot or Dutch oven, melt a couple of tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add the leaves to the pot and cook for 10 minutes. When greens have softened, add the coconut milk to coat. Cook for several more minutes. Remove from heat, stir in the lime juice, salt to taste and serve.

My new CSA

Johnson's Backyard Garden CSA box
This week's CSA box

We joined a new CSA this week.  We found ourselves buying more and more at both weekly farmers’ markets, and it just made sense to buy into one of the farms we patronize weekly.

This CSA is from Johnson’s Backyard Garden, which delivers weekly and year-round, but there are tons of CSA programs in Austin.  This one just happened to work for us, plus we love the produce from JBG.

I was so excited to pick up our box Wednesday evening.  The vegetables looked delicious, and right away, Andy peeled one of those oranges for us all to share — delicious!

But then we brought it home, and we had a tough time figuring out where to put it all.  Our refrigerator is stuffed to the gills with Thanksgiving fixings and leftovers from this week.  Oh no!

No worries — we got it all in there, but we’ll be stuffing ourselves with vegetables for the next few days!

Your own personal victory garden

(This post is the third in a series on eating, inspired by the movie Food Inc.  You can read “The Way We Eat” here.  Read “Meet your Farmers” here.)

Luke and the tomato
My son checks out a tomato from our 2009 garden. It was quickly devoured.

OK, I’ll admit it took me a long time to write this post on growing a garden.  Part of the reason is that it’s been so cold and wet, I haven’t wanted or even been able to get out in my own garden.

Trailing winecup nest to Texas Sage
Trailing winecup, a native, next to Texas Sage, blooms in spring.

I always find the urge to grow my own food is strongest around early spring when the trees begin leafing out, the flowers are bursting with color, and the fruit and vegetables that have been long missing from the farmers’ markets are just now starting to reappear.

Spring is my absolute favorite time in Austin.  Admittedly, it doesn’t last very long, meteorologically-speaking.  And this spring took even longer to show up.  What’s up with 40 degree weather on the first day, huh?  One reason I love it so much is that it’s time to plant most of my favorite garden vegetables.

The Nashville garden in 2004?  Or was it 2003?
Nashville gerden -- 2003 or 2004

I’ve been gardening… well, forever.  My grandad had a garden, my mom had a garden, and when I rented my first house — you bet! — I dug a plot for a garden.  Check out that lovely image to the right.  That was my Nashville garden, complete with sunflowers, tomatoes, beans, peas, soybeans, peppers and others.

These are hot peppers from the Fall 2009 garden.

Gardening in Texas is different.  Way different.

We moved back to Austin 5 years ago, bought a house, and immediately I wanted to grow a garden.  While I can grow shrubs, flowers and trees like an experts, my veggie garden continues to be a challenge. Unfortunately, Central Texas poses a number of challenges for aspiring vegetable gardeners, and that can be daunting for first-timers.

That sucks!  Because the best food you’ll ever eat will come out of your own efforts — from the sweat of your body and work of your hands!  When we talk about eating REAL FOOD — you can’t get any better than food from a garden.

And if you have kids, I’ve discovered that children are more likely to eat vegetables if they grew them themselves.  Heck!  Most of the stuff we grow doesn’t make it in the house!  Luke usually eats the broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes straight from the plant!

I’ve written extensively about the challenges I’ve faced, and I’ve learned a lot — so tomorrow, I’m going to share some of the things I’ve learned, share a bunch of pictures, and hopefully you’ll find a way to start your own garden — because there’s no one right way to do it!

Stay tuned.