Making a salad at home is a simple, quick way to get your veggie intake for the day. Greens and other fresh-cut vegetables contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants: fiber, potassium, calcium, magnesium, vitamins A, C, and K, and all your B vitamins just to name a few. But if you feel like the salad game is played out – you are not alone. Read along for some other options.
Veg 101 Refresher: Exactly what is a serving of vegetables, again?
The popularity and push we get from media outlets and general nutrition information sites would have us believe that we need to be eating vegetables all day every day. Not so. In truth, most people only need 2-3 servings of veggies daily to get all of the fiber and nutritional value they need. As a quick refresher, here are some easy ways to estimate portion sizes for vegetable servings:
– 1 serving of leafy greens: 2 cups, or your two hands cupped together
– 1 serving of raw cut veggies: 1 cup, or enough to fill your whole hand
– 1 serving of cooked veggies: ½ cup, or enough to fill just your palm (they lose water and condense with the cooking process)
Variety is the key to maximizing nutrient intake
The best way to get the most nutritional content from your food choices is to rotate them on a daily or weekly basis.
If you rely heavily on superstar greens such as spinach and kale, consider experimenting with alternatives like red cabbage, red leaf lettuce, arugula, mustard greens, or watercress. Steam or sauté hardier greens, dress with a bit of oil and add crushed nuts, garlic, and chili powder for flavor and texture. For lighter greens, go half and half with your old stand by’s for a new salad or sandwich blend.
Is your bean selection limited to black or pinto in the taco line? Consider bringing home a can of kidney, black-eyed pea, cannellini, or Great Northern beans. Blend bean dips at home, or mash them and adding them to a chicken or tuna salad to increase fiber content and get an extra meal or two.
Looking for some unique raw cut selections for snacks, salads, or sandwich wraps? Lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and peppers can start to feel stale, and limit the nutrients you’re getting from your veggies. Experiment with thin-sliced, julienned, or grated slices of radish, jicama, asparagus, or kohlrabi bulb. Corn and peas can also bring a bright sweetness to a veggie mix!
Create some veggie-packed go-to’s
Salad, check. Soup, stir fry, check. Wraps, sandwiches, omelettes, got it. If some of the classics are wearing thin, don’t be afraid to take your favorite basics and veggify them.
Mac and cheese. This is one of my favorites, and usually doubles the amount of meals I can get from one session of cooking. Choose a whole wheat selection of a boxed mac and cheese if possible. Choose a bean (for a vegetarian protein boost) along with 2-3 other veggies (my favorites are onion, leeks, and tomatoes) and sauté for a softer consistency that matches the comfort of good old mac and cheese. Season as you prefer. Dump the sauté into your boxed mac and cheese for a super-quick, protein- and fiber-packed comfort meal.
Make ahead egg sandwiches. Get yourself a dozen eggs, a bag of 100% whole wheat English muffins, and you’re in business. Use a shallow baking dish that will give you at least 6 servings and bake at 375F for about 20 minutes (check and/or rotate halfway through if you have a wonky oven). This is a great place to clean out your fridge – whatever veggies you have left can find a home here. Scallions with black beans and peppers, leeks with broccoli and tomato, leftover sweet potato, onions and kale are all great combinations. Aim for 3 cups of cooked veggies to get your half-cup serving in each sandwich. Top with a handful of shredded cheese before baking. When they come out, assemble, add greens if you like and allow to cool completely before packing into Tupperware or bags for easy travel. Heat in the oven or toaster oven for optimal enjoyment, but a microwave will serve in a pinch!
Tuna or chicken salad. Another great place for super-simple veggie adds. Choose a soft white bean like a cannellini or great northern bean and give them a rough mash on the bottom of a mixing bowl. Add your protein of choice – canned tuna or leftover shredded chicken. Use a vegetable oil-based mayo, or half the amount of mayo and use a few tablespoons of a favorite hummus to bind. Add diced tomatoes, olives, red onion, or celery for some added nutrients and fiber. Aim to get 4 servings per batch and each will get you an extra veggie serving for the day.