They’ve been called every name in the book, although “rabbit food” says it all—not fit for human consumption.
Sadly, vegetables aren’t disliked just by kids. When choosing a side dish at a restaurant, most of my adult friends take French fries, which are potatoes, but barely.
Despite the fact that you must eat vegetables to be healthy, three-quarters of Americans eat fewer than three servings a day. That’s why a new study from University College London caught my eye. It showed that people would gladly eat more vegetables—even ones they thought they didn’t like—if they were offered a reward for doing so!
Okay, so the “people” in that study were about four years old and their rewards were stickers. But in all seriousness, the study got me thinking—if a little prize could get kids to eat their peas (or whatever), could adults somehow be “bribed” into eating more vegetables? And could we bribe ourselves into doing it? To explore this question, I put in a call to Bethany Thayer, MS, RD, director of wellness programs and strategies at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She has helped people who won’t even eat potatoes, let alone peas or broccoli.
Thayer immediately agreed with my theory that adults who want to improve their diets can use a bit of psychology on themselves. There are a number of reasons that adults choose to not eat veggies. For example, some complain that it’s too much of a hassle to buy them and then go to the trouble of prepping and cooking them—all before they go bad. Others simply don’t like the way that they taste. But Thayer has tips that help make vegetables both easier to eat and more appetizing.
Ask for compliments. Tell your friends that you’re going to eat more vegetables so they’ll hold you accountable. Request that they say something nice when they see you follow through. It may sound silly, but in a world where sincere compliments are few and far between, hearing something as simple as “Good job with that squash!” can make you smile and stick with your goal.
Sneak them into meals. You can add veggies to certain foods that you love while you’re cooking. For example, Thayer uses canned pumpkin in place of butter or oil in her muffins. Or you could use spaghetti squash instead of noodles in a pasta dish…add grape tomato halves to scrambled eggs…or throw mashed peas into guacamole. (Trust me on that one—it’s good!)
Make them easily accessible. Where veggies are in your fridge and how ready-to-eat they are may play a role in whether or not you reach for them. Let’s face it, at the end of a long day, opening a bag of chips that stares right at you when you open the pantry takes a lot less effort than washing and slicing peppers that are hidden in the bottom drawer of the fridge. So, when you have some time, cut up enough fresh vegetables for several days’ worth of cooking and snacking, and then keep them in attractive, clear glass containers with snug-fitting lids at eye level in the fridge. Unless you are a die-hard veg-hater, those already-cut, deep red spears of crisp, tangy-sweet sliced bell pepper are going to call your name when you open that door.
Use low-fat dips, spreads and melts. If you don’t like the way most veggies taste, then don’t hem and haw about it—just cover up their taste. Veggies such as cauliflower, green beans, carrots and celery taste great with low- or nonfat ranch dip, salsa, or even a little bit of peanut butter. Try hummus as a vegetable dip, too—lots of people who “don’t like vegetables” do like hummus even though the main ingredient is chickpeas. Or melt a small sprinkle of cheddar over broccoli.
Don’t be a fresh/frozen snob. One big obstacle to eating produce is that, as we all know, it goes bad quickly—and you’d be surprised, Thayer told me, at how many people use this as an excuse to not buy vegetables at all! Don’t let yourself fall into this trap. Instead, march over to the frozen food aisle and stock up on frozen vegetables in bags—you never have to wash them or cut them…you can use as little as you want at a time…and they last for months in the freezer. And you might be shocked at how good some of today’s frozen vegetables taste—they are not the compressed blocks of icy, vaguely stale vegetables you remember from your youth.
Tack on toppings. If you can’t bring yourself to eat salads or vegetables on their own, add toppings—e.g., lettuce, onion, tomato or cucumber—to every burger and sandwich.
Cook them in a new way. The temperature or texture of the vegetable could be what’s turning you off. For example, if you can’t stand Brussels sprouts, try roasting them in the oven so they become sweet and caramelized. Or pureé vegetables such as asparagus, cabbage, peas or cauliflower into smooth, creamy hot soups.
Set up your own rewards system. A Dora the Explorer sticker obviously isn’t going to motivate you, but figure out what would. Maybe it’s a new outfit or a night at the movies. Set a goal—such as eating a veggie with every meal most days of the week for one month—and if you succeed, reward yourself. You can ask other family members to join you in eating more vegetables and make the reward even greater (such as tickets to a live show or sporting event).
We all have different excuses when it comes to avoiding vegetables, but these tricks may help you eliminate most (if not all) of them—and your body will thank you for it.
Source: Bethany Thayer, MS, RD, director, wellness programs and strategies, Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Henry Ford Health System, Detroit. Thayer is a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, www.EatRight.org).