Eat more vegetables, eat more vegetables, eat more vegetables—this is the advice we hear constantly. But how? There are only so many meals and snacks in a day.
First off, let’s go over how much of the green (and red, yellow, white…) stuff you’re supposed to be eating. The USDA recommends at least 2 ½ cups per day for women ages 19 to 50, and 2 cups if you’re 51 or older. (That’s if you aren’t active. Since you probably are, you can have more; though the USDA doesn’t specify how much.) It takes 2 cups of leafy greens to equal a cup. Or think of it this way (from the USDA’s chart): ½ cup equals 1 medium carrot or 6 baby carrots, a large rib of celery, a small bell pepper, or half of an acorn squash.
Now for many of us, breakfast is a missed opportunity to get some green—fruit seems to get all the love in that a.m. meal. But there are some simple (and delicious!) ways to incorporate all-important vegetables into breakfast. Read on for some of my favorites.
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There’s a reason (many, actually) why eggs are classic breakfast fare. They’re quick, versatile, satisfying, and they may help with weight loss, too. They’re also a perfect way to sneak some veggies into your morning meal. Mushrooms, spinach, bell peppers, onions, even kale—so many vegetables go beautifully in scrambled eggs. Use up those leftovers from last night’s dinner, or grab a handful of mushrooms or spinach in the morning and toss them in the skillet for a few minutes before adding beaten eggs. (If you’re chopping an onion at night, set aside a tablespoon or two for your morning eggs. Cover tightly and refrigerate.)
If mornings are too tight to cook up a scramble, try making a batch of vegetable-filled mini frittatas in a muffin tin over the weekend. Then you just warm them up on busy weekday mornings. (Or not—I’ve eaten them cold, and they’re still delicious).
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No doubt you’ve heard about green smoothies, and perhaps you’ve tried one already. If not, here’s what I like to do: Just toss a handful of frozen organic spinach or kale into whatever I’m making. One of my favorites is a frozen banana, a handful of frozen berries, a handful of frozen kale, hemp seeds (or your favorite protein powder instead, if you like), maca powder (optional; I like it as a nutrient source and energy booster. Try Navitas Naturals Organic Raw Maca Powder, $17.09 for 16 oz., amazon.com), and water.
Sometimes I add a spoonful or two of cacao powder for a chocolate fix (and a couple of dates for sweetness), or a spoonful of almond butter. But you can pretty much toss a handful of greens into any smoothie you like; it won’t affect the taste, and you get all the benefits of those great greens without having to break out the salad bowl. (Warning: The greens can make smoothies look pretty weird. But that seems like a small price to pay.)
Remember, too, that greens aren’t the only vegetables that go well in smoothies. One of my all-time favorite vegetables is pumpkin (I loved it before it was so trendy, just saying). Pumpkin is super-healthy, and so sweet and luscious, it feels indulgent, though it’s loaded with vitamin A and other nutrients. Imagine pumpkin pie in smoothie form—delicious. I also love it thicker, as a use-a-spoon smoothie bowl. Keep in mind that vitamin A is fat soluble, so you need a little fat to absorb it. Be sure there’s some nut butter, full fat milk or yogurt, or some other source of fat to get the most from all that beautiful orange pumpkin.
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Yes, you can add veggies to this classic breakfast food, too. The easiest way is to swap the same amount of pumpkin (or mashed butternut squash) in your favorite recipe that calls for mashed banana. So if your recipe calls for 1 cup of mashed bananas, simply use 1 cup of pumpkin. If your family doesn’t want to abandon banana, swap in half. Even if you don’t get a whole serving of vegetables into your meal, every bit helps.
Savory vegetable pancakes are also a tasty departure for breakfast. A few I’ve made recently include zucchini-scallion pancakes and carrot pancakes with salted yogurt. You can make them for dinner and save extras for breakfast—or cook a batch specially for mornings.
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On their own
Finally, a simple way to add vegetables to breakfast is to just…eat some. Have a salad for breakfast (it’s not weird! People in Israel do it all the time). The Kitchn has 5 great tips for how to do it well. Once you try it and see how much energy it gives you, you might get hooked. Another way I eat vegetables for breakfast is to nibble while doing other things. (Not ideal, I know, since we should all be sitting down and mindfully eating our meals—but weekday mornings are just too busy, at least in my house.)
So I peel one carrot for my daughter’s lunch, and another one for me to munch on while I’m packing the rest of her lunch. Or if I’m cutting up half a yellow bell pepper or slicing some cucumber for her, I eat some as I go. We’ve all nibbled at our kids’ leftover mac and cheese (right? Tell me it’s not just me…), so we might as well do the same with the vegetables we feed them.