Growing up, I was taught about the importance of healthy, balanced eating. My dad taught me how to cook at a very young age, and ever since, I’ve been a foodie. He and I still make our favorite memories in the kitchen cooking together. I wouldn’t necessarily say I always had the most sophisticated palate as a child – every kid likes their chicken nuggets and Velveeta macaroni and cheese – but, I certainly enjoyed well-rounded home-cooked meals fairly often. My dad still does the majority of the cooking, mostly because he loves to cook – obviously his contagious passion rubbed off on me – and he always planned our meals around fresh, healthy vegetables. No meal was complete without something green or colorful on the table, whether it be salad, or broccoli, or asparagus. Vegetables were never missing.
When my husband and I first started dating, I quickly realized my upbringing wasn’t quite the norm and apparently not everyone grew up eating fruits and vegetables a plenty. He had never enjoyed eating veggies, so our ideas of fresh produce were not exactly the same. Needless to say, my husband still married me and all my herbivore-loving ways, and he gladly admits he has grown to love fruits and vegetables in ways he thought he never would.
Fruits and vegetables, along with other plant-based foods, like whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes, are wonderful sources of fuel for our bodies. While it’s perfectly acceptable to eat meat, the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients from plants help round out the animal proteins we eat, giving our bodies the balanced energy we need to go about our daily routines.
Fruits and vegetables are nature’s candy, and when picked and ripened in-season, they really are very enjoyable. We’re allowed to favor certain fruits and vegetables over others, but maybe you’ve had poorly prepared Brussels sprouts in the past and they’ve tainted your taste buds? Maybe your experience with apples is nothing short of a mealy snack you’d rather not look at again? Once you taste a fresh, juicy mango, or a perfectly roasted crown of cauliflower, your eyes might be opened afresh to what fruits and vegetables have the potential to be.
The simplest way to prepare your vegetables
One of the most flavorful and simplest ways to prepare most vegetables is to roast them in the oven. Using a high-smoke point oil, like MCT (medium-chain triglyceride) oil or avocado oil, allows you to roast your veggies in healthy fats while maintaining the integrity of the fatty acids in the oil. When fats are exposed to extreme heat, the fatty acids essentially begin to denature and lose their nutritional profiles, and can even turn into free radicals.
Using oils with a higher smoke point means these oils have a higher temperature threshold before they have the potential burn and denature. One of my favorite ways to roast carrots and parsnips is tossed in avocado oil, salt, black pepper, and ground cardamom. If you roast them until they are nice and caramelized, they are almost addicting! My husband actually requests these on a weekly basis.
You can still get protein through your plants
Plant-centered diets don’t have to be completely devoid of meat, as I mentioned above, but, you most certainly can still get enough protein from plants alone, if consumed in a well-rounded manner. Proteins are comprised of amino acids, nine of which are essential to the diet because the body cannot produce these, and most plant-based foods do not contain all nine of these essential amino acids to make a complete protein.
Animal meat, such as poultry and beef, has all nine essential amino acids, so the body can easily absorb, break down, and then build lean muscle with these. Since one plant-based food alone usually does not contain all essential amino acids, it should be paired with one or more plant-based foods to make a complete protein. For example, the combination of beans and rice makes a complete protein. The key to a thoughtful plant-based diet is correctly pairing foods to ensure you are eating complete proteins, whether from fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, and whole grains.
Surprisingly though, there are a few plant foods that do contain all nine essential amino acids, and thus do not require pairing with other plants, although there is no harm in pairing them with other delicious herbaceous ingredients! One such superfood is quinoa (pronounced kee-nwah), a grain-like seed native to Peru. Quinoa is rich in magnesium, fiber, and protein. One of my favorite ways to enjoy quinoa is in salad form, tossing in fresh garden vegetables, like tomatoes, cucumber, and spinach, with fresh basil, chives, and Kalamata olives, then finishing it off with a tangy red wine-Dijon vinaigrette. It’s such a refreshing dish!
Eating fruits and vegetables everyday doesn’t have to be complicated. There are so many varieties to choose from, and a so many ways to prepare them all. Begin with trying some new ways to prepare your vegetables and you will start to write your own veggies tale with a happy ending.