Your mother always said, “eat your vegetables” and she was right – maybe in more ways than she knew. While you don’t have to go all veggie and become a strict vegetarian, one of the healthiest eating habits you can foster in your family is to make vegetables the centerpiece of your meals and let the other food groups accompany them. For many families this may be a switch of mindset from meat and potatoes to potatoes and meat. The animal food is more of a garnish, adding flavor and nutrition to the medley of vegetables and grains. Stirfry is a good example. (Even better would be a combination of fish and vegetables). If you aren’t ready to relegate steak and meatloaf to second place, at least make vegetables equal stars in the meal. With interesting and tasty vegetable dishes on the table (and also a variety of starches), your family will gradually begin eating less meat.
1. Vegetables are nutrient dense. Vegetables pack a lot of nutrition into a minimum of calories. For a measly 35 calories (the amount in one little teaspoon of butter), you can get a half cup of vegetables that contains a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and health-building substances, called phytonutrients – not to mention a lot of flavor. Load up on legumes (the family of beans, peas, and lentils). Second only to soy, legumes are the best plant source of proteins, fiber, and iron, in addition to being high in folic acid.
LOVE THOSE SWEET POTATOES
A good source of protein, fiber, beta carotene, vitamin C, folate and calcium, sweet potatoes are a nutritious and tasty family food and merit a place in our “Top Twelve Foods” list. Contrary to their name, sweet potatoes are not botanically a potato, but rather a root. Though white potatoes contain much more niacin, sweet potatoes are overall more nutritious: They are lower in carbs and higher in fiber, beta carotene, folic acid, and calcium. Like potatoes, sweet potatoes are best stored in a cool, dry pantry. If refrigerated, they lose their taste.
2. Veggies are a dieter’s best partner. Vegetables get top billing on any fat-control diet because most are “free foods,” meaning you can eat an unlimited amount without having to count the calories. Why this lean indulgence? Because of a neat little biochemical quirk that only veggies enjoy: the body uses almost as many calories to digest vegetables as there are in vegetables in the first place. You’ll use up most of the 26 calories in a tomato just chewing, swallowing, and digesting it. The leftover calories don’t even have a fighting chance of being stored in a fat cell. You’d have to eat entire platefuls of most vegetables before the calories begin to add up.
3. You can fill up for less. Because of the fiber in vegetables, you get fuller faster; which is another reason why it’s nearly impossible to overeat veggies.
4. Vegetables are fat-free and cholesterol-free. All vegetables by definition are cholesterol-free and for all practical purposes, fat-free. Over 95 percent of vegetables contain less than a gram of fat per serving, and even that insignificant gram is mostly unsaturated fats.
5. Variety, variety, variety. Let’s face it, diversity makes life interesting. Adults, at least, like different foods prepared different ways. (Witness the diversity of ethnic restaurants in any large city. There are hundreds of different kinds of vegetables and even more ways to prepare them.
6. Vegetables provide complex carbohydrates. The energy in vegetables is in the form of complex carbohydrates. These take some time to digest and don’t cause the blood sugar highs and lows that sugars do. An exception to this rule is the sugar in beets or corn. (These sugars have a high glycemic index and trigger the insulin cycle.)
NUTRITIP: Hooray for Hummus!
7. Vegetables contain cancer-fighting phytos. On paper, a nutrient analysis of vegetables may not look all that special. Sure, there are lots of nutrients in vegetables, but most of these can also be found in other foods, such as fruits and grains. What you don’t see in the nutrition charts or on the package labels are the hundreds of valuable nutrients, called phytochemicals, found in plants that have as-yet untold health-promoting properties. New research, especially in the field of cancer, is showing that vegetables are nature’s best health foods.
NUTRITIP: What Children See, Children Eat
Surveys have shown that children who eat a lot of fruits and vegetables when they are young tend to continue this eating habit when they’re adults. But how do you get your children to eat vegetables? Eat them yourself. The more vegetables the adults in the family eat, the more children are likely to eat. As they say, monkey see, monkey eat. And remember, tastes change with age – children who turned down vegetables as babies may eat them when they’re toddlers. Keep offering, but don’t force the vegetables. If baby refuses squash at six months, offer it again at nine months. Use modeling, not bribery or threats to get your child to eat vegetables. Good eating habits, like good sleeping habits, can’t be forced on a child. The best you can do is create a healthy eating attitude in your home and let your child catch the spirit. Your job is to eat and serve lots of vegetables, be excited about them, prepare them in a variety of appealing ways, and dress them up to have kid appeal. The rest is up to your child.