Loving Vegetables

The quick answer:  Vegetables—learn to love them or prepare for an ugly death.


Food and Reverence

Mike Pollan, best-selling author and U.C. Berkeley journalism professor, wrote perhaps America’s best nutrition book—In Defense of Food.  A prior post endorsed this book.  Pollan opens by giving away the book’s message in three succinct sentences:  “Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.”  He goes on to say, “. . . eating a little meat isn’t going to kill you.”

Actually, I think Pollan could have used just two sentences, because if you eat mostly plants—high in nutrients, low in calories, full of filling fiber—you won’t want to eat “too much.” 

Recently I read an explanation of the Jewish dietary code for kosher dining.  The writer acknowledged there wasn’t an obvious reason for some restrictions—like not mixing dairy and meat on the same plate—but thought it important to obey God, nonetheless.  The dinner table, he wrote, can be much more—it can be an altar.  I’ve thought a lot about this, how dining can help sanctify the lives of our families.

So combining all this, if I were to write a book today this would be my opening prescription:  “In eating, show reverence for God’s second best creation—our food supply.”  This suggests minimal processing—not adulteration—of food and implies a duty to care for animals, over which Man was given dominion.

Written more concisely:  To sanctify your life and optimize your health, eat mainly plants, minimally processed, seasoned with a little meat and fish.  Could it be said more simply?


Americans are unique in their dislike for vegetables.  The nutritionist David Ludwig agreed:  “In my experience, hating vegetables is essentially an American trait.  I never saw anything close to it during my travels through Asia, Europe, and South America.” 

In learning to love vegetables Healthy Change #2—Never eat deep fat fried foods—makes things worse.  French fries are America’s favorite vegetable.  So we have a bigger problem—if you throw out French fries, Americans eat, on average, less than one serving daily of vegetables, instead of the recommended 4-5.

Of the thirteen quarterly rotating themes of Word of Wisdom Living, vegetables alone are addressed twice, or 8 times in a year.  I don’t think it too much—the biggest challenge of healthy eating is for Modern Mankind to relearn eating vegetables.

Recent Discoveries

Around the world, people eat all the parts of plants—the fruit, seeds, roots, stalk, etc.  Here’s news from the book, Nutrition and Health about a particular part of plants, the leaf:  “One of the most remarkable surprises in nutrition studies in the last few years was the discovery of the remarkable dietary qualities possessed by the edible leaves of plants.  Among vegetable foods, only the leaf is rich in calcium, and is also rich in vitamins A, B and C, as well as fiber.”  The book, I should note, was written three generations ago in 1925.  Here's one more reason to eat salads: Leaves are also surprisingly rich in omega-3 fats.

In a prior post, In Defense of Veggies, we told of the remarkable benefits of the vegetable groups, including the dark leafy greens, cruciferous family, orange, and red veggies, and the alliums (garlic, onions, etc).  A salad with a nice oil and vinegar dressing should be eaten at most dinners. 

This post also notes how colored vegetables improve our appearance.  Scientists in Great Britain found a salutary improvement in skin color for people eating orange and red vegetables.  They not only had better skin color, they looked healthier.  So drop those French fries and enjoy some carrots, or a sweet potato.

One more thought:  If you don’t yet garden, consider planting a vegetable garden this spring.

Healthy Change #6:  This is the easiest of all the Healthy Changes but it's the start of a new outlook.

Do The Math

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans—our official healthy diet guide—recommends we eat five vegetable servings daily.  For food groups without powerful lobbies—vegetables are the best example—I trust the Dietary Guideline of five servings.   (For food groups with well-funded lobbies, like dairy, or edible oils, I take the guidance with a grain of salt.)  A serving is the amount that will fit in the palm of your hand—about 2-4 ounces, depending on hand size and food density.  Doing the math, five veggie servings a day with allowance for waste is:

  • Two adults—about 15 lbs. per week.
  • Mom, dad, and three grammar school kids—20-25 lbs.
  • Family of six, ranging from toddler to high school—30-40 lbs.

Please comment:  It’s best not to force children to eat vegetables—that’s not a fight you can easily win.  A better idea is for mom and dad to eat vegetables with pleasure.  And get the kids their own copy of the Pixar classic, Ratatouille.  Ratatouille, is a traditional French dish of stewed vegetables—a fact not made clear in the movie. 

How do you help your children, and spouse, to love vegetables?  What is your favorite vegetable recipe?  Give us your best shot—veggies are the true test of Mom's seduction skills.

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Reader Comments (14)

I really enjoy making soups in the winter. An easy way to have a vegetable based meal. If there are iffy vegetables that are too unfamiliar for my kids, I blend them up with my immersion blender and we have a purée style soup. I've also been amazed at my kids gobbling up black bean and sweet potatoe enchiladas or spinach, zucchini, and cheese calzones. Both were big hits in my house. I've been trying to incorporate 2-3 meatless main dishes a month and when meat is out, you are left with mostly vegetables!

February 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChels

I find your blog very informative and inspiring. Thank you :)

February 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarin

I love almost any vegetable (except I have not tried lettuce) tossed with a bit of olive oil and roasted until browned! However, below is my latest find, so easy, so tasty. We had it for St. Patrick's day last year and will likely do it again:

Buttered Cabbage
Epicurious | February 2008 by Darina Allen
Editor's note: The recipe and introductory text below are from Irish Traditional Cooking by Darina Allen.
This recipe for quickly cooked cabbage has converted many an ardent cabbage hater!
Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings
• 1 lb fresh Savoy cabbage
• 2 to 4 tablespoons butter
• salt and freshly ground pepper
• an extra knob of butter
Remove all the tough outer leaves from the cabbage. Cut the cabbage into four, remove the stalk and then cut each quarter into fine shreds, working across the grain. Put 2 or 3 tablespoons of water into a wide saucepan, together with the butter and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, add the cabbage and toss over a high heat, then cover the saucepan and cook for a few minutes. Toss again and add some salt, freshly ground pepper and the knob of butter. Serve immediately.
Source Information
From Irish Traditional Cooking by Darina Allen, (C) 1995 (reprinted 2005)

February 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSandra Morris

This morning I was having fried eggs and steamed swiss chard for breakfast and my two year old kept stealing all the swiss chard. It cracks me up how much she loves greens. My 5 yo won't touch them, but I keep including them in soups, much to his chagrin. Green smoothies (I have to go easy on the greens) are great for kids, as are popsicles made with green smoothies. When I make lunch for my kids, I try to serve the vegetables first, while they're waiting for the main course, and they are more likely to eat them.

February 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnn

We love lots of roasted veggies in our family! Roasted cauliflower pieces ("cauliflower popcorn") and roasted sliced cabbage with seasonings. We also love kale chips made in the dehydrator. Yum!

February 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCherise

My favorite saying these days has been "If it wasn't in the Garden of Eden, you don't need to edeny (eat any)." Har har ;)

Yay vegetables!

February 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRill

Skip, great post! I particularly love the comment about the dinner table as an altar and how that relates to families. Can you give me the reference to the book that you were referring to in that paragraph?

February 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGreg

Hi Greg
The observant Jewish dinner table is often likened to the temple altar in rabbinical literature. I saw this in a number of discussions and you can see them by simply Googling the first sentence of this response. There is real appeal to this idea of sanctification for all religious families, I think, especially if they work to observe Biblical food clues as well as the Word of Wisdom. Best to you.

February 14, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterskip hellewell

Have you every made green rice? We enjoy that a lot. I haven't tired it with brown rice (some family pressure), but it sure healthifies the white rice. I recently tried the roasted sliced cabbage (about 1/2 Inch thick or was it more?) with a bit of olive oil. It was yummy. We like to pop cooked, thick-sliced beets on the grill with a little evoo and seasonings. Cheers!

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNancy O

I have four kids (ages 7, 6, 4, and 4) and I continually hold on to the thought that they need to have 15 exposures to a food before they embrace it. I count an "exposure" as tasting it, not just looking at it on their plate! I do my best to consistently offer a variety of veggies and not make a big deal out of it if not consumed. Lots of praise for trying and tasting. I also encourage my kids to compare a veggie prepared different ways to find the way they like it best. One of my kids will eat bell peppers raw while another likes them sauteed.

We try to make half of our plate veggies and fruits at every meal. Given that the amount of meats and grains are perhaps sparser than on typical American plates, my kids don't have much choice but to try lots of different veggies.

That's not to say that I don't get a lot of push back and complaining and whining about it, because I do. But I find encouragement when my parents come to visit and my mom makes remarks about the amount and variety of vegetables my kids consume. Big picture, right?

I also echo the other comments about roasting vegetables. I haven't met a vegetable that I haven't liked when it's been roasted! Beets, broccoli, beans, tomatoes, corn, asparagus, sweet potatoes, kale...seriously, the list is endless.

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMindy

My children are huge fruit eaters, but are not so keen on vegetables. One way we get around this is to offer them before dinner, when the kids are milling around telling me that they are starving. I have veggies cut up ready to go, and I find they eat many more of them this way than if I put them on the plate with dinner. The other thing I do is to put them in smoothies. We have frozen fruit and kiefer smoothies a few times per week, and I always add sweet potato or squash, and spinach or another green leafy veggie, throwing in some red pepper or whatever else is on hand. The potato/squash adds a lot of sweetness and fiber, and the spinach adds flavor as well. My daughter knows we add veggies to the smoothie and she loves them just the same. My son is fairly oblivious to the fact, and I choose not to tell him just in case he decides not to drink it on principle. I have found, however, that adding a bit of vegetables that the kids don't like to the smoothie, and then adding a bit more each time, tends to help them develop a taste for the vegetable without having it become a battle. The next time I offer the veggie alone during dinner, they're a bit more likely to eat it and find it tasty.

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKiera

I thought your question at the end very interesting -- how do we seduce our families into eating veggies? I don't feel that that's what I've done. I have 6 kids ranging in age from 3 to 17, and we rarely have any kind of food battles (including vegetables) at our house. Our whole family loves most typically hated veggies like brussel sprouts, cooked spinach, asparagus and roasted beets -- and we eat them plain. Like others who've already commented, I've found that roasting veggies seems to bring out their best flavor, and everyone adores eating them -- they're always the first thing to disappear at dinnertime, no matter what we serve.

I think the secret to having a family that likes and eats veggies really boils down to the attitude of the parents. My husband and I decided early in our marriage (before kids) that we were going to try new foods and give them several tastings before we decided that we didn't like them. We both grew up in families that didn't serve a very wide variety of foods because one parent refused to try anything that wasn't "familiar". We found a lot of things we actually liked, and have incorporated them into our repertoire. Our "love" for the aforementioned veggies just trickled down to our kids naturally, and since we never disparage foods, they haven't learned to dislike veggies from us. In fact, our talking about how much we enjoy a wide variety of foods has probably done more to "seduce" our kids into having a healthy attitude toward trying new things.

February 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterValena

Roasted acorn squash, brussels sprouts, mixed greens.
The trader joes vegetable aisle is a big help.

February 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobb

Another great post, Skip!

I recall when first relocating to East Asia noticing that children willing ate their vegetables. When our two children were born a few years later we opted to prepare all their foods at home. I strictly shopped at the traditional outdoor markets (still do) and just bought every single vegetable they had on offer. Every. Single. One. We lived in a subtropical country then and there were dozens to choose from. I cooked them up, froze them in ice trays and served it up. (There were ample fruits too, but really stuck to the vegetables for the first six months of eating and then easily added fruits.)

Fast forward six years and we have two daughters, now 7 and 5 who eat absolutely everything. Our climate has changed since we moved north, but still shop at traditional markets and buy as much local produce as possible. We eat vegetarian and I pack the girls' school lunches (and make their nut milk for their school snack).

We are having a family over for lunch on Sunday following church and when I asked about dietary restrictions, I was told that their five year old son only eats 'white' foods. (The mother is from Belarus and the father the US) Ha! So bread, pasta and potatoes....should be an interesting meal.

Keep up the good work, Skip. We need you and your research out here.

**Any more scoop on your Vitamin D test? Maybe I missed that post somewhere. After your post on the topic, I was tested and came in at '20' and was issued a prescription for a supplement. Chose not to fill that and work on more natural measures.

March 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDee Dee

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