Vegetables are one of the five food groups determined by USDA to be necessary for good health. They are prominently placed on MyPlate, the latest food guidance model, and recommended to occupy one quarter of your lunch and dinner plate. They provide many of the vitamins, minerals, fiber and even oils we need to be healthy and generally have low amounts of fat. When vegetable consumption is increased to the recommended 2.5 cups a day or more, studies have shown less obesity, lower blood glucose levels, less hypertension and even lower rates of certain cancers.
So what if you do not like vegetables? Or your choices are potatoes, corn, maybe string beans and an occasional salad with iceberg lettuce? Is it important to like rutabagas or kale salad?
The good news is that there are an amazing number of vegetable choices. Most can be eaten raw, steamed, roasted, covered with cheese or eaten as part of other popular foods like pizza or stews. Any version counts. Learning to like vegetables may start with eating those that do not taste like vegetables!
We often think of children not liking vegetables and while they often go through a stage of rejecting foods that they relished as infants, they usually come through the terrible twos, threes, or older with some vegetables on their plate that they like. Success comes from parents who do not pressure children to eat, who include vegetables in their own diet and who make family meals enjoyable.
Ellyn Satter, a registered dietitian nutritionist, family therapist and author says that "the key to nutritional excellence is variety growing out of genuine food enjoyment". The current plethora of food shows on TV, restaurant weeks and emerging "foodies" supports giving time and interest to eating and food preparation. So,if you want to eat more vegetables, you may have to experiment with preparing and cooking vegetables. Give yourself or your family time but be persistent. If two or more like it, serve it again.
Some vegetables have strong flavors and some people may be more sensitive to the bitter or sharp flavors. Salad dressing, salt, butter, herbs and spices, cheese and bread crumbs can soften these flavors. Do not be concerned about the fat content or salt as you experiment. Alterations can come later. Some authors call this "sneaking up" on a vegetable - looking at it, smelling it, putting it in your mouth and watching others eat it.
Peer pressure and media coverage have brought new vegetables to many tables. Brussel sprouts used to be the vegetable cited as least liked. How many people ate a kale salad or beets before being presented on restaurant menus and magazine covers? A trip to Grandma's or the next door neighbor can find your child eating vegetables rejected at home.
As an adult, you cannot pressure anyone to eat vegetables, including your children. However, eating vegetables can be as enjoyable as eating other foods. When raising children, serve them often and encourage children to help with the food preparation and choice of vegetables. If your children are older, enlist their help to add new vegetables to your own diet. Getting "mom" or "dad" to make healthy changes will empower their interest in healthy eating as well.