Eat Your Greens!

92% of Australians don’t eat enough vegetables!

Say whaaatt??

Yup, 92%.

According to the 2011-12 Australian Health Survey, a tiny 8.3% of Australian adults are getting their 5 serves of veggies a day.

Research points to a few reasons why vegetable consumption is so low:

Don’t like the taste: some people can be referred to as supertasters. This means that they are sensitive to the taste of particularly bitter foods, like broccoli. The super taster finds these foods very unpalatable thanks to the large number of bitter taste receptors on their tongues. More receptors = stronger reaction. Others just describe the taste as boring or not pleasant.

Don’t know how to prepare/cook vegetables: it is suggested that your liking of vegetables is directly linked to whether you know how to prepare and cook them. Mind-blowing right? If you don’t like vegetables research says you’ll think they are an expensive option and just too much of a bother to prepare and cook.

Normative Behaviors: did your parents eat vegetables? It is a common suggestion given to parents of young children to model good eating habits, this includes eating a wide variety of vegetables. If children notice a parent avoiding a vegetable (or all of them!), they are less likely to try it themselves because they rely on parents to be a good judge of food that is safe to eat, and food that should be avoided. Food habits and eating patterns are pretty well cemented by early childhood and are harder to change after this point. As we get older, this expands to include our friends and partners.

Fast/Convenience food: it has been an established fact for a while now that Australians eat far more convenience food than they used to. People are transitioning away from home cooked meals in favor of takeaway and read to eat meals and this tread is unlikely to slow down. An estimated 36% of an adult’s daily diet comes from “discretionary” or sometimes food like pies and sausage rolls, pizza, cakes, muffins, pastries, confectionery and sugar-sweetened beverages. Who can honestly say they go for the vegetable rich option when ordering out? Restaurants will often charge a premium for a side of vegetables or salad and these usually come dressed in all sorts of oils. And fast food outlets hardly serve up heapings of vegetables with their deep fried mains (some soggy coleslaw with your deep fried chicken doesn’t count as a serve of vegetables!)

A finger is also pointed at the rise in cooking shows on TV. It’s great that attention is being bought back to the home cook but unfortunately these programs focus on particularly vegetable poor dishes.

You may wonder why I’m taking quite a bit of time to explain why people don’t eat vegetables. This is because in order to effect change, we must understand the reasons behind behavior. It would be useless for me to just tell you to eat more veggies without trying to understand why you don’t eat them. Why? Because thanks to your unique experiences, there’s a complex relationship between you and your vegetable consumption. This is a concept that we will cover and come back to again and again.

But for now, back to the green stuff. Unfortunately, there’s just no getting around the fact that vegetables are vital for good health. In my book, vegetables are like breakfast- non negotiable! So, just how do you include more vegetables in your day?

Double, triple or quadruple the vegetables in a recipe: stir-fries I’m looking at you! Stir-fries are a great quick and easy option but often the recipes I see in cookbooks are lacking in the vegetable department. The standard formula is meat + 2 or 3 vegetables, which when divided by a family of four isn’t much. To get around this I suggest increase both the number and amount of vegetables, and this goes for all recipes, not just stir-fries. A vegetables of different colors, textures and flavors. Got a recipe that has baby corn and snowpeas? Add capsicum, asparagus, mushrooms, baby spinach and carrot.

Hide them: I do this in my spaghetti bolognaise, adding at least an onion, capsicum, zucchini and a couple of carrots to the mixture. This gives a lovely texture and depth of flavor to the dish and ensures that it makes a huge batch that will see us through a couple of nights, saving time and money.

Snack on them: instead of having a muffin for afternoon tea, how about some veggie sticks with hummus? Filling up on nutrient dense foods leaves less room for “sometimes” foods which aren’t the healthiest of options.

Veggies + breakfast = winning: baked beans on toast is a great example here. You could go for the canned variety (preferably low salt) or whip up a batch of home made ones complete with a veggie or two. You could also scramble eggs with vegetables, have a veggie omelet, frittata, baked eggs, the options are endless!

Don’t rely on one cooking method: you don’t have to be stuck with the same old boiled veg day in, day out. Steaming, sautéing, stir-frying are all great options. More bitter vegetables can also be roasted, as this tends to give a lovely sweetness to them. In the colder months, you can also incorporate a heap of vegetables into a lovely soup or stir into a slow cooked meal. In the warmer months, make friends with salad, it’s a great filling and cheap option with combinations only limited to your imagination.

If you don’t eat many vegetables: commit to going the supermarket on a weekly/monthly basis and pick one vegetable and cook with it, once. It’s not a big commitment and if you really don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it again! Sometimes it takes more than one exposure to a food to decide whether or not you actually like the food, but if you hate it, its no big deal! You can pat yourself on the back for getting out of your comfort zone and trying something new.

This is a great way of breaking down big goals (like “I will eat more vegetables”) into smaller more manageable chunks (I will cook with asparagus once, to see if I can incorporate it into my every day eating). When we set small goals, we are more likely to achieve them and set ourselves up for future success.

Almost everyone could benefit from eating more vegetables, how are you going to incorporate them into your daily eating regime?

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