New Year’s Resolutions – love em or hate em, you’ve got to admit that trying to eat a little healthier (a very common one) is a pretty good goal. But what if you just don’t like vegetables? Or if you like them, but you’re trying to cook healthier meals for your family and you’re getting some major push-back from someone else in the house? It’s time to deal with cooking for the veggie hater.
This post was inspired by a question I got from a friend of mine. She’s a young wife and her husband hates vegetables. In her words, he “will eat a kiwi or baby carrots about once a month, but it’s very difficult to get him to eat non-meat/bread/processed things.” Whether you eat vegan, paleo, or something in between, I think we can all agree that eating baby carrots once a month is not going to cut it in the fruits and veggies department. Here are my top three strategies for cooking vegetables for the veggie hater.
Hide them. Stay with me. I’m not going to go all Jessica Seinfeld on you here, but I do think that hiding veggies has a place in a healthy diet. I don’t mean hide as in don’t tell the person they’re eating veggies (although you might have to try it), but hide as in make them as unobtrusive as possible. We could all stand to eat more vegetables in our diets, why not make a few servings really easy? Shredded or pureed vegetables can be added to many foods with little or change to the flavor of texture.
Try adding pureed red or orange vegetables like squash, sweet potatoes, or red bell peppers into chili or other creamy soups. (The really easy approach is to use pureed pumpkin, since you can buy it already pureed.) Speaking of chili and soups – if you’re making anything soupy, you should be able to substantially increase the vegetables without affecting the flavor much. Shredded carrots or zucchini can be added to muffins. It’s pretty hard to sneak spinach into most foods, since the color gives you away, but if you have a willing participant who just doesn’t like the texture of vegetables, you can eat tons of spinach without ever eating a salad — put it in smoothies, meatloaf, baked pastas, and soup. I’ve even heard of people putting spinach in muffins! (Tip: spinach releases a lot of water when cooked, so frozen spinach that has been thawed and squeezed out works better when extra water would mess up the recipe.)
Minimize them. I don’t know why, but something about chopping vegetables really small seems to make them more palatable to many people. Try a chopped salad, or just dicing everything smaller or shredding next time you make a vegetable side dish or something with vegetables in it, and see if your veggie hater will eat it a little better.
Sweeten them. Have you ever heard of super-tasters? Basically, they’re a small segment of the population who have really super-charged taste buds. It sounds awesome, but when it comes to vegetables, it’s curse because super-tasters taste the bitterness in vegetables that many plants have developed to fend off predators. To combat this, we have to figure out how to sweeten them up. (The vegetables, not the super tasters.) Step away from the sugar! Cooking vegetables at a high heat — like roasting or stir-frying — will caramelize their natural sugars and make them taste sweeter without any added sweeteners.
Good veggies to roast are carrots, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli and bell peppers. Cauliflower is surprisingly good roasted, especially with a favorite seasoning blend on top. (Penzey’s Northwoods or curry powder are totally different but equally delicious on cauliflower.) Hard squashes (like butternut and acorn) are good to roast too, but they can be difficult to peel when raw, so try roasting the squash cut in half with the seeds removed, then scoop it out of peel and cut it up afterwards.
Here is my roasted vegetable un-recipe: turn oven to 400, chop veggies into uniform-sized pieces (smaller will cook faster if you’re in a hurry) and toss in a little olive oil. Put everything on a cookie sheet and sprinkle on a little salt. You can add other spices later — sometimes they burn. Put veggies in the oven to cook and stir them around every 15 minutes or so. Cook until they look browned and are soft on the inside.
Copycat them: Are there vegetables that your veggie hater will eat in a restaurant? Other than a Bloomin’ Onion? What about fajita vegetables at a Mexican restaurant, stir-fried veggies floating in soy sauce at a Chinese restaurant, etc? You might be able to recreate these as side dishes at home, and even if you do use a heavy hand on the salt, sauce, etc., I can guarantee you it’s probably still healthier than what you get at a restaurant, and YAY they’re eating vegetables.
Normalize, normalize, normalize: Veggies at every meal, no exceptions. (Okay, I give you a pass on breakfast.) Make vegetables a normal part of the food culture at your house, and eventually eating them will become less of a foreign concept. Yes, it’s frustrating to cook things that you know other people won’t eat, but they’re never going to change unless presented with the opportunity.
I want to encourage you to try, try, try again when it comes to presenting the veggie hater with new foods. Recommendations for feeding picky children often state that you should present the same food to a kid up to 12 times before you should expect them to eat it without a fight. I see no reason that a picky adult should be any different — if anything, they will probably be more resistant and set in their ways!