Running a marathon, losing 20 pounds and quitting sugar are ambitious and admirable New Year’s resolutions. But the statistics aren’t encouraging: Within a few weeks (or days) of making such big promises to ourselves, most of us will falter. Experts advise that sticking to resolutions to live a healthier life depends on setting realistic goals.
One resolution that’s easy to keep long-term and has proven health benefits: Eating more vegetables. Simply throw an extra head of cauliflower, a package of frozen spinach and a butternut squash into your shopping cart during your weekly trip to the market, and make sure those veggies make it into your regular dinner rotation. In return, you will reap the following rewards:
Reduced risk of disease: Eating a diet rich in vegetables may reduce your risk for killers such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.
Lower blood pressure: Potassium-rich vegetables (which include spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and lima beans) can help maintain healthy blood pressure.
Decreased cholesterol: A diet high in fiber from vegetables can lower cholesterol.
Weight control: Proportionately lower in fat and calories than other foods, vegetables consumed in larger quantities may help lower caloric intake without sacrificing the feeling of fullness.
The USDA urges Americans to consume meals that consist of at least 50 percent fruits and vegetables. That means larger portions of cabbage and carrots than you might be used to, and smaller portions of steaks, chops, and pasta.
Once or twice a week, try to put vegetables at the center of your meal, with a satisfying and nutritionally balanced meatless entree. The following recipes are examples of this idea. The escarole in Escarole and White Bean Soup delivers abundant vitamins, minerals, fiber, and folate. Beans provide the meal’s protein. And croutons sautéed in olive oil help fill you up with satisfying carbohydrates and healthy fat. For low glycemic comfort food, make cauliflower fried rice instead of the real thing. Scrambled eggs add rich flavor to the dish as well as quality protein.
FROZEN IS FINE
Ideally, we’d always buy just-picked vegetables from a local farmer. But at this time of year our choices largely consist of fresh vegetables that have been shipped in from somewhere else, or frozen vegetables. When the “fresh” vegetables in the supermarket are looking tired this winter (many of them have already spent weeks on a truck and days on the store shelves), frozen vegetables are a very good alternative. Freezing is a natural method for preserving freshness. Vegetables frozen shortly after they are picked hang onto their vitamins and minerals for months, while fresh vegetables start to lose their nutrients as they are exposed to heat, light and oxygen.
You can’t beat frozen vegetables for convenience. Frozen peas don’t have to be shelled, frozen corn doesn’t have to be shucked. Frozen spinach has already been cooked and chopped, so you can skip those steps before adding it to pasta or using it as a pizza topping. Some types of frozen vegetables are also amazingly economical. A 12-ounce bag of frozen artichoke hearts at Whole Foods costs a measly $4. Thawed and sautéed in a little butter and olive oil along with garlic, and then tossed with lemon zest and heavy cream, they make a luxurious but affordable sauce for 12 ounces of pasta.
VARY YOUR VEGETABLES
The produce department has evolved over the past 20 years to embrace trends like organics and local fruits and vegetables. As shoppers seek out new ways to make healthy meals, exotic produce has also entered the supermarket in a big way. If you alternate between just a few veggies to add color to your plate, boredom is likely to set in. Get excited about vegetables again by trying something new:
Kohlrabi: Part of the cabbage family, this bulbous root vegetable tastes like a slightly spicy broccoli stalk. Thinly sliced and tossed with apples, it makes a refreshing winter salad. It can be peeled, cubed, and roasted along with or instead of butternut squash.
Romanesco: Another cabbage relative, this unusual-looking cruciferous vegetable is made up of a series of spiraling buds that culminate in a pointy tip. Prepare it as you would cauliflower: steamed and dressed in a salad, cut into wedges and roasted, or sautéed and tossed with pasta.
Celeriac: This is a variety of celery cultivated for its roots rather than its stalks. Mild in flavor with just a hint of celery taste, it can be used in a gratin, instead of potatoes, or boiled and pureed for a lower-carb alternative to mashed potatoes.
Swiss chard: Swiss chard has a mild flavor and tender texture similar to spinach. Toss it with pasta and beans, sauté it before adding it to a frittata, or use it as a pizza topping, along with ricotta and Parmesan cheeses.
Nopal: Also known as prickly pear cactus, these flat paddles are loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. To prepare them for cooking, trim away their rough edges and scrape the spiny nodes from both sides. Diced and sautéed, they can be stuffed into breakfast burritos. Grilled whole and then sliced, they can fill vegetarian tacos.
ESCAROLE AND WHITE BEAN SOUP WITH OLIVE OIL CROUTONS
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 thick slices country bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
Ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bunch escarole, chopped
4 cups low-sodium canned vegetable broth
One 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
One 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 small piece of Parmesan rind (optional)
Grated Parmesan cheese for serving (optional)
1. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the bread cubes, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, turning often, until golden on all sides, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
2. Wipe out the pot with a paper towel and add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the escarole and saute until wilted, about 2 minutes. Add the vegetable broth, tomatoes, beans, and Parmesan rind if using. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover, and cook until heated through, 7 to 10 minutes. Season with salt to taste.
3. Spoon soup into bowls, sprinkle with croutons, and serve with grated cheese on the side if desired. Makes 4 servings.
CAULIFLOWER AND FENNEL "FRIED RICE"
1 small head cauliflower, cored and chopped into 3-inch pieces
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
5 scallions, white and light green parts finely chopped, dark green parts separated and finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
2 to 3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons chopped cashew nuts (optional)
1. Place half of the cauliflower in a food processor and pulse until ground to the texture of Israeli couscous. Do not over-process. Scrape into a bowl and repeat with remaining cauliflower.
2. In a large skillet, heat the sesame oil over medium heat. Season the eggs with salt and pepper and cook, turning a few times, until set. Transfer to a plate and cut into small pieces.
3. Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel and add the remaining 2 tablespoons vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and fennel cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, scallions, and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
4. Add the cauliflower “rice” to the pan. Sprinkle with soy sauce. Mix thoroughly, cover, and cook, stirring several times, until the cauliflower is tender and beginning to brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in the egg, sprinkle with scallion greens and cashews if desired, and serve immediately. Makes 2 servings
MEATLESS SPINACH MEATBALLS WITH SPAGHETTI
1 9-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2/3 cup crumbled goat cheese
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
¼ teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 cup olive oil
8 ounces spaghetti
One 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1. In a medium bowl, combine the spinach, goat cheese, egg, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, half of the garlic and oregano. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. Roll heaping tablespoons of the spinach mixture into balls. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook, turning occasionally, on crisp on all sides, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined platter.
3. Wipe the skillet clean and add the remaining tablespoon oil. Add the remaining chopped garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and sugar, bring to a simmer, and cook until slightly thickened, 10 minutes. Add the “meatballs” to the pan, gently turn to coat in sauce, cover and cook over low heat until the meatballs are warmed through, another 10 minutes.
4. While the tomatoes cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente. Drain, divide among pasta bowls, top with sauce and “meatballs” and serve immediately. Makes 2 servings
ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND SHISHITO PEPPER TACOS
1 medium butternut squash (3 pounds), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
24 shishito peppers
12 corn tortillas (6 inches), warmed
1 cup crumbled queso fresco or feta cheese
Chopped red onion
1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line two rimmed baking sheets with aluminum foil. In a large bowl, combine the squash, 1 tablespoon oil, chili powder, cumin, coriander, salt and cayenne pepper. Transfer to one of the baking sheets and bake, stirring occasionally, until the squash is soft, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cover with foil to keep warm.
2. Turn the heat to 500. Toss the peppers with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and sprinkle with salt. Transfer to the other baking sheet and roast, shaking once or twice, until blistered and browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Let cool slightly, stem and halve lengthwise.
3. Divide the squash and peppers among the tortillas. Add some pepper halves. Top with cheese and serve with salsa, red onion, and cilantro on the side. Makes 4 servings