You can only say 'eat your vegetables' so many times before everyone is sick of hearing it. "I hate mushrooms!" That was me as a kid (now I love them, by the way).
If you, your kids or your spouse just don't like vegetables and can't figure out how to change that, don't worry. I'll give you seven easy ways to make them more delicious.
Before going into those, there's an interesting reason why they're the common dinner villain, and having an understanding of it can really help in overcoming vegetable resistance.
There are five flavors that we taste in foods: sweet, salty, savory, sour, and bitter. The sweet and salty flavors are the most popular, and savoriness, by definition, means good taste. Some people like the sour taste, but usually in a form that comes along with sugar like lemonade or sour candies. Most people don't like foods with a bitter taste, and there is a good reason for all of these preferences.
Sweet and salty foods are nature's way of rewarding us for eating things that nourish us. There are natural sugars and salts in fruits and vegetables, and all carbohydrates are broken down into sugars that form the main fuel to drive all of our bodies' processes. Natural salts are necessary, particularly for regulating the pressure of all the different fluids in your body.
Savoriness is the flavor of things like cheese, meat, mushrooms and comes from the proteins contained in these foods. Proteins are also necessary for your body to function.
The sour and bitter flavors work in the opposite way. They alert us to foods that might be toxic or harmful to us. Sour foods are ones that are only good for us in small amounts. Lemons have lots of beneficial effects, such as antibacterial, antiseptic and supportive of the liver. Too many lemons will make you feel sick though, since their benefits are only needed in small amounts. Bitter foods are ones that may be toxic, and so our taste buds warn us right away.
Vegetables, although very healthy, do have a component of bitterness to them. This could be from a low level of toxins created by the plant to avoid being eaten, or a kind of bitterness camouflage to make an animal think the plant is toxic. Also, some toxins may be deadly to one animal species but another may have adapted to be able to digest these same ones.
Since children in general have more sensitive taste buds than adults, designed to protect their more sensitive digestive systems, they're not fond of bitter flavors. When you look at it that way, it's not really very surprising that kids don't want to eat their vegetables.
As you grow up, it's common that foods you disliked as a child aren't so bad, and you might even grow to love some of them. Since your digestive and immune systems have gotten stronger (theoretically – in reality, they may be damaged, but that's a whole other topic.), your taste buds won't react as violently to, say, broccoli.
For some, the aversion to vegetables continues into adulthood. It could be that they simply never learned to like them, or it could be a special sensitivity to the bitter compounds in vegetables. In fact, some people are just genetically programmed to dislike vegetables.
The good news is that once you understand why vegetables don't taste good to you or your children, you can work with that knowledge to make them more appealing. Here are 7 easy ways to reduce the bitterness of vegetables and hopefully end the battle over eating them.
The best flavor for overcoming bitterness is saltiness. It also goes well with vegetables, which have natural salts in them. Although salt is currently seen mostly in a negative light, if you eliminate processed foods from your diet you will have taken away the major contributor of sodium and can use a moderate amount of salt in your cooking with no worries. In fact, a bit of salt is good for you.
Salt can come in the form of pure salt, tamari (or soy sauce), miso, mustard, olives or other pickled foods. For pure salt, I recommend using a mix of sea salt and ground kelp to both increase the mineral content and reduce the potency of the salt. Don't buy your salt at Wal-Mart or Costco (in fact, I don't buy any food from these places, but again, that's for another time). Buy it from a grocery store or even better, a health food store, and get a good quality salt.
Salt works on foods by drawing the moisture out, which reduces bitterness and helps them cook. Using an appropriate amount of salt during cooking will make a flavorful and satisfying dish. Putting salt on foods on the table is really strong and can encourage you to eat more than you normally would. Always aim to use the right amount of salt during cooking so that you and your family don't need to add salt at the table.
Some of the more bitter vegetables can be marinated before cooking to reduce their bitterness. Things like eggplant, broccoli and kale are particularly bitter and are much more appetizing if you rub them with some salt and let them sit for 15 minutes or so before cooking.
Using a bit of tamari or soy sauce while they marinate adds both the salty and the savory flavor, and is a great way to neutralize bitterness. Balsamic vinegar or other flavorful sauces are also excellent marinades.
The way you cook vegetables results in different flavors. Roasting causes the carbohydrates in vegetables to caramelize, which makes them much sweeter than other cooking methods. Root vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots and parsnips taste amazing when roasted. Tomatoes and red peppers are fantastic as well.
Some vegetables lose their bitterness when cooked lightly, but get a more intense flavor if they're overcooked. Broccoli is a good example of this, and is at its best when it's lightly steamed or stir-fried. All of the cruciferous (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, etc) vegetables form sulfur compounds when they're overcooked, which give them a bad flavor.
A delicious sauce or dressing is immensely helpful in creating an irresistible vegetable dish, whether you're eating raw or properly cooked vegetables. Salads in particular can go from having to be forced down to being gobbled up with a flavorful dressing. Flavorful doesn't have to mean fatty though, so before you reach for the Thousand Islands dressing, try something healthier but still yummy.
There's no substitute for balsamic vinegar, which makes for a slightly sweet dressing. Mixed with olive oil and a pinch of salt makes a basic dressing. Try adding some crushed garlic, herbs and a bit of pureed raspberries, leaving it to marinate in the fridge as you use it, for a richer flavor.
To make a rich, creamy dressing without dairy, puree some avocado with water, a pinch of salt and whatever seasonings you like. If you like Asian flavors, a dressing of rice vinegar, tamari and a touch of toasted sesame oil is wonderful.
Peanut sauce is an amazing addition to dinner, as a dipping sauce for steamed vegetables or on a stir-fry. Make your own by mixing natural peanut butter with a bit of water, rice vinegar and tamari. Add a touch of toasted sesame oil and the juice from a piece of grated ginger for an even tastier sauce.
Tomato sauce is usually a safe bet, and can be used for so many things in addition to spaghetti. Try it over rice, roasted vegetables, or add some other vegetables to the sauce.
Another great sauce can be made with pureed beans. White cannellini beans are a perfect base, and with some sauteed onion and garlic, salt and nutritional yeast you have a filling, yet virtually fat-free, creamy sauce for pasta, a grain or sauteed vegetables.
Sweetness can't neutralize bitterness in the same way saltiness can, but enhancing the sweet flavor can help make a dish more delicious overall. Using a small bit of sweetener is the trick Italians use to make tomato sauce so good.
A small amount of maple syrup in salad dressing can help balance the flavors and make the whole salad more appetizing. A piece of fruit or two can work wonders in that way as well. Apples, oranges or dried cranberries are all great options.
Some vegetables are sweeter and/or less bitter than others. Choosing these ones, and maybe mixing them with some other vegetables, makes it easier to get enough daily vegetables. Sweet potatoes, carrots, beets and other root vegetables, along with certain squash like butternut, have more sugars than other vegetables so they're usually well-received.
The stems of broccoli have much less bite than the florets, and red and yellow peppers are much sweeter than green ones. Young vegetables are also softer in flavor, so baby spinach, zucchini and others can be helpful in developing a taste for the fully-grown versions.
If all else fails and the habit of not liking vegetables is winning over any attempts to persuade the taste buds, try camouflaging vegetables. They can be blended into soups - squash or sweet potato make fantastic creamy soups with no need for dairy.
Blending can work wonders for hiding vegetables in tomato sauce, in a bean dip or even in a fruit smoothie. Try adding a few leaves of lettuce to a banana-peach smoothie and see if you can get away with it.
Carrot cake and zucchini loaves, made thoughtfully with low levels of sugar and fat, can be a much easier way to get your kids to eat vegetables than coleslaw. Branch out from these more common ideas and try pumpkin muffins, beet chocolate cake or sweet potato biscuits.
I've given a whole bunch of ideas here for making vegetables taste better.
Take note of 1 or 2 of these and try them, or learn how to do all of them in the 28 day meal plan videos. Let me know what you think below!