Wednesday, April 20, 2016

How to Have Fun Eating More Vegetables

Farm Update

For the last month or so, we've had our transplants growing
in flats in the greenhouse (above), but we've recently
planted about half of them in the field and coldframes!
 Hello everyone!  With the weather warming up, it's been a hard-hitting week at the farm.  Fred has been doing lots of planting, and he has transplanted about half of the plants we started in the green house over the last few days.  The farm has gone from being covered in snow last week to being pretty dry this week, so we've already started irrigating the crops.  We're starting to see the veggies that we seeded in the first planting a few weeks ago poke out of the ground, and we have plenty of the overwintered spinach coming out of the coldframes, so it is so nice to have our own fresh veggies again!  Even the wildlife is returning to the farm, and Fred and the crew have been seeing the first of the snakes and frogs that will be their field companions throughout the season.  Speaking of the crew, we have hired Phal, our assistant farm manager, to be Fred's right hand man this year.  He will learn how to do all the things that Fred does, so that we can have someone running things effectively while we are on the road for the CSA drop-offs and deliveries.  The season has started in earnest, so if you haven't signed up yet, now is the time!  If you are interested in signing up, just send me an email and I'll put you on the list!

How to Have Fun Eating More Vegetables

The coldframes are planted and
producing veggies!  These Easter
Egg radishes will soon be ready!
Last month when I put out the call for input from all you folks, you responded with several great health questions for future newsletters!  The first topic in my series on how to make healthy living fun is very near and dear to my heart:  How to incorporate more veggies into your meals in a fun way!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that small children don’t like vegetables.  I know I didn’t like them when I was a kid, and it’s through a strange twist of fate that I now earn my livelihood from them.  Now that I am an adult and I pretty much love all vegetables, I realize that what I didn’t love was the sad grayish veggies from cans that sometimes accompanied the main stuff on my plate, and which went mostly ignored during meals.

If you grew up in the Midwest, chances are pretty good that dinner revolved around some large piece of meat, with maybe some sort of potatoes, and maybe some green beans or salad as an afterthought.  While this type of meal still spells comfort for many people, we could all benefit from more fruits and veggies in our lives.  The difficulty comes when you’ve been cooking in the traditional meat-and-potatoes way for decades.  Training yourself to cook in a new way can be difficult, and if you add in the fact that some people associate veggies with deprivation, changing your food habits might sound like an uphill climb you’d rather just opt out of altogether.  But never fear!  Here are some practical, easy, and flavorful ways to incorporate more vegetables into your diet, and more joy into your meals.

About 12 years ago when I was on study abroad in France, there was a big public service campaign urging people that half of the food on their plates should be fruits and vegetables, which is a great rule of thumb.  That summer was the first time I really had a sense for how that could be done deliciously.  Each meal was treated like a celebration, and the fresh fruits and vegetables I ate there were a far cry from the sad canned and frozen stuff I had grown up with.  Indeed, borrowing from other food cultures is a great way to eat more fresh veggies!  I am huge on stir-fries, which are common in Asian cuisines.  Basically, you can throw in whatever vegetables, meats, and herbs you have on hand, add a sauce if desired, and serve over rice.  Plus, eating with chopsticks makes it more fun!  Or in high summer, you can do it up Italian-style by slicing some tomatoes, sprinkling them with a little salt and olive oil, and putting fresh basil on top.

Phal transplants lettuce that was
started as seeds in the greenhouse
to the coldframe.
There are plenty of things that people often make without vegetables that gain a lot more flavor and interest from some veggies thrown in.  For instance, if you’re making spaghetti, it takes about ten extra minutes to sauté whatever greens, tomatoes, summer squash, bell peppers, onions, garlic, and herbs you have on hand, and it adds so much to a plain sauce.  Or if you’re making scrambled eggs for breakfast, you can add any of those aforementioned veggies and a sprinkling of cheese, and you have such a more festive way to start the day.  Omelets and soups are another great way to use whatever veggies you happen to have at the moment.  I made a soup the other day with leftover chicken, potatoes, spinach, shallots, and garlic because that’s what I had around, but you could just as easily add all sorts of other veggies for a richer, more flavorful soup.  There is no need to stick to a recipe exactly.  Just get a basic concept and toss in whatever else fits the flavor profile of what you’re making.

It’s no secret that the more flavorful and interesting a meal is, the more satisfaction our brains derive from it.  In fact, it takes a lot more of a boring food to satisfy us than a very flavorful food, because we’re essentially trying to derive the satisfaction from quantity rather than quality, and that can cause us to eat quite a lot more than we actually need.  So making your meals as flavorful as possible will go a long way to making the meal experience more enjoyable, as well as causing us to naturally eat a quantity of food that is more in line with what we actually need.  So how do we do this?  Well, a great place to start is with fresh, high-quality ingredients.  The better your ingredients are, the more delicious the meal will be.  It’s really easy to make something great out of stellar ingredients, even without a lot of time or fancy preparation techniques, and it’s pretty difficult to make a lackluster dish out of really flavorful ingredients.  (Which brings me to another point:  please, please, please don’t boil your vegetables!  Unless you’re making soup or mashed potatoes, there is no quicker way to kill great flavor and texture than boiling veggies.  So don’t do it.)  Another great way to add flavor is with herbs and spices.  I’m relatively new to this myself, and I have been guilty of many a lackluster meal because I just didn’t think about adding some spices.  But simply by tasting what I’m cooking and adding a little oregano or cumin or cinnamon or cayenne pepper, suddenly my meals are a whole lot better than they used to be.

Phal plants potatoes in the
field on our transplanter, which is
pulled at a slow speed by the tractor.
The machine pokes holes in the black
plastic and waters each hole, and Phal
places the potatoes.
Another way to make meals more fun and more satisfying is not actually related to the food at all.  It’s something we don’t often think about, but the atmosphere has a large effect on our enjoyment of a meal.  Fred and I love to eat out, and it’s not just because the places we like to go make great food.  A lot of it is about the atmosphere of the restaurant, whether it’s a quirky hole-in-the-wall or a candles-and-white-linen kind of place.  The same food eaten in a great atmosphere feels more celebratory, so a really easy way to make eating at home more of a joy is by creating a pleasing atmosphere.  Wipe the lunch crumbs off your tablecloth, light some candles, and break out the good dishes.  Somehow this simple act elevates the whole meal to an experience to savor, no matter what you’re eating.

So here are some simple ways not only to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your meals, but to make meals in general more of a joy.  Eating right is an elemental part of a healthy lifestyle, and if the point is to make healthy living more fun, then certainly making healthy meals more delicious and more joyful is a huge step in the right direction.  This can go a long way to making us not only healthier, but happier as well.