Vegetables are one of the most powerful tools in your weight loss arsenal. Why is that? Because they are filling and, generally, low in calories. So, you can fill your face with them and not worry about getting too many calories. That’s going to stop you getting hungry for a long time despite the relatively modest energy intake.
On top of that, vegetables are packed with nutrients and fibre. They are going to help keep you super healthy. So, why wouldn’t you love your vegetables?
Well there are a couple of issues with vegetables that we come across with our personal training clients
- They’re not everyone’s favourite food. People often don’t eat them at all or eat them only because they know they should, and then only in small amounts.
- Often people aren’t familiar with the huge variety of vegetables out there or are not sure what to do with them. It’ll be peas and carrots for vegetables, and iceberg, tomato and cucumber for salad. No wonder vegetables aren’t everyone’s first choice!
Here we’ll introduce you to some of our favourite vegetables and ways to make them even tastier. There’s an emphasis on low hassle, both in preparation and cooking.
If you’re a vegan reading this, just be aware that this post was written for omnivores, who likely have less know-how about cooking veg. So you’ll see references to meat in some of these dishes.
Ok, so first things first.
Preparing fresh vegetables can be a little time consuming – washing, peeling, chopping and so on. Sometimes you can get ready-chopped or prepared veg, but bear in mind it’ll cost you for the convenience, and the nutrient quality will have diminished compared to the whole untouched veg. There’s no getting away from preparation in many cases – you have to invest time to prepare good food.
That said, for some veg, there is a more straightforward option; frozen. You can get a lot of veg in frozen form. It comes washed, peeled and chopped. And sometimes, parboiled. All you have to do is heat it or incorporate it into your dish. And because it’s quickly frozen it keeps most of its nutrients. Some veg are better than others from frozen. The rough order of how well they work would be spinach, crushed garlic, broad beans, sweetcorn, peas, green beans, onions, grilled aubergines, shallots, leeks, sprouts, and peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots. There are more, but you get the gist – there are loads of frozen options. Give it a go if you want to take the hassle out of preparation.
Here’s a video from the archives about frozen veg.
The most common way people cook vegetables is to boil them. To me, that’s a lot of hassle. You’ve got to boil a kettle, bring the water to boiling in the pan and then boil the vegetables for the right length of time. Once you’re done, you have to drain them and risk scalding yourself. The cooking time is inconsistent with boiling, so you tend to watch over it and poke it with a knife all the time. If you go and do something else, you risk coming back to an overcooked mush. And as if the hassle wasn’t enough, you lose a good deal of the goodness in the water.
There are better, low hassle ways to cook veg that may help you to love your vegetables.
Just chuck the veg in, set the timer and leave it. Go and do something else. It’s always the same length of time for a particular vegetable, so you know how long you have before you need to come back. When it beeps, it’s ready. Serve it straight from the steamer tray, no draining. Not all veg is suitable for steaming (or boiling) – keep reading to discover our steamed favourites.
Lay the veg out on a tray, spray with a little cooking spray, stick it in the oven and leave it. It’s always the same length of time for particular veg, so you know how long you’ve got before the binger goes off. Serve it straight off the baking tray. Some vegetables bake better than others – we give you a run down below. Notice I haven’t called this ‘roasting’. To me, roasting is baking in a bath of oil. Baking is with a little oil spray. You don’t need a lot of fat to crisp up your veg.
Heat them up
Some veg lends itself simply to heating up in a pan. Spinach is one example; just heat it and serve it.
Now that we have given you some ideas about low hassle cooking let’s take you through some of our favourites.
There is a near-infinite number of ways to prepare, cook and serve vegetables. Although we’ve written before about the best food shop in Northampton, it’s actually not the best for fruit and veg. Your local supermarket is your best bet for most veg, or you might find some novelty veggies in your local farm shop.
The list below probably doesn’t do vegetables justice, but if you’re busy like the rest of us and don’t have time for recipes and complicated cooking, here’s a collection of ways to enjoy more veg.
If it’s not too woody, asparagus is perfect steamed, just plain. You can also bake asparagus; it works just as well. We think asparagus goes particularly well with poached eggs.
One of our favourites, it has a satisfying texture and luscious mouthfeel. Chop it into chunks, bake it, then have it as one of your veg at dinner, or put the pieces into a salad. It comes as frozen chargrilled slices that are also delicious baked and do a perfect Moussaka if you’re a meat-eater.
Perhaps the tastiest use for aubergines, though slightly more trouble, is caponata. You’ll find lots of different recipes, but the one we like contains aubergines, onion, tomato, peppers, olives, herbs. It’s delicious, and it goes with everything!
We just love the colour of beetroot – it must be good for you! You may be put off beetroot because it usually comes pickled. We like it in vinegar, but it’s much better simply steamed. You can buy it fresh and steam it yourself or buy it already steamed and vacuum-packed. If you purchase it fresh you can also bake it – it’ll take about 45 minutes from raw and comes out a dark purple with a crusty edge – delicious!
We love a broady! We can’t get enough of these at the moment – just plain, steamed. Buy them frozen, cook the entire bag, eat half and save the rest for lunch the next day – yum!
The nation’s favourite vegetable. Well I can understand that, it’s a fabulously tasty and healthy choice. We love the taste of plain simple steamed broccoli but have also enjoyed it baked and in vegetable recipes.
Fantastic! This is one vegetable that works better from fresh than frozen. Simply steamed is excellent, but probably our favourite way to cook cabbage is in a large flat pan with onion, garlic and curry spices. Use a little cooking spray and let the water evaporate, so the cabbage gets a slight crispy edge to it.
Raw carrot is probably our favourite – crisp and sweet. Baked is also fabulous. You can steam them, but it doesn’t do them justice in my view. Fresh works better than frozen unless you just have plain old boiled carrots and peas.
We love all veg, so plain steamed cauliflower works for us, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Try chopping up your cauli, rubbing lots of curry powder into it and baking it for 15-20 minutes. It’s like a cauliflower bahjee but without all the ghee – fantastic.
You can combine it with spuds and make a celeriac mash, but it’s also lovely cut into cubes and baked. Give it a good 30 minutes, and it develops crispy brown edges – nice!
There are two primary choices for us – baked and ratatouille. Ratatouille, whilst a little more trouble, is low calorie, filling and versatile. Make a big batch and use it as a sauce to add some moisture to a meal. Baked is even better! Cut it into rings, bake it, use it as one of your veg for dinner, or chuck it into a salad for a more luscious mouthfeel.
Perhaps an acquired taste for some as it has quite a strong aniseed taste to it. We like it two ways; baked and as a salad ingredient. You’ll find a lot of recipes for fennel and artichoke hearts, both baked and raw. It does work really well with artichokes. Buy the artichokes in oil, drain them, add about twice as much fennel, season with salt and pepper, mix it all up. Fresh and tasty.
To bake it, cut the bulbs into segments and bake for about 30 minutes – baking takes some of the aniseed intensity away but leaves enough to keep it as a distinctive addition to your assembly of veg for the meal.
Traditionally served a little squeaky, we prefer them a little softer. They work well from frozen. They are excellent merely steamed, but are better with garlic. Notice how green beans are always served with garlic in France? That’s because it’s a great combo. For simplicity, try steaming them from frozen with a couple of chunks of frozen crushed garlic. Mix it all up to cover the beans in the garlic. Delicious!
Kale is so good for you. It can be a bit woody and chewy so you might want to steam it thoroughly to break that down a little. Surprisingly, it works quite well baked. Spread it out on a baking tray, season it and bake it for about 10 minutes. It comes out lovely and crispy.
These are a cross between kale and sprouts. I know, neither are the nation’s favourites. Kalettes don’t taste like you might expect – they are one of our favourites – delicious! Simply steamed is the best bet for kalettes.
Leeks work well in so many recipes but if you want low hassle, buy them frozen and chopped and simply heat them with some crushed garlic. Fabulous. They work slightly better fresh, but then you have to chop and wash them. Try both and see which you prefer.
Mushrooms are so versatile and in so many recipes. If you fancy them on their own, then field mushrooms simply baked work well. Or you can buy a tray of any type, or mixed types, chop them into halves, season them with salt and garlic and bake them – low hassle, gorgeous. A sprinkling of tarragon works well with baked mushrooms. If you want to turn the juice into a sauce, mix in a little flour before baking them.
I’m sure you’ve had roasted parsnips with a roast dinner – essential! But they don’t need to be dripping with oil. A little spray will do the job.
Buy them frozen and steam them for minimum hassle. They work well in recipes and salads.
Fabulous baked, they soften and crisp around the edges. Have them on their own or add them to a salad for a great texture. They go well in many dishes too, like ratatouille and caponata.
This is an even better colour than beetroot. Such a vibrant purple, it’s stuffed with goodness. Simply steamed isn’t the best bet here. Probably our favourite recipe is red cabbage with apple and fennel seeds. Follow the link to the recipe and watch the video to see how to make it. Note that when we made this video, we were still eating bacon! Now we’re aware of too many ethical issues with bacon, and processed meat has a proven cancer association. It’s just as delicious if you leave it out. This red cabbage dish is up there in the top 5 of all our veg favourites!
Just delicious and the lowest hassle of all. Buy frozen, empty into a pan, put the lid on, turn the gas on low and go and do something else. The water content stops it burning so you can just go back to it when you’re ready. It’s gorgeous on its own and works well with crushed garlic or a little grated nutmeg.
We just love sprouts! They’re great simply steamed and also work well with onion and garlic in a pan with a little cooking spray. Allow the sprouts to char a little for the best taste. You can try them from frozen; they’re ok and low hassle. They work better from fresh, but they require quite a bit more preparation.
There are many different squashes, but good old butternut works the best when it comes to baking. Chop it into chunks, spray and bake. Take a look at the video.
Squash also works well in recipes and soups, especially with sweet potato.
What better way to serve carrots than with swede? A great combo, although the mashing takes a little effort. For maximum flavour and nutrient content, chop and steam them together before mashing.
If you have the right tools and you don’t mind burning your lips, then on-the-cob is nice. If you want low hassle and to just shovel it in, steam it from frozen.
Before we close, just a word on salads; they don’t have to be iceberg, tomato, cucumber. You can add anything you like to a salad, including many of the veg above. As a base, try different leaves like rocket, baby leaf, butterhead, and spinach. Then add anything you like: cherry tomatoes, baked peppers, baked aubergines, baked courgettes, radishes, olives, beetroot, green beans, sweetcorn, broad beans, peas, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, avocado, chickpeas, artichoke hearts, asparagus, grated carrot, spring onions, sweetcorn. The list goes on; anything you fancy really. Salads don’t have to be dull. In this salad you’ll notice baked aubergines and peppers as well as olives and a variety of leaves.
We find that with baked peppers, courgettes or aubergines the luscious mouth feel negates the need for an oily dressing, and merely a drizzling of balsamic does the job nicely. If you’re a meat-eater, you might like this jerk chicken salad.
The last serving
So, there you have it, a run down of some of our favourites. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, there are plenty of other veg out there, but it should be enough to give you some ideas if you’re low on inspiration. As personal trainers, it’s our obligation to make sure our clients are well informed and have plenty of ideas to help them eat for their goals.
Even in a world where industrial production has gradually reduced the variety of fruit and veg on offer, there is plenty of choice to keep things interesting. Get out there and get some veg that you wouldn’t usually buy and learn to love your vegetables.
If you can get several portions a day, it will help you stay fit and healthy and keep you full without adding too many calories. That’s a recipe for health, vitality, weight loss and a long and active life.