March is National Nutrition Month, and this year's theme is "Fuel for the Future," which encourages eating with sustainability in mind to nourish ourselves and protect the environment.
One of the best things we can do for both our health and the health of the planet is to eat more plant-based foods. Unfortunately, most of us fall short when it comes to eating vegetables on a daily basis. According to the CDC, only 1 out of 10 adults are getting the recommended amount of vegetables in their diet.
The number one item missing from most Americans' diet is leafy greens. Incorporate more spinach, swiss chard and kale into your diet for a boost to your immune system, improve your circulation and strengthen your respiratory system.
Spinach is packed with vitamins and minerals like iron, vitamin K, vitamin A, and vitamin C. This nutritional powerhouse is a great veggie to cook with, because even a giant bag will wilt down enough to make it super easy to tuck into dishes. Another option is to pulse spinach in a food processor to make a pesto and layer it on top of pizza under your favorite toppings.
Did you know that just one cup of swiss chard has 44% of your daily allotment of vitamin A, along with a healthy dose of vitamin C and iron? If you haven’t cooked with it before, use it in soups, pasta, or layered in a gratin.
Kale is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet! A single cup of raw kale contains 206% of your recommended daily allotment (RDA) of Vitamin A, 684% RDA of Vitamin K, 134% of Vitamin C, 9% of Vitamin B6, 10% of Manganese, 10% of Calcium, 10% of Copper, 9% of Potassium, and 6% of Magnesium.
Sneak more vegetables into your diet by incorporating them into dishes you already love.
Aside from a great delivery mechanism for peanut butter or your favorite dip, celery is excellent for adding some crunch to your favorite dishes. Chop some up and add it to your egg salad, potato salad, or bean salad.
Cucumbers are super versatile and bring a nice crunch to anything you’re making. They also make for a delicious addition to a sandwich and hold up well for pickling.
Carrots are a great delivery system for your favorite dip, or can easily be snuck into sauces, wraps, pasta salads, rice dishes, and sandwiches when in the shredded form. As a bonus, carrots are chock full of beta-carotene, fiber, vitamin K, potassium, and tons of antioxidants!
Mushrooms come in many forms, shapes, and sizes, can be used as a substitute for meat, and are great for their earthy, savory flavor.
Bell peppers can be eaten raw, grilled, sautéed or roasted. Add bell peppers to your salad, quesadilla, morning omelet, or grilled sandwich/panini.
Don’t underestimate peas just because they’re small. They're packed with fiber, and a cup of peas has eight grams of protein. Because of their mild, sweet taste and cheap price tag, they’re easy to incorporate into lots of dishes. Try throwing them in with mac and cheese, potato salad, rice, stews, soups or anything else that could use a touch of green.
Sweet potatoes are a staple in many countries due to their high level of nutrients and delicious, sweet taste. Bring out the sweetness by roasting them, whole and unpeeled, until caramelized sugar starts oozing out from the crispy, charred skin.
Try out these tips, and before you know it, you'll be the one in 10 who is getting enough vegetables in your diet. If you'd like some help incorporating more whole, plant-based foods, check out Firefly's Whole Foods for Whole Health coaching program.