If someone were to ask me what’s one of the best food habits they could make…I would encourage them to enjoy dark leafy greens each and every day! Dark leafy greens are just one of those super food categories that nutritionally cross all the “T” s and dot all the “I” s. As a group, these veggies boost your intake of several powerful plant compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action, and are also tops in vitamin C and E, potassium, calcium, magnesium and of course, fiber.
Most people know that they should be eating dark leafy greens every day, but how do they make it a healthy habit that sticks? In my experience, that requires the three Rs: Reminders, Repetition & Rewards.
As you are forming this new habit, you need reminders that you are committed to including them every day. Then to really solidify it as a habit, you need the repetition so eventually it’s something you just do without even thinking about it. And along the way you need plenty of rewards as you are building this new awesome habit. Rewards can be as simple as writing a checkmark on your calendar with a fun green pen or patting yourself on the back because your new habit is decreasing your risk of heart disease and some cancers, to noticing that your intestines seem happier. You might even observe you feel fuller after meals with dark leafy greens or that your blood sugar or blood pressure readings seem to have improved.
Ever since I wrote the book, FOOD SYNERGY (Rodale, 2008), I was determined to enjoy a serving of dark leafy greens every day. Within several months, it became a habit that stuck. I approached it similarly to when I made flossing my teeth at night a habit (albeit several decades ago). My reminder back then was simply keeping a container of floss right near my sink where I got ready for bed every night. Eventually it was an automatic part of my routine and the floss could then move to the upper drawer where I kept the toothpaste. The rewards were the way my teeth and gums felt after flossing and of course the praise from my dental hygienist when she noticed a difference!
Here are some of my favorite tips to inspire you to make eating dark leafy greens a habit that sticks too:
It all starts at the supermarket! You have to buy it first, to have it on hand in order to enjoy them each day (so focus first on grabbing them at the supermarket). I like to buy bags and clam shells of triple washed greens so they are super convenient.
Out of sight, out of mind when it comes to dark leafy greens, so keep them front and center in your refrigerator so you are reminded that they are there for you to use every time you open the refrigerator door.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Inspire yourself to include them in your meals by placing a beautiful picture of dark leafy greens in your kitchen where you can see it.
Challenge yourself and your family and think about some of your favorite weekly meals that you can easily add dark leafy greens to every time you make them. With this repetition, it will become a healthy habit. For me this started with egg dishes. We have eggs several times a week so I got in the habit of always adding dark leafy greens to whatever egg dish I was making (from omelets to scrambled eggs and quiche!
It’s a wrap! Each time you make a sandwich or wrap, include some kale, spinach, arugula, for example. It will add a burst of color and fresh flavor and texture to your wrap. You can even add sautéed greens to grilled cheeses and quesadillas. It only takes a couple of minutes to sauté them up with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and a sprinkle of your favorite low sodium seasoning blend, before adding them in. I usually add a huge handful of greens per person I am cooking for (because they tend to shrink up when they cook).
Toss a salad. Ready-to-grab bags or clam shells of triple washed dark leafy greens (like spinach, super greens, kale, arugula) make salads a quick fix for lunch or dinner. If you are using a thicker green (like kale) for your salad, soften it up just by massaging some extra virgin olive oil in with clean hands. You can also cut the kale into shreds and add it to coleslaw type dishes!
Elevate salad kits during the week for easy lunches or dinners using what you have on hand! I have gotten into a habit of grabbing a couple of salad kits each shopping trip as a fun fill-in for meals where I don’t have anything planned. These are my favorite ways to elevate salad kits:
- Add shredded Kale to Caesar Salad kits!
- Add a pear, apples or berries to a Pear Gorgonzola kit or a Sweet Kale kit!
- Add leftover chicken, steak, salmon or baked tofu and canned beans to pretty much any kit!
- Elevate the kits even more by adding nuts and seeds, avocado, olives, etc.
Colorize your soup/stew! Most soups and stews can use a punch of color and flavor. Dark leafy greens to the rescue! Greens with larger, tougher leaves such as mustard or collard greens, and kale work well but spinach is also a winning addition.
Casseroles count! Name the casserole, and some added sautéed greens usually compliments the casserole perfectly…from pasta casseroles, potato casseroles, or rice casseroles, to casseroles made with condensed soup, cheese sauce, or gravy. Mac and Cheese in my house is always Mac and Cheese with Spinach or Broccoli.
Green smoothies anyone? Bright green smoothies have been trending for years now so be inspired to add spinach greens or even kale to your fruity smoothies! Baby greens like baby spinach, kale, and chard will be more likely to go unnoticed taste-wise and you might want to avoid the stronger flavored greens like arugula and spring mix. You definitely want to keep your smoothie green not brown, so avoid adding anything red (and avoid berries) to your green smoothie. Think yellow like banana and mango!
Passionate about pesto! Have you discovered pesto yet? It’s one of my favorite sauces and condiments and comes in handy not just with pasta but with pizzas and sandwiches/wraps, dips and as a condiment for eggs, meat, veggies, bread and potatoes! I like going 50/50 with fresh basil and a green like spinach, kale, arugula or beet greens when making my pesto.
Dark Leafy Greens are Freezer Friendly. One way to make sure you are setting yourself up for success to make enjoying eating dark leafy greens a habit that sticks is to always have them in your kitchen. That’s where the freezer comes in handy. I always have a bag of frozen chopped spinach or kale in my freezer. And if you are leaving on a trip and you have some fresh dark leafy greens you want to save for later, don’t waste them, freeze them! Just put your kale, spinach or other dark leafy greens, in a freezer bag, eliminate any air from the bag, then store in the freezer.