Insider’s Viewpoint: Give Vegetables the Respect They Deserve!

It’s time to support a move to put vegetables at the center of the plate where they belong. No, we aren’t lobbying for a world of vegetarians! Instead the message is to use vegetables as a way to deliver a meal with color, variety, nutrition, and interest. Vegetables deserve more than being a side and can easily move in as the showcase of the meal! And this is the time to test it out with so many vegetables in season. Canned and frozen nutrient bargains round out the assortment to help meet the need to stay within budget, preferences, and availability guidelines. Try out these ideas as some center of the plate themes.

3 Ways to Put Veggies @ Center Stage

  1. Stuffed Zucchini, Tomato or Bell Pepper. Stuff these vegetables with a grain-based filling that can feature lean ground beef, turkey, or tofu crumbles mixed with your choice of grain. Brown or white rice, quinoa or any pasta fits the need and can go it alone without the meat for a meatless dish. Easy to make – start with a cooked and drained grain, a protein that has been browned and drained (try browning some onion with the protein for added flavor) and some canned tomato sauce or chopped tomatoes. The zucchini or peppers can be cut in halves lengthwise and prepared by removing some of the pulp or seeds inside. Remove and discard the pepper seeds. The insides of the zucchini or tomato can be mixed into the filling. Use your choice of seasonings or try chopped basil, oregano, or cilantro. Top with grated cheese for a protein boost and another MyPlate option!
  2. Roasted Veggies! Roast vegetables in an oven or on the grill for a meal focus that tastes as good as it looks. Carrots, acorn squash quarters, zucchini, eggplant, whole tomatoes, small potatoes, corn chunks, onions and even garlic cloves are just some of the possibilities. Remember to baste with olive oil or other vegetable oil and season as desired. And the leftovers are great the next day on a salad! There’s still room for a side of protein — chunks of cheese, burgers, or add some beans to the assortment! And while you are in the mood, add some chunks of apples or peaches to the mix for the touch of sweet!
  3. Soup, Bisque, or Chowder. Soup can fill the bill as a meal focus point. Seasonal vegetables (with some beans added for a protein boost), a tomato bisque or corn chowder topped with Greek yogurt swirls, and lentil or bean soup that sets the tone for the coming of fall are just a few ideas. For the non-cook, starting with a ready-to-use vegetable, chicken or meat broth or stock makes it easy to be creative. Add a side of some crusty bread and cheese and fruit like grapes or chunks of melon, apples or pears, and the meal is complete.

If you have children, include them in the selection and preparation as part of a nutrition education lesson that might just encourage them to try a new food! As for the adults, it’s time they move toward looking at vegetables with the respect they deserve!
Judy Dodd, MS, RDN, LDN
Previously with Giant Eagle
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