Reach for nature first. Whether you are focusing on balancing your plate, increasing your physical activity, or working on your mental health (and let’s be serious, we are all working on all of these things!), nature is always available. Nature is here with us for an abundance of reasons — vegetables provide us with an obscene amount of vitamins, nutrients, and fiber 🌶. The beauty of nature in the fall creates a walking or running route that takes on a whole new level of appreciation 🍁. There is no better place to take a mindful break than going outside and connecting to the cool, fresh air☀️.
Fruits and vegetables are the foods closest to nature, found in their mostly unaltered natural form. Vegetables are the lowest calorie-containing food group, yet with the highest return on investment when it comes to nutrition. Including vegetables as at least 50% of your meal (always keeping the balanced plate in mind, 50–25–25 -> vegetables are half of your plate), or snack, you will always satisfy your appetite. Hungry for more? Eat more veggies.
Why do vegetables bring on satiety? They are high in fiber and water, creating that bulking sensation in your stomach, signaling to your brain that you are full. Vegetables 🌶 🍆 🍅 are certainly not the only food your body needs, but they do leave less room for the foods you do not need as much of. When you consume at least 1–2 cups of veggies at a meal, the 1–2 bites of dessert are satisfying too! You should never leave a meal feeling deprived. Eat more, not less.
If you are not a huge fan of vegetables or cooking for not-such-huge fans, keep trying all the various flavors out there. From the variety of veggies to the many ways to prepare veggies and season veggies, don’t give up :)! You will find that texture, color, and taste, inspire taste buds to find their produce pulse. Encourage dashing and splashing at the table, creating confidence and enjoyment, for even the most stubborn senses 😋.
The focus is always about balance. Balancing these vegetable recipes with a lean protein (1/4 of your plate) and whole grains (the other quarter of your plate), augmented with a little bit of whatever it is you love to eat, will naturally let you be the healthiest you. Don't get too stuck in the details. Get out there and explore the big picture.
GRASPING FOR GAZPACHO
We are coming to the end of tomato season out east, but they are still out there! Gazpacho is one of the easiest and freshest dishes you can quickly prepare in the blender. Season it to your liking and keep it around for about 4–5 days in the refrigerator, stored in an airtight container. This nutritionally loaded soup, high in vitamins C, A, and E, as well as minerals and antioxidants, is a filling side dish to any meal, or a quick and refreshing snack.
2 pounds ripe plum or Roma tomatoes, halved, core and seeds removed
1 medium cucumber, peeled, sliced into thick coins
1 medium red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, stem and seeds removed, sliced into large chunks
1/2 medium sweet yellow onion, peeled and cut into large chunks
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 12-oz can low sodium V-8 juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
Optional toppings: hot sauce, fresh cilantro leaves, cucumbers
Place all of the ingredients in a large blender or food processor. Pureé for about 2 minutes, leaving it slightly chunky. Taste and season as desired. Place in a container and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight, to give all of the flavors a chance to meld together. Serve chilled with suggested toppings. Makes 5–6 servings.
ORZO WALNUT SALAD
Sometimes it can be challenging to get all of your favorite foods into one dish. Sometimes it is easy :0). This is one of those dishes you can easily add any of your missing favorites while satisfying your body and your soul. You can make it as a side dish for the family, and add in desired extras to make it a complete meal for lunch the next day. Loading up this dish with Brussels sprouts, you only need about half of the usual amount of orzo.
8 ounces whole wheat orzo, prepared according to package directions
1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, thinly sliced and chopped
1 shallot, peeled and chopped
1 Tablespoon olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tablespoons walnut oil
4 Tablespoons water
2 Tablespoons lemon juice, fresh squeezed
1–2 Tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
1 1/2 Tablespoons honey mustard
freshly ground pepper and salt to taste
Optional toppings: 2 Tablespoons walnuts, chopped and toasted, 1 Tablespoon lemon zest, chickpeas, kidney beans, etc.
Place a large skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil and heat for 2–3 minutes. Add the Brussels sprouts, shallot, and garlic, and sauté for 8–10 minutes, or until tender and caramelized. (NOTE: You could skip the caramelizing and microwave to steam instead. I have made both ways, and both are delicious!)
While Brussels sprouts, shallots, and garlic are cooking, add walnut oil through honey mustard into the blender and process until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add pepper and salt to taste.
In a large serving bowl, combine orzo, Brussels sprout mixture, and dressing. Stir until well combined. Taste to add any additional pepper. Top with walnuts and lemon zest, if desired. Makes 4 servings. This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled for a crowd.
Eggplant is one of those vegetables that can be made in at least 10 different ways, creating multiple textures and flavors. I have always been a huge eggplant fan, but these truly surpassed my expectations. A tasty and fun side dish to any meal.
1 large eggplant
1 1/2 cups of nonfat milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1–2 teaspoons chili powder (depending on your preference for heat)
1/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, finely grated
3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
nonstick cooking spray
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Peel the eggplant with a peeler. Cut into “fry strips” using a sharp knife.
Pour milk into a medium bowl. Place the eggplant strips into the milk, gently mix and set aside. Place salt, chili powder, Parmesan cheese, and bread crumbs in a shallow bowl.
Dip each of the milk-soaked eggplant strips into the breadcrumb mixture, turning to get all sides coated with the mixture. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Spray the tops with nonstick cooking spray. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, turning halfway through. Serve warm. Suggest serving with nonfat greek yogurt to dip. Makes 6 servings.
I cannot share recipes in October without at least one pumpkin recipe. Last year I did a savory recipe (here), so this year I am going with sweet — adding this favorite fall fruit to our chock-full of veggies. I made these blondies gluten-free with coconut flour, replaced the butter with nonfat Greek yogurt, cut the sugar in half, and substituted chopped dark chocolate for double the amount of milk chocolate to make a little go a longer way. These are moist and quite delicious. Be sure to cool in the pan.
2 ½ cups coconut flour (you could also use whole wheat pastry flour (not gluten-free) or other gluten-free flours)
1 Tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 ½ cups pumpkin puree
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
½ cup dark chocolate chips, chopped fine
nonstick cooking spray
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9×13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, and salt. In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar, egg, pumpkin puree, and vanilla. Slowly add in the flour mixture and mix until combined. Fold in the chopped chocolate chips with a rubber spatula. Spread evenly into the prepared baking dish.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool for 20 minutes in the dish. Cut into squares and enjoy! Makes 24 servings.
Don’t ever make decisions based on fear. Make decisions based on hope and possibility. Make decisions based on what should happen, not what shouldn’t happen. ~ Michelle Obama
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Drewnowski A. Nutrient density: addressing the challenge of obesity. Br J Nutr. 2018 Aug;120(s1):S8-S14. doi: 10.1017/S0007114517002240. Epub 2017 Oct 30. PMID: 29081311.
Katz, David I., and Bittman, Mark. How To Eat. 2020.
U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2020). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025. 9th Edition.