We all have good intentions when it comes to eating greens, but sometimes they get pushed aside (or to the back of the refrigerator) while we eat takeout. It’s so, so important to eat leafy greens on a daily basis for optimal nutrition. There are tons of benefits to adding them to your diet, including improved blood flow and lower cholesterol, increased energy, and bone health (greens have more calcium than dairy!). The beta carotene present in greens is fantastic for your skin, and the high fiber content improves digestion and heart health. Eating greens daily is my number one tip for abundant, glowing health.
But, you’ve probably heard all this before. I’m guessing I don’t have to convince you of the health benefits greens possess; it’s actually eating them (and getting enough) that’s the hard part. I’ll admit, when I first became interested in healthy eating and living, it took a while to get into the habit of eating greens on a regular basis. At first I started with smoothies, which are great, but unless you’re making several smoothies a day (nobody wants to clean the blender that often), you need more ways to get your greens. Here are my top five tips.
1. Plan and schedule your meals. You don’t have to get obsessive about it, but a little planning ensures that you’re prepared to eat healthy all day long. Planning ahead keeps you from grabbing a bagel first thing because you forgot you were going to start eating better. It keeps you from frantically searching a lunch menu and interrogating servers about ingredients because you didn’t look up the restaurant ahead of time or pack a lunch. Try setting timers to go off at mealtimes. Add a note to your morning alarm to make a spinach and berry breakfast bowl first thing. Set a timer to go off 30 minutes before dinner so you have enough time to prep and don’t end up snacking on chips because you’re starving and didn’t think far enough ahead.
2. Prepare your food before you get hungry. Prepping is the part 2 of planning. Do it in batches, and make sure you have access to healthy food at all times. Don’t leave a bag of unwashed greens in your fridge and then eat something else because you don’t feel like cleaning/chopping them. As soon as you get home from the grocery store or, at the latest, the first time you have a serving of greens, wash, stem, and chop the entire bunch (leave out a few leaves to uses as wraps, if you like) so they’ll be ready the next time you get hungry. In a pinch, pick up a pre-washed bag at the grocery store, but you’ll get more for your money in the bulk section, plus the greens there are usually fresher and use less packaging. Do the same thing with fresh herbs. Fresh herbs add amazing flavor to greens, and keeping them prepped and ready will help make sure you actually use them.
3. Add flavorful dressings and toppings, if it helps. If you need a little help learning to love greens and fresh herbs aren’t enough, toss them with a few special add-ins like avocado, olives, lemon, shoyu, a splash of oil & vinegar, sesame or pumpkin seeds, nuts, or even cheese. I limit dairy because it’s not very nutritious and can be hard to digest, but if a tiny bit of cheese helps you get your greens down, go for it. Try feta or goat cheese or a tomato/basil/mozzarella combo. This tip does not extend to sugary, store-bought dressings, candied nuts, or any other kind of junk food.
4. Don’t think of it as a diet. Because it’s not. You are adding healthy foods, not depriving yourself. Instead of eating greens to replace your meals, think of ways to include them in food you love to eat, and plan to have greens with every meal. For instance, I love having oatmeal for breakfast, so sometimes I make it savory by adding in sautéed greens and onions and seasoning with a bit of shoyu. If you like chicken for dinner, have some–with a side of kale. Eating pizza? Top it with spinach. There’s always a way to work in greens. Eating greens freely will soon become your norm, and you can keep upping your portions until greens make up a substantial part of your diet.
5. Experiment with different varieties and cooking styles. There are so many types of greens and ways to prepare them. Keep trying combos until you find something you like. Choose from kale (dinosaur, purple, green), chard (rainbow, red, green), collards, mustard greens, turnip greens, beet greens, spinach, romaine lettuce, bok choy, green and red leaf lettuce, arugula, or watercress, to name a few. Preparation methods include eating raw, massaging (massaging by hand with a bit of oil and vinegar helps break the greens down and reduce bitterness), pressing (this is a way of squeezing the extra liquid out after massaging, then letting the greens sit until they’re slightly pickled), lightly steaming, blanching (see below), water sautéing, light oil sautéing, baking, and blending.
Blanching is one of my favorite methods. It’s a great way to get the bitter taste out of greens while still retaining most of the nutrients, and it’s quick with minimal clean up. To blanch a bunch of greens, bring a pot of water to a boil with a shake of salt. After the water boils, remove the pot from heat and add the greens (greens cook down significantly, so add a lot). Cover and let sit for one minute only–any longer and the greens will be overcooked. Strain and serve immediately. Bonus: you can just rinse the pot and put it away because there’s nothing to wash.
What’s your favorite way to eat greens? Do you have any tips to add? Share!