The best thing about vegetables is that we’re supposed to eat more of them. Veggies are so high in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals that they play a major role in keeping us healthy. And they’re so low in calories that we can eat our fill.
The catch? If you were raised on a typical American diet, you may not have developed a fondness for this food group while growing up. Choking down vegetables you loathe because they’re healthy is no fun. But it’s not too late to cultivate a taste for Brussels sprouts and carrots. Here’s how four experts recommend training yourself to enjoy eating veggies.
Make Nutritious Delicious
When people claim to hate vegetables, often what they really mean is that they detest bland, mushy veggies. “Many of us grew up in homes where vegetables were prepared in the most unappetizing ways,” says Kristen Martinez, M.Ed., Ed.S., LMHCA, cofounder and counselor at Pacific NorthWell in Seattle. “Boiling and over-steaming were common methods of preparation for many vegetables, including notoriously-hated ones such as broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts.” Explore different cooking methods, such as roasting, baking, sautéing, and grilling.
Get creative with seasonings. “Adding herbs (such as cilantro, basil or parsley), spices, and lemon or lime juice to a salad can amplify the flavor,” says Lauren Graf, M.S., RD, clinical dietitian for the Montefiore Einstein Cardiac Wellness Program in New York. “For grilled vegetables, try creating a simple marinade of herbs (such as garlic, parsley, or basil), salt, pepper, and a little olive oil.”
Feed Your Other Senses
Entice your other senses as well. “We eat with our eyes first,” says Graf. “Spend a couple of extra minutes making your plate look nice and appetizing.” That’s readily done with vegetables, which come in a spectrum of vibrant hues, including dark green, red, orange, yellow, and purple. Mixing colors helps maximize not only your plate’s eye appeal, but also your nutrient intake.
A crunchy sound and crispy texture can also contribute to a vegetable’s allure—another argument for well-prepared fresh veggies rather than soggy boiled or canned ones. Whether you’re consciously aware of it or not, your mind may associate crispness with freshness and desirability.
Branch Out Gradually
Even if you’re a self-proclaimed vegetable hater, there are probably one or two veggies you can abide. Use those few vegetables as a starting point for gradually expanding your taste preferences, says Mindy Haar, Ph.D., RD, CDN, director of clinical nutrition at the New York Institute of Technology School of Health Professions. One way to branch out is by trying new varieties of a vegetable you already like. For example, let’s say you’re OK with ordinary orange carrots. Haar suggests checking out yellow, purple, and red carrots, which are increasingly available.
Another way to switch things up is by trying new cooking methods for familiar favorites. Let’s say you enjoy the satisfying crunch of raw carrot sticks. For a change of pace, you could try roasted carrots instead. “The roasting process causes caramelization of the starches within the vegetables, making them taste sweeter,” Haar says. “In addition, roasting may make some phytonutrients more bioavailable.” Once you’ve sampled roasted carrots and found them tasty, it’s an easy next step to add a few turnips, parsnips, or sweet potatoes to the roasting pan.
Rename Your Veggies
We acknowledge the difference between French fries and baked potatoes. Why shouldn’t we do the same with non-starchy vegetables? Take Brussels sprouts, for instance. “When you roast halved Brussels sprouts with salt, pepper, a generous drizzle of olive oil, and maybe some balsamic vinegar at the end, they taste nothing like the notorious Brussels sprouts of childhood,” says Martinez. “It’s easier to think of them as different vegetables entirely.”
To cement the distinction in your mind, Martinez suggests giving the dish an appealing new name. Then tell yourself that you’ve never had this delightful-sounding dish before, and try to approach it with an open mind. Belgian blossoms, anyone?
Rewrite Your Food Story
Sometimes, memories and feelings from childhood get in the way of accepting new foods as an adult. Gennifer Morley, M.A., LPCC, director of North Boulder Counseling in Boulder, Colorado, recommends this approach to confronting and overcoming childhood food hang-ups:
- Picture how vegetables were served in your home growing up. Who would cook them and how? Who would eat them? What would happen at mealtimes?
- Talk about vegetables out loud, but when no one else is around. “Keep talking freely—even just babbling on—and listen to what you’re saying,” Morley advises. “You may hear some really childish words, such as ‘yucky,’ coming from your mouth.” Accessing your childhood feelings may remind you of why you find veggies unappealing today.
- Revise the story you tell yourself about eating vegetables. “For example, let’s say that, in your home as a child, you only had canned veggies drenched in butter,” Morley says. “There is likely a very loyal kid inside of you who sees that as loving and nurturing. You could tell yourself: 'That was so yummy and loving of Mom (or Dad or whoever) to make it for me. I should be sure to have it sometimes as a treat. And those same veggies are also good when I eat them raw or cooked another way. What yummy recipe do I want to try?’”
Talk Back to Stereotypes
Of course, more recent associations also affect your openness to a new food. To overcome this source of resistance, Morley recommends asking yourself these questions: What kinds of people eat vegetables today? What do they talk about, think, and feel? How am I like or unlike these people?
“This will open your mind to current-day associations, which you can then examine for truth,” Morley says. For example, if you’re a guy who believes that eating “rabbit food” is unmanly, you could ask yourself: What defines manhood? Does eating vegetables really have anything to do with it?
Try, Try Again
Don’t expect to totally transform yourself from a veggie hater to a veggie lover overnight. Like any lifelong dietary change, this one is best achieved through slow but steady progress. “Repeated exposure to vegetables can increase your taste for them,” says Graf. “Over time, it’s definitely possible to retrain your palate to like vegetables.”
I am a health writer with a master’s degree in psychology. I love veggies and cookies in equal measure, but I'm trying to tip the balance in favor of the former. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Read more from my blog: