Happy Hour With Vegetables
~ Richard Hudson
When switching to a diet largely composed of fruits and vegetables that is also elevated in protein and fiber, you need to begin by thinking about a substantially increased emphasis on fruits and vegetables. Breakfast is one place to get some fruit. You can have it with oatmeal or another grain cereal or in a dish as a side with a poached egg on toast, but more preferably over lightly steamed spinach. Spinach is actually a vegetable that is not only tolerable, but actually quite good early in the morning.
For a morning snack you can have a little almond or peanut butter on some celery and that potentially gives you a second vegetable and we’re still not to lunch yet. However, you might decide to have a little plain yogurt and add some fruit and maybe nuts as well as whey protein to that for a snack. Maybe you had the oatmeal and fruit option for breakfast. If so, lunch is coming up soon and still no vegetable in sight.
That’s a great day for a lunch salad. Some greens will get you started and if you’re inventive at all you can usually manage to add at least 5-6 vegetables on top of the lettuce bed: celery, carrots, cucumber slices, tomatoes, sweet red or other sweet pepper slices, broccoli or cauliflower fluorets (or both) will get you started. You can add a few pine nuts, seeds, or seasoned tofu as well as some fish (tuna, sardines, clams, oysters, or salmon or just about any fish) or meat (preferably chicken or turkey baked previously and cut up in small pieces). However you do it you’ll get a good number of vegetables if you have a salad. But if you are in a bit of a rush and just put together a fruit smoothie with added whey protein for lunch then you may be headed into the afternoon hours still lacking in vegetables. This begins to place you into the vegetables required for both afternoon snack and dinner, since the best option for after dinner snack is usually something that simulates dessert — a cup of strawberries. And that’s not a vegetable.
Whatever you have for dinner should include some vegetables, possibly a starchy vegetable like sweet potatoes, wild rice, squash as well as a green non-starchy one like steamed broccoli, green beans, peas. To that you will usually add some fish or foul (chicken or turkey). Thus, it would be good to add some vegetable intake to the mid-afternoon snack.
Since my own tastes give me a tendency to be a little on the shy side of my vegetable intake by mid afternoon, but fine with respect to fruits, I usually concoct a multi-vegetable dish for the mid-afternoon snack also known as “Happy Hour” that everyone contributes to — nuts, a little cheese and crackers, and a vegetable dish. The last item is my responsibility.
The vegetable plate starts with a large deep red plate to which I add cut up broccoli, cauliflower, sliced sweet red peppers or any colored sweet peppers, sliced cucumbers, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, and many other possibilities. It’s important to have at least 7-8 choices, and also to have a nice presentation. It’s invariably a pleasure to eat something from a plate that looks great. You don’t need any sauces to dip the vegetables into. If you did someone would want some salty chips or crackers, and I can’t think of a less healthy competing dish than chips and salsa or some other dip.
In addition to the raw vegetables noted above you can prepare some cooked or steamed vegetables and mix them into the same plate or put them on a separate plate or simply have a dish with cooked (not overcooked) vegetables. Freshly cooked beets, cut into small pieces and cooled — even cold — are great. Steamed Brussels sprouts, asparagus tips, cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots all work as well. Many other vegetables can be cooked and served warmly as part of a “Happy Hour” spread. These include sautéed asparagus, potato slices, leek slices, sautéed portobello mushrooms, baked sweet potato or baked white potato “fries.” The latter two possibilities can be seasoned and eaten as finger food, while some of the former may need a separate plate and a fork — depends how informal you want to be. Squashes like butternut can be cut up, seasoned and cooked. Also, zucchini sliced and sautéed or converted into zucchini pancakes are great as well. Cooked eggplant in small slices can be good also. Many of these cooked vegetables and can be combined onto the same larger plate for serving and usually a tooth pick is sufficient to pick it up and get it to one’s mouth. Whatever you do or however you manage to distribute the late afternoon vegetable plate over several days, variety is important. It shouldn’t be the only time during the day you get your vegetable portions, but if it becomes that then with what lays before you, you are well-prepared.