I’m sure by now you’ve heard all about how good leafy green vegetables are for your health. Nutrient-dense powerhouses, leafy greens pack a huge amount of nutrition in a very low-calorie package. This means you can be adding them to just about everything without worrying about excess calories. A whole pound of leafy greens comes in at about 100 calories, so even if you eat 3 pounds a day (hey there Popeye!) you’re not using much of your caloric budget.
But what if you don’t really like leafy greens? Everybody and his brother are telling you to eat up, but you sit there thinking “Ewww”. I’ve been there, trust me. When I started on my plant-based journey, the thing that scared me most was that I wasn’t a huge vegetable eater at the time. Sure, there were some I would eat, but it was a pretty short list. I knew that I needed to add more variety to my diet in order to get a healthy spectrum of vitamins. So, I grudgingly put on my big girl panties and got to work. No worries though, I’ve got your back. Today I’m going to share some of the things I did to help me get a taste for leafy greens so you can jump aboard.
Remove the Mind Block
If you go into eating something thinking that it will be gross, you are guaranteeing only one thing, you will not enjoy it. Let go of the mindset and the assumption that you don’t like things. Instead go into it with the mindset that it is something new you are going to try. Mind over matter here folks. This is one of the biggest obstacles for some people. It’s not gross, you just haven’t found a preparation that you enjoy yet. Go on and give it a chance.
Work Your Way Up
You want to start with milder flavoured greens and work your way up from there. If you’re starting from something like iceberg lettuce, try some other lettuces like green leaf lettuce, boston lettuce or romaine. From there you can move on to things like baby spinach, baby bok choy and baby kale. Baby versions of any leafy green will have a milder flavour than the fully matured version. Start with baby greens, their mild flavour will be barely perceptible.
Mildest in flavour will be the lettuces, followed by baby greens such as baby spinach, baby bok choy, baby chard etc. Next would be regular spinach, bok choy and chard. More flavourful would be collards, kale, beet greens and cabbages. The strongest in flavour are leafy greens like rapini, dandelion greens, mustard greens, arugula and the green herbs like parsley and cilantro.
Smoothies are an awesome way to get a crapload of nutrients masked by the pleasing flavours of fruit. For this reason, they are an excellent way to start off your day. Ripe banana does a good job of sweetening up a smoothie and covering the flavours of leafy greens. Try adding a mild flavoured green or two to your next smoothie. You can start with small amounts and work up from there. If you aren’t sure where to start, try this peanut butter cup smoothie that tastes more like dessert than a cup full of leafy greens.
This is a great way to get some leafy greens without really noticing them. The flavour of the greens will really mellow in a soup. Try thin slices or cut them up small and add some to a favourite soup, stew or chili recipe. Leafy greens will also shrink up and soften in a warm dish, so if you chop them up small you likely wont even notice them.
Juicing is a great way to slowly get used to the taste of certain vegetables. The great thing is, a juice is completely customizable. Ideally, you want to be making a juice from at least 80% vegetables and 20% (or less) of fruit. The reasoning behind this is that juicing strips away the fibre, leaving just the micronutrients and water content of the fruit or vegetable. In the case of fruits, this allows their sugars to hit your bloodstream quickly. You can counter this by using mostly vegetables with a little fruit for flavour. Sticking to lower GI (glycemic index) fruits like lemons, limes, grapefruit, green apples or pears is also a great choice.
Nobody says you have to start with a huge plate of leafy greens. While, in general, you should be aiming for half your plate in veggies, you can do this with veggies you are already comfortable with while you work on getting acquainted with greens. Try adding a handful of new leafy greens in with what you normally use to build you salad. Nothing wrong with starting with a bowl of romaine and adding a handful of spinach or bok choy. Mixed greens in a salad are great for nutrient diversity. You can also shred them up and use them to accent other meals. Adding some to a pasta sauce or mixing them in with mashed potatoes or other veggie medleys.
Just like any other new food, you need to taste them a number of times before you will become accustomed to the flavour. Keep trying them in different ways until you are used to it. Then move on to the next one. Over time you will become accustomed to the flavour and begin to enjoy them. I know that may be hard to believe at this point, but trust me. You couldn’t have paid me enough to eat a big bowl of leafy greens a few years ago, but now I love them so much I’m writing a blog post about them. Go figure!
Prepare Them in a Pleasing Way
Look through some recipes and see what appeals to you. Garlicky greens? Yes please! These always appeal to me because I love garlic. Maybe you love acids and would enjoy some leafy greens flavoured with a nice balsamic vinegar. Try what looks appealing to you and go from there.
While we’re talking about appealing, I’ll suggest here that you may want to start with fresh instead of frozen greens. Frozen greens work well in a lot of things, but if you’re not too fond of them yet, you’ll likely enjoy the texture of fresh vs frozen to start. Frozen greens work great in smoothies or soups though, so keep that in mind for the future.
Slip Them In
Add them in to fill out a wrap or add some extra nutritional punch to a sandwich. With other veggies and a sauce or dressing there, you likely wont even taste them, they’ll just be adding a nice crunch to your lunch. A nice bonus is the extra fibre will help keep you feeling fuller longer. You can also use larger leafed greens, like collards, in place of a wrap. Same idea applies, with all the flavourful fillings you may not even notice the flavour of the collard leaf itself.
Have Them with Something You Like
This is a great way to hide the flavour. If you’re really uncomfortable with them, have them with something you already enjoy. Even in the same bite, so the flavour of the food you like will take over. There are no rules here, so if you want to eat some leafy greens topped with fruit instead of veggies, go for it! This is how I get my youngest to eat things like spinach. Now, whenever I get a hankering for a fruit salad, it’s always on top of a bed of leafy greens.
If you want to give this idea a try, check out this delicious salad recipe. It’s a great way to get some greens in while enjoying the pleasing flavours of fruit.
Managing Texture and Flavour
Some leafy greens, like kale, can be quite tough, rather than the softer greens you may be used to. This can be remedied by massaging the leaves prior to eating it. I know it sounds odd, but get your (clean) hands in there and scrunch scrunch scrunch. This softens the leaves so they are more pleasing to eat. A really simple way to prepare kale it to massage it with some lemon juice and avocado. They mix to make a really nice dressing.
Another way to soften greens is to sauté, wilt or blanch them. Don’t cook for too long though or you’ll be left with a mushy mess. Warmed greens come out softer and also milder in flavour than they would be raw. Keep in mind that leafy greens will shrink up a fair bit during cooking, so you’ll be left with much less than you started with.
Leafy greens are absolutely chocked full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fibre, phytonutrients and much much more. They have so many health benefits that I could do a whole post just dedicated to how great they are (hmmmm, ideas ideas). The point is we all need to be making leafy greens a part of our daily diet for optimum health. I hope you find some of these tips helpful in getting more greens into your diet. Give them a try, your body will thank you.
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