by Anne Finch, Accredited Practising Dietitian for LiveLighter

Bowl of roasted vegies

I love the current food trend of putting vegetables at the front and centre of the meal. I actually squealed in the last week of Masterchef when they had a ‘stem to leaf’ vegie challenge. There are some beautiful spring vegetables around at the moment just screaming out for centre stage.

There are a number of good reasons to build your meal around vegetables, including the obvious health benefits from eating your greens (and of course your reds, oranges and yellows, blues and purples, and whites and browns). A diet high in fruit and veg can help prevent coronary heart disease, some cancers, overweight and obesity and constipation.

Fresh vegetables are also some of the most perishable foods. Meat is perfectly happy in the freezer and grains and cereals last for ages in the pantry. So building the meal around what needs to be used up first makes sense. Less food waste is a wonderful thing.

Eating more vegies can help your hip pocket as well as your hips. Per kilo, vegetables are generally cheaper than meat. Making a few vegetarian meals each week definitely makes a difference at the checkout.

When you’re cooking this… Swap this… For this… And save…
Lasagne 500 g beef mince 500 g pumpkin $4 at the checkout
Stir fry 2 chicken breasts 300 g tofu or 6 eggs $6 at the checkout
Curry 500 g lamb 2 cans chickpeas $8 at the checkout
$18 per week… or…
$936 per year – it really adds up!

Only about five per cent of Australians get the recommended five serves of veg. Here are five ways to boost your veg intake and make the most of the gorgeous seasonal produce around:

1. Roast away

We already know that roasted pumpkin is the best pumpkin (and I will defend that statement until the bitter end), but how about giving the olive oil and hot oven treatment to some other vegetables? Cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and mushrooms are all gorgeous roasted. Try red cabbage, capsicum and carrots too to build a complete roasted rainbow! The intense heat really brings out the flavour while maintaining the shape and texture. And roast vegetables aren’t just a winter option, add some to a salad and negate the need for a salad dressing chock-full of kilojoules.

2. Super soups

Cooking up big batches of soup and freezing individual portions in snap-lock bags is one of my favourite Sunday activities. Sad, I know, but also very delicious and convenient! A few of our favourites around the LiveLighter office are the spicy pumpkin, sweet potato and lentil, and zucchini and sweetcorn soups.

3. Dips and spreads

Turn your humdrum sandwich into a flavour sensation with a bit of homemade spread. These can easily replace the meat and mayo. Mash or blitz these ingredients together and spread on the bread or wrap at the last minute to minimise the risk of sogginess. They’re also great on a platter with crackers and veggie sticks.

  • Avocado, lime and fresh coriander
  • Roast carrot and cashews (just add water if it gets too thick)
  • Chickpea, garlic and lemon (add tahini if you’ve got some for fully fledged hummus)
  • Olive and capsicum tapenade
  • Cannellini beans, lemon and parsley

4. Meaty vegetables

Plump field mushrooms, thick slices of eggplant, and juicy chunks of beetroot all bring a satisfying meatiness to the party on your plate. They can sit proudly in the centre of the plate – you know, where the steak used to go. Legumes (beans, peas and lentils) pack a protein punch and are excellent meat alternatives. They’re also high in fibre so are great for your guts and keep you feeling full.

5. Keep things interesting

If you see a vegetable you haven’t tried before, grab one and give it a go when you’ve got a bit more time to spend cooking. If you’re not sure how to prepare it we’ve got a great guide to loads of fruit and vegetables and how to serve them.  If you’ve got picky eaters at home, serving the new vegetable alongside some old favourites can increase the odds of it getting eaten.

So go and check out the bottom drawers of your fridge. What’s there? How can you make it shine? How will you Try for Five this week?