- I ate vegetables every day for a month to see how it would make me feel.
- After learning creative ways to sneak veggies into my meals, this challenge became much easier.
- I felt both physical and mental benefits and would highly recommend this experiment.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Even as a vegetable lover, I struggle to eat them as often as I’d like, usually settling for the lettuce on a sandwich or shredded carrot in takeout sushi.
As part of a personal commitment to form good habits this year, I challenged myself to incorporate vegetables into at least one meal per day for four weeks.
Read on to find out what it was like and how it made me feel.
Note: Always consult a doctor, licensed dietitian, or nutritionist first if you’re considering making any significant changes to your own eating habits.
Before starting, I consulted multiple nutrition experts to make a plan
Going from occasionally enjoying vegetables to eating them every day seemed like a daunting task – I couldn’t tell you the last time I ate veggies for more than four consecutive days.
Although I wasn’t necessarily worried about increasing my vitamin and mineral intake, I was concerned that the change could cause unpleasant physical symptoms. Eating an excessive amount of legumes, onions, and other high-fiber vegetables can trigger gastrointestinal effects like bloating, constipation, and abdominal pain.
But registered dietitian and cookbook author Lizzie Streit said that isn’t a major concern since most people aren’t meeting their daily fiber needs to begin with.
“If you started eating an artichoke a day, or a [multiple] artichokes a day, that might be something you want to cut back on …” Streit said. “But overall, as long as you’re varying your vegetable intake and trying to keep it to moderate amounts that make up just about half of your plate at meals, it probably shouldn’t be an issue.”
“Everybody’s body is different and reacts differently to different diet patterns,” Savani told Insider.
Both experts also recommended that I stay hydrated to minimize or prevent any potential side effects. They also made it clear this way of eating can have many perks.
Regularly consuming a wide variety of vegetables is said to reduce the risk for heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers, lower a person’s blood pressure, and improve digestive issues. Savani said that people can experience positive changes after just a few weeks of eating vegetables every day.
Streit said that although the standard recommendation is 2 1/2 cups of vegetables per day for a 2,000-calorie diet, it could go up to 4 cups depending on your food intake and activity levels.
I’m not used to tracking and measuring my food, so Savani and Streit recommended just filling half of my plate with vegetables during meals, specifically lunch and dinner.
Week 1 check-in: I stocked up on a variety of fresh, frozen, and canned veggies
My typical produce haul generally consists of some type of greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and avocados – all of the ingredients to make a standard house salad and really good toast.
Although each of those has its own micronutrients, both experts said I should diversify my meals to get the most benefits possible.
“One helpful technique for people starting out is to make it a goal to try one new vegetable a week or two new vegetables a week,” Streit told Insider. “Over time you can start to branch out and see which vegetables work best for you.”
I kept Streit’s advice in mind during my trip to the store as I filled my cart with a melange of different veggies, like red and yellow tomatoes (a fruit, but widely considered a vegetable by nutritionists), an assortment of salad greens, mushrooms (a fungi, but also widely considered a vegetable by nutritionists), broccolini, and sweet potatoes.
I also picked up several bags of frozen carrots and broccoli. Streit said that frozen vegetables are equally as nutritious as fresh ones since they’re picked at their peak ripeness.
Plus these would give me more flexibility with my meal planning, as I wouldn’t have to worry about them going bad too soon.
Week 1: I made sure I ate a salad with every dinner
If I was going to actually stick with my commitment, it made the most sense to continue including foods I already liked, but that meant the vegetables I ate during the first few days weren’t particularly inspired.
I mostly stuck with salads that I ate with other foods like pasta and sandwiches, trying to make sure the vegetables took up at least half of my plate as the experts advised.
Although this worked fine for the first few days, I was ready to try something new by the middle of the week.
On Thursday, I sautéed the mushrooms I had leftover from my pizza with some broccolini, olive oil, garlic, and a shallot for a light lunch, finishing the combo off with a squeeze of lemon.
The added kick of garlic and citrus really allowed the natural flavors from the broccolini to stand out without any extra butter or sauce. Plus my body felt totally nourished after eating it, and I wasn’t hungry until dinnertime.
Another standout meal was my vegetable chili, which I made with red pepper, sweet potato, onion, garlic, tomato, jalapeño, beans, and corn.
This meal was so filling and tasty that I nearly forgot it was made almost entirely of vegetables. I’m sure it would’ve tasted great with some ground beef or turkey in the mix, but the combined ingredients and spicy seasonings, like chili powder and cumin, were so scrumptious together on their own.
I devoured the entirety of this chili over the course of two days, and it tasted amazing since the sweet potatoes absorbed the yummy, spicy flavor.
By the end of the first week, I felt proud of myself for actually sticking to my commitment.
I’m such a creature of habit, so I thought I’d go back to eating bagels and frozen chicken nuggets by day five. But as I savored the last bite of my delicious chili, I felt pretty confident in my ability to keep going.
Week 2 check-in: I found more ways to enjoy vegetables
I focused on finding more creative ways to incorporate veggies into my diet this week.
Savani told me that one way to sneak more vegetables into my day – especially ones I don’t like much on their own – is to mix them with eggs for breakfast. I’d never normally reach for broccoli and eat it as a stand-alone side, but putting it in a scramble was an idea that excited me.
Another strategy I considered to keep my momentum was using veggies as a substitute for carbs or meat.
Week 2: I switched things up by enjoying veggies with my breakfast
I followed Savani’s advice and added broccoli to an egg scramble with some feta, garlic, tomato, and onions.
Additionally, I found creative ways to replace meat with vegetables, making a burger with a black-bean patty instead of a turkey one and later sautéing sliced portobello mushrooms with garlic and jalapeño as a taco filling.
I’m sure that these tacos would’ve tasted great with beef or chicken, but the mushrooms and kale were totally satisfying on their own, especially topped with a tasty avocado cream.
Although I’m technically not a vegetarian, one of my 2021 goals was to minimize my meat consumption and use more plant-based sources of protein, so this challenge was helping me do just that.
One evening, I didn’t feel like turning on the stove or oven, so I made a modified version of this roasted-beet salad from Streit’s blog, It’s a Veg World After All, using pre-roasted beets and adding a spring salad mix for an extra dose of leafy greens.
This meal was proof that a little creativity can go a long way, especially when it comes to salads. By simply adding burrata and a tasty orange-balsamic dressing to the beets, this super simple mix of vegetables transformed into a meal I could see myself ordering from a restaurant.
I found that the secret to making raw vegetables more palatable is never eating them plain. Adding any kind of cheese or non-veggie toppings, like tortilla strips, nuts, and seeds, gives any dish a pop of flavor and makes for a more substantial meal.
I also made a vegetable minestrone soup when the forecast called for several days of chilly, rainy weather. With common ingredients like veggie broth, onions, carrots, and garbanzo beans, this meal required minimal effort and was super hearty and delicious.
Since I could prepare a big batch to eat over the following few days, this dish ended up as one of my favorites this week.
Week 3 check-in: I was feeling more motivated all around
After two weeks of consistently eating vegetables and staying super hydrated, my digestion had significantly improved, and I felt more motivated to keep active – but I wasn’t sure if the latter came from my upped nutrient intake or the excitement that my new habit was having a positive impact on me.
I was also snacking a lot less than usual, particularly on the days that I ate vegetables with breakfast.
Prior to this challenge, my eating patterns were so erratic. I’d often start my week off by packing grab-and-go salads from the grocery store for lunch, only to spend the remaining days ordering heavily processed takeout foods.
Some days, I’d snack on chips, dips, and other sweets to the point that I wouldn’t bother making a proper dinner. Although there’s nothing wrong with enjoying any of those foods, this inconsistent way of eating wasn’t working for me since I often felt sluggish and bloated.
Now that I was regularly eating vegetables with my meals, I found it much easier to stick to a routine. I still craved and enjoyed my favorite salty snacks and pastries, but I definitely wasn’t reaching for them as often as I would’ve before this challenge.
Maintaining a constant stream of inspiration also kept me from experiencing total burnout. Even though I’m not the best improviser in the kitchen, I kept a bookmarks folder on Instagram with a bunch of recipes that looked delicious.
Week 3: I finally nailed making vegetables taste like something I actually wanted to eat
Finding the best ways to enhance the taste of veggies required some prep work, like consulting recipe blogs for ideas, but was well worth the effort because my meals were much more satisfying.
I found cooking with seasonings like dried oregano and thyme made vegetables taste the best, but even simply adding chopped garlic would make a huge difference.
To kick off this week, I spent my Sunday assembling vegetable burritos to have on hand in the fridge in case I didn’t feel like cooking, each one consisting of a medley of spicy black beans, zucchini, yellow squash, and cheese.
In the past, I’d avoided eggplant because I didn’t really know what to do with it since it’s quite delicate – if you overcook it even slightly, the flesh turns into a soggy mush. But after experimenting with different recipes, I learned it’s actually a very versatile produce.
I made a scrumptious flatbread with lemon, roasted eggplant, and feta. The combination of citrus and the eggplant’s nutty nuance paired with a thin, flaky crust was absolutely exquisite and reminded of springtime.
The result reminded me of eggplant parmigiana, but in a more snackable form. These bites were the perfect appetizer to my herbed chicken and were so filling that I ate less of the main course.
For one of my simpler, eggplant-free meals this week, I tossed carrots in a mix of olive oil, garlic, and dried thyme and roasted them until tender, serving the combo over a bowl of mixed greens with some onions and goat cheese.
Although it didn’t look that impressive, it was such an easy and satisfying meal.
Week 4 check-in: This didn’t really feel like a challenge anymore
If I had learned anything from participating in this challenge so far, it was that cooking vegetables with herbs is the key to transforming them from “edible” to “good,” regardless of their preparation.
Salt and olive oil are better than nothing, but a sprinkling of Italian seasoning and oregano seriously takes each veggie-packed dish to the next level. Some of my other go-to spices were smoked paprika, garlic and chili powder, coriander, thyme, and basil.
Also, a bit of lemon zest over kale or oven-roasted vegetables added a bright, fresh taste to my meals and a squeeze of lime juice balanced any ingredient I paired with spicier toppings.
Prepping certain vegetables or even entire meals in advance made sticking to my commitment so much easier, and I was excited to tackle my final week of the experiment.
I no longer felt like I was participating in a challenge but was simply eating food I actually liked that made me feel good.
Week 4: I had a blast with kale and cauliflower
During my final week of the challenge, some of my favorite meals were roasted butternut-squash-and-kale couscous, mushroom-and-carrot stew, Buffalo-style cauliflower, and vegetable curry.
I made good use of my oven by roasting a mix of butternut squash, parsnips, carrots, and potatoes, which turned out so scrumptious that I ate it for dinner without any dressing or toppings.
This preparation made pretty much any vegetable taste good since the natural sugars caramelized in the dry heat, resulting in a sweeter, toasted flavor.
Honestly, I’m not sure how I got by before I learned how to cook vegetables this way, but I’m fairly certain I won’t ever go back to steaming them again.
I also made a stew full of kale, carrots, and mushrooms and a salad with kale and squash, both of which were rich in fall flavors.
On Superbowl Sunday, I experimented with making Buffalo cauliflower instead of ordering a platter of wings.
After breading the florets and roasting them in the oven, I tossed them in Buffalo sauce and served them with celery and herbed yogurt dip.
Final check-in: The results changed the way I felt physically and mentally
By the end of the four weeks, the benefits I experienced from eating vegetables every day were clear – my stomach felt significantly less bloated than it had been all throughout 2020.
Eating veggies with my meals made me feel full faster, which in turn kept me from overeating. Plus it’s possible this change was also due to the fact that this challenge encouraged me to cook at home rather than order sodium-rich takeout foods.
My face was much less puffy, but this also could’ve been a result of staying so hydrated. Either way, I wasn’t complaining.
Still, this challenge resulted in more than physical benefits, as regularly eating vegetables made me feel more motivated to stick to my other health goals. I found myself making more of an effort to drink water and stay active, even if that meant just walking around my neighborhood.
Plus I became more mindful of my overall eating habits and started paying attention to how my food was making me feel, which subconsciously encouraged me to make healthier choices.
I still ate some of my favorite sweets and meals, but I was less likely to make them my default.
I was also so proud of myself for being able to stick to my commitment. I can’t say for certain that I always met the daily recommended serving but eating some form of vegetables for a month straight was a huge victory.
Once I realized that vegetables could be so much more than salads and bland broccoli, eating them every day became much less of a chore. I learned to create wholesome meals that I genuinely loved by trying out foods I was less familiar with.
I’d recommend anyone who’s considering adding more veggies to their diet try some of these techniques. As Savani and Streit put it, if you add just one more vegetable to your diet a week, it can make a world of difference.