Vegetables are an essential part of eating healthy, but getting enough vegetables can be a challenge for those of us who, to be totally honest, never learned to like them. I was once a vegetable-hater, so I totally get this. But you can learn to like veggies, even if you despised them as a kid.
If you’re envisioning a banquet full of the same horrible-tasting dishes you turned your nose up as a child, relax. There are two important things to remember. One is that there are far more vegetable dishes in the universe than the ones you’ve already tried, and certainly some of them will be to your tastes.
The other is that our tastes really do change over time. Most of us go through a picky stage as children, then expand our palates a bit as teenagers and young adults. We also tend to taste bitter flavors less strongly as we age. That’s good news if you always felt Brussels sprouts or broccoli tasted too bitter to you. I rediscovered a lot of vegetables in my twenties, and sometime in my thirties, I found myself on the opposite end of the pickiness spectrum, eating pretty much everything I formerly hated – even black licorice.
So here are some things to try, if you’re ready to make the leap.
Add something tasty
If you’re motivated to start eating vegetables because they’re healthy, don’t worry about eating them in a “healthy” way at first. The fact that you’re eating vegetables at all is the healthy part. So go ahead and slather them with butter.
This doesn’t mean you have to always eat that veggie with butter, forever, but it’s a great gateway to enjoying the vegetable. You can always try “healthier” recipes later. In a Reddit thread entitled What recipe made you change your mind about a vegetable you didn’t like?, many of the recipes amount to just dousing the vegetables in butter:
Grate [zucchini] longways then fry with butter and chopped bacon
Pan fried [cauliflower or brussels sprouts] with lots of butter and garlic and salt is also good.
Asparagus pan fried with butter and garlic.
And now I can’t remember why I ever hated beets … especially when I make roasted beets, sweet potatoes & carrots with olive oil and a rosemary garlic butter!
If any of this sounds good to you, just do it. Butter, garlic, herbs, and bacon are all excellent choices. Salt makes everything taste better, and even suppresses bitter flavors. Maybe all you need is to take a vegetable, any vegetable, for a swim in a pool of butter.
Or choose any other flavor you like. Cheese is a good one: Throw parmesan onto your cauliflower, goat cheese onto your beets, or heck, douse a bag of mixed veggies in queso. A certain person I will not name, and who I am definitely not married to, once apparently enjoyed (!) broccoli dipped into a can of vanilla frosting. Now please try to forget that I just typed that sentence, and let’s move on.
Photo by Farhad Ibrahimzade
Try the opposite texture
If you’ve only ever eaten mushy broccoli, try blanching it to take the edge off the bitterness while also brightening the color. Blanched broccoli, asparagus, and other green veggies are great in a crudité platter (what real Pennsylvanians call a veggie tray, but we digress) and that also gives you an opportunity to dunk them in ranch, hummus, or another tasty dip of your choice.
Or perhaps you prefer your veggies a little more cooked. If you’ve only had soft green beans from the can, get some fresh green beans and steam them until they are just slightly tender, but still have some crunch.
As a general rule, it’s worth trying whatever texture is the opposite of the way you’ve eaten that veggie in the past. Lifehacker food writer Allie Chanthorn Reinmann says that she never really liked eggplant until “I had a Chinese stewed eggplant dish in a strong garlic sauce (catering to my mushy needs) and it changed me.”
Try new vegetables
You don’t have to revisit all the veggies you’ve disliked in the past. Go to the grocery store or farmer’s market and start anew. Maybe you never tried rabe or celeriac or spaghetti squash. Now’s the time!
Sample different dishes, especially if you can get them buffet style. If you didn’t eat much, say, Indian food growing up, you may find that an Indian restaurant’s buffet has flavors that are new to you without any of the emotional baggage of your past experiences.
Also: steal. “If I went out to dinner with friends, I would ask to try a veggie from their plates,” writes former veggie-hater Steve Kamb at Nerd Fitness. Restaurant-prepared dishes tend to be tasty, and a single forkful is a low stakes commitment. If you don’t like that borrowed bite of sweet potato, just wash it down with a swig of your beverage and return to eating your own safe meal.
Chop a salad
If you’ve always been weirded out by salads, it’s time to dig in. A good salad dressing will make almost any vegetable taste amazing, and you can vary the ingredients to include things you already like (such as bacon and eggs, for example – components of a classic Cobb salad).
Our senior food editor Claire Lower suggests chopping your salads for friendlier eating. “I always run the kitchen shears through the salad to chop it up into tiny pieces,” she says. This way, it’s simple to eat a forkful of mixed ingredients instead of wrestling with individual lettuce leaves or too-large veggie chunks.
Add some acid
Another tip from Claire: Throw a splash of vinegar or a squeeze of lemon juice onto any veggie. “It really brightens up the dish and balances out any heavy ‘vegetable’ flavors,” she says. This is why salad dressings include an acid, but you can also squeeze a lemon onto cooked vegetables as well. Asparagus and other green vegetables especially benefit.
Try a sweet vegetable
If bitter and savory flavors aren’t your favorites, go the sweet route. Carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, winter squash, and corn all have some sweetness to them. You can prepare them in ways that blend the sweetness with another flavor, like putting butter and salt on corn.
Or, you can lean into the sweetness. A baked sweet potato is great with just butter, but it’s amazing with some brown sugar and cinnamon as well. Or roast some carrots and parsnips together, and drizzle them with honey (and maybe some cayenne) to finish.
Roast them with garlic salt
When in doubt, roast your veggies. Sweet and savory vegetables alike benefit from this treatment. It’s also one of the easiest ways to prepare a vegetable, requiring only a few minutes of prep time and the most basic pantry ingredients.
We have a guide here, but the basic idea is that you’ll put your chopped veggies on a tray, drizzle them with oil, and sprinkle generously with garlic salt or the seasonings of your choice. Bake until the insides are tender and the outsides are a bit crispy, and attempt to enjoy. Chances are, you will.