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Vegging Out

Thinking about vegging out? Go for it! Heading for your local Schnucks or Logli Produce Department is a great way to boost your health and explore new flavors. From blushing apples to elegant zucchini, you’ll find plenty of inspiration for your next meal, whether a quick stir-fry, deeply-flavored roast or cool and crisp dish.

And vegetables and fruits aren’t just pretty faces; the antioxidants they contain are vital for our health, boosting our brain functions and immune systems even as they help ward off heart disease and cancer. The antioxidants in produce are visible in the rainbow of colors plants contain; it’s easy to see the orange betacarotene that’s present in pumpkins and carrots, the red lycopene in tomatoes and watermelons and the purple anthocyanin in blueberries and grapes. The more colors we eat, the more antioxidants we get. The more fiber and vitamins we get too, because plants are rich sources of both. Mom knew what she was talking about when she told you to eat your vegetables!

We’ve been heeding mom’s advice for a while now. Almost a century ago – during World War I – Meatless Mondays began as a way to support the nation’s food supply. In 2003, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health revived the idea, actively encouraging people to enjoy at least one meatless dinner every week.

A few quick ideas to get you started: hearty legumes and vegetables like beans, peas and mushrooms make satisfyingly “meaty” dishes and are especially good paired with cooked whole grains and whole-grain pastas. They also go a long way – a two-pound bag of lentils contains about 18 servings and a three-pound bag of brown rice contains about 30. Talk about good for your health and good for your wallet! Root vegetables like potatoes, carrots and beets add sweetness and a range of textures to main dishes, especially if they’re sliced, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and roasted in a 375°F oven until they crinkle around the edges and turn golden brown. Squashes are also delicious when sliced and roasted. (Depending on how they’re cut, roasting almost any vegetable may take from 20 to 40 minutes.)

Although nuts and seeds have their own distinct flavors, they complement each other… and they complement most fruits and vegetables. Stir them into pilafs or sprinkle onto salads. For a real treat, try dry-toasting nuts in a small saucepan over medium heat for about four to five minutes or until the nuts are golden and fragrant, stirring occasionally, then add them to your dish.

If you don’t want to completely “veg out,” just do it part way – use more beans than meat in your chili, or serve an extra portion of grains alongside a smaller portion of chicken. Focus more on protein-rich foods like eggs and cheese. Give yourself license to loiter in the Produce Department. Most importantly, enjoy your meatless adventures!