Assortment of vegetables
July 18, 2023

Make Vegetables the Centerpiece of Your Meals

Make Vegetables the Centerpiece of Your Meals
By Lisbeth Irish, RDN, CDN, CDCES

What is the one change you can make that will have significant influence on your diet? The answer: Focus on vegetables when you plan your meals and snacks.


To be truthful, there are probably two changes in that sentence.


Planning our food choices instead of being on “automatic pilot” is one of the most important things we can do to improve the quality of our diets.


Focusing on vegetables is also extremely important. Most of us focus on what we are eating for our main dish. Vegetables are often an afterthought (if we even think of them at all). There are many reasons why this happens and why we should make changes to place vegetables at the center of our food planning. Maybe a more important focus is “how to” make the changes.


When you think about your next meal or snack, try to remember a vegetable you really enjoyed. It probably wasn’t a pile of overcooked green beans on your plate. Making our favorite vegetables more interesting may help us include them and it doesn’t have to be complicated.


Think about some of your favorite foods – and get creative. Maybe you love cheese? Adding a tablespoon of grated Parmesan cheese to a large portion of broccoli can make it more appetizing. Fond of Italian food? Add a small amount of Italian salad dressing to steamed green beans. Enjoy almonds or other nuts? You can toast them in the microwave for added crunch to those green beans.


You get the idea. Just try to remember that a little of those favorite additions to your vegetables can go a long way in making them a favorite part of your meal.


You can also make vegetables the primary ingredient in your main dish. One of my favorite lunches is sliced tomatoes with fresh basil, fresh mozzarella slices, and a drizzle of balsamic dressing. Another favorite is eggplant Parmesan made with oven-baked breaded eggplant, tomato sauce and a modest amount of Parmesan cheese, or turkey chili made with carrots, celery, onions, tomatoes, and beans. Stir-fried dishes can help you use many vegetables like broccoli, bell peppers, onions, garlic, green beans.


There’s no end to the wonderful things you can do with vegetables. For many easy and budget-friendly vegetable recipes, check out


Saving on Food Waste

Focusing on eating more vegetables also reduces waste. Doesn’t it break your heart (and your budget) when you need to throw out produce you bought but didn’t use?

When you have a plan for how to use your vegetables, it can boost the quality of your diet and save those vegetables too.


Making vegetables the centerpiece of your meal may save you money in other ways. Eating more vegetables might mean you don’t eat that second piece of chicken and you can have it for lunch the next day. Many vegetable-based main dishes have smaller amounts of costlier foods, saving you a significant amount at the checkout counter.


Nutritionally, vegetables are a gold mine of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and unique types of antioxidants. They are also usually low in sodium, calories, and saturated fat.

Vegetables make your plate look beautiful too! That red pepper or carrot can really make the plate “pop” with color. An attractive plate helps make a meal much more appetizing.


Confession time:  I noticed I was slacking on my vegetable choices a few weeks ago and since then I began focusing on increasing the vegetables in my diet. The results?  I’ve found some wonderful new recipes and our grocery bills are less. I’m more satisfied with my meals. I love the way my dinner plate looks. I know I’m getting many more of the nutrients I need and less of the things I should avoid.


It wasn’t a lot of effort. It just took a little planning (you can’t eat them if you don’t have them) and little focus to make those changes a reality.


Lisbeth Irish RDN, CDN, CDCES is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist with the New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA). She has over 25 years of experience working as a Registered Dietitian in a variety of settings and currently oversees the NYSOFA SNAP-Ed Nutrition Education program for older adults in New York State. Lisbeth is also a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist. She attended NY Medical College and has a degree in Nutrition from SUNY Oneonta. Lisbeth enjoys reading, nature, and traveling. Lisbeth says she feels very fortunate to be working with such a dedicated group of professionals at NYSOFA.

For more great tips, watch Lisbeth’s monthly Facebook livestream “Ask The Experts: Nutrition Edition” at 1 p.m. on the second Friday of every month. You can tune in to the program on NYSOFA’s Facebook page.