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Eat your vegetables – no, seriously

July 26, 2009

I heard somewhere recently that obese and overweight people can actually be malnourished. Really, even people who appear to be “normal” as determined by the federal government may actually be suffering from malnourishment.

No, they are not starving, not for food anyway. They are starving for nutrients. Ever notice all the commercials on TV for vitamins and fiber supplements and “whole grain” products? That’s because people are finally (FINALLY!) realizing that their diets of fast food, convenience food, and “healthy” food (such as fat free and sugar free) are slowly killing them from the inside out.

Think about it: The college guy who eats nothing pizza and Big Macs and beer and soda; the young college woman attempting to lose weight by eating fat free and “diet” foods (such as diet soda, fat free yoghurt, etc.); the overworked parents feeding their children home-reconsituted chicken nuggets and potato chips; they all have the same problem: they are not getting enough fiber or nutrients.

Yes, fiber and nutrient supplements can fix things for a little while, but scientists are discovering that the nutrients (not just vitamins) found naturally in fruits and vegetables are intertwined in the way they work, and some of them cannot be replicated into pill form.

The answer, my friends? Vegetables.

No, they’re not as scary as they appear. If you live a lifestyle that includes moderate exercise, you can use things like butter, cheese, and salt (in moderation) to make veggies taste better. Even if your exercise regimen is less than moderate, flavors like lemon, garlic, and various other herbs and spices can dress things up.

Case in point? The squash boats I made last night. Here’s my delicious and freaking easy recipe:

Easy Summer Squash Boats:

4 tender yellow summer squash (zucchini can also be used)
1 small onion, chopped
1 piece whole grain bread, well-toasted (but not burned) and torn into tiny pieces
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1-3 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard (I used a vinegary organic kind, not French’s)
1-2 tablespoons butter or equivalent glug of olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Thoroughly wash squash (you will be eating the skin, so this is important). Cut off stem and base ends (top & bottom). Slice in half lengthwise, from top to bottom. Scoop out seedy bit until there is a hollow in the middle with a 1/4-1/2 inch wall. Cut off “neck” (top part you can’t scoop out) and with seedy bit, chop coarsely.

Add chopped squash insides and onion to small skillet with butter or oil and saute over medium heat until squash is tender and onion is translucent. Turn off heat. Add toast shreds, cheese, and mustard and stir well.

Place hollowed squash in ungreased glass baking dish (8×8″ works well for 4 squash). If you like, rub or brush insides with a little of the mustard (I did not do this, but the squash outsides were a little bland and this might work well as a seasoning, you could also sprinkle with a little salt, onion salt, onion powder, garlic salt, garlic powder, herbs… you get the idea). Scoop filling from skillet into boats.

Bake at 350 for approximately a half an our or until thickest part of squash skin (usually the “neck” you cut off) is easily pierced with a fork. In my opinion, squash is better firm than mushy, so this is a matter of preference.

The squash should be lovely, hot, with the bread in the filling having turned crunchy on top (so nice texturally!) and the cheese all melty.

Other filling/mix-in options?

– tomato
– garlic
– salsa
– cottage cheese
– egg
– breadcrumbs or cracker crumbs
– pimento
– peppers, sweet or hot
– various shredded cheeses, cheddar, parmesan, asiago, jack,  italian blend, taco blend, etc.
– ginger
– maple syrup
– various chopped nuts
– chopped apple and/or pear
– dried fruit like cherries, cranberries, raisins, and/or apricots
– lemon juice
– prepared horseradish
– green onions
– herbs
– ground beef or turkey (especially nice with leftovers)
– rice
– mushrooms
– sausage
– chopped celery or radish, for extra crunch
– cooked greens like spinach, kale, chard, etc.
– capers or chopped pickled artichokes, garlic, onions, etc.

You get the idea. The possibilities are near endless. Squash is a plentiful garden planting, but summer squash (like zucchini) needs to be harvested while the fruit is young and the skin is tender. It can be chopped and added to stir-frys, pasta dishes, egg dishes (like scrambled, quiche, or fritatta/tortilla), gratins with other vegetables, kebabs/skewers on the grill, grilled or roasted slices can be added to panini/burgers/sandwiches/tacos, you can even make summer squash/zucchini pickles.

Winter squashes may also be stuffed in this manner, but because some winter squashes have denser, less watery flesh, you may want to steam or lightly boil them before halving, filling, and baking.

The great thing about fillings like this is that while some of the ingredients in the filling may contain fat or sugar, it is really only a garnish – the main ingredient you are eating is the squash itself.

I served the squash boats last night with steamed/boiled green beans (I boil them in water to cover, no more, until they are just tender, then I rinse with cool water to stop the cooking) and barbecue boneless, skinless chicken thighs (bbq sauce was Kraft – bad, I know – mixed with the juice of one orange. Dump over the chicken and coat, then bake with squash until done and sauce is reduced). It was delicious and actually pretty good for you! The boy and I then went for a five mile walk, which made it even better, though it sure tired us out!

Of course, we had small bowls of ice cream when we got home, but he had the fruit sauce I made the other day on his plain vanilla. I had the last of the cookie dough ice cream. *angelic look* But I must be doing something right, because I’ve lost over 15 pounds since February, just by increasing my activity level. Crazy, I know. I’m not even on a diet! It’s amazing. Of course, I eat pretty healthy to begin with, but I am not a skimper when it comes to butter and cheese, so it’s a little weird. Of course, I also understand that a little seasoning goes a lot farther than a stick of butter. I also eat a lot of veggies, lean protein, fruit, and whole grains with my butter, cheese, and sugar.

The other nice thing about baking all the time is that the more you bake, the less you want to eat sixteen of the cookies you made, ’cause you just ate five in a row to make sure they tasted okay and now you’re a little sick to your stomach. : D That’s what sharing is for!

But I digress. Eat your veg, people! Or suffer the sad, sad consequences of malnutrition (including fatigue, osteoperosis, weight-related pain and body stress, and digestive issues, sometimes ending in the horror of an impacted colon), regardless of your size.

Exercise is nice, too. Tonight? Another long walk! But for now? Chilling out and knitting. Yay terrible daytime television!

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