Lettuce Eat: A Veggie Journey We All Can Take

This is a guest post from Vivian Jibrin. Happy to support her very cool Lettuce Eat project!

Vivian Jibrin

By Vivian Jibrin
Compared to most teens (I’m 18) my diet is fairly nutritious, but I’m the first to admit that I could be eating more servings–and types–of fruits and vegetables. I also want to learn how to cook more dishes than just eggs, fried rice, pasta and brownies!

But how to get motivated to do this? The answer came to me when searching for a topic for my Gold Award–the highest award that can be attained by a Girl Scout. I found out that many U.S. teens aren’t even getting one fruit or vegetable daily! If I can help others
incorporate more vegetables and fruits into their daily meals, while learning why it is so important to do so, it would surely push me to do the same.
So, I started “Lettuce Eat” which has three basic approaches:

  • A high school club that met once a month, focused around a different fruit or vegetable, such as berries or potatoes or dark-leafy greens. We ate the fruit or vegetable, talked about its nutrition qualities, and discussed recipes. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, I had to adjust rapidly to social-distancing conditions and held my club sessions over the web, after a slight tweaking of the approach.
  • Video-conference meetings with Girl Scouts (ages 7-15), to teach them about fruits and vegetables in a fun, age-appropriate way. For example, I developed interactive activities such as the sorting game and a scavenger hunt; and I even made a few live-demos of simple snacks. When I started the project, I thought I knew the most important things about nutrition; after all, my aunt is a registered dietitian! But as the months went on, and I went deeper into the Gold Award project, I discovered lots of new aspects about nutrition, and a lot of cool tips.

For example:
Did you know that dandelions are wildflowers you can eat? They’ve been used in traditional herbal medicine for centuries to treat digestive disorders and more. The truth be told, the leaves can be a bit bitter, nevertheless, they can come handy in a survival situation.

A tip for the vegetable -hater: Sneak vegetables into meals without having to taste them. It got me to eat vegetables I don’t like, such as cauliflower or Brussels sprouts. I sautéed chopped vegetables with ground meat to use in lasagna and other dishes (recipe in www.lettuceeat.club).

I learned I could eat a lot more vegetables at one sitting by “shrinking” them. For instance, I sauté or steam spinach and other vegetables to just a fraction of their raw size, making it seem like I’m eating less.

My favorite part of cooking was adapting dessert recipes. I would reduce the amount of added sugar in the recipe and then incorporate more fruits and/or vegetables, making the desserts more flavorful.

Sometimes you don’t even need to make a complicated and elaborate dish, just adding something on the side adds tremendously to the nutrients you get out of the meal. For instance, tomatoes have a lot of vitamin C, and when added to rice and beans, you absorb more iron from both the beans and the rice.

Another discovery: Sprouting super healthy microgreens. I have to say that it has really become addictive in my household! Now there are sprouts for breakfast every day –they are great atop a toast with melted cheese, growing out of mason jars and flat (take-out) trays. Thus far we have sprouted sunflower seeds (which taste awesome), alfalfa seeds (delicious too), mustard seeds (a bit spicy), radish (very spicy but yummy), chia seeds (smokey and bitter–not likely to try those again), and now we are hoping to learn to sprout seeds from sunflowers in our own garden.

I think my most useful lesson was the importance of having “3 square meals” to minimize being tempted by unhealthy snacks. I used to snack A LOT on Cheerios and yogurt; so much that I would get into a vicious cycle of eating too much in-between meals, then not being hungry enough for a healthy meal, and then being hungry again for snacking… and this would go on and on. Now I know to have a meal complete with veggies, protein, and healthy grains and have eliminated most unhealthy snacking –except for a treat now and then.

Those are my discoveries, and I think my club members and video-conference audience also picked up some healthy tips. If nothing else, our sessions made everyone a little more aware of
what they are putting on their plates (as well as what they were missing before). I was surprised how much kids liked the live hands-on cooking sessions and activities such as the “ Sorting Game ”, where they ducked to the floor when an unhealthy food was called, or did jumping jacks and fancy twirls when fruits or vegetables were called.

You can visit the “Games” tab at www.lettuceeat.club for a full description of five different games.

There is so much to learn about nutrition, and so much people don’t know –even some of the parents and the Girl Scout troop-leaders were surprised by how much they learned during the sessions. And although I am no nutritionist and only spent about a year on my project, Lettuce-eat turned out to be a fun way to dish out useful and accessible information for teenagers, younger children and all.

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