How to get Veggies into your Diet in Central America

Getting veggies into your diet in Central America can be an elusive endeavor. But, like anything, with proper focus and motivation, it’s doable.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, we should get nine servings of veggies daily.   That’s a lofty goal for anyone at home or abroad.  Most of us, including myself, don’t often reach it.   I’d like to try to change that.

For this post, I’m writing only from experiences in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. However, this advice applies to the rest of Central America too.

Ask for a Salad: Most restaurants carry some form of a salad on their menu. Some of course don’t.  In this case,  just  move on to the next place. The chances of finding a green leafy vegetable other than lightly colored lettuce, are slim to none. Still, sometimes you’ll get tomatoes, cabbage, beets and other goodies that will pleasantly surprise you.

Buy Veggies in Markets and Grocery Stores: Wash them and eat them raw. If you have an accommodation that allows guests to use a kitchen, then you can easily get multiple veggies into your diet. If kitchen tools are scant then be creative. If you need to peel a carrot and there’s no peeler, cut the skin off with a knife. In touristy places along the Gringo trail where there is great competition amongst establishments of lodging, you’ll easily find a place to stay that has a communal kitchen.   TIP: Try to cook during off-peak hours. Late morning and early to late afternoon is when there are usually less people that you need to share/compromise kitchen time and space with.

Get at Least One Veggie From an Establishment That You Visit:   You’ll very often find the ubiquitous cabbage and carrot ensalada.   It may become boring and bland beyond belief. You may dread it. You’ll never miss it. But it’s still a veggie serving that you’re getting into your system.

 Gringo Joints:  Gringos, Canucks and Europeans often run restaurants in über-touristy places.  I think it’s great to give locals business.  I do it more often than not. This is all that I did in the early stages of the trip. However, over time, I couldn’t help thinking about the veggies that my diet was lacking. Dark greens were non-existent. I decided that sometimes, when the opportunity arises to get a greater variety of veggies from expat owned and run enterprises, I have to take advantage.  These places are almost always more expensive than eateries run by locals. Still, if the food is healthier, the value is greater, no matter the cost.

Plantains: This staple can be found in most local eateries. These veggies that resemble bananas are often called different names in different lands. After you enter a new country  you can ask what it’s called. just point or say platanos. Plantains are packed with fiber, Vitamin A and potassium. Don’t eat them raw as they’re indigestible and have no taste that way.  Because they’re a staple they’re dirt cheap ordered on their own and come with most set lunches or dinners that you order.   They’re eaten as vegetables although some claim that plantains are a fruit.

Vegetarian restaurants:  These are often hard to find outside of cities. But if you’re in a metropolis, ask in your hotel, on the street, or find out from a taxi driver. There are times when you’ll be pleasantly amazed.

Good luck!

Stay focused and you will succeed.

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