How many of you started the year with a solemn vow to improve your diet?

How many of you started the year with a solemn vow to improve your diet?

How's it going? If you don't feel quite on track yet, then stay with me because this is important. There are a lot of folks battling the bulge these days. And we didn't get that way munching on carrot sticks.

But we should — be munching on carrot sticks, that is. And potatoes and squash and kohlrabi and mushrooms and all the other, wonderful, edible gifts of nature because they're totally good for us.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and a gang of nutrition researchers promote the idea that we all should be eating a wide range of fruits and vegetables each and every day for very good reason. Unlike the average muffin, fruits and vegetables can help lower high levels of cholesterol in the blood and even protect us against some forms of cancer.

Beyond the health benefits, however, is the simple truth that vegetables are a wonderful food group, especially when they've been kissed by the heat of a ripping-hot oven. Indeed, such treatment will utterly complicate, concentrate and caramelize the flavor in even the tamest of carrots, cauliflower and mushrooms.

So for those of you who need a break from steamed broccoli and stir-fried snow peas or just want to make more delicious vegetable recipes without a lot of fuss, consider the roast. It's truly a tasty option.

At its most basic level, the act of roasting vegetables only requires four things: the vegetable, a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. You can always graduate to extra flavorings such as sprinklings of feta cheese, fresh herbs and even glugs of balsamic vinegar.

But even that isn't really necessary on those busy nights when your best bet is simply to toss the veggies with a bit of oil, spread them out in a roomy roasting pan and slip them into the oven to brown while you're readying the rest of the meal. Heck, some nights, the roasted vegetables ARE the meal, along with a bit of steamed rice or crusty, artisan bread.

Next, keep in mind that high heat — oh, say around 425 to 450 F — and maximum surface area are keys to achieving that caramelized glow. When the oven is hot, the sugars inside the vegetables have a chance to transform into the rich and flavorful offering I'm talking about, especially on the surface. And so the more surface area you create by not crowding your pieces of vegetable, the more caramelization you'll produce.

Just about any vegetable will stand up to a high-heat roast — even asparagus, which plenty of folks consider too delicate for such treatment. You just need to keep an eye on those lovely, tender stalks so you can pluck them from the furnace when their moment of perfection is achieved.

So if you are serious about a diet upgrade, or simply want to please the family, try the recipes here.