For many of us, childhood memories of being forced to eat soggy, bland vegetables like plain canned carrots or spinach (before we could have dessert!) took away a lot of the appeal and interest in eating vegetables today. This is a shame – and a problem – as U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults eat 2 to 2½ cups of vegetables per day, but 90% of us do not meet this goal, probably in some part due to those negative childhood memories. There’s also a misconception that vegetables take lots of time and skill to prepare, which is not necessarily true.
You probably know this, but it bears repeating: vegetables are essential in our diet for a multitude of reasons. They are packed with a ton of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help promote overall health and reduce the risk of many diseases, such as heart disease, cancer and hypertension, to name just a few. Vegetables are very low in calories, so you get lots of nutrition packed into a very low calorie food. They are also high in fiber which helps to keep you feeling full. Filling up on low-calorie, high-nutrient vegetables reduces the amount of higher-calorie foods we eat like animal protein and starches. Because of this, vegetables can help us maintain a healthy weight or even lose weight.
Vegetables are extremely versatile and can be prepared in many different ways: enjoy a bag of frozen vegetables steamed in the microwave, either without anything added or tossed in olive oil and seasonings (garlic or onion powder, for example); explore stir frying, grilling, steaming, baking, or roasting vegetables; and of course remember to add vegetables into soups, chilis and other stews as well as in a variety of salads—the options are endless.
Not sure how to begin? Here is a handy reference chart for preparing fresh vegetables. I’ve also highlighted below five of the most nutritious vegetables – spinach, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli – and given you tips on how to select the best for freshness (and therefore flavor) and some recipes that are as tasty as they are easy. Give one or all of these a try – you may never think of carrots and spinach quite the same again!
Choose spinach with leaves that are crisp and dark green. Avoid limp or yellowing leaves. Refrigerate unwashed spinach in a loose plastic bag and it will keep for three to four days. If you wash spinach before you store it, the leaves have a tendency to deteriorate rapidly.
A quick spinach recipe is to stir-fry it with garlic. Heat several cloves of garlic in a little olive oil, toss in a bag of spinach and stir-fry until hot. You can season with soy sauce and a pinch of pepper for some extra flavor. You can add sauteed spinach into pasta or rice dishes for extra flavor and a burst of color. Raw spinach cooks quickly—add it into soups right before serving.
Frozen spinach can be used in place of fresh. To prepare frozen spinach on the stove, place a large frying pan over low or medium-low heat. Once the pan has warmed up, add the frozen spinach to the pan. Stir the block of frozen spinach around the pan until it becomes tender, then use your wooden spoon or spatula to break the block into smaller pieces as it defrosts. Add seasonings and herbs as desired.
More affectionately referred to as “mini-cabbages,” Brussels sprouts are becoming a popular choice.
Choose Brussels sprouts that are bright green, firm and heavy for their size. The leaves should be tightly packed. Skip Brussels sprouts with yellowing leaves or black spots. Smaller Brussels sprouts are typically sweeter and more tender than larger ones.
There are several ways to easily prepare tasty Brussels sprouts. Here’s an easy sauteed Brussels sprouts recipe: in a large skillet, heat ¼ cup of olive oil over medium-high. Add 2 pints Brussels sprouts (trimmed and halved lengthwise), season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until caramelized, 8 to 10 minutes. Add ⅓cup water and cook until evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice and toss to coat. Serve immediately.
Check out this website to learn how to roast, steam or braise Brussels sprouts.
Choose carrots that are medium-sized and taper at the ends. Thicker ones may be tough. The freshest carrots are firm, bright orange and have a smooth skin. Avoid carrots if they are limp or black near the tops.
A simple and quick method for cooking carrots is to microwave them. Just place diced or baby carrots in a shallow bowl, add a few drops of water and cover with a moist paper towel. Microwave your carrots until they’re tender enough for you to enjoy.
If you like carrots roasted, give this recipe a try:
Cauliflower has become the all rage for its versatility and is used as an alternative for grains such as rice in place of flour in pizza crust or as a filling in a dumpling.
Choose cauliflower heads that are firm and tightly closed. White varieties should be very pale, with no dark spots. Do not choose cauliflower that is soft as this is a sign of spoilage.
Roasted cauliflower is very tasty, and it’s an easy way to serve this vegetable: cut cauliflower into florets; season cauliflower with salt, pepper, and your favorite spices; place the cauliflower on a rimmed baking sheet, making sure the cauliflower florets have enough space between them; and roast cauliflower in a 425° F oven, stirring occasionally, for 25-35 minutes.
Like things on the spicier side of life? Try this recipe:
Choose broccoli with bright green, highly compact clusters of florets with firm stalks. Avoid broccoli with yellow florets or flowers. Eat fresh broccoli as soon as you can as it will not keep long. To store, mist the unwashed heads, wrap loosely in damp paper towels, and refrigerate. Use within 2 to 3 days. Do not store broccoli in a sealed container or plastic bag.