In a perfect world, everyone would embrace vegetables like they were chocolate cake; chomping at the bit to get another bite in.
The reality is that a mere 9.3% of US adults meet the US Dietary Guideline for vegetable intake, according to the CDC. That means over 90% of people aren’t eating enough vegetables!
Granted, some vegetables can be polarizing. Take Brussels sprouts, for example. These tiny cabbages can be bitter due to their high sulfur content. But when roasted, they mellow and become much sweeter. Maybe they just need a change of scenery? This week we’ll focus on simple ways to boost vegetable consumption.
What’s in season?
With the availability of produce year-round, you can have just about anything on your plate you desire. However, similar to fruit, certain veggies are better at certain times of the year and the cost will vary. Asparagus, for example, is a spring vegetable that’s in season (and least expensive) from March to June, while tomatoes are found in late summer, early fall. Nothing beats a seasonal tomato!
Bell peppers come in a variety of shapes and colors and are in season from July to November. Red, orange, and yellow bell peppers are sweeter than green and higher in vitamin C content than their green counterparts. Peppers are best stored in the refrigerator to prevent them from wrinkling or getting moldy too quickly.
While you can find onions year-round, seasonally, they are considered at their peak from mid-April to September. Store them in a cool, dry place away from potatoes. Onions and potatoes release moisture, which makes them susceptible to mold. Rotten potatoes have an unforgettable rotten smell. Trust me on this one.
Fresh, frozen, or canned?
Similar to fruit, fresh vegetables may be more desirable from a color and texture perspective compared to frozen or canned. But there’s a common misconception that frozen vegetables are somehow inferior to fresh. Fresh vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower will lose vitamin C after being harvested due to exposure to light, heat, and handling. But frozen cruciferous vegetables are picked and quickly frozen to lock in nutrients.
Having frozen vegetables on hand is a great way to get more of them in your diet. They’re convenient, inexpensive, and easy to cook. They can be microwaved in minutes to make a quick side dish and you can’t beat the shelf life of 6 to 12 months.
Canned vegetables are a great alternative, too. While some may be higher in sodium than fresh or frozen, veggies packed without salt, in BPA-free cans are more common these days. Shelf-stable canned vegetables will last much longer, too than fresh or frozen. Canned tomatoes and canned beans are great to have in your pantry for simple, fast meals like pasta, chili, soup, or stew.
10 tips to use veggies that are easy and delicious:
- Keep carrot and celery sticks, pepper strips, and cherry tomatoes on hand for quick grab snacks with hummus or Greek yogurt dip.
- Toss baby spinach leaves into your next salad or add to leftover pasta, rice, or other dishes before reheating.
- Use frozen mixed vegetables or chopped spinach in soup, stew, or as a side dish.
- Add chopped onions and peppers to eggs, grain bowls, or stir-fries.
- Use canned beans and tomatoes in beans, soups, or tacos.
- Brush carrots, kale, or Brussels sprouts with olive oil and a dash of seasoned salt and roast for 20 minutes at 400 degrees.
- Sautee frozen green beans or broccoli with ginger, garlic, and soy sauce for a simple stir fry.
- Add mushrooms or spinach to pasta and other grain dishes.
- Grill asparagus, peppers, and onions.
- Try shaved Brussels sprouts, finely chopped kale, and broccoli slaw in a poppyseed dressing with chopped almonds and dried cranberries. It’s delightful!
Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
This article is part of a series on healthy shopping and shopping and nutrition research.