You know that eating more fruits and vegetables is good for you, and maybe you’ve even committed to adding a serving or two to your daily diet. You’ve done the grocery shopping and your fridge is stocked with a rainbow of roots, fruits, and leaves. Now you have to figure out what to do with all that produce, both to reap the nutritional benefits and to actually enjoy what you’re eating.
Vegetables don’t have to be bland to be good for you, nor does healthy cooking have to be overly complicated and time consuming. Keep these strategies in your back pocket to get the most out of your produce.
- Start with seasonal ingredients as they offer the most flavor and nutrients when they are grown close by and harvested at their prime (the longer it takes the produce to get to your table from where it was grown, the more time for nutrient losses). This means, in the winter, lean towards hardy greens like kale and chard along with winter squashes like butternut or hubbard, and wait until late summer for those tomatoes. Check out what’s in season where you are.
- Preserve the season. Canned (without added sugar or salt) and frozen fruits and vegetables are a great option in the winter months, especially for those living in colder climates, where fresh options are limited. Feeling adventurous? Try canning your favorite fruits and vegetables yourself with this starter guide.
- Aim for at least three colors per day. Eating a variety of different fruits and vegetables helps ward off boredom and boosts the nutrients you consume.
- Roast to bring out sweetness. Most fruits and vegetables offer some natural sweetness, and roasting enhances this flavor.
- Soup’s on. While boiling vegetables is one of the least nutritious ways to cook them, since many nutrients are lost in the water, soup is the perfect solution since you will eat the broth as well.
- Eat a mix of cooked and raw vegetables. While cooking reduces some nutrients, like vitamin C, it enhances others, like lycopene, an antioxidant found in tomatoes. Mixing things up will ensure you get the most out of your food.
- Add a little fat. Whether cooked or raw, fat may help you absorb some nutrients in vegetables. Plus, it enhances the flavor of your dish. You can use it while cooking by tossing vegetables in olive or canola oil before you cook or afterwards by drizzling a high-quality oil for extra flavor. Plant oils also offer additional nutrients, so choose those over animal products like butter. But, don’t overdo it — about 1 teaspoon oil per 1 cup vegetables is plenty.
- Flavor with herbs and spices instead of reaching for the salt, stock your cabinet with spices and herbs (both fresh and dried) from around the world. Turmeric, cinnamon, rosemary, basil, thyme, and others not only add a burst of flavor for nearly zero calories, but also offer phytonutrients, or plant compounds, that may reduce inflammation and the risk of some health conditions.
- Sneak ‘em in. Spinach in your lasagna, mushrooms in your burger, or parsnips mixed in your mashed potatoes — these are just some of the ways to slyly add vegetables to your meals without having to steam a side of carrots.
- Brighten with citrus. Add a squeeze of lemon or lime before serving, or toss a few slices of orange or grapefruit into your salad to amp up the flavor of your dish.
Most importantly, know that eating more vegetables, regardless of how they are prepared, is a positive action you can make to improve your diet.