Making the most out of your veggies
Read on for 10 tips on how to make veggies nutritious AND delicious to help make them a staple on your plate while reducing food waste!
Vegetables are a wonderful source of important nutrients -- such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and dietary fiber! Additionally, most are low in calories and are a great way to add volume to your plate. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 recommend eating a variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups - dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and others. Use the tips below to add more vegetables to your day and to make the most of them before they go bad!
Focus on fresh, frozen, canned ("low-sodium" or "no salt added"), and dehydrated veggies There are plenty of healthy ways to enjoy vegetables! For the most nutritional benefits, add diversity to your meal plan with a variety of fresh, frozen, canned, and dehydrated veggies. Get fresh veggies when in season. Keep frozen veggies on hand, as these are often picked at peak ripeness. Canned veggies are convenient, quick options and you can drain and rinse them to lower the sodium content by as much as 40%. Dehydrated veggies make a fun snack choice or side to a meal.
Use the FIFO method, especially for perishable vegetables FIFO stands for "First In, First Out" and is a great strategy for managing inventory - including what is in your fridge, freezer, or pantry! Use this method when storing veggies to keep "older" items in the front ( easy-to-grab and in sight) and "newer" items behind. This makes it easier to decide which vegetables to use first to prevent food waste. Plan meals first with older fresh veggies in your fridge. Be mindful of use-by dates on labels when storing in the freezer or pantry to rotate and use items accordingly.
Inventory your fridge, freezer, pantry when meal planning Look first at what veggies you have to use up in your inventory when meal planning and before food shopping. Make modifications or substitutions to recipes to use up veggies already on hand.
Add vegetables to your breakfast meal Vegetables do not have to be just a lunch or dinner option! There are plenty of ways to enjoy them for breakfast too. Try them in an omelette (with fresh or frozen veggies) or veggie hash or in a protein smoothie or veggie breakfast sandwich. The opportunities are endless!
Try different preparation and presentation methods Veggies can be enjoyed more than one way by preparing them with a variety of cooking methods. To get the best nutritional profile, cooking veggies lightly may help. However, any method that you enjoy that allows you to eat MORE veggies each day is a nutritious option! Try veggies raw, boiled, blanched, steamed, roasted, braised, stir-fried, and/or air-fried. Also, try new preparation methods to change the eating experience -- such as sliced, diced, riced, shredded, pureed, and/or spiralized.
Plan plant-based and/or vegetarian meals during the week for lunches and dinners Salads, soups, stews, casseroles, stir-fries, omelettes, frittatas, smoothies, sandwiches, pizza, pasta dishes, and ratatouille are wonderful ways to let veggies shine in lunch and dinner meals.
Consider veggies for snacks Raw and dehydrated veggies, hummus, bean/legume dips, roasted chickpeas, and veggie smoothies make nutritious kid- and adult-friendly tasty snacks. Consider keeping some of these options on hand and prepped (if needed) for easy-to-grab healthy options when hunger strikes.
Blend leftover greens and herbs into sauces and/or frozen herb cubes Pesto, aioli, chimichurri, and pasta sauce are flavorful ways to use up herbs and veggies in your fridge or freezer. You can also place chopped herbs into a frozen ice-cube tray and top with olive oil to create frozen herb cubes that can be used in the future for flavoring dishes.
Use effective tricks to prolong shelf life To stretch shelf life, save dollars, and reduce food waste, refrigerate cut or peeled produce and keep fridge temperature at 40° F or below. Pack onions, garlic, potatoes, winter squash in a cool, dark place like a closet, pantry, or cellar. Store tomatoes on a countertop away from sunlight and moisture. Wash and dry leafy greens and wrap them loosely in a dish towel or paper towel or container with paper towel in the fridge. Keep fresh herbs (except for basil) wrapped loosely in a moist paper towel and plastic wrap to keep stems moist. Parsley and cilantro can additionally be washed, dried, and placed in a jar or cup with enough water to keep stems moist. Cover the parsley or cilantro leaves with a big enough ziploc / plastic bag and secure around the jar/cup rim with a rubber-band to prolong shelf life.
Try a veggie challenge with family members to boost daily veggie intake Consider setting family goals to reach a certain amount of servings of veggies per day! If you're only having one cup of veggies per day currently, consider how you can add another cup to your day! Aim for about 3-5 cups (fist-size portions) veggies per day.
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