When I was growing up my Mom, Dad and Grandparents always had huge gardens. The vegetables produced in these gardens filled our kitchens with the best aromas ever! My kindred sister and I loved to raid the pea patch for those fresh peas when Mom wasn’t looking! Mom would blanche all the extra veggies and put them in the freezer for scrumptious, mouthwatering meals throughout the cold winter months.
Some of the veggies grown in the garden back then weren’t exactly a favorite as a kid, but as we grow, get married and really explore nutritional benefits of our food, our tastes changed. Even my sons, who never liked broccoli when they were kids, now devour a veggie plate with a nutritious dip like there is no tomorrow! My grandkids will devour a veggie plate in minutes! (Talk about warming GranJan's heart when she sees them eating so well❤️)
The key to creating a nutritional dinner is to have a diet rich in veggies, preferably of all colors, sizes and types. Why? By doing so, you are pretty well assured to get essential minerals and vitamins for just about everything from bone health to hair and nails to weight loss and to strengthen your immune system.
Savvy Shopping means shopping locally and supporting your local farmers. The biggest benefit is the freshness of the product. The sooner you can prepare the chosen veggie after harvest, the more beneficial nutritionally it is for you and your family.
We all like our fruit smoothies, but have you tried vegetable smoothies? Their popularity is on the rise and people love to pre-pack a veggie-zip-lock-bag to go for lunches and snacks.
Veggies are COOL dude! Yet not all veggies are the same nutritionally. Here are 20 of the top nutritional veggies I use regularly. The first 17 are grown locally in Ontario.
1) ROMAINE LETTUCE
It’s a real favorite of mine in the lettuce category. Unlike iceberg lettuce which has very little nutritional value or nutrients, romaine is loaded with fiber, vitamin C and beta-carotene. These minerals work together to help prevent cholesterol from oxidizing and by doing so, it prevents plaque from forming along our artery walls. Try throwing a bit into your favorite smoothie recipe.
2) SWEET POTATOES
What is fall without a good sweet potato dill soup? Sweet potatoes are so simple to use. You can pop them into the oven at 425 degrees for about 40 minutes or make wedges in your T-fal fryer; sprinkle on a bit of salt or even cinnamon, or mash them up and add a couple of tablespoons of Greek yogurt to the mix and a dash of dill. Yummy and nutritious. The contain free-radical vitamins of A and C, plus carotenoids and beta-carotene which converts to vitamin A in your body. And sweet potatoes may also help protect against heart disease, cancer and other inflammatory-related health issues.
3) RED PEPPERS
Need some vitamin C? Grab a red pepper … seriously! One serving of red pepper had 153 milligrams of vitamin C per serving. That’s over 200% of the daily value! Plus, it’s a great source of vitamin A, vitamin B6, folate, fiber, vitamin K, niacin and thiamine.
Red peppers are a favorite on my veggie trays and in my stir fry’s. Dip them in hummus, stuff them with quinoa, chop them up and throw into a salad, grill them on the BBQ and blend them into a nice bowl of homemade soup.
Pet Owners: Toss Fido a red pepper! It's one of the best treats to feed Fido with all of its vitamins and antioxidants. The Beta carotene converts to Vitamin A in the body and great for skin, coat and eye health.
Popeye made spinach popular and for a reason! It’s packed full of nutrition with vitamins A and C plus other nutrients to activate your metabolism. And it’s good for your eye health because of the antioxidants it’s chalked full of. 2 cups of spinach a day will give you extra energy and help with weight loss. Keeping your sugar intake low or even nil is a good strategy. Try mixing some spinach into your protein smoothie. It will keep your protein and veggie levels high and your sugar low.
Our family garden always had rows of beets. The beet root and the top are both nutritious so there is absolutely no waste.
Beets are a great way to detox and discourage inflammation. They are rich in antioxidants and have a unique compound called betalains which have great health benefits.
HINT: The darker or brighter the veggie, the richer it will be in antioxidants. If the veggie can stain your hands, just think of what it will do to your insides? And yes, that’s a good thing! Try throwing a beet in your smoothie along with pineapple, banana plus, 2 drops of ginger and lemon dietary essential oils. YUMMY!
One of my grandfather’s favorites – he could eat a whole bowl of cabbage in one sitting! Cabbage raw, cooked and in Grandma’s homemade sauerkraut! He lived to 103! Grandma lived to her 100thyear. This goes to prove that processed foods are once again a “NO-NO” in your kitchen if you want to live a long, healthy life!
Cabbage is a great staple and not expensive. You’ll get more bang for your buck with cabbage than any other veggie. It’s good for the gut, it’s an anti-inflammatory and it’s high in phytochemicals which are great for cancer-fighting and disease prevention. PLUS, high in vitamins – B-Complex, C and K, along with magnesium, potassium, iodine, iron and calcium. You can make great salads, roast it or BBQ it with olive oil or add a bit to your morning green juicing routine. It is guaranteed to get you off to a good start in the morning – or any time of the day.
Garlic, garlic, garlic! I love it in salads, soups, roasts, stir-fry’s, pasta sauces, casseroles – just about anything. It’s a great immune-system booster and fights toxins and diseases in the body.
Did you know that mushrooms are grown from fungi spores? They are a living organism without roots, leaves, flowers or seeds which most veggies chosen for their health benefits are.
I love mushrooms in a variety of ways – raw, cooked or stuffed. They are low in calories and contain unique types of antioxidants that protect our cells, fight oxidative damage and provide us with healthy plant protein.
There are so many varieties of mushrooms and I like experimenting with them all. Each variety has a different flavor. Toss them in your soup and your stir-fries for a yummy add-on. Love to make home-made pizza with a light, whole-wheat crust? Don’t forget the mushrooms!
Parsley is so easy to grow in a decorative pot on your kitchen windowsill or on your patio deck. It’s a mainstay in my kitchen – both fresh and dried.
It’s a really potent detoxifier and natural diuretic. It helps prevent bloating and water retention by flushing the kidneys.
Ever wondered why restaurants serve a twig of parsley on your plate? It’s great for digestion as it helps remove toxins from the body in addition to cleansing and purifying the blood. Rich in vitamins A, C and E; minerals and antioxidants I add it to my soups, salads, veggie wraps and smoothies.
I always have cauliflower on hand. It’s a main staple in my kitchen. Steamed, stir-fry’s, soups, raw for snacks, or recently I’ve been making a cauliflower ‘rice’. Add a creamy dairy-free cheese sauce by steaming it then put in a blender and blend it with soaked cashews, some lemon and a pinch of Dijon mustard. Yummy. Remember to save the left-over water from boiling or steaming your veggies for your weekly batch of veggie soup.
Local asparagus is the best. I love the simple steaming of asparagus and add a squeeze of fresh lemon and rosemary on top just before serving. It’s a natural diuretic and cleanses the digestive tract. Leftovers go into a cream of asparagus soup. No waste at all!
If you struggle with bloat, add fennel to your diet year-round. It has high levels of vitamin C. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps promote natural collagen formation and that equates to younger, healthier looking skin and healthier bones. Add it to salads, pair it with other cooked veggies, add it to fish dishes as a garnish.
13) CELERY ROOT
The celery stalk is not the only good part. Celery root is good for the digestion, supports strong bones, fights free radicals, helps with weight loss and regulates blood sugar. Instead of mashed potatoes, try masked celery root. I know it’s hard to find in the grocery stores, but when you do get it, grab it and give it a go!
Another staple in my kitchen. It’s high in calcium, magnesium and zinc. It helps keep the pH alkalinity balance in the body and keeps bones strong. High in folate and iron it supports healthy blood and Vitamin A which has that desired and needed collagen smoothing properties for younger looking skin. Some call it the ‘fountain of youth veggie’ because of its great anti-aging benefits of phytonutrients, fiber and antioxidants which help flush out unwanted toxins.
I always steam broccoli for about 7-10 minutes. You don’t want to over steam it to mush. Simply add any desired seasoning before serving. My favourite - toss with extra virgin olive oil and add 1-2 drops of lemon dietary plus essential oil or flavour of your choice.
Sprouts are fun to grow at home for a quick access to fresh sprouts where you know the source of the organic seed and where they came from. Their nutrients help cleanse your body, nourish the cells and tissues and contribute to health skin that glows. Full of antioxidants, protein, enzymes and minerals of iron, calcium and sulfur. Toss a few onto your open-faced sandwich, in your salads or veggie smoothie each day.
Kale is a great source of phytochemicals; plant protein, fiber, chlorophyll; minerals of manganese, copper, calcium, potassium, folate, magnesium, phosphorous, iron and folate; plus vitamins A,B,C,E, K and even omega-3 oils.
My favorite is a kale salad. Mix the torn-up kale leaves with chunks of fresh avocado, drizzle with avocado and lemon juice. Add a dash of cayenne pepper before adding your home-grown sprouts, sliced cherry tomatoes of all colors, herbs of dill, cilantro or parsley and dulse flakes for salt replacement. Have you tried kale chips? Yummy!
17) FIDDLE HEADS – SPRINGTIME
I discovered fiddleheads when I was 9 years old, hiking with a group of “Explorers” – a local youth guide group. I was hooked! I still love walking in the woods and picking fiddle heads or sneaking over to my son’s house where they thrive! They are the curled young fronds of a fern. Just a caution: know your ferns. The ostrich fern’s fiddle heads are safe to eat and while the cinnamon fern’s fiddle heads are ok, the ostrich fern is better.
Whether you pick them or buy them in the grocery store, be sure to rinse them several times to remove any dirt. I use a veggie wash for all my vegetables before using them. Use them as soon as possible after harvesting for the best taste and texture.
Fiddleheads contain about 22 calories, 3 grams of carbohydrates, 2.8 grams of protein and 0.2 grams of fat per half cup serving. Their deep green color tells us they are chalked full of beta-carotene. The provide a good amount of vitamin C, niacin and potassium.
Not everyone likes fiddleheads as they have a very unique flavor. It’s sort of grassy with a hint of nuttiness. Think asparagus and spinach mixed. Try them.
My favorite way is simple: steamed and serve with melted butter or vinegar. Cooked chilled fiddleheads are a great addition to a garden salad or served with a balsamic vinegar dressing. Making a quiche? Chop up the leftovers and throw them in!
This next veggie, while not grown in Ontario, is harvested in the Atlantic Provinces of Canada.
If you are a water sign like me, you’ll love seaweed! It’s loaded with many vitamins and minerals including calcium, potassium, vitamin C, folate, beta carotene, and vitamin K. Sodium content varies depending on the variety of seaweed and how it’s processed but it can be up to 698 milligrams per cup of raw seaweed. Some edible seaweeds also provide vitamin D and B12 and it’s a great source of iodine. A seaweed salad is really tasty!
I love the snack of Dulce from the Atlantic Provinces in Canada.
It’s a great replacement for salt in salads. It’s low in sodium but still has that salty taste. It’s a great snack compromise for couples where one loves and needs salt and the other has to watch their salt intake.
PetOwners: There are many different varieties of seaweed and dogs can eat raw, wet seaweed in moderation or in supplement form. Seaweed is very dangerous to dogs when dried. when seaweed is washed up on the beach and dries in the sun it loses moisture and shrinks to a fraction of its size. When Fido eats it, the fluid in the stomach and intestine causes the seaweed to expand and this causes impactions which can be fatal. Keep Fido away from the beach and the dry seaweed and don't feed seaways. This rule of thumb applies to all dehydrated foods. Remember - if it is dehydrated, the water is removed; when eaten water is put back into the food which causes it to expand.
These next two veggie choices are not grown in Canada and need to be imported.
Again: know your source.
I love my avocado smoothies. Sliced on top of salads or to make a mean guacamole or a salad dressing. Avocado is another main staple when the price is right. It is one of the veggies I like and a bit of a budget splurge as they are not grown locally in Ontario.
It’s easy to digest and contains healthy fats to help stabilize blood sugar levels. Glutathione and folate are immune supportive minerals that can reduce the risk of heart disease. Packed with magnesium, it helps with muscle and nerve function, regulates blood pressure and supports the immune system. Do you suffer from those leg cramps that wake you up in the middle of the night? Eat avacodo!
I discovered artichoke late in life and now it’s a treat. They come from the Mediterranean basin, parts of North Africa, North and South America, Italy, Spain and France. They tend to be a bit pricey. But for special occasions or when my diet says, “You need an artichoke boost” it’s a good choice. The mineral content in an artichoke is very dense as you can see when you prepare it. All the nutrients are packed solidly into the leaves: silica and magnesium minerals, antioxidants, fiber and cynarin – it boosts the production of digestive bile which makes this veggie choice a great one for those who are suffering with gut-health and digestive issues.
You can do so much with an artichoke: bake them, grill them on the BBQ, boil them, steam them. Toss them with lemon and eat in little lettuce cups. I just like to steam them first, toss them on the BBQ and drizzle with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. You can make a sauce for chicken or add the artichoke hearts to a veggie platter. I love artichoke dips! The list goes on.
I found the artichoke took some getting used to…but now that I’ve experimented with different recipes, it’s a ‘must have’ on my favorite veggie list.