Less than 10% of the American population is meeting or exceeding the recommended intake of 2 – 3 cups of vegetables a day. And this is just the bare minimum! Most functional, anti-aging and integrative medicine doctors recommend 6 – 9 cups a day. Why so many? Because higher intake of veggies is associated with disease prevention, optimal health and increased life and health span.
What is preventing people from getting their daily vegetables? There are many factors. Poverty and inaccessibility can certainly be part of the problem. But another problem is basic lack of knowledge. For many people going into the produce section of their neighborhood store is overwhelming. They consume maybe 5 varieties of fruits and vegetables a week. And they have no idea what the other stuff is let alone how to cook it. To simplify prep I highly recommend getting a mandoline! This tool is a huge time saver! Here is an in-depth list of the veggies you are likely to find in your local grocery store and how to prepare them!
Cruciferous / Sulfuric Veggies:
These veggies are great on their own or to add flavor to other foods. Cruciferous and sulfuric veggies are super good for you. They help with gut health and detox and even have anti-cancer and hormone balancing properties. Try to get 2 or more of these in every day. If you currently don’t eat them daily just start with 1 a day. It will make a huge difference!
This is the #1 most consumed veggie in America! It is great in soup (just toss it in raw), steamed, or sautéed* in a stir fry. Broccoli is also great raw and an easy go to snack. The stems are very nutritious too. I like to steam them up or put them into soups or broth to add flavor. I even combine them with raw beets, carrots, cabbage and jicama. Using my mandoline with the julienne attachment I create matchstick slices and combine them for a healthy coleslaw.
This includes red, green and Napa cabbage. Hard head cabbages like red and green are great thrown into a slow cooker with meat or fermented (sauerkraut). Cabbage can also be cut into large rounds, brushed with oil* and grilled or sautéed*.
Napa cabbage can be steamed or sautéed* and can also be fermented with spices (kimchi). Fermented food is excellent for gut health so consider trying out some store-bought kimchi or sauerkraut to start. And if you love it, making it at home is pretty simple.
Bok Choy is Chinese cabbage. You can get full grown or baby bok choy. The baby bok choy has a more subtle flavor but the full grown bok choy is more bitter. This is a family favorite! My kids love it sautéed in oil* with fresh garlic and ginger. While you warm some oil* with minced ginger and garlic chop up bok choy. When the oil becomes fragrant toss the bok choy in and sauté* until tender and wilted. It’s that simple! Bok Choy can also be chopped and steamed or halved and grilled.
Mushrooms can be sautéed in ghee or oil* and eaten alone or added to most recipes. They are great roasted as well. I occasionally like to eat raw mushrooms, but they are much better for you cooked. Try to eat a variety of different kinds of mushrooms. Portabella mushrooms are amazing grilled or stuffed! Because of their hearty dense texture they are often used as a burger replacement.
In my opinion everything (except desert) is better with garlic. Garlic is absolutely amazing for you and should be eaten daily. 2 cloves a day counts as a serving and is equal to a cup of other veggies. It is better for you eaten raw (like most veggies) but eating it cooked also has benefits. I love to add minced garlic to homemade dips and salad dressings. I also love to roast heads of garlic and spread the soft garlic on my food or add it to soup recipes.
To roast a head of garlic cut off the bottom including the ends of the cloves. Place in ceramic covered container or foil and drizzle with oil*. Cover and bake at 400° for 35 minutes. Be careful when removing.
Onions (including leeks and scallions)
Onions of all varieties add amazing flavor and health benefits to any dish. Our family loves them sautéed*. When you sauté onions they get a slightly sweet flavor and are great added to other veggies or served on top of meat. You can also add onions to soup. And, stir fries aren’t complete without them.
In my opinion brussel sprouts are best sautéed* with paleo (sugar free, uncured) bacon. My family also loves them roasted. Simply toss them in oil* and bake them in the oven. You can also add a little bit of maple syrup or some cranberries or both. Brussel sprouts are also great shaved and combined with onions, garlic, small chopped sweet potatoes and sausage to make a delicious and nutritious breakfast hash you can enjoy all week!
I’m pretty sure that we all know by now that cauliflower can be made into anything. With its mild flavor and easy prep cauliflower is one of the most versatile veggies you can add to your meal plan. And there are many pre-made options! For example, cauliflower rice or tots are in the freezer section of most stores. Just be sure to check the ingredients. Because, you want to avoid those with tons of ingredients you don’t recognize or with added sugar, dairy or wheat. Cauliflower is great raw and makes a handy go to snack. It is also good steamed, roasted and added to stir fries.
Cauliflower leaves and the core are also edible and nutritious. Consider adding them to soups and broths. I add mine to blended soups of all sorts.
First of all,… the best asparagus is the fattest. You also wan it to be crisp so you can snap the ends off. If it is shriveling, it’s past it’s prime. Definitely still edible but past it’s prime. If the asparagus tops have become soft and mushy you can still eat the stems or toss the stems into soup. Asparagus is too pricey to be thrown away!
I LOVE asparagus roasted or grilled, but you can also steam it. Just be sure to keep that steaming to around 15 min or less to avoid it getting mushy. Asparagus is great with other veggies in cashew cream sauce over zoodles. To make this: steam asparagus around 10 min, then sauté* with mushrooms, onions or leeks and garlic when all veggies are soft mix in cashew cream sauce (soaked cashews blended with water and lemon juice). Serve over zoodles. You can also add meat or sundried tomatoes to this, and it heats up for a few days later too. Making it an excellent left-over lunch!
The only way I’ve ever had turnips is mashed like potatoes. You can add roasted garlic to them as well. I’ve also heard that they are delicious roasted. If you’ve tried them this way let us know in the comments!
Leafy greens are exactly what they sound like. The most common leafy greens are probably lettuce but there are many other varieties that are delicious when cooked. Leafy greens are extremely nutrient dense and contain phytochemicals. They are also very easy to prepare. As a bonus some other veggies come with their own greens which are also edible, like radishes and beets. Leafy greens cook down a lot, so when it comes to a serving size you can measure either 2 cups raw or 1 cup cooked. Shoot for at least 2 servings a day.
Lettuce (green or red leaf, butter & romaine, no… iceberg doesn’t count)
Lettuce is great as a salad bed or a wrap for sandwiches. There are many varieties. And, all are amazing eaten raw. But, remember, iceberg lettuce doesn’t count. You can eat it if you like but it is almost entirely water and doesn’t contain many nutrients.
Kale / Chard
My family’s favorite way to eat kale and chard is as chips. Wash it thoroughly then gently massage with oil and tear from thick center stem. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 20 min at 250°. I like to sprinkle mine with nutritional yeast and sea salt before baking. One bunch of kale makes 2 large trays of chips. And, they ALL get eaten within an hour! Not only that but, I have to divide them to avoid fights! You can also sauté* kale and chard with garlic, mushrooms and onions. If your kale is too bitter add a little full fat coconut milk to the pan. You can also simply add them to a smoothie**.
Beet, Mustard, Radish, Collard Greens
I often use these types of greens in broths or added into soups at the end. I also like them sautéed*. The coconut milk trick used for kale works for these greens as well. And adding it will help take the bitterness from the dish. Beet and radish greens don’t stay good for as long as beets and radishes. They tend to wilt quickly so I like to pull them off right away to cook them.
All I can say is YUMMM!!! I eat spinach every day! Whether it’s full spinach or baby spinach it’s a vitamin powerhouse! Spinach is the other odd veggie that is actually better for you cooked. I love it sautéed* but you can also steam it or add it to soup at the end. Frozen spinach is very versatile. It can be added to dips or even used as an ingredient to stuff meat. Raw spinach is great added to a salad or smoothie** too!
Squash / Gourds
We always seem to think of squash in the fall. Truth is there are varieties available year-round. Get these into your diet whenever you can. With their firm flesh they are perfect for grilling. And I’m surprised they aren’t prepared this way more often! They are delicious grilled and should be! Here are some other great ways to prepare squash!
Summer / yellow squash & Zucchini
Yellow squash and zucchini are super versatile. They can be sliced into rounds or cut long ways then grilled, roasted or sautéed. You can also use the spiralizer attachment of a mandoline to create zoodles.
Pro-tip for zoodles, remove them from the water when they are still a tad bit firm and put them on paper towel. Then, sprinkle with salt to remove the excess water and keep them from being soggy.
Of course, we’ve all heard of pumpkin pie and pumpkin spiced latte (which incidentally has no relation to the vegetable). But, did you know that you can eat pumpkin all on its own outside of baked goods? Pumpkin is great roasted or steamed and mashed. It can also be made into soup. You can add all of your usual seasonings to it like cinnamon and nutmeg no matter how you’re cooking it. For a touch of sweetness, 100% pure maple syrup is an amazing compliment.
I like to buy pumpkins in the fall. First I halve them and remove the seeds (which I roast and eat, yummm). Then I cook them in the oven, covered, face up. When they are soft, I like to remove the flesh and blend it or toss it in the food processor. When cool I put it in the freezer for later use. I love these silicone trays for freezing. They are 1/3 c. each. In the winter I use my thawed frozen pumpkin for soups and baking.
This is the other pasta alternative. It is much easier than making zoodles because believe it or not cooked spaghetti squash basically becomes noodles all on its own!
You simply brush it with some oil* (after cutting it in half and removing the seeds). Then sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook it on a baking sheet cut side down in a 400° oven for 45 min to an hour. Cook time depends on how soft you like your “noodles”. Go to an hour for soft “noodles” or stop at 45 min for al dente. Then, remove the squash from the oven, flip it over and use a fork to scrape the flesh. It will just break apart into strands. After it is all shredded add your favorite pasta sauce or mix it with other sautéed veggies. You can even serve it right into the shell!
My kids enjoy it with a little butter, parmesan, garlic and parsley. Prepared this way it’s a healthy alternative to buttered noodles!
Butternut squash makes the most decadent and amazing winter soup, in my opinion. It’s hearty and delicious and warms the soul. You can also chop up butternut squash and roast it. I’m sure you could steam it too, but I’ve never had it this way. If you have let us know it the comments how it is steamed!
This is by far my favorite squash! I love to cut it in half and roast it like pumpkin but halfway through I add maple syrup mixed with ghee, cinnamon, nutmeg and toasted pecans to the center. It’s delicious! I also enjoy acorn squash sliced and roasted and I personally think it’s amazing on the grill!
Eggplant (technically a fruit)
Eggplant is commonly used in vegan and vegetarian cooking in place of meat. With its firm flesh and mild flavor it is very versatile. You can bread it and fry it to replace fried meat cutlets in any meal. Or, you can throw it on the grill with some seasoning to use in place of a burger.
Eggplant is also great roasted or cut thin and layered with zucchini and summer squash to create the “noodles” in a lasagna. My favorite way to eat eggplant though is baba ghanoush. This is a middle eastern dip that looks like hummus. I love to dip my other veggies into it. Since it is primarily made of eggplant this is a veggie on a veggie so it’s super healthy. And it helps me get a wider variety of plants into my diet.
All the veggies above count as “colorful” too but bellow are the veggies that don’t fit into the other categories. They are still amazing for you to add to your diet. Try to get in 2 cups a day of these beautiful veggies. Also keep in mind that color matters. Veggies of different colors have different nutrients so be sure to mix it up!
I’m obsessed with radishes! They are amazing! I love to cut them into slivers and add some chopped scallions and vinegar and then use them as a garnish on my hot foods. SO delicious! Radishes are great added to Asian food toward the end, so they retain their crunch. They are most commonly eaten raw though. It’s common to toss them on salads for added crunch. They have a little spice to them. So, if I’m eating them whole, I like them with hummus or baba ghanoush which cools them off a bit.
Bell peppers are a great addition to most veggie mixes whether roasted or sautéed*. They are especially good as a meat topping or side when sautéed with onions! Bell peppers are also great raw. I always include them in my veggie trays. Be aware that once cut they spoil pretty quickly. When I meal prep these are the first raw veggies I eat.
Pro-tip: Just because you don’t like green peppers doesn’t mean you don’t like red, yellow and orange. Green peppers seem to dominate cooking, but I find them to be bitter. Try all the colors and see which you like best!
Hot peppers (all sorts)
I am super wimpy about spicy food, so it took me a long time to try hot peppers. Most of the capsaicin is actually found in the veins not in the seeds or the flesh. So, I carefully remove those and wash my hands thoroughly before using the pepper. If you like the heat leave them in. Because capsaicin is actually VERY good for your health! Peppers can be added raw or cooked to a variety of sauces, soups and salsas. They add flavor dimension even without the heat. I especially enjoy them paired with sweet flavors. For example, they are great in pineapple or mango salsa. Try adding them and you’ll see!
I’m not a fan of stuffed bell peppers so I thought I’d add Cubanelle peppers to my veggie list and share this yumminess with all of you! Cubanelle peppers taste very similar to bell peppers except that they have a tiny bit of kick. But, no worries, I’m talking mild or less. And they are delicious! I love to stuff mine with shredded chicken (rotisserie or left over from broth making) mixed with 1 scrambled raw egg and roasted tomato salsa. I also blend some of the salsa and use it as a sauce over my peppers. If you’re a dairy eater you can also melt cheddar cheese over the top and serve with a dollop of sour cream. My whole family loves these. The best part is that they always eat a salad with it too… 3 veggie serving… 1 meal…0 complaints! WOOHOO!
Cucumbers only count in this category if you leave the skin on. If you peel them, they are like iceberg lettuce (eat all you want but there’s no real nutrition). Everyone is likely familiar with how to eat cucumbers. I love them sliced with baba. They are another veggie that doesn’t stay good for long once cut. So eat them shortly after meal prep day!
Tomatoes and eggplant are both technically fruit, but tomatoes get a lot of love in the veggie category. These are likely the most versatile veggie there is! They make the base for sauces and condiments and are amazing in things like salsa! I also love to add fire roasted tomatoes to many of my recipes. Tomatoes are delicious sliced, raw with a touch of salt. And, raw grape tomatoes are also eaten whole with dips. Heirloom tomatoes with a little basil, olive oil and balsamic is a family favorite in my house (my kids like buffalo mozzarella added to theirs). And, you can even roast or pan fry tomatoes!
So, the easiest way to eat artichokes is out of the can. They are amazing in salads and I love them in lemony sauces. You can basically add artichokes, a bit of broth (veg or chicken), a splash of lemon juice and some capers to any pasta, rice, poultry or seafood and have an amazing meal. Artichokes can also be eaten all on their own!
To prepare fresh artichokes you cut off the top and place in a pot of water to steam. The cooking part isn’t complicated, but the eating part is. To eat, you pull off each of the leaves, usually dip it in sauce then run the base of the leaf over your teeth. It isn’t easy but it is super yummy!
If you haven’t heard of or seen an avocado lately you might be living under a rock! Avocados can be thrown on a grill but are usually eaten raw, either cut or mashed. I also like to use them in my smoothies. The texture is great to use as a base for dairy free treats like pudding and nice cream as well.
The most difficult thing about avocados is choosing and ripening them. Here’s the trick… they are ripe when they are slightly soft when you squeeze (like ripe citrus fruit). You can bring them home while they are rock hard and put them out on the counter to ripen naturally. You can also place them in a brown paper bag in a dark place to speed the process along. Once they are ripe you have 2 days to eat them or get them in the fridge. Once refrigerated they will last 7 – 10 days.
If you cut one and only use half, store cut side down in a bowl of water. When you go to eat it scrape the watery avocado away and it will be like fresh!
Green beans are amazing steamed. I love to steam mine al dente and then toss them into a little melted ghee with toasted almond slivers and lemon (green bean almandine). You can also eat green beans raw and I know a lot of people who love them that way. I’m not the biggest fan of roasted green beans but you can try it. FYI… green bean casserole doesn’t count!
Peas are a great addition to any casserole or soup. They have a pleasant creamy texture and slightly sweet flavor. They are also great steamed. And, once steamed, can be whipped in a blender or food processor and used as a base for sauces or dips.
Really… just eat olives! You will not find an easier veggie to get into your diet! It doesn’t matter the color or type. Variety isn’t only delicious but also offers additional nutritional benefits! Get a jar of olives on this week’s grocery trip and every trip after! There just isn’t an excuse to not eat these!
Snow peas & sugar snap peas
Don’t mix these up with sweet peas. These are still in the pod. Snow peas are the ones that are really flat and sugar snap peas are firm and thicker. Both are incredible in stir-fries! They are also great thrown into a roasted veggie mix or steamed. They are mildly flavored and pair well with other veggies and sauces.
Oh beets… how do I love thee! Let me count the ways!!! Most people are familiar with pickled beets and yes, they are great! They can be eaten solo or in a salad.
The thing most people have never tried is raw beets. Now remember you can use the greens at the top in smoothies or sauté them. You can even saute them with the beet! Beets are also incredible roasted, steamed or raw. I love to include them in slaw. And you can even make chips out of them. Beets can also be made into soup or fermented. Don’t assume that you don’t like beets because you don’t like the ones in the can or jar. Give the raw ones a try!
Carrots are one of the easiest foods to carry around with you and munch on. They give such a pleasant crunch and are just sweet enough to tame cravings. Try to go with actual carrots. And maybe even check out the multi-colored ones. If you prefer baby carrots go for organic.
Carrots are also delicious cooked and can be steamed or roasted. They are also a staple of soups and slaws. My daughter loves them in her stir-fry. I’ve never tried it but it’s worth a shot!
Some of you may not know this but you can blend celery then strain it through a nut milk bag. And, use the remaining celery juice in place of salt in most recipes. Totally true story! But no, there is no salt in celery.
I’ll bet you thought celery would be on the same list as peeled cucumbers and iceberg lettuce. Celery is nutrient dense enough to make the veggie list though. You can of course cook it in soup or sauté* it. But I think raw is the way most people like it. Especially with a little nut butter! That’s a yummy snack!!!
Sweet potatoes & yams
These delicious and nutritious tubers are amazing! I make baked fries and chips out of them with a little chili powder, garlic powder and salt sprinkled on. I also mention them under “brussel sprouts” as a great ingredient for hash. The simplest thing to do with them though is bake them whole. Once you bake them whole you can split them and enjoy or scoop out the insides and mash them. I never boil them on the stove anymore because this is so much easier.
You may have noticed the absence of some veggies. There are some that just didn’t come to mind and some that are more regional, for example, okra. I tried to include those that are pretty easy to come by at most big grocery stores. And if you can’t find them fresh or you’re on a budget, frozen is a great option!
You might also notice that potatoes are missing. They just don’t have the nutrients necessary for you to make a point of eating them. If you do choose to eat them, it is best to cook them then completely cool them and warm them up later to eat. This makes the potato turn into an insoluble fiber which is good for your gut and less impactful to your blood sugar. Doing this actually removes potatoes from the starchy carb no-no list
Take the 1st Step!
You probably aren’t eating enough veggies right now. But that’s ok, because now you know how to change that! This list will help you expand your veggie consumption, if you use it! So, take the first step today! Pick a new vegetable or 2, search on google for a picture and head to the market to get it! You might find that what you’re looking for isn’t in season. That’s ok, buy it frozen or try something different. Stick with it and add something new every week. Make sure that little by little you’re increasing the number and variety of veggies you and your family are eating! You’ll be reaping the health benefits in NO time!
Would you like any of the recipes or suggestions in this post included in UA’s recipe section? Let me know which ones! What’s your family’s favorite veggie and how do you prepare it? Are there any veggies you feel like I missed here? Do you have any great veggie prep tips? Leave all the questions and advice in the comments!
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Sauteing and oil
*A note about sautéing and roasting: It is actually beneficial to your health to eat a little bit of oil at every meal, especially with veggies. The oil helps your body metabolize the nutrients. In general, it is best to cook with avocado oil, coconut oil or paleo lard, duck or bacon fat. Cooking with olive oil isn’t a great idea because it has a very low smoke point. Smoking oils are carcinogens. It is also best to avoid vegetable, sunflower, canola, safflower and palm oil as well as shortening.
**A note about smoothies: If you add a banana (even half) to any smoothie it will cut the bitter flavor. This is a great way to get extra veggies into your diet. This is especially great for veggies like kale, chard and greens which are nutrient dense but often bitter or strong tasting. Even children enjoy smoothies with these greens if you add a banana.