It’s time to fix dinner. You have selected your main dish. Now you need to add a few healthy side dishes. Oh rats, that means vegetables! Oh yes, plenty of colorful, nutritious, and delicious tasting vegetables need to be consumed each and every day. Our tasty and healthy side dish recipes focus on a variety of both lean and starchy vegetables. And variety, both in vegetable choice, and preparation method is the key to learning to love vegetables.
You can find all our yummy vegetable recipes in our Side Dishes Category on Your Daily Food Choices blog.
Both lean and starchy nutrient rich vegetables are vital to our daily eating plan. Scientific research clearly shows that eating tons of vegetables leads to more vibrant health. No other food group is as perfectly matched to our everyday bodily needs as vegetables. We are truly a match made in heaven.
Vegetables are low in calories. You can eat and even overeat vegetables and most likely not gain weight. That is unless you coat them in batter and deep fry them in saturated fat or top them with tons of cheese. Vegetables are loaded with vitamins and minerals. They are also rich in fiber. Learn to love a lot of vegetables and your meals and your body will never be the same.
What are Lean and Starchy Vegetables?
Our eating pattern emphasizes a large variety of colorful lean vegetables. They comprise one half of our daily lunch and dinner. Lean veggies are sometimes eaten as a vitamin enriched snack and are often included in breakfast as an addition to a healthy omelette or frittata.
The major difference between starchy and lean vegetables is that starchy veggies have higher starch content and are higher in calories.
Tasty lean vegetables to choose from:
- Alfalfa sprouts
- Bamboo shoots
- Bean sprouts
- Beet greens
- Brussels sprouts
- Collard greens
- Green beans
- Italian beans
- Mustard greens
- Snow peas
- Summer squash
- Swiss chard
- Turnip greens
- Water chestnuts
- Wax beans
Starchy vegetables along with dried beans, legumes, peas, and lentils, which are starchy carbohydrates, play an important role in our daily eating pattern. Starch makes up one fourth of our daily lunch and dinner and one-third to one half of our daily breakfast. However that starch is more than just starchy vegetables. It is also whole grain baked goods, oatmeal, cereal, rice, pancakes, and waffles.
Delicious starchy vegetables to select from:
- Acorn squash
- Black beans
- Black-eyed peas
- Brown rice (grain eaten as veggie)
- Butternut squash
- Fat-free Refried beans
- Garbanzo beans
- Green peas
- Kidney beans
- Lima beans
- Navy beans
- New potatoes
- Pinto beans
- Split peas
- Sweet potatoes
- Water chestnuts
- Wild rice (grain eaten as veggie)
Both starchy and lean vegetables need to be an important part of your daily dietary plan. Many health care providers recommend eating 3-5 servings of vegetables every day. We strive for 5-6 servings per day.
Most vegetables offer plenty of:
What is starch?
Starch is a type of complex carbohydrate that is broken down in two steps. First, your mouth saliva breaks down starch molecules into maltose. Then your small intestine breaks down maltose into glucose.
Starchy vegetables should be cooked before you eat them. Your can enjoy most lean vegetables either raw or cooked.
Carbs and calories
Starchy vegetables provide nearly three times as many carbohydrates as lean vegetables. Starchy vegetables also have more calories that lean veggies.
Depending upon which vegetables, a single serving of starchy vegetables may range from 80 to over 100 calories. This is three to four times more calories than an average single serving of lean vegetables which come in at about 25 calories.
An average serving of a cooked starchy vegetable is one half cup.
The average serving of a lean vegetable is one cup raw or one half cup cooked.
Why Eat so Many Vegetables?
A healthy diet includes a minimum of 2.5 cups cooked vegetables or 5 cups of raw vegetables daily; which is 5 to 6 servings a day. This may sound like a lot. However, if you eat veggies throughout the day by adding a few to each meal and maybe your snack, you will easily exceed this minimum goal.
Most vegetables, especially lean vegetables, are naturally low in fat and calories and they do not have cholesterol.
Vegetables are important sources of many nutrients:
- Dietary fiber
- Folate (water-soluble Vitamin B)
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin A
6 Important reasons to eat vegetables:
- Consuming vegetables rich in potassium helps:
- Maintain healthy blood pressure
- Reduce the risk of developing kidney stones
- Decrease bone loss
- Eating vegetables high in dietary fiber helps:
- Reduce blood cholesterol levels
- Lower risk of heart disease, including heart attack and stroke
- Aid in proper bowel function, reduce constipation, and risk of diverticulitis
- Provide a feeling of fullness with fewer calories
- Reduce obesity
- Reduce risk of type 2 diabetes
- Consuming vegetables rich in folate helps:
- Body form red blood cells
- Women who become pregnant to reduce the risk of neural tube defects, spina bifida, and anencephaly during fetal development
- Eating vegetables rich in Vitamin C helps:
- Heal cuts and wounds
- Keep teeth and gums healthy
- Aid in iron absorption
- Consuming vegetables rich in Vitamin A helps:
- Keep eyes and skin healthy
- Protect against infections
- An eating plan that is vegetable rich helps:
- Protect against certain types of cancers
Get Cozy with Vegetables
What if you don’t like vegetables? Since I am talking to adults, my initial response to you is “too bad”. Vegetables are chocked full of nutrients and minerals that are so essential for our bodies. You need to eat plenty of them.
My real response is vegetables are so crucial to healthy eating that you need to take the time to discover tasty ways to prepare many different types of vegetables so that you can enjoy almost all of them.
Trust me. I am never going to eat Brussels sprouts boiled in plain water. Yuck! However, we have a recipe for Double Bacon Brussels Sprouts that is to die for. I will be posting this recipe soon.
Seriously, how you prepare vegetables, what you cook them in, and which flavor enhancers you include make a huge difference in how they taste. One bad taste of a certain vegetable should not doom it to oblivion. Give it another try, you might find out you like it.
If you need help in coming up with an idea how to prepare vegetables, let your fingers do the walking through Pinterest.
How to Eat More Vegetables
One thing members in the medical and dietary community have in common is that both tell you eat more vegetables. There are countless ways to add more vegetable to your daily diet. Getting into the daily habit of using more vegetables just takes a little effort and practice.
10 Ways to eat more veggies:
- Add several extra veggies to soups and stews. If needed, add some extra liquid to account for the added volume.
- Pack portable, easy-to-eat veggies in your work or school bag to help avoid vending machine temptations.
- Add frozen peas, green beans, or broccoli to rice when it’s almost done cooking.
- Keep plenty of frozen and canned vegetables on hand for when you need to throw together a meal in a hurry.
- Eat a meatless dinner meal once a week. Think vegetable lasagna, grilled veggie kabobs, or Portobello mushroom “burgers”.
- Besides onions and tomatoes, top off a sandwich with extra sliced or shredded vegetables like beets, carrots, celery, cucumbers, peppers, radishes, or zucchini.
- Keep plenty of fresh veggies like baby carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and radishes ready to eat by washing and prepping those that need it into small pieces. Store them in individual containers in the fridge. This way they are ready for cooking and for snacking!
- When eating out, ask if you can substitute a lean vegetable or house salad for fries and other less-healthy sides.
- Make it fun for kids to try new veggies. Let them pick out a new vegetable in the grocery store and help figure out how to cook it. Hopefully your family will end up expanding their palate!
- Try roasting vegetables like carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, onions, or eggplant. Roasting causes these foods to caramelize, which enhances their natural sweetness and makes them extremely tasty.
Get Sneaky with Vegetables
There are so many ways to add vegetable to your daily diet besides the obvious dinner time side dishes and lunch time soups and salads. And for those of you who don’t like vegetables, getting sneaky will help you learn to love veggies.
10 Sneaky ways to add veggies:
- Add spinach, peppers, or mushrooms to breakfast egg dishes like omelets, frittatas, and even scrambled.
- Grate carrots or zucchini into your oatmeal before cooking.
- Add them to muffins and quick breads. Great options are finely shredded carrots, zucchini, and yellow summer squash.
- Sneak them into pancakes and waffles.
- Add veggies to dips and spreads.
- Mix finely shredded carrots or zucchini into healthy cookies.
- Toss one or two into your smoothies, especially tasty in the green ones.
- Add to pasta and casserole dishes, the more the better.
- Load that homemade pizza up with plenty of vegetables.
- Mix veggies into meatloaf and burgers.
A Word about Fruits
Are you ready for some fun? Let’s take a quick look at fruits versus vegetables. Or, when is a vegetable a fruit?
- Botanically, is the mature structure or ripened ovary of flowering plants
- Usually develops from a flower
- Has seeds so it can reproduce
- Commonly defined, is sweet, fleshy, and juicy
- Low in fat and calories
- High in fiber
- May be high in natural sugar
- Botanically, is a plant or part of a plant that is edible (roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruit, seeds)
- May or may not have seeds
- May not have a role in pant’s reproductive cycle
- Commonly defined, is usually not sweet and is an important part of the main course
- Low in fat and calories
- High in fiber
- Some are high in natural sugar
So botanically, squash, apples, cucumbers, eggplants, green beans, melons, okra, olives, peaches, peppers, sunflower seeds, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes are all examples of fruits.
Definitions can be so confusing. Fortunately, most of know when we are eating fruits versus when we are eating vegetables. The important point to remember is that both fruits and vegetables are very high in nutrition.
Both fruits and vegetables are healthy
Health wise, both vegetables and fruits are strongly recommended over highly processed foods. Eat as many as possible in the raw form to get the most nutrition.
While side dishes usually refer to vegetables, fruits are often used in preparing side dishes to add natural sweetness and flavoring. Try adding apples to cabbage or pineapple to sweet potatoes for mouth-watering flavor.
Substituting a side of fruits for a side of vegetables is perfectly acceptable. After all, tomatoes are one of our favorite side dishes!
Eat From the Rainbow
All vegetables and fruits are good for you, however don’t get in a rut and eat the same bland and boring handful every day. Choose many different types and bright colors to help make sure your body is getting all the nutrients it needs.
How do veggies and fruits get their vivid colors?
In addition to vitamins and minerals, plants supply phytonutrients or natural chemicals that help them resist bacteria and disease. Phytonutrients, often more concentrated in the skins, are responsible for the vivid colors, hues, scents, and flavors of vegetables and fruits.
Rainbow colors for vegetables and fruits:
Powerful REDS for anthocyanins, lycopene, fiber, manganese, vitamins A, C
- Acai berries
- Blood oranges
- Red apples
- Red bell peppers
- Red chili peppers
- Red grapefruit
- Red grapes
- Red onions
- Red pears
- Red potatoes
Brilliant ORANGES for bioflavonoids, carotenoids, fiber, potassium, vitamins A, B6, C
- Acorn squash
- Butternut squash
- Cape gooseberries
- Golden Kiwi
- Orange peppers
- Sweet potatoes
Sunny YELLOWS for bioflavonoids, carotenoids, fiber, manganese, magnesium, potassium, vitamin B6, C
- Spaghetti squash
- Summer squash
- Yellow apples
- Yellow beets
- Yellow figs
- Yellow onions
- Yellow pears
- Yellow peppers
- Yellow potatoes
- Yellow tomatoes
- Yellow watermelon
- Yellow winter squash
Vibrant GREENS for lutein, indoles, fiber, calcium, folate, iron, magnesium, vitamins A, C, E, K
- Bok Choy
- Broccoli Rabe
- Brussels sprouts
- Chayote squash
- Chinese cabbage
- Collard greens
- Green apples
- Green beans
- Green cabbage
- Green grapes
- Green olives
- Green onions
- Green pepper
- Leafy greens
- Romaine lettuce
- Snow peas
- Sugar snap peas
Mighty BLUES for anthocyanins, phenolics
Powerful PURPLES (indigo and violet) for anthocyanins, phenolics, flavonoids, fiber, vitamin A
- Black currants
- Black olives
- Concord grapes
- Purple asparagus
- Purple cabbage
- Purple carrots
- Purple figs
- Purple grapes
- Purple potatoes
Lights from the sun WHITES for allicin, fiber, folate, vitamins C, K
- Jerusalem artichokes
- White corn
- White nectarines
- White Onions
- White peaches
- White Radishes
15 Quick and Easy Tips for Preparing Side Dishes
- When cooking whole grains like brown rice or quinoa, cook them in flavorful stocks and add fresh herbs and spices. This invokes a whole new layer of flavor into the grains and makes them even tastier.
- Fresh green beans should be thin and firm not limp or wilted. Avoid those with rust spots and insect holes.
- Try toasting whole grains like brown rice, wild rice, or quinoa first in a little oil before cooking. This brings out their natural flavor and adds a slight sweetness.
- Experiment with a variety of cooking methods as veggies taste completely different depending upon how they are cooked. Try grilling, roasting, steaming, baking, boiling, or sautéing them.
- When buying fresh Brussels sprouts, look for firm, tight, and small deep-green heads that don’t have yellowed leaves or insect holes. If possible, purchase spouts that are still on the stalk.
- Have a vegetable that you don’t like, let’s say like broccoli? Try pairing it with ones that you love. Vegetable medleys are great ways to incorporate more vitamins and minerals into your side dishes.
- Summer and zucchini squash are sweetest when between 4 and 8 inches long. Don’t peel these squash when cooking as the peel is loaded with nutrients.
- Be adventurous! Don’t just eat the same old standby veggie day after day. Intentionally plan to fix a new or less often prepared veggies every week.
- When purchasing asparagus, look for sturdy spears with tight heads and ends that don’t look woody. Fresh asparagus should snap when bent near the end.
- When sautéing vegetables, replace butter or oil with fat-free chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water. Bring liquid to a gentle boil, add veggies and cook until tender, adding extra liquid if needed.
- Dry beans need to be soaked before cooking. Best method is to first wash the beans, picking thru and removing any that are broken or off-colored. Then cover them with water and let soak overnight. Or you can quick soak the beans by pouring boiling water over them and letting them stand for 1 hour. Rinse with cold water and go ahead and cook the beans according to the recipe.
- When cooking frozen vegetables, do not thaw them before cooking unless directions say otherwise.
- Always rinse Swiss chard and spinach thoroughly before using to remove dirt and sand. Remove thick stems and shred leaves into 2-inch pieces.
- Fresh corn on the cob is at its flavor peak during summer months. Corn is popular all year round and readily available as frozen or canned. To maximize flavor, try roasting it in the oven or grilling it on a barbecue grill or grill pan.
- Need to quickly grate carrots? Cut them into 3 inch pieces and toss them in a food processor with grater blade. You can also use a mini-food processor.
Wrapping up on Healthy Side Dishes
We talked about why colorful vegetables, the main components in healthy side dishes, are vital to your health. We discussed the difference between lean and starchy vegetables, giving you plenty of examples of each. We listed reasons to eat vegetables and offered examples on how to eat more vegetables including ways to get sneaky with adding veggies to other foods.
Then we briefly discussed fruits. We suggested you eat from the rainbow, choosing a variety of colors and types of veggies for optimal health benefits. We ended by giving you several quick and easy tips for preparing side dishes.
There is so much more we could discuss, but now the choice is yours. You need to decide how many different vegetables and preparation methods to incorporate into your daily food plan. Here’s to eating plenty of nutritious delicious tasting vegetables. Let us know if you have any questions.
Need more information for healthy side dishes? Below are a few articles for you to check out.
Sources and Enlightening Reading
Eating Veggies For Weight Loss, My 10 Tricks For Eating More Veggies by Megan blogging from Skinny Fitalicious
How to Cut 38 Fruits and Vegetables the Right Way by Leah Bourne from Style Caster
5 White Foods You Should Be Eating by Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN from Everyday Health
Farmers Market Guide – 52 In Season for September by Leanne Ely from Saving Dinner
About Fruits and Vegetables by American Heart Association
Can a Diabetes Diet Include Fruit? By Kelly Kennedy, RD
Starchy Vs Nonstarchy Vegetables by Melodie Anne from Healthy Eating
Non-Starchy Vegetables by American Diabetes Association
Grains and Starchy Vegetables by American Diabetes Association
Vegetables That Should Be Counted as Starches in Diets by Healthy Eating
Fruit vs. Vegetable by Diffen
Pick From a Rainbow of Beautiful Fruits and Veggies by Everyday Health
Eat More Fruits and Vegetables by American Heart Association
What Your Fruit is Telling You by Brett Blumenthal from Sheer Balance
What are Phytonutrients? By Dr. Frank Lipman
Top 10 Healthy Ways To Cook Fruits & Vegetables by Fruit & Veggies More Matters
How to Cook 20 Vegetables by Eating Well
Produce Prep Guide by Cook Smarts
We Appreciate You!
Thanks for stopping by and letting us share a little about our healthy philosophy for yummy vegetable side dishes.
We are here for you as a guide and as a friend. Let us know how we can help you embrace a healthy lifestyle.
Here’s to lower calorie, great tasting recipes, and living well! And remember, what you eat really matters!
Linda and Steve
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