If you compare any set of published nutrition guidelines, whether established by a national academy, agency, international organization, or otherwise specified foundation, council, university, society, or institute, you are bound to see some variance. It’s no wonder we’re all confused about what to eat! Amidst the variability, though, I’m willing to bet you will see a few consistent recommendations, one of which being a plea to eat more plants. Specifically, vegetables. And even more specifically, dark green leaves.
The nutritional benefits of these foods are too good to be denied. Full of fiber, vitamins A, C, E, K, and folate, minerals including iron and potassium, and, perhaps most notably, an impressive punch of antioxidants, greens are one of the best foods we can consume for overall health.
If eating greens is relatively new territory for you or your family, start small by including them once a week and gradually working your way up, aiming for offering at two to three meals a week in due time. As a general guideline, adults should aim for 1.5 to 2 cups and kids need 1 to 1.5 cups of cooked greens per week total. Even a fraction of that gleans benefits so don’t get discouraged if more ends up under your kids’ chairs than in their mouths. Start somewhere. Acclimate everyone’s taste buds. Become comfortable preparing them. And learn where you can work greens into your favorite standby meals without much disruption to regularly scheduled programming.
If you’re new to the greens scene, read up on these four simple techniques (with suggested recipes) to make them a more regular guest at your dinner table.
COOKED INTO FRITTATAS
Sauteed spinach topped with a couple of fried eggs is my go-to Thursday night “brinner” option, but my kids aren’t crazy about eggs and greens served this way. For the fam, I typically mix greens into frittatas, which are formidable love nests for chopped spinach or kale. Frittata with red peppers, kale and ham is a favorite and a great way to use up wilting greens and deli meat that you may have lingering in the fridge at week’s end. This is another simple recipe to get you started (double the ingredients and cook in a 10-inch skillet for four people). You can even use frozen spinach and a handful of other staples for this no fuss weeknight frittata.
STIRRED INTO SOUPS AND CHILIS
When chopped and allowed to cook down in a broth or simmering liquid, greens become tender and palatable. They also tend to lose some of their innate bitterness when given some time to mellow out. You can’t go wrong with a quick Kale and White Bean Soup or Black Bean Chili with Chard. In our house, we’re big fans of this Sausage, Kale and Tortellini Soup that comes together in 20 minutes.
ADDED TO PASTA SAUCE
Similar to cooking in soups or chilis, greens added to pasta sauces wilt quickly. The acidity of a red tomato sauce pairs well with bitter greens or spinach. And, when chopped small enough, my kids rarely balk at greens served this way. At the point when your sauce is prepared and simmering, stir in chopped raw greens and cook until tender. Frozen spinach is an easy add in here, too (Just be sure to thaw and squeeze out excess liquid before adding). This Pasta with Tomatoes, Spinach, & Sausage Meatballs is a favorite in our house, and I never hear griping about the greens.
COOKED WITH BACON
Salty, smokey bacon (or ham) is the perfect partner to greens. Switch up your vegetable side dish game with a quick bacon and greens saute (no pre-blanching or slow braising required). This is my go-to recipe for no-fail quick sauteed greens. Full transparency here: My kids will sometimes eat them, but usually not. I try not to get discouraged, don’t take offense, and don’t push beyond asking them to take a bite or two. I continue to serve them regularly and trust one of these days they’ll see the (green) light. Heh.