By Neva Cochran, MS, RDN, LD —
Falling in Love with Vegetables
Fall brings cooler days, leaves changing colors and falling to the ground and a generous bounty of seasonal vegetables like spinach, winter squash and sweet potatoes. Readily available now at their peak of freshness, these vegetables are economical and easy to use in a variety of fall and winter meals.
Dark green and deep orange veggies are packed with beta-carotene, a plant compound that is converted into vitamin A in the body. Just a half-cup of cooked sweet potatoes delivers over a day’s worth of vitamin A while a half-cup of butternut squash or spinach provides over 60 percent. They also supply generous amounts of vitamin C, potassium and fiber.
The USDA MyPlate guide recommends filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables. When you consider that 76 percent of Americans don’t eat enough fruit and 87 percent consume too few vegetables, finding creative and tasty ways to prepare them helps make them more appealing. Pairing them with dairy, grain or protein foods allows you to create dishes that are more appealing to the palate. And the coming holiday season is the perfect time to try this.
With Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas just around the corner, delicious winter veggies are a great addition to any holiday table. Consider the many ways you can include squash, spinach and sweet potatoes in dishes for upcoming meals and parties.
Creating Holiday MyPlates
Winter squash on the Thanksgiving menu dates back to the Pilgrims. Available in an array of shapes and colors, those with orange-colored flesh – butternut, acorn, Hubbard or kabocha – furnish the most beta-carotene. Starting your Thanksgiving dinner with a creamy winter squash soup is a sure crowd pleaser. And for scrumptious Christmas side dishes, simmer butternut squash cubes with wild rice or puree cooked acorn squash with nutmeg and dash of sweetener.
While sweet potatoes have been grown in this country since at least the 1600’s, they most likely didn’t appear at holiday meals until a century later. Their sweet taste and versatility means they can be enjoyed at every meal, even breakfast. Consider a twist to traditional oatmeal on a cold winter morning by adding leftover or microwaved sweet potato cubes and a packet of low-calorie sweetener. Other options include a Sugar-Free Sweet Potato Pie for Thanksgiving, sweet potato latkes with Greek yogurt sauce for Hanukkah or a reduced-sugar version of Glazed Sweet Potatoes for Christmas.
The cultivation of spinach in the U.S. began in the early 19th century and today shows up on holiday plates in dishes from dips to meats to salads. Impress your party guests with a festive dip prepared with Greek yogurt, feta cheese and spinach and served with whole-wheat pita triangles. Whip up a quiche or egg casserole for a holiday brunch featuring spinach and shredded cheese. Toss fresh spinach with dried cranberries and pistachios for a colorful Christmas salad. Or consider a beef tenderloin stuffed with spinach and mushrooms at this your December party buffet. You can even add fresh spinach in place of lettuce to a sandwich made with leftover beef or turkey.
Savory, crunchy winter veggies like these deliver taste, nutrition and tradition to holiday meals and parties. Make the most of these celebrations by filing half your plate with fruits and veggies, especially these three standouts rich in tradition and flavor.
Neva Cochran, MS, RDN, LD is a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Dallas. She serves as a nutrition communications consultant to a variety of food and nutrition organizations, including the Calorie Control Council. She is passionate about promoting fact-based food and nutrition information to help people enjoy nutritious eating. Follow her on Twitter @NevaRDLD and check out her blog at www.NevaCochranRD.com.