Local veggies to root for.
Canada’s food guide recommends that fruits and vegetables make up the majority of the foods we eat, seven to 10 servings a day to be exact. Research has shown inadequate fruit and vegetable intake is linked to higher rates of chronic disease such as heart disease, stroke, obesity and certain types of cancer. So, how are Canadians making out? Not so well. Statistics Canada reveals only 40.6 per cent of Canadians—and only 31.1 per cent of Atlantic Canadians—are getting five servings a day. The season affects our intake as well.
According to one study, Canadians consume 46 per cent less fruit and vegetables in the colder months compared to the warmer months. Identified barriers included produce being too expensive and low quality in the winter, as well as a lack of variety.
Unfortunately, our bodies’ nutrient needs don’t change with the seasons; a seasonal vegetable boycott is not in our best interest. So, how do you get your vegetables and enjoy them too? Start by thinking beyond boiled potatoes, turnip and cabbage. It may just be a matter of putting on that creative chef’s hat to add some pizzazz to those seasonal vegetables. In doing so, you’ll not only enjoy your food, you’ll gain better health, save money, support the local farmer and minimize your carbon footprint.
Often thought of as just bottled condiments, beets deserve a bigger space on your plate. With their rich red colour, they are low in calories, provide a source of fibre, as well as potassium, folate and antioxidants lycopene and anthocyanin. All this goodness is thought to play a role in reducing inflammation, help prevent cancer and lower your risk of heart disease.
Don’t throw away the tops, beets provide a two-in-one benefit. Beet greens can be prepared similar to other greens. Try them sautéed with garlic and olive oil, or with balsamic vinegar. They offer their own set of nutrients too as a source of iron, magnesium and potassium.
Beets take a little time to cook but are certainly worth it. Halve or quarter them, toss in a little olive oil and place on a baking sheet to roast at 400°F for 35-40 minutes. Sprinkle with herbs like rosemary, oregano or drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Once cooked, enjoy as a side as is, or add crumbled goat’s cheese.
Looking for a healthy snack with a satisfying crunch? Beet chips will do the trick! Thinly slice with a mandolin cutter and place on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Bake at 350°F for 15 minutes, flip and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, until nice and crispy.
There are many varieties of winter squash—butternut, buttercup, spaghetti, acorn just to name a few. Packed with nutrition, they are a good source of fibre, potassium and magnesium. All varieties are high in beta-carotene, an antioxidant that may play a role in cancer prevention, heart disease and eye health. A half-cup serving contains about 100 calories.
Squash can be steamed, baked, boiled, microwaved and grilled. Grilling and roasting squash creates the tastiest of flavours as the natural sugars caramelize. Cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, place cut side down on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake at 375°F for 35-45 minutes until soft (cooking time will vary according to size). Stuck for time? Speed up the cooking process by microwaving deseeded and halved squash in five-minute intervals until tender.
Dealing with a picky eater? Puréed squash can be snuck in many recipes—smoothies, pasta sauces, even many baked goods—fooling the most suspicious eaters.
Spaghetti squash deserves a notable mention. As the name suggests, once cooked the inside can be scraped with a fork, making spaghetti-like strings. Use as an alternative in many pasta dishes, either smothered in a tomato sauce, or sautéed in a pan with garlic and olive oil.
Cabbage has a long reputation as a staple vegetable and a true necessity in a boiled dinner. It has far more to offer. From a nutritional standpoint, it’s super low in calories, providing a source of potassium and glucosinolate, a disease-fighting phytochemical which may play a role in decreasing risk of cancer.
There are many varieties of cabbage—green, red and white, as well as Napa and Chinese cabbage. New cabbage tends to be more tender and sweet than stored cabbage. Both are great in stews, soups and stir-fries. Top coleslaw on a burger or over greens. Think outside the box, try using raw new cabbage leaves in place of a tortilla for a taco, burrito or wrap.
Sweet potatoes have gained a lot of popularity over the years. The majority of sweet potatoes are grown in the southern hemisphere but search a little harder and you’ll find locally grown are available too. Sweet potatoes deserve an honorable mention for their year round availability, affordable pricing and abundance of nutrients. The brighter the colour, the higher the nutrient content, putting the sweet potato in the lead over the traditional potato. They are jam packed with potassium, vitamin A and beta-carotene. And eat the skin when you can, that’s where you find most of the fibre.
Rutabagas and turnips
These two are often mistaken as the same vegetables, but they are not. Both are grown locally; rutabagas tend to be larger, have a more yellow flesh and are slightly sweeter than turnips. They are similar enough, however, to be used interchangeably in recipes. Both are a good source of fibre, vitamin C, potassium and vitamin A, and are only 42kcal per cup serving raw and 74kcal cooked.
Think beyond serving boiled as a side or thrown in a stew. Cut into chucks, toss in a little oil, minced garlic and a dash of spices (Italian seasoning or rosemary or thyme taste great!). If you fancy sweeter favours, sprinkle with cinnamon and maple syrup then roast to caramelize the natural sugars. Grated raw turnip/rutabaga provides a nice contrast of flavour and colour to a green salad. Serve raw as veggie stick with your favourite dip or hummus. Go a step further and bake them as turnip fries. Toss them in a little olive, cinnamon and garlic powder (optional) and bake at 400°F for 15-20 minutes, turn and bake for another 15 minutes, or until tender and browned. Cutting up this vegetable can be a little labour intensive, some stores sell pre-cut and peeled turnip sticks.
Buying greens in season can be challenging in the colder months, kale saves the day. This hardy leafy green vegetable is at its peak from December through to April, but can be purchased year round.
Kale provides a source of calcium and a whopping dose of vitamin C, A and K, with as little as 35 kcal per cup. It has a long list of potential health benefits, including a decreased risk of heart disease, macular degeneration, cataracts, osteoporosis, cancer, as well as improving brain health. Popeye should consider switching to kale.
Kale has a tougher leaf than most greens so it is typically eaten cooked, but enjoy it raw and finely chopped as a kale salad as well. If you find the raw texture too tough, dress it and allow to sit prior to serving to soften. Even if the recipe doesn’t call for kale, it’s a no fail addition to stews, stir fries, casseroles and soups.
One of its most unique uses is kale chips. Unlike most leafy greens that wilt when baked, kale gets crispy. Cut into bite size pieces, toss in a little olive oil, add some spices (if desired), spread out on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake at 300°F for approx 35 minutes, turning every 10 minutes. Allow to cool and voila! Imagine, a chip that counts towards your daily vegetable servings.
Winter doesn’t have to limit you to monotonous meat and potatoes. All it takes is a little creativity to embrace cold weather veggies.
Maureen Tilley is a registered dietitian and author of Hold the Salt! and Hold that Hidden Salt!.