Thanks to summer gardens and local farmers markets, the warm months ahead are the perfect time to increase your family’s intake of fresh, healthful produce. Not only is it important to eat enough vegetables, anywhere from 1½ cups for children to 3 cups for men, but variety is key.
Vegetables can be fresh, frozen or come from a can, but the types of vegetables you eat are what really matter. Vegetables are divided into five subgroups based upon their nutritional content, so it truly does take a diet full of color and variety to fuel your body with the nutrition it needs.
For the dark green vegetable subgroup, think broccoli, collard greens, kale and spinach, which provide important nutrients like calcium, iron, lutein and antioxidants. These help with bone and eye health, nourish the skin and keep our brains working well.
The red and orange group contains red peppers, sweet potatoes, carrots, and a variety of squash like acorn and butternut. These vegetables provide the essential vitamins A and C, as well as manganese, fiber and lycopene, all of which have been shown to decrease inflammation and help prevent cancers and heart disease.
The beans and peas group includes kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, chickpeas, split peas and lentils. Green peas, green lima beans and green beans actually fall into other subgroups based upon their nutritional content. A big benefit of this group is the high protein content, not to mention the fiber, iron and zinc that all come from a diet rich in these foods.
Starchy vegetables like the ever-popular corn, green peas and potatoes are often looked down upon in the nutritional world. Starchy vegetables contain about 15 grams of carbs per serving versus non-starchy vegetables that usually have less than 5 grams. Eating these foods provides more and will spike blood sugar much faster than other vegetables. All of this is not to say that these foods do not have a place in your diet. Starchy vegetables still provide numerous nutritional benefits, including folate, potassium, and vitamins C and K.
The final vegetable group is the “other” category. This is where you will find artichokes, asparagus, beets, cabbage, cucumbers, green beans, onions and mushrooms. These all still provide fiber and a variety of nutritional benefits, like the magnesium and potassium found in beets, and the anti-bacterial properties found in onions and garlic.
Taryn Palmer is a registered dietitian for the Magic Valley YMCA.
Balsamic grilled vegetables
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Kosher salt, to taste
A few turns of fresh cracked pepper
2 sweet bell peppers (red, orange or yellow)
2 yellow squash
1 small onion (I prefer red, but anything works)
1 lb. asparagus stalks
4 ounces feta cheese
2 additional tablespoons high quality balsamic vinegar or balsamic reduction
1. In a measuring cup, whisk together all of the marinade ingredients until well combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the marinade over the vegetables and allow to sit for at least 15 minutes or place in the fridge and marinate several hours.
2. Heat the grill over medium high heat. Spread the vegetables out over a vegetable basket, cast iron griddle, or heavy duty foil on the grill. Grill for 4-5 minutes or until veggies are starting to brown and caramelize on one side. Flip and grill an additional 5 minutes or until vegetables are softened. Remove from the grill. Drizzle with a few more tablespoons of high quality balsamic and chunks of feta cheese.