Vary your Veggies

Why do we need variety?

We all get in food ruts—familiarity, acceptability and ease of preparation can all make us serve the same vegetables, in the same way, over and over again. The Harvard School of Public Health states that vegetable variety is just as important as vegetable quantity on our plates. This is due to the different nutrients, like vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants that vary in each kind of vegetable. These nutrients are especially noticeable in the different colours of vegetables and why we often hear the recommendation to “eat a rainbow” of vegetables and fruit. Include them at every meal and snack to meet Canada’s Food Guide recommendations for optimal health.

Here are some ideas to vary your veggies:

•    Mushrooms can be underappreciated in North American cuisine yet provide key nutrients as well as amazing flavour! Mince and substitute them for half the ground meat in any burger, loaf, casserole or sauce recipe. Stuff button or portobello mushrooms with ground almonds, minced onion, tamari, herbs and spices for a side or centerpiece of a meal. Slice a couple of different varieties and sauté in olive oil with minced garlic and a splash of tamari and white wine then spoon onto whole grain bread or crackers. 
•    Avocado is filled with fibre and heart-healthy fat and can be used for so much more than guacamole. Spread it on toast with a sprinkle of cheese. Use it in place of mayonnaise in salmon, tuna or egg salad. Puree it for the base of dips and even sweet treats like brownies. Stuff a half with cooked seafood or a black bean and corn mixture for a stunning appetizer or main course.
•    Cabbage comes in so many varieties and is part of the cruciferous family of vegetables, which may play a role in the prevention of some cancers. Rather than your straight-up mayonnaise slaw, make a salad with soy, sesame and cilantro for a flavourful change! Shred cabbage finely as a topping for tacos, burritos or burgers. Use more tender varieties like Napa for wrapping marinated and cooked tofu, tempeh, seafood or chicken. Slice thickly and braise or add to soups and stews.
•    Squash, sweet potatoes & carrots all have the gorgeous orange colour that signifies beta-carotene, an important antioxidant and precursor to vitamin A that we need every day. They all make great fritters when roasted, mashed and mixed with egg, oats, diced onion and spices. Soups, stews, curries and tagines also love the addition of these heartier and somewhat sweet veggies and pair well with warm spices like cinnamon, cumin and cloves.
•    Dark leafy greens are so important to include every day for nutrients like calcium and iron. Check out our Get Your Greens post for loads of ideas:  
•    Crudités or raw veggies are such a popular snack for all of us. Mix it up from baby carrots, celery, cucumber and bell peppers with fennel or jicama (pronounced hic-ama), a white-fleshed, juicy and crunchy veggie from Latin America. Or try lightly blanched (or raw) green beans and broccolini. Radishes and grape tomatoes can add beautiful colour! Be cautious of some raw vegetables with children 4 and under who may need them grated or cut smaller to reduce choking risk.

For more information

Harvard School of Public Health