On St. Patrick’s Day, kids love to wear green – and pinch those who don’t! Another favorite is to drink tinted lemon-lime soda or milk. This year, why not use this day to introduce your child to a new green vegetable or make the ones he likes in a new, exciting way.
Green vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. According to Peggy O’Shea, a Boston, Mass.-based registered dietitian and a member of the Massachusetts Dietetic Association board of directors, they should be included each day. “Green vegetables contain varying amounts of many different vitamins including vitamin A, vitamin C, beta-carotene, B vitamins and vitamin E as well as important phytochemicals, antioxidants, fiber and some even contain a significant amount of calcium,” she says.
When selecting green vegetables, keep in mind that the darker the green, the more nutrients they contain. “The nutrient content of iceberg lettuce (very light green) is very low in comparison to darker green choices such as spinach or broccoli,” says O’Shea. “Each green vegetable has unique benefits and [is] high in different vitamins and minerals.”
Some of the most nutritious green vegetables include spinach, broccoli (a cruciferous vegetable, which has been shown to reduce cancer risk possibly), kale and green peppers.
Great Green Veggie Recipes
These recipes are perfect for adding a little green to your meal!
Emerald Mashed Potatoes
- 6 large baking potatoes, cut into chunks
- 1 1/2 cups low-fat milk
- 1 bunch green onions, chopped
- 4 cups turnip greens or kale, finely shredded
- 3 tablespoons margarine
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Cook potatoes in boiling salted water until tender, about 25 minutes. While the potatoes cook, add the milk, green onions, kale, or turnip greens to a saucepot. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer about four minutes or until greens wilt. Remove from heat.
Drain the potatoes well and mash with margarine. Stir in the milk mixture and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.
Here’s a more creative and quicker side dish than mashed potatoes.
- 1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup slivered almonds
Place asparagus on a sheet of aluminum foil. Dot with the butter and sprinkle on the almonds. Fold the foil into a “packet.” Place on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper.
Broccoli and spinach baked with cheese and crisp french fried onions.
- 1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
- 1 package (10 ounces) frozen broccoli spears, thawed and drained
- 1 can cream of celery soup
- 1 cup cheddar cheese
- 1 can french fried onions
Mix the soup with the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour into a shallow baking dish. Top with the cheese and onion rings. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 45 minutes.
Monterey Jack, Swiss, Provolone and Mozzarella make great substitutes for the Cheddar cheese.
Brussels Sprouts With Bacon and Cheese
- 4 cups small, fresh Brussels sprouts
- 2 tablespoons margarine
- 1/2 cup chopped green onions
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 6 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Trim the bottoms off of the Brussels sprouts. Cook in boiling water until tender, about nine to 10 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Pour them into a lightly buttered casserole dish.
Melt the margarine in a skillet. Add the green onions and garlic, and cook until soft, about four minutes. Add the flour and continue to cook one more minute. Add the reserved water, bacon, salt and pepper. Bring to boil and cook until sauce has thickened. Pour over the Brussels sprouts. Top with the cheese and breadcrumbs.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 to 30 minutes or until the top is lightly browned.
- The broccoli caramelizes from the natural sugars. It is so crunch and tasty!
- 1 head of broccoli, cut up
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
Place the broccoli in a plastic zipper bag. Add the oil, salt and pepper. Shake to coat. Place on a broiler pan, and broil in the oven for about 14 minutes. Serve.
- 2 packages (10 ounces each) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
- 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
- ¼ cup evaporated milk
- 1/3 cup crushed buttery crackers
- 3 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
Combine the spinach, cream cheese and milk. Pour into a baking dish. Sprinkle with the cracker crumbs and cheese.
Bake at 350 degrees F for about 25 minutes.
- 3 tablespoon margarine
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 ½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
- 1 package (10 ounces each) of frozen baby peas, thawed
- 1 tablespoon fresh chopped mint
- Salt and pepper to taste
Melt the margarine in a saucepan. Add the onion and lemon zest. Cook until onion is soft. Add the peas. Season with salt and pepper and cook until heated through. Stir in mint and serve immediately.
Great with lamb, chicken or fish.
- 1 pound small zucchini
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion, cut thin
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon thyme
- Salt and pepper to taste
Sauté zucchini in olive oil for three minutes. Remove from heat and add onion and garlic. Sauté two minutes. Add zucchini to skillet and season with salt, pepper and thyme. Serve warm.
A Pot of Green
As with all colors of vegetables, the more they’re cooked, the more vitamins and minerals are lost. “The vegetables tend to break down when exposed to heat,” says O’Shea. “The longer and hotter you cook them, the more nutrients you are likely to lose.”
O’Shea says the ideal way to eat vegetables and preserve the biggest amount of nutrients is to eat them raw, but if you are cooking your vegetables, try steaming them either in a steamer or in the microwave. “Stir frying also can be a good way to preserve the nutrients,” she says. “Always use as little water as possible, and avoid boiling vegetables, as the vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals will escape into the water rather than remaining in the vegetables. Also try to keep the vegetables in larger pieces when cooking. The more their surface is exposed to air and/or water, the more likely you will lose those important vitamins and minerals.”
Try as they might, some parents cannot get their children to eat anything green. Mashed potatoes – an all-time kid favorite – can be used as a medium for all sorts of vegetables. Chopped spinach, kale, greens, peas and broccoli are wonderfully combined with freshly mashed russet or red potatoes. Or stuff a baked potato with lightly steamed broccoli and a little shredded cheese. But even if a lucky leprechaun couldn’t talk them into eating a stalk of celery or piece of spinach, stir a little food coloring into mashed potatoes for St. Patrick’s Day fun.
Many green vegetables are kid-friendly, but O’Shea reminds parents that the most important thing to remember is that vegetables should be cooked appropriately not to pose a choking hazard. “Raw or lightly cooked broccoli, for example, can be a choking hazard for young children,” she says.
O’Shea says to consider the following vegetables for your St. Patrick’s Day dinner and every day:
- Broccoli can be cooked and served warm or, for older kids, eaten raw as a portion of finger food.
- Spinach is easily eaten on its own or chopped and added to soups, sauces or other foods.
- Green peppers can be cut and dipped in low-fat ranch dressing.
- Zucchini is another great vegetable to cut up and dip.
- Asparagus has a convenient shape for little hands to pick up!
“Also try some of the darker leafy green choices such as kale or Swiss chard,” says O’Shea. “Remember that it is important to expose kids to a wide variety of flavors and choices and that a range of green vegetables are included in the overall diet.”
A Green Ending
Don’t forget dessert! Instant pistachio pudding or lime gelatin topped with green-tinted whipped cream will bring a smile to everyone’s faces. Or keep it simple and serve slices of kiwi, green grapes or Granny Smith apple wedges. And sometimes, just a simple change in presentation can make kids want to try a food. “Even something as simple as cutting the apple horizontally to show the ‘star’ in the center is often enough to entice a little one who is stuck on French fries,” says Candy Stephens, a mother of three from Katy, Texas.
Most of all, make memories by getting your child into the kitchen and involved in cooking that lucky pot o’ green vegetables. Just don’t add green food coloring to the vegetables. “Who needs green food coloring when you have perfect green foods created by Mother Nature?” says O’Shea