We all know that eating vegetables is good for our health. They’re packed with nutrients, like vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, and that means that eating lots of them regularly can even reduce the risk of disease. In 2021, one study conducted by Harvard Medical School researchers found that as a person’s fruit and vegetable intake increases, their mortality decreases. In fact, the research suggested that eating an average of five portions a day was linked with a 13-percent lower risk of death.
But despite the fact that we all know we should really be eating more vegetables, it’s not always easy. In 2022, one study from the CDC found that only one in 10 American adults eat enough vegetables. Accessibility is a hurdle for many, with more than 23 million people living in food deserts in the US. “Additional policies and programs that will increase access to fruits and vegetables in places where US residents live, learn, work, and play, might increase consumption and improve health,” the study noted.
For others, the lack of vegetables might be due to a lack of cooking skills. One survey in 2020 suggested that a number of Americans can make breakfast foods, like French toast, without a recipe, but struggle with everything else. But that’s not to say people don’t want to cook more. Another survey from 2019 suggested that more than 75 percent of Americans would rather cook at home than go out to eat.
If you’re trying to get more vegetables into your diet and cook more, here’s what you need to know about preparing vegetables at home. Plus, for meal inspiration, we’ve also included veggie-forward vegan recipes too.
Does cooking vegetables affect their nutrient content?
Let’s get one thing straight, you don’t have to cook to eat vegetables. Carrots, celery, spinach, lettuce, and kale are just a handful of examples of vegetables that can be consumed raw. But cooking can add to the flavor and improve the texture of vegetables, and in some cases, boost nutritional content too. Because cooking helps to break down the cell walls in vegetables, this can make their nutrients more available. For example, carrots contain carotenoids, a type of antioxidant, and when cooked, these are easier for the body to absorb.
“If there’s a vegetable that’s quite tough, take carrots as an example, cooking the veggies softens them, so that helps the body access the nutrients in the vegetables,” Charlotte Morrison, a senior public health nutritionist in Queensland, Australia, told Queensland Health.
But she also added that boiling vegetables too much can cause nutrients to leak out into the water, and this means you’ll end up losing some important vitamins and minerals. Research suggests that boiling broccoli, for example, may result in up to a 50-percent loss of vitamin C. This is because vitamin C, as well as other vitamins, like B vitamins, are water-soluble. The answer is to use less water or use a different cooking method, like roasting or steaming. Research suggests that steaming broccoli results in a smaller loss of vitamin C content, at around 14 percent.
But however you choose to prepare vegetables, ultimately, the important thing is that you’re eating them. Prioritize your favorite cooking methods and then you’ll be more likely to enjoy them more regularly, and there is no downside to that. “Eat your vegetables roasted, grilled, steamed, boiled in a soup, microwaved, and raw. Enjoy them fresh (locally grown when possible) and frozen,” says Leslie Beck, RD, in the Globe and Mail. “The more variety you have, the more likely you are to eat them. And that’s the whole point.”
What’s the best way to cook vegetables?
If you’ve got your veg, but you’re not sure where to begin with cooking, or you fancy trying something different from your tried and tested favorite, then there are a few different cooking methods to play around with. From steaming to grilling, we’ve got the lowdown on each.
Steaming is a popular way of cooking vegetables, and that’s because it’s one of the healthiest and the quickest. Instead of submerging them in water (like you do when you’re boiling), the vegetables sit over the boiling water and are cooked by the heat of the steam. To do this, you can buy a steamer basket or purchase a set of saucepan steamers. The best vegetables to steam include broccoli, carrots, sprouts, and green beans, but it won’t work as well for large, denser vegetables, like potatoes, for example.
Boiling is one of the easiest ways to prepare vegetables. All it requires is bringing a saucepan of water to a boil, and then adding the vegetables until they have softened a little. But as mentioned above, try not to over-boil, as you will start to lose more nutrients from the vegetables. That said, some get around this by drinking the excess water! Or you can add it to soups and stews, for example.
To sauté, simply heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a shallow frying pan, before adding the vegetables. For many, this is their favorite way to cook, and that’s because it’s particularly flavorful (especially if you season well!) and the vegetables tend to get a nice crispy texture. This method is particularly good for tender vegetables, like mushrooms and peppers, for example.
If you happen to have an air fryer, then use it on your vegetables too! It’s much healthier than deep-frying, because you don’t need huge amounts of oil, and it results in a tasty, crispy texture, too.
Roasting relies on the dry, high heat of the oven and zero water, so this will help to prevent nutrient loss. It’s also great for texture and flavor, as the result of roasting is usually deliciously crunchy, slightly sweet vegetables. You can roast pretty much any vegetable you like, but the ones that work particularly well are Brussels sprouts, potatoes, parsnips, cauliflower, onions, and broccoli.
Baking is very similar to roasting, only the temperature is usually slightly lower. When rotating, the temperature should be set at more than 400 degrees Fahrenheit, when you’re baking, it should be below this amount. Unlike roasting, baking can’t take place over an open flame or a barbecue, for example. It must be done in the oven.
If you want that delicious chargrilled taste and texture on your vegetables, then you’ll need, well, a grill. Set it to medium-high heat before drizzling your vegetables with oil, place on the grill and turn them regularly so they’re cooked evenly on all sides. And again, because there’s no water involved, the vegetables will retain their nutrients better. That said, if you’re grilling over a barbecue, for example, it’s important not to char them too much, as this may create carcinogens like benzopyrene.
Vegetable-forward vegan recipes
Vegetables have a reputation for being boring, but that doesn’t have to be the case. They can easily be the star of a delicious, nourishing meal that you’ll enjoy so much, you won’t miss meat at all. Here are some of our favorite dishes that highlight the true potential of vegetables.
1 Sesame Ginger Broccoli Noodles
Made with creamy tahini and aromatic sesame oil, these ginger noodles are easy to make and delicious too. But one of the best parts of this meal is, arguably, the broccoli, which is sautéed over high heat with salt, pink pepper, and garlic cloves.
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2 Garlicky Herb-Roasted Whole Cauliflower
For too long, cauliflower was regulated to the side of the plate. But no more. In this recipe, the humble vegetable is the center of attention. To get the best flavor, roast and then broil (which is very similar to grilling, but the heat source comes from above) with vegan cheese, herbs, black pepper, garlic, and olive oil.
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3 Lentil Bolognese Spaghetti Squash Boats
Bolognese is already a comforting, flavorful dish. But for something a little unique, slice up some squash and roast it for around 40 minutes, before filling it up with a tasty lentil-packed sauce. To serve, vegan parmesan is a must.
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4 Baked Thai Chili Cauliflower Bites
Cauliflower is such a versatile and tasty vegetable, it gets two mentions on this list. If you don’t fancy a whole roasted cauliflower, consider slicing it up into florets, covering it with a delicious marinade, and then bake until deliciously crispy.
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5 Warm Lentil, Sweet Potato, and Arugula Salad
Salads are usually filled with raw vegetables, but if you feel like straying from the norm, up your game by adding in warm sweet potatoes, which have been baked until perfectly tender. Serve with your favorite leafy green, like arugula, kale, or spinach, and lentils.
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