How a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Preps Vegetables

Most people assume that because I'm a registered dietitian I love every fruit and vegetable there is. I certainly try, but I also firmly believe that not everyone has to love every vegetable in order to eat a well-balanced diet. There is certainly merit to eating as many different types of produce as possible, as the Cleveland Clinic points out. That’s because each color of fruit or veggie tends to pack high amounts of similar nutrients. As a result, when you eat a lot of different colors in your diet (sometimes referred to as “eating the rainbow”), you’ll stand a better chance of naturally meeting your nutritional needs each day.

Of course, some veggies are easier to love than others. Though I was well into adulthood before I ever tried them, beets were love at first bite for me. But I haven’t felt that way about some of the other vegetables that were new to me as an adult. You still won’t find plain cooked cabbage or okra on my plate, for example.

As a mom, I know all too well the importance of having my kids try fruits and vegetables prepared different ways. Past research has shown that this can lead young children to like more fruits and vegetables for the rest of their lives — that’s powerful stuff! I figured the same approach could work for me, so I have continued to try my least-favorite pieces of produce until I discovered how I enjoy them best. Here are my tips and tricks.

1. Zucchini

While it’s incredibly nutritious — low in calories while being a good source of potassium and an excellent source of vitamin C, among other nutrients, per the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) — zucchini can be a tricky veggie to prepare well. I often found it limp in texture and watery in flavor, two adjectives you don’t want used to describe your food. As a result, I often steered clear of this veggie even when it was plentiful at the end of the summer. How do I cook my zucchini now, you ask? I don’t! I prefer my zucchini raw, because I find it stays crisper that way. Raw zucchini can make a delicious base for a salad or a noodle replacement, and you don’t need fancy tools to enjoy it this way. Simply use a vegetable peeler to peel the zucchini into thin strips (except for the seeds) and dress it lightly with a homemade vinaigrette along with other veggies of your choice.

2. Eggplant

The dark purple color of eggplants is so appealing. I wanted to love them from the very start (and not just in deep-fried eggplant Parm). In addition to their alluring appearance, eggplants are a rich source of antioxidants, according to research published in the Journal of Physics in 2019. Unfortunately, whenever I cooked eggplant at home I found it to be spongy in texture and almost completely flavorless. Could it be that I didn’t like this super-nutritious vegetable? Determined not to give up, I grabbed a fresh eggplant each time I went to the farmer’s market until I figured a way to make it work for me. Stuffed and roasted was the answer! Why had I never thought of this before? Eggplants make the perfect “boats” for other nutritious ingredients, and those ingredients can lend extra flavor and more complicated textures to the eggplant. When I make this meal at home, I simply cut the eggplant in half and scoop out and reserve some of the flesh (to make room for the stuffing). I then bake the eggplant in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. While the eggplant cooks, I sauté garlic, onions, the reserved eggplant, and any other veggies I have on hand in a small amount of extra-virgin olive oil until softened. I place this mixture into the eggplant halves, top with a sprinkle of feta and pine nuts and broil until the cheese starts to brown. Yum!

3. Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts are probably the most notoriously hated veggie of all time, and my first experience with them only served to back up that reputation. But these mini cabbages are just as nutritious as they are adorable. As Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health points out, Brussels sprouts are a source of several vitamins and minerals, including vitamins C and K, folate, fiber, and beta-carotene. Like other cruciferous veggies, they are packed with phytochemicals and can help decrease the risk of certain cancers. Who wouldn’t want all those benefits on their plate? Unfortunately, Brussels sprouts are best known for their signature bitter flavor, which comes from sulfur-containing compounds, and, to make matters worse, this bitter flavor is only intensified if the sprouts aren’t cooked correctly. With this in mind, I worked on my Brussels sprouts cooking skills and found that I like them best when they’re roasted (but not overcooked). To roast Brussels sprouts, I heat my oven to 400 degrees, slice off the ends of the sprouts and then slice them in half. I drizzle the Brussels sprouts with extra-virgin olive oil and add a sprinkle of kosher salt and pepper (and garlic if I’m in the mood) and roast them for 15 to 18 minutes. Now Brussels sprouts are a sweet and slightly nutty veggie my whole family loves.

4. Swiss Chard

Swiss chard has what many describe as an “earthy” flavor. I generally found it to taste more like dirt. What some enjoy as a natural taste was simply too much for me. But Swiss chard is an undeniable superfood packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, according to data from the USDA. In fact, it is an excellent source of potassium, iron, and vitamin C in addition to a number of other nutrients. How could I, in good conscience, swear it off my plate for the rest of my life? I had to give it another go. But what could fix that flavor? I found that it wasn’t cooking Swiss chard in a different way that was necessary, but rather, pairing it with other veggies. I am a firm believer that the best dishes start with onions and garlic sautéed in extra-virgin olive oil, so that’s how I started. From there, I added butternut squash, kosher salt, pepper and, finally, Swiss chard. The natural sweetness of the squash was perfect with the earthy Swiss chard, and suddenly it was a veggie I could not only tolerate, but actually adore!

5. Radishes 

Radishes are a member of the Brassicacea family of plants and are a cruciferous veggie according to the Mayo Clinic Health System, and they're packed with vitamin C and fiber while being low in calories. They may even decrease the risk of certain cancers. While the spicy and slightly bitter flavor may be a turnoff for some (as it was for me), the beauty of radishes is undeniable. Who wouldn’t want to find a way to add watermelon radishes to their plate? But every time I bit into a beautiful radish, my reaction was the same — too spicy! It never occurred to me (until I was an adult) that radishes don’t have to be eaten raw. And, in fact, their spiciness is significantly mellowed when they are roasted, to the point of being downright delicious. To roast radishes, I simply remove the tops, give the radishes a thorough rinse, and slice them in half. Then I toss them with a little extra-virgin olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper and roast them for 10 to 15 minutes in a 450 degree oven. The result is a veggie side dish I now happily enjoy.

Your most hated veggies don’t have to be the same as mine. No matter what’s on your list, I encourage you to try cooking it differently (or not cooking it at all) to see if you can find a way to enjoy as many vegetables as possible. Variety is the name of the game when it comes to maximizing nutrition!

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