Throw out excuses when it comes to eating greens

By Brittany Jacks
MSU Extension

STARKVILLE, Miss. – They may not wear tights and capes, but greens are super foods.

Kale, collards, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, turnip greens, Swiss chard, mustard greens and all types of lettuce are good sources of nutrients, said Janet Jolley, a Mississippi State University Extension Service agent in Marshall County.

“Leafy greens provide Vitamin A and C, folate and calcium,” she said. “Vitamin A helps skin and eye health, and protects the body against infections. Vitamin C helps the body heal and keeps the gums healthy. Folic acid helps the body to form red blood cells and is an important nutrient in preventing neural tube defects, such as spina bifida during fetal development.”

Cooking with healthy vegetables makes for better body health.

Cooking with healthy vegetables makes for better body health.

Green vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet, she said. They not only provide the body with nutrients, but also help prevent certain diseases

“According to the National Cancer Institute, foods rich in Vitamin A and C, including greens, have been linked to the reduction of certain cancers,” Jolley said.

Getting children to eat green vegetables can seem like an impossible task. Jolley said an easy way to get them to eat their greens is to introduce the vegetables with familiar and favorite foods.

“Add fresh spinach to their salads or bell pepper to their pizza. A child’s tastes change over the years, so keep offering new foods over and over again,” she said. “Try different cooking methods, such as serving vegetables raw, sauteed, grilled or steamed. Also, try serving vegetables with dips.”

Parents need to practice what they preach when it comes to feeding their children vegetables, Jolley said.

“Most importantly, parents should set the example for their children when it comes to eating green vegetables,” Jolley said. “If a parent wants a child to eat a certain vegetable, then they should first do the same.”

David Buys, health specialist with the MSU Extension Service and researcher with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, said there is probably a particular reason why children do not like to eat their greens.

“Children may not prefer green, leafy vegetables, but that could be due to texture related to the preparation rather than to the actual greens,” he said. “Try sneaking them into a smoothie or making crunchy ‘chips’ out of them.”

Greens are just fine on their own, and other items normally do not need to be added to them, he said.

“It is important not to offset the benefits of consuming vitamin-rich foods like green vegetables with the consequences of adding lots of fat in the cooking process,” Buys said. “This can be done through adding bacon, butter or other similar things that may add flavor. Instead, use low-sodium spices that will enhance the flavor.”

When cooking greens, there is a certain way they should be prepared to ensure the nutrients remain in the vegetables, Buys said.

“In the South, greens are usually boiled. When using this approach, many of the important nutrients are left in the water and are not consumed,” he said. “Sautéing greens is an alternative way to prepare greens in a way that preserves all the nutrients and benefits they have.”