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Prairie Fare: Add Some Greens to Your Winter Menu

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist
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During our wintry weather when we crave comforting beige and brown foods such as mashed potatoes, gravy and meatloaf, add some bright green, gold and orange colors to your plate or bowl.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“Please keep your forks out of my broccoli,” I said to my teenage son and daughter while we enjoyed a family meal in a restaurant. They grinned at me and proceeded to steal the dark green vegetables from my plate.

We need to review some table manners, I thought to myself. However, I rarely exercise disciplinary action when my kids are clamoring to eat more vegetables, even at my expense.

“They make the best broccoli here!” my son said as he tasted my cruciferous vegetable. My daughter stabbed a large floret with her fork and nodded her head.

Eating these dark green vegetables probably was improving my eyesight by the minute, so I wasn’t missing this theft in progress.

I nearly said, “You should have ordered your own broccoli.” However, I bit my tongue and let them model vegetable-eating behavior that might entice my youngest child, a 9-year-old, to crave green vegetables, too.

Before we left for dinner, I had been reviewing some of the literature related to dark green vegetables for a project at work. After reading all about the nutritional merits of broccoli and other dark green vegetables, I couldn’t wait to have some.

The server mentioned french fries and kettle chips as side items, but there were several other options available. My kids had looked at me a bit oddly when I chose broccoli as my side item, but I will make this choice more often. I hope they will do the same.

On average, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that we consume 2 1/2 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit per day. We should strive for at least 1 1/2 cups of dark green vegetables per week and 5 1/2 cups of red and orange vegetables per week.

Nutrition experts recommend that we increase green and orange vegetables in our diets. Eating more brightly colored vegetables may play a role in reducing our risk for cancer, heart disease and potentially blinding eye conditions.

For example, broccoli, along with other cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage and cauliflower, contains sulforaphane. In a laboratory study published by scientists at Oregon State University, sulforaphane was shown to have a potential role in preventing or potentially treating prostate cancer.

Many dark gold and orange vegetables and fruits get their vibrant colors from natural pigments called carotenoids. Eating certain colorful vegetables containing carotenoids may be particularly good for our eyes by potentially playing a role in preventing cataracts and macular degeneration.

Carrots often come to mind when eye health is discussed. Carrots contain beta-carotene, a type of carotenoid that our body converts to vitamin A. Deficiencies in vitamin A are linked to night blindness.

Two other carotenoid pigments may play an even greater role in preventing potentially blinding eye conditions. Lutein and zeaxanthin are two of the carotenoid pigments found in dark green vegetables including kale, spinach, broccoli and romaine lettuce. These two pigments help maintain the health of our eyes and may help prevent macular degeneration.

During our wintry weather when we crave comforting beige and brown foods such as mashed potatoes, gravy and meatloaf, add some bright green, gold and orange colors to your plate or bowl. Try some new recipes, and make veggies available in your refrigerator. Serve them with a dip such as fiber- and protein-rich hummus if you would like.

Here is recipe courtesy of Ohio State University Cooperative Extension. Try it as a side dish with a meatloaf, roasted chicken or pork.

Cheesy Broccoli-rice Casserole

1 1/2 c. white rice

3 c. water

1 medium onion, chopped

3 Tbsp. margarine or butter

1 (10.75-ounce) can cream of mushroom, chicken or celery soup

1 1/2 c. milk, reduced-fat

1/2 c. water

20 ounces frozen, chopped broccoli, thawed in a microwave oven or refrigerator

8 ounces of cheddar cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13- by 9-inch pan. In a saucepan, mix rice and 3 cups of water, then bring to a boil. Cover and simmer rice for 15 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat and set aside for 15 minutes. Saute the chopped onion in margarine or butter until tender. Mix soup, milk, 1/2 cup of water, onions and rice. Spoon mixture into the baking pan. Thaw and drain the vegetables and spread over the rice mixture. Top with the cheese and bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes until the cheese is melted and the rice is bubbly.

Makes 12 servings. Each serving has 240 calories, 11 grams (g) of fat, 25 g of carbohydrate and 360 milligrams of sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication – Jan. 3, 2013

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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