Salads are an ever-popular go-to lunch option for many people. You can easily find a ‘build-your-own’ salad bar or grab a pre-made variety from your local grocery store. Despite the increased need for convenience these days, salads are one of the easiest meals to whip together on your own and are a great way to use up leftover proteins and vegetables from last night’s dinner. But that seems to be where the variety diminishes. When it comes to leafy greens, most of us rely on the basics like romaine, leaf lettuce and spinach week after week – and while all of these provide health benefits, there is a huge selection of not-so-basic leafy greens in the produce aisle that you could potentially be missing! Shaking things up can help keep things fun and interesting in the kitchen while also diversifying your nutrient intake.
Total Nutrition Powerhouse
We’ve all heard that it’s important to eat those green vegetables and we have to say, that age-old recommendation has merit! Leafy green vegetables are a total nutrition powerhouse providing plant-based calcium, iron and magnesium, plus vitamins A, C and K (vitamin K is necessary for blood clotting and bone health).
Experiment With Cooking Methods
If you don’t like the taste of one variety, chances are you can find an alternative. It might also be a matter of preparation method, so don’t hesitate to do some experimenting. You might like them better steamed, sautéed, boiled, roasted, or grilled, depending upon the type of ‘greens’.
Here Are Some Favorites Along With Simple Ways You Can Try Incorporating Them Into Your Regular Rotation:
Swapping arugula for romaine is a great way to spice up a salad (literally!). This leafy green has a peppery bite and delicate texture. It pairs perfectly with a light citrus vinaigrette and some shaved parmesan cheese (aka – the ultimate no hassle dinner side salad). Arugula is a cruciferous vegetable, like its cousins broccoli and cauliflower, and therefore has added disease-preventative effects.
You might already be familiar with traditional “curly” kale that has become a grocery store staple in recent years. Lacinato or “dino” kale is the one that has a long flat leaves with a bumpy texture and newer to the scene. Add it to your favorite soup or stew near the end of cooking time for a pop of bright green color and an extra element of texture. Cooking kale mellows its bitter flavor, so a quick sauté in some olive oil with a bit of lemon juice is a delicious way to enjoy this nutrient powerhouse.
This leafy green typically has a gorgeous bright pink or yellow stem. Due to the large size of the leaves, chard makes a nice swap for tortillas (a great low-carbohydrate option!). Or use the leaves to wrap hummus and vegetables similar to a “spring roll.” You can also sauté the delicate leaves, as they cook up quickly. The stems are full of nutrition so chop them and sauté first with some onion and garlic for an amazing side dish [we’ve been known to add in some chickpeas for a plant-focused meal.]
Watercress is a cruciferous vegetable with long stems and small, circular leaves. It makes a great sandwich topper in place of traditional leaf lettuce for a fun presentation. The bright, peppery taste does well with just a bit of vinegar and olive oil. You can also drop into soups just before serving for a burst of flavor. One of our favorite salads includes watercress, cucumbers, and radishes – fresh and delicious!
Bok Choy is a type of Chinese cabbage with a bright white stem surrounded by dark green leaves. It’s most commonly used in Asian cuisines including stir-fries and soups like ramen, but feel free to add it to salads and slaws. We love this simple recipe for sheet pan bok choy – simply place quartered bok choy on parchment-lined sheet pan and toss with freshly grated ginger and sesame oil. Roast at 350° F until softened and serve with fresh lime wedges.
Give these a try and let me know your favorites! If you’d like to try more ways of incorporating these and other tasty greens into your regular rotation, you can sign up for a FREE 3-day trial of our meal plans.