Healthy Vegetables - Buying Guide and Serving Suggestions

Eating healthy vegetables is a very inexpensive way to extend your meals! Local farms and food coops today offer a wide selection of different types of produce throughout the year.

When you eat lots of fresh produce, you realize how lucky you are to have an abundant source at your fingertips. Being able to munch on a fresh salad adds happiness to your mouth, as vegetables are always cheerful and tasty. They are also packed in robust antioxidants and key minerals that fill you up, not out.

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When it comes to healthy vegetables, scrutiny is the name of the game! You’ll need extra time to sift through the copious amount of items in your grocery store. You DO want to find healthy vegetables that are worthy of your money, don’t you? When you can, purchase produce that's in season and on sale or at a good price per pound. Don’t get stuck on buying the same thing every week. Be flexible and alternate which vegetables you select.

If you're new to cooking at home, start out slowly and read everything you can or watch videos. There is an art to learning the ropes, so be patient. No one learns everything overnight so don't be afraid to make a few mistakes along the way. That's really how you learn best!

High end items are typically displayed by themselves but can be cleverly disguised among regular veggies so read prices and brand names carefully. Produce manager’s mix them in sometimes hoping you won’t notice that you’ve picked them up by accident. Remember, you can always find lots of healthy vegetables at a good price, so going hungry is optional.

Use these links to find what you're looking for fast! onions, garlic, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, lettuce, cucumbers, celery, bell peppers, squash, potatoes, tomatoes, rutabaga and turnip root, collards, mushrooms, cabbage, corn, eggplant.

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Healthy Vegetables - Buying Guide and Serving Suggestions

  • Onions – Buy yellow onions for the most health benefits. You may love Vidalia onions but they aren’t the best for you. Pungent regular yellow onions contain the most quercetin, which is a flavonoid antioxidant. Quercetin helps neutralize free radicals in your body by protecting your cells. White onions contain very little quercetin, so stick with the yellow and red varieties. Most health professionals recommend eating raw onions for maximum benefit, but cooking makes them more versatile and doesn't significantly reduce it’s potency.

    Buy onions that are hard and firm. Look for bruising and check the ends of the onions for rotting.

    Serving Suggestion: - Serve these healthy vegetables in stews, soups, side dishes, or fried. For a different twist, fry onion slices in pancake batter. The kids will flip for these!

  • Garlic – You may love the convenience of elephant garlic, but smaller is better. Smaller garlic cloves are higher in quercetin which is healthier so they pack more punch.

    Buy garlic that’s hard and firm. Look for purple coloring too. It simply means they’re fresher.

    Serving Suggestion: - You can add minced garlic to just about any dish for a spicy flavor. Add fresh minced garlic to salads to give them a one, two health punch.

  • Carrots – Buying bunches of carrots is the healthiest alternative, but carrots in packaging will be cheaper. Problem is that many companies package their carrots in orange colored plastic bags to mask what’s on the inside. However, there is always a way to see what’s inside by simply looking through the clear part at the top or bottom. Check both ends of carrots for freshness. Check for brown or yellow colors on the roots, sprouting roots, or black carrot tips. Squeeze them to check for firmness and to make sure they don't bend easily.

    Buy hard and firm carrots. Cut off the ends only. They're the only part of the carrot that's non-edible. Wash or brush lightly to remove dirt. Cut out bad places you see. Baby carrots have become wildly popular but guess what’s missing? The skin is missing so you don’t get as many nutrients and they’re packed with preservatives you must wash off (if you even can) before eating.

    Serving Suggestion: - Steam carrots until just tender for the most antioxidants. Cut them into angled strips. Serve with salt, pepper, a Tablespoon of butter, and fresh dill weed.

  • Broccoli, Cauliflower, Brussel Sprouts – Be picky when you buy these items. Check for firmness first! Broccoli florets should be firm to the touch and not opened. Look for yellowing color as that’s a sign they’re old. Stems should also be hard and firm and not bend. Cauliflower should be firm and white, not brown. Brussel sprouts also need to be firm and also should be dirt free and clean.

    Firmness is the best indicator that these items are fresh. These veggies are members of the cruciferous, or cabbage family of vegetables. They contain plant nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

    Serving Suggestion: - Steam these healthy vegetables until just tender for the most antioxidants. (about 10 minutes) Serve with a dash of salt and pepper and a Tablespoon or two of fresh butter. For a broccoli twist, add a splash of fresh lemon juice right before you serve it.

  • Lettuce – There are many types of lettuce but head (Iceberg) lettuce is the one that’s sold the most. Most people think larger and heavier gives them more value. Problem is that the heavier the head, the more chance that the inside of the head has rust running through it. When it comes to head lettuce, lighter is always a safer bet.

    Check the core and leaf ends for browning and the outside leaves for freshness. The outside leaves are greener and have more nutrients. Don’t always discard them. Rinse them and use them.

    Green or red leaf, butternut, and romaine lettuce are always the healthiest for you, but not always the most practical if you have a large family to feed. When you can find it on sale though, grab it! Typically, they have almost twice the antioxidant value of iceberg lettuce.

    Serving Suggestion: - Serve these healthy vegetables raw in salads, taco's, or on sandwiches. Shredded lettuce with a dash of Italian Dressing is a great condiment for sandwiches that will wake up your taste buds and add a healthy crunch!

  • Cucumbers – Big fat cucumbers have more pith and bigger seeds. They are also not as flavorful. In fact, they're down right tasteless.

    Buy skinny, more uniform sized cucumbers and remove wax when serving. Discard the insides if you buy the larger sized cuc's. If you can find locally grown pickling cucumbers, they have no wax to discard. These are much healthier for you too, the seeds are smaller, and they are never pithy.

    Serving Suggestion: - Serve these healthy vegetables by themselves or cut cucumbers into small cubes and add a splash of oil and vinegar, salt, and pepper. Add Kielbasa sausage or ham chunks and serve on a bed of lettuce for a lite lunch. You can also slice up cucumber's with onion slices and add apple cider vinegar to give them twang. Mix vinegar 1:1 with water, and add salt and pepper to taste. Leave in the frig for at least one day and serve cold.

  • Celery – Celery is another vegetable that can have packaging that hides what’s inside. Many times the packaging is green in color which makes the celery seem fresher.

    Look for medium sized stalks and check the ends for browning. Dirt is not an indicator as all celery has some dirt. Simply wash them well and cut off the ends as you use them. Do not remove the stem though. Only take what you need and leave them on the stem as it preserves the freshness of each stalk. When you clean celery, don’t pull out all the strings. The strings contain the fiber.

    Serving Suggestion: - Serve these healthy vegetables by themselves or stuff with pimento cheese or peanut butter topped with craisins for a healthy snack. Cut sections into stews, soups, and chicken or tuna salads.

  • Bell Peppers – All peppers should be hard and firm to the touch. Red bell peppers contain the most Vitamin C, followed by orange, yellow, then green. Check for firmness and check the core for soft spots or browning.

    Serving Suggestion: - Serve these healthy vegetables by cutting them into snack-sized strips to eat by themselves or to go with dip. Serve them in salads, noodle dishes, or on Shesh Kebabs out on the BBQ.

  • Squash – Squash should have good color and be firm, not soft. The softer it is, the older and pithier it is. Squash should also not be over-cleaned as the nutrients are found in the skin. The larger and rounder it is, the pithier it is and the larger the seeds are. Look for squash that has good color, minimal bruising, and is smaller in size. Check for firmness when you buy.

    Serving Suggestion: - Serve these healthy vegetables by steaming them with onions or frying them in flour mixed with cornmeal. Serve them in salads, soups, and stews. Try butternut squash in season if you like a woodsy flavor.

  • Potatoes – Potatoes are pretty easy to select. They should be hard and firm and of good color. Never buy potatoes that are browning or bruised. Check all your potatoes when you get home, especially if you buy them in bags. Cut out bad places and use the good parts immediately. Toss bad potatoes immediately.

    Serving Suggestion: - Serve these healthy vegetables by baking them, especially in the winter months. There is little that warms you up as much as a baked potato! Clean potato skins by lightly brushing under warm water. Sweet potatoes have much more nutritional value than white potatoes. Bake sweet potatoes at 400° for one hour. Do not eat the skins. Bake white potatoes at 350° until tender and do eat the skin for more nutrients. Before you bake white potatoes though, pierce them a few times to keep them from exploding in the oven.

  • Tomatoes – Tomatoes are tricky but generally easy to spot the good ones. Take your time and purchase brightly colored tomatoes that are firm to the touch, not mushy. If you shop only once a week, you can buy green tomatoes that are easy to ripen in a window sill for later in the week.

    Always look at the core and skin for black spots. Pink tomatoes have fewer seeds than red tomatoes and are less acidic. Red tomatoes however, are better for cooking and have higher amounts of Vitamin C.

    Serving Suggestion: - Serve these healthy vegetables by cutting them into slices. Serve with pesto, sliced soft Mozzarella Cheese, and a splash of Italian dressing. Otherwise, serve fresh or cooked in salads, side dishes, Italian dishes such as spaghetti, chili's, or stews.

  • Rutabagas and Turnip Roots – Rutabaga’s and turnip roots are the most misunderstood of all veggies. They are simply delicious if cooked properly. To prepare, cut off the waxy outside which leaves the pulp inside. Cut into small sections to speed up cooking time.

    Don’t buy either of these items with black spots present. They should both be hard and firm.

    Serving Suggestion: - Serve these healthy vegetables as a compliment to other vegetables. To sweeten rutabaga’s which can be bitter by themselves, add some carrot slices when you steam them and then mash them both together. The carrots will sweeten up the rutabaga’s nicely. Add a dash of milk, butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir until creamy.

  • Collards – Collards are one of my most favorite healthy vegetables. Tender young collards will have a lighter green color than older, dark collards. These are much more tender and take much less time to cook. Washing collards is the most important step in cooking them.

    Serving Suggestion: - Prepare these healthy vegetables by cooking them in a large pot that’s about 1/4 deep in water. Cook a few hours off and on until tender. After cooking, cut them up by slicing carefully into the pot, then drizzle cold pressed Olive Oil on top. (Instead of using fat back.) Add approximately 1 Tablespoon of both sugar and apple cider vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste.

  • Mushrooms – Mushrooms are great aren’t they? From button mushrooms to Shiitake mushrooms. Yummy! Buy mushrooms that look hard, feel tight and have stems still firmly in place. They should not feel mushy when you push lightly into them.

    Serving Suggestion: - Serve these healthy vegetables in any stir fry dish. Cook last though, cause they don't take long. Cook Shiitake mushrooms out on the BBQ with a drizzle of Oriental or Jamaican spicy marinade.

  • Cabbage – Cabbage is the easiest of all vegetables to buy. Some people pull off the outside leaves of cabbages that are dirty cause they don’t want to pay for the discarded leaves. That is only true if you have to purchase them by the pound. The outside leaves actually protect the inside of the cabbage so if you're not cooking them immediately, don't remove them. Do check for worm holes or browning leaves.

    Serving Suggestion: - Serve these healthy vegetables by steaming leaves until tender. Serve with drizzled oil, and fresh salt and pepper. Or make a killer slaw by shredding cabbage and carrots together. Add a little vinegar, mayonnaise, salt and pepper to taste.

  • Corn - White, yellow, or mixed, corn is a crunchy staple that's versatile. Buy corn fresh when you can or buy it frozen or canned. Corn on the cob should be hard and firm. Pull back the husk slightly to look under the silk for worms or bad places.

    Serving Suggestion: - Serve these healthy vegetables using your seasons as a guide. Serve corn on the cob cooked on the BBQ in summer months. You can also make perfect corn on the cob, by placing them in a plastic grocery bag and cooking them in husk in the microwave for about 5 minutes on full power. Serve frozen or canned corn in the other seasons (fall, winter, and spring) for the best value. Add corn in stews, soups, dips, salsa's, and other side dishes for extra crunch.

  • Eggplant - Eggplant is a nightshade vegetables, although botanically it is listed as a berry. Nightshade vegetables include potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant. The raw fruit can have a bitter taste, but becomes tender when cooked and develops a rich, complex flavor. Salting and then rinsing the sliced eggplant (known as "degorging") can remove much of the bitterness. Some modern varieties do not need this treatment, as they are less bitter. Eggplant is capable of absorbing large amounts of cooking fats and sauces, allowing for very rich dishes. Degorging them will reduce the amount of oil absorbed. The fruit flesh is smooth, the seeds are soft and edible. The thin skin is also edible, so the eggplant need not be peeled.

    Serving Suggestion: - Serve these healthy vegetables stewed, as in ratatouille. It may also be roasted in its skin until charred, so that the pulp can be removed and blended with other ingredients such as lemon, tahini, and garlic. It can be sliced, battered, and deep-fried for eggplant lasagna, or fried and served with various sauces such as tahini or tamarind.

    If there's one thing southern women know, it's their veggies! Do yourself and your family a big favor by including more healthy vegetables in your diet! They're simply delicious!

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