What are three good vegetables to eat over and over, semi-obsessively?
August 29, 2013 12:16 PM   Subscribe

I can't keep up with the process of buying and cooking a variety of vegetables. I need a specific few that I can build a repertoire around and buy/eat repetitively without thinking about it. Otherwise everything will keep dying in the fridge. What are the three (subjectively) smartest vegetables I can choose if I am limiting myself to three, with regard to nutrient density (not versatility, and disregarding seasonal aspects.)

For instance, one thing I do is keep a container of washed arugula, and put everything else I eat on a bed of arugula with a squeeze of lime. I don't know how nutrient dense arugula is, but probably not insanely dense. That is about the extent of my consistent vegetable successes. I do integrate other veggies, but it requires an absurdly huge effort, and I waste much more food than I am comfortable with.

Any ideas of three super-healthy veggies? I'm guessing one of the 'greens' should be included (kale, chard, collards), but what else, and which one of those? Also, I can stomach pretty much any vegetable except for fennel and red/green peppers.

I know I can probably make some kind of spreadsheet and sift through the nutritional info, but maybe someone has some good ideas for this trio concept. Also, I'll probably consume other veggies around town, but I think this is my only home-vegetable hope.
posted by thegreatfleecircus to Food & Drink (52 answers total) 90 users marked this as a favorite
Zucchini!! So versatile.
posted by amicamentis at 12:18 PM on August 29, 2013

Mine are Spinach, Tomatoes and Brocolli.

Canned tomatoes can be your friends too.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:20 PM on August 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

Yams have really good nutritional value though they are a lot more like starchy potatoes in some ways than vegetables. I like them because they have a lot of vitamin C, fiber, Vitamin B and potassium and are pretty palatable in a lot of ways and keep forever in the fridge.

I am also partial to spinach because it has protein, vitamin K, vitamin A and folic acid and fiber (kale is bitter to me otherwise I'd include it). It doesn't keep as well but you can chop and freeze it if you just want to add it to things.

Don't know how you feel about avocado but it has healthy fats and is good in a lot of random ways. That said it's not everyone's thing and it's not awesome at being stored and it's expeinsive in a lot of places. Other options include pumpkin (seasonal, high fiber, low calorie, high in beta carotene), garlic which is usually thought of as a flavoring but is pretty good on its own and broccolli which is nutrient dense even though I can't stand it.

My go-to three are onions, green peppers and yams, fwiw.
posted by jessamyn at 12:23 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seems like I see sweet potatoes on "superfood" lists a lot. You can pretty much use them any way you'd use a potato but they are much healthier. I like to stuff them with things like white beans, tomatoes, and spinach, or cut into cubes, roast, and have them on tacos with black beans and/or spinach. (I, too, am a chronic produce-waster and sweet potatoes are kind of nice because they take a long time to actually go "bad").
posted by lovableiago at 12:25 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

I would definitely say onions, sweet potatoes, and some kind of leafy green. I think chard is slightly more versatile than kale, but that's just a personal thing. Sweet potatoes and onions delightfully take a long time to go bad, as mentioned above, and they pair well with a lot of kinds of dishes and styles. (Quesadillas, curries, lentil dishes...)
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:26 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, one should definitely be greens. I'd just pick your favorite of kale, collards, chard, or spinach - I'd personally go for bags of prewashed baby spinach since it's SO easy and is good both cooked & fresh. Dino kale is my favorite green though, and is also probably the most nutrient-rich.

For balanced nutrition, I would choose one leafy green (as above), one other green (I'd personally go for broccoli), and one orange vegetable (I'd go for either carrots, since I love raw carrots, or pumpkin - fresh or canned).
posted by insectosaurus at 12:30 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm in the same boat as you, and my staples are: frozen spinach, frozen broccoli, frozen cauliflower, frozen precut onions, canned tomatoes, and a giant jar of prediced garlic (sacrilege, but it's better than nothing) with the occasional can of turnip greens or collards. Nothing goes bad, and I can make most of the things I have time to cook with some combinations of those. I also like to have a cabbage or two around, since they last for ages if kept cold.
posted by notquitemaryann at 12:31 PM on August 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

The three we use over and over are spinach, Brussels sprouts, and zucchini.

However, I think spinach is the only one on our list that is both nutrient rich and versatile. Brussels sprouts are nutritious but I really only prepare them one way (roasted), and zucchini is versatile, but I don't think it's particularly heavy on the nutrients (seems like mostly water).
posted by Kriesa at 12:31 PM on August 29, 2013

Inside your constraints I might do kale, tomatoes and sweet potatoes, though the tomato part gets hard in the winter and might have to be replaced with canned tomatoes or another vegetable entirely. (Also, tomato is technically a fruit, but it is nutrient dense, so.)

Kale then makes a good, nutrient-dense side dish, or an additive to soups; tomato makes sauces, salads or soups; and sweet potato makes a side or a saute. You might find this website helpful as it has a list of the most nutrient-dense foods and ways to cook them.
posted by feets at 12:37 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd say spinach (or some kind of green, your arugula is great - lots of calcium and vitamin c), broccoli (fiber, vitamin c, calcium, iron) and tomatoes (vitamin c, vitamin a). As others have said, spinach can be eaten raw or cooked, so fresh or frozen. Frozen broccoli and canned tomatoes are easy enough. For bonus points: sweet potato - tons of fiber and vitamin A. Bake several at a time, eat (topped with cooked greens or cooked broccoli?) all week
posted by hungrybruno at 12:38 PM on August 29, 2013

Kale and spinach are both awesome for nutrient density. As mentioned above, baby spinach is very versatile; one thing I have taken to lately (especially if I have a lot on hand and need to use it up before it goes bad) is to make a sort of pesto with raw spinach (it can be as simple as spinach, olive oil, fresh garlic, salt, and maybe a bit of fresh squeezed lemon juice; you can add other things like pine nuts, slivered almonds, grated cheese, etc.) Great for dipping, or use as a sauce with pretty much anything.
posted by fikri at 12:39 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and spinach would get my votes. Simple and fast to prepare in a bunch of different settings and don't require much prep. They're also different but bright colors, which makes them cheerful to eat.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:40 PM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I buy tons of kale and roast it, sautee it, throw it in egg scrambles, with sausage etc. My other staple is broccoli. Outside of that it rotates - spinach, brussels sprouts, chard, whatever grabs me. Also love avocado but I chop a bit and put it on the side of my plate.
posted by sweetkid at 12:40 PM on August 29, 2013

If your problem is spoilage, then I would focus on stuff that cellars well - onions and potatoes, obviously, but winter squash, carrots, parsnips, turnips, and brussels sprouts are all good options. Kale or other hearty greens will also keep forever in the fridge.

Root vegetables especially are dead simple to prepare by roasting - mix and match from the above list, peel if desired, cut in to chunks, toss with some oil, salt, and pepper, and lay out on a baking sheet. Roast at 350 until fork tender, stirring occasionally so they don't stick to the pan and burn. Done. You can make a bunch of this at the beginning of the week and reheat leftovers.

Large winter squash are also very easy to roast in the oven - slice in half (leave the skin on), scoop out the seeds and stringy bits, drizzle with oil, sprinkle on salt and pepper, and then bake skin side down at 350 until fork tender. Let it cool a bit, and then you can (depending on how done you let it get) scoop out the inside and mash it or peel off the skin and cut into chunks.

If you like kale, it will cook down quite a lot so you can buy way more than you think you need and end up with just a small bowl of it. Kale pairs well raw with citrus (look for raw kale salad recipes, they're quite good) and cooked with garlic and sausage. Also works well with soft-cooked eggs. It's pretty good at holding on to flavors, so if you find yourself reaching for, say, some white rice to lay a chicken breast or piece fish on top of, skip it and sautee some kale instead.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:44 PM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sweet potatoes, kale, and tomatoes (but it's hard to not include onions/garlic in this for flavors/aroma especially when roasting!)
posted by headnsouth at 12:45 PM on August 29, 2013

If you are male, you should eat tomatoes, fresh or preserved.
Spinach is so easy, because you can get good quality frozen and fresh, there are a thousand ways to prepare it. And it's a leafy green.
Now, I'm wavering: should the last one be broccoli or onions? You decide. Or take both. ANd some garlic. Onions and garlic keep well, so they won't stress you.

I love squash, but it is not for the three-veg eater. The nutritional content is close to zero. Eat it anyway, grilled, with a nice vinaigrette over. Goes well with a lamb-chop and potatoes. But now I am digressing. Stick to the above...
posted by mumimor at 12:54 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm going to suggest the seriously-fantastic and healthy asparagus. You can cook it in a few different ways, mix and match your toppings (we like sesame oil, sesame seeds and cayenne).
posted by urbanlenny at 12:57 PM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Kale, carrots, scallions.

This article may be of interest. The basic gist is that most veggies have been bred to have reduced nutrients but there are some that are still nutrient dense.
posted by melissasaurus at 12:57 PM on August 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Peas are good for this if you just put "bag of frozen peas" on your list. Easy to dump in the microwave and sooo yummy and they go with everything and are good for you.
posted by bleep at 1:09 PM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would pick:

One leafy green (lettuce, kale, cabbage, chard)
One fruity (tomato, bell pepper, eggplant)
One tuber (potato, sweet potato, yam, taro)
posted by hamsterdam at 1:11 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Why didn't more of you say broccoli yet? It's cheap, lasts a while fresh, has a bunch of nutrients, and can be prepared many different ways easily. Using hamsterdam's nice formula, I would complement the broccoli with potato (or sweet potato, they both last forever and are very cheap) and spinach.
posted by whatzit at 1:13 PM on August 29, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks all! Just to clarify, I don't care about versatility at all. I'll steam artichokes forever if that seems like a healthy idea. Also, the spoilage is only a problem because I don't have a system down. I don't need things that last a long time, necessarily. Just the healthiest/most nutrient-balanced options within my three-veggie limit. One question: a few people have mentioned onions. I have never thought of that as a particularly nutrient-rich food. Am I incorrect? Many, many thanks for the good trio ideas!
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 1:19 PM on August 29, 2013

Onions actually have a lot of nutrients (different profile maybe than other vegetables?) but I think it depends on how you're defining "nutrient-rich." Mainly I like them because they're super delicious and go well with everything from salads, raw, to pizza, caramelized.
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:29 PM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

If I did this, I'd go with baby spinach, tomatoes, and asparagus. I like the sweet potato idea, but every time and every way I've tried to seems to be either very unforgiving or takes a very long time, both cooking and prep. Oven roasted asparagus drizzled with olive oil and salt is freaking fantastic.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:33 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

One question: a few people have mentioned onions. I have never thought of that as a particularly nutrient-rich food. Am I incorrect?

I think it might be that they're such a common flavoring element for a lot of foods that it would be hard to do without them. For me, your list of three things would actually be onions and garlic, plus whatever three other things you go with, just because the recipes we make at home frequently require an onion or garlic. We probably go through an onion or two a week.
posted by LionIndex at 1:37 PM on August 29, 2013

I probably go through five onions a week, and they are very nutritious, even when dry and wintery. Maybe you could just have onions as a staple like rice and pasta, and then add three vegs on top? Onions make lentils and beans fabulous, with no other addition but salt and pepper, and a hamburger with caramelized onions is delicious.
Raw onions are great in a salad with those tomatoes you really need if you are male. And some cheese, then.
posted by mumimor at 1:43 PM on August 29, 2013

Spinach because you can slip it into pretty much everything from salads to stews.

Carrots, again because they keep for ages and you can use them any way you like.

The third option is hard but most likely tomatoes, again because it brings in different nutrients than the other 2 and it is versatile. If not then I'd go sweet potato.
posted by wwax at 1:44 PM on August 29, 2013

I eat spinach, mushrooms, and carrots pretty much every day. I like those three in particular because I can buy them and eat them raw (in salads, with dip, etc.), but if it gets to the point where they're on the verge of going bad before I can finish them, I can sautee them and freeze them, then use them cooked in all of my recipes (pasta dishes, burritos, soups, etc.). That way, I never waste them. I buy other fruits and vegetables also, but those three are my staples, and I always have them in the house.
posted by decathecting at 1:54 PM on August 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

I eat roasted asparagus almost every day between June and September, it is the best vegetable and all others are sad that they are not asparagus.

The rest of the year I have a lot of spinach and sweet potatoes and butternut squash. I would add kale to the list if I could stomach it or any other brassica.
posted by elizardbits at 2:04 PM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Have you ever used the Self Nutrition Database? It's got some very nifty graphics that display the vitamin and mineral content of any food you look up, which is a nice way to see how specific vegetables stack up in their nutrient density (assuming you mean vitamins and minerals when you talk about "nutrient dense" and not say overall calories or protein or amino acid content).

Looking at some specific examples--scroll down to the "Nutrient Balance" graph about a third of the way down the page (description here)--and you can see that your sense that onions aren't very nutrient dense compared with other veggies is correct. Sweet potatoes are also so-so in terms of hitting a wide variety of nutrients. I'd shoot for a selection of three vegetables that not only light up the purple (vitamins) and white (minerals) sections that graph as much as possible, but also hit different nutrients from each other so you're getting a more well-rounded diet. For instance, raw spinach has relatively high values of most nutrients but doesn't have any Vitamins B12 and D and has lower levels of pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) and selenium. White mushrooms, on the other hand, are not quite as nutrient-rich as spinach but have high levels of Vitamin D, Vitamin B5, and selenium. (Vitamin B12 is a meat-and-eggs thing, so you probably can't quite get at it from vegetables.)

Some other vegetables already mentioned above that are quite dense in nutrients:

posted by iminurmefi at 2:12 PM on August 29, 2013 [9 favorites]

Oh and also: arugula is not quite as good as spinach in terms of vitamins, but it's pretty darn close. They'd both easily qualify as among the most nutrient-rich vegetables you can buy, I think, even better than other leafy greens such as kale.
posted by iminurmefi at 2:17 PM on August 29, 2013

For me it's a leafy green like bok choy or kale, asparagus and broccoli. I've never had to throw out leafy vegetables ever since I got a blender either--I keep frozen berries and peaches, and when I'm down to that last sad, wilty bit of leafy greens in my vegetable drawer, I make a green smoothie.
posted by peripathetic at 2:39 PM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

For easy sweet potatoes I steam and mash a lot of them (with a little butter) and store in portion size containers in the freezer. Then pull out, thaw in microwave, and add brown sugar / ginger type things, or hot sauce type things-- they go either way easily.
posted by travertina at 2:42 PM on August 29, 2013

The side of my whole foods grocery bag has a list of the most nutrient dense veggies. I looked and found it on their website. ANDI list
posted by Swisstine at 2:57 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Kale, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes. Make the kale the lacinato/dinosaur kale as it's easier to wash, the stems are more tender, and it cooks more quickly than curly kale. Spinach may be more nutritious but I find I can only eat so much of it, whereas there's no limit to the amount of kale I can eat.
posted by HotToddy at 3:04 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I gotta go with kale / sweet potatoes / tomatoes too. My brother's go-to "feh I'm hungry" dish is kale, tomatoes, and chickpeas all stewed together, it's delicious.
posted by KathrynT at 3:31 PM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I love my broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus.

But I would caution against eating with restricted variety. Long-term, this is not good for your health.

I would suggest instead printing out an image such as this, sticking it onto your fridge, then crossing out the veggies (and fruit) that you have eaten over the course of the month. Aim to have one of each by end of month. Then, at the start of the following month, print out a new sheet and start again. This simple approach works for me in warding off food sensitivities, and warding off that feeling of boredom that comes from eating the same gosh darn things over and over again.
posted by seawallrunner at 3:34 PM on August 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

This article may be of interest…

The gist may be right but the article seems really poorly researched. E.g., the correction about supersweet corn's origin, or the implication that dandelions are some kind of traditional native american food (the common dandelion was brought to the new world intentionally, as a food / nutritional crop, by european settlers).
posted by hattifattener at 3:36 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Out of the ANDI list that whole food keeps up, I can personally attest that Napa Cabbage has the longest fridge life- sometimes up to 3 months.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 3:39 PM on August 29, 2013

It depends on the rest of your diet; for instance, if you're eating lots of oranges, that would cover your vitamin C intake, so it wouldn't matter that 100g of raw spinach only gives you about 1/3 to 1/2 of your daily recommended intake.*

That said: brussels sprouts, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, collard greens and sweet potatoes are examples of veggies that contain most all the essential nutrients that can occur in vegetables (B12 being an example of a vitamin you normally get from meat). My picks would be:

1) Spinach, because, of the greens I mentioned above, it tends to score highest in more categories (esp. minerals).
2) Sweet potatoes, because they also contain many essential nutrients and are different enough from greens to give you more cooking choices.
3) Tomatoes, because they work in so many dishes, and because they contain lycopene. (That's a whole category I've neglected -- things that don't fall under "essential nutrient" but which are important nonetheless.)

* I took my rough numbers from the USDA site and various online calculators (based on 100g of raw veg). Of course, actual numbers will vary depending on how/where the vegetable was grown, cooked, etc. Also, I think it's easier to consume 100g of some veg vs others. This is all just my amateur opinion based on my own cursory notes.
posted by paperback version at 4:50 PM on August 29, 2013

Mine are spinach or arugula, tomatoes, and basil. Now you have salad. Many pastas. etc.

Add in something more chewy (I prefer chard, but you can also use kale or beet stems, though beet stems are bitter to me). Or broccoli. Onions are good too. (And so are portobello mushrooms.) With the exception of broccoli (which I prefer peeled, boiled, with butter and lemon), the other veggies can all be stir fried / grilled and eaten with rice.
posted by ethidda at 5:50 PM on August 29, 2013

Something green (e.g. kale), something orange (e.g. butternut squash or carrots), and mushrooms. Tomatoes are a fruit and I'm sure you won't have much of a problem eating plenty of them in sandwiches, etc.

I don't know how nutrient dense arugula is, but probably not insanely dense.

This person who compared spinach and arugula agrees with you: "I wasn’t too surprised to find out that spinach is more nutrient dense. It confirms the general advice that the deeper the color of the vegetable the healthier."
posted by John Cohen at 5:52 PM on August 29, 2013

Discounting potatoes, onions and garlic, my mainstays are broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, mushrooms and avocado. I thought cucumbers wouldn't have much nutritional value, but it turns out they're very good for vitamins C, K and potassium and not bad for vitamin A, magnesium, magnanese, pantothenic acid and phosphorus. Who knew? Anyway, I'd pick from those personally.

The other thing I found helps a lot is a big bag of premixed frozen veggies. I loathe peas so I get the mixes like broccoli, cauliflower, carrot and green beans or snow peas (yes, I know but snow peas are different). They keep for a long time, can be nuked easily in the microwave and have a pretty good mix of colours, flavours and nutrients.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:53 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Our favorites are: sweet potato, bell peppers (red, yellow, orange), red onion, brussel sprouts and mushrooms.

I roast the sweet potato like a baked potato (pierce potato, then rub with olive oil & kosher salt--roast whole until cooked). Cut up the other veggies, mix, drizzle with olive oil, garlic powder, pepper and Italian seasoning & roast on cookie sheet. When all done, stuff the sweet potato with the mixed veggies--really good.
posted by I'm Brian and so's my wife! at 6:11 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think my personal favorite for this is fresh green beans. I try to get a deal at the farmers market by buying a lot.
posted by spbmp at 8:15 PM on August 29, 2013

Great question. I have the same problem.
My 3 go to veggies are bell pepper (sorry-don't count it), broccoli/cauliflower, squash/sweet potato, and green beans. These will all get used -eventually- if they are in the fridge.
Tomatoes, also, but we keep them on the counter so they really don't fall into the rotting in the fridge category.

Salad greens melt into a slimy green puddle in my fridge for some reason. Must be a temperature control thing. And I think limp-dick carrots were invented in my fridge.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:55 PM on August 29, 2013

If I had to pick three go-tos, they would be bell peppers, carrots, and spinach. However, one thing I found that helped me eat veggies on a daily basis (and also clean them up if they're heading toward limp/slime, as peripathetic mentions) was to institute a morning smoothie with the following: kale, avocado, pineapple, pineapple juice, and ginger, plus anything else hastening along in the crisper or on the counter that blends well, like bananas.
posted by pepper bird at 9:05 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Frozen is the way to go if you want to minimize spoilage and extra effort. I recommend frozen chopped spinach and frozen broccoli. Canned tomatoes, as others have pointed out, are great too. Get the Muir Glen brand; stock up when they are on sale.

Sweet potatoes are easy to cook in the microwave. Pierce them 5 or 6 times with a knife, put them on a plate, and zap for about 5 minutes, flip over, and zap for another 5 minutes. Don't bother peeling them until after they've cooked; the skins will slide off.
posted by fozzie_bear at 11:11 AM on August 30, 2013

Having a narrow range of foods in your diet isn't awful, but it's not optimal. Could you add a 2-ingredient salad and mix it up? salad dressing as dip with sliced red or green pepper/ mushrooms/ pre-peeled carrots/ sliced cabbage/ spinach/ arugula/ kale/ avocado/ broccoli/ pea pods/ green beans/ cucumbers/ cauliflower/ etc. All of these are good raw, just buy a bag when you shop and eat it up. Next time you shop, get a different vegetable to have raw. I eat most of these veg plain, but salad dressing is a nice addition, esp. if I'm having a snack. You can also keep V-8 juice in the fridge, or maybe rotate between V-8, OJ, apple, grapefruit, etc. I'm not a fan of a lot of canned vegetables, as they seem to lose a lot of quality, but canned fruits - mandarin oranges, pars, peaches, applesauce - are great, tasty, and expand the nutritional base.
posted by theora55 at 11:48 AM on August 30, 2013

I'd use kale instead of spinach, due to the high oxalic acid content of spinach, if I were eating it every day.
posted by SandiBeech at 12:01 PM on August 30, 2013

My go-tos are red peppers, snap peas and cucumber. I will usually buy one of them each week, and then eat frozen vegetables too (carrots, cauliflower, peas, broccoli).
posted by JoannaC at 12:11 PM on August 30, 2013

Broccoli, red onions and kale are my go-to vegetables when I know vegetables must be had but can't bothered puzzling through the variations, permutations, contraindications, and consequences.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:05 PM on September 1, 2013

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