Goodbye for now tomatoes, corn and zucchini; hello kale, collards and mustard greens! Every vegetable has its moment in the sun and, ironically, dark leafy greens are at their peak when there’s a chill in the air. While a global farming economy makes it possible for traditional grocery stores to offer us asparagus for a Thanksgiving feast and watermelon in the dead of winter, I prefer to shop locally and eat produce in season. Hit the farmers’ markets and road side stands this time of year and you’ll start noticing an influx of good-looking greens on the scene -- some winter greens are so beautiful that I’ve displayed them as a show stopping centerpiece in lieu of a fancy-schmancy floral arrangement.
While the vibrantly veined leaves and stalks of Swiss chard or the ruffled, frilly edges of kale may make you stop and marvel and Mother Nature’s gift of making every creation gorgeous in its own way, you should also be impressed with how healthful the dark leafy greens of winter can be! According to the USDA, dark leafy vegetables, such as kale, collard greens, mustard greens, Swiss chard and spinach, are plentiful in potassium, manganese and iron. They are also a good source for vitamins A, C, K and E as well as calcium, folic acid and fiber. According to MyPlate.com, adults should be striving to eat at least 2 ½ to 3 ½ cups of vegetables a day, depending on age and gender -- even more if moderately active. Winter greens are a budget-friendly way to help you meet these daily intake recommendations. A big bunch of greens can typically be purchased for just a dollar or two and will yield an impressive-sized salad or side dish that can feed your whole family. Another perk – the high fiber content in dark leafy quickly fills up hungry bellies and just may keep mouths from going back for seconds (or even firsts) of higher calorie, higher fat foods. To encourage my kids to eat a wide range of greens, I hauled them up to the store and made them each pick out the variety that grabbed their attention (and offended least)! We wrapped up deli meats in the bigger leaves and used some of the chopped greens in stir fry – everything was conveniently seasoned to their tastes with one of more of Litehouse Food’s Instantly Fresh Herbs. The remainder of greens (which was a lot) was mixed up and incorporated into this nourishing recipe for Wilted Greens, Beans and Meatball Soup. I’ve seen similar vegetarian takes on this dish floating around, but I appreciate the kid appeal that lean beef meatballs bring to the bowl – not to mention the extra nutrients. For example, beef adds extra protein for sustained energy and it’s also one of the best sources of iron around. Combine that with the abundant iron found in winter greens and your tank will be topped off!