While winter isn’t always thought of as a time for fresh produce, in fact, there are lots of healthy winter veggies to enjoy this time of year! Many greens and root vegetables are not only widely available during the fall and winter months, but they are at their prime in terms of freshness and flavor. Depending on your climate, you may even be able to grow some fresh veggies in your garden throughout the winter. But there are also lots of other tasty and healthy vegetables that will store well into the winter months (think butternut squash and sweet potatoes).
So what are some of the best winter veggies to eat more of this winter? There are a variety of vegetables that are at their peak during the winter months. These include items such as kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and root vegetables such as carrots, turnips, and parsnips. These vegetables are packed with nutrients that are essential for good health, including vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Eating a diet rich in these nutrients can help to boost your immune system, improve your digestion, and even help to fight off winter colds and flu.
1.) Winter Squash
Winter Squash has winter right there in the name! Full of nutritional benefits and also wildly tasty, this family of what are technically fruits (with seeds inside) can last a long time, and even manage to be adorably decorative while doing so. Butternut squash, acorn squash, pumpkins, and dozens of other varieties will keep for months (as long as you can resist carving faces into them), and lend their wonderfully organic textures and colors to your pantry, sideboard, or dining table centerpieces.
Plus, they’re ridiculously good for you. They are rich sources of A, C, and B vitamins, high in antioxidants, and provide crucial minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and manganese. If you’re into cardiovascular and metabolic health, winter squash make powerful dietary allies. They’re also good for the health and radiance of your hair and skin, and contribute nutrients that support vision, as well.
Your average butternut or acorn squash will live happily on a kitchen counter for up to three months, and twice that (or more) in a cool environment such as a cellar.
You can use winter squash as a base for soups and stews, bake or roast them for a side dish, enjoy them stuffed as a main dish, and even cooked and blended into sauces or toppings for pasta and grain dishes.
Carrots are perhaps the best-known of all winter produce. As long as they’re kept from freezing in the ground, they just get sweeter as the temperature drops. Carrots are high in beta carotene, the precursor to vitamin A, as well as other antioxidants. They’re also rich in B vitamins, vitamins C and K1, and minerals such as potassium. Carrots are your friend when you’re looking to support your immune system, prevent cancer, and take care of your eyes.
You can store carrots in the fridge for a few weeks, or for up to half a year in a well-regulated root cellar. They’re great raw in salads and slaws, as edible utensils for dips, and blended into smoothies. Cooked, they add flavor and color to soups and stews, provide sweetness when roasted as part of a veggie side, and can star on their own in carrot bacon and carrot dogs, providing texture and a vehicle for smoked flavor without the need for processed meat and its harmful dietary nitrates.
Winter cabbage is lettuce’s tough cousin. It can grow in very cold conditions, and once harvested in early winter, it’s happy to sit in a cool dark place until you’re ready to serve it. Winter cabbage is high in vitamins C and K1 as well as folate. And as a proud member of the cruciferous family, cabbage is also a great source of sulforaphane precursors. So equipped, cabbage may be protective against liver and cardiovascular disease, as well as cancer progression.
Cabbage lasts longer than other leafy greens. Neglect a head in the crisper drawer, and it should be perky and ready to eat even several weeks later (or simply peel away and compost the degraded outer leaves until you reach the crisp stuff again — not that I’m speaking from personal experience!). You can eat it raw or cooked. Raw cabbage is awesome when shredded in salad, coleslaw, and tacos, or fermented into sauerkraut or kimchi. Cooked, cabbage adds body and flavor to stir-fries, soups, and casseroles. Or give it costar billing in its own side dish, such as the British potato-and-cabbage classic known as “Bubble and Squeak.”
4.) Leafy Greens
Dark leafy greens love it when the temperatures drop close to freezing (and in the case of collards, well below). If you’re a gardener, these greens are among the easiest crops to produce, partly because they grow in the off-season when most pests are hibernating or pupating or whatever they’re doing before they awaken and start chomping on your plants.
Many of the healthiest and heartiest greens belong to the cruciferous family. These include kale, collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, watercress, arugula, and more. Arguably some of the healthiest foods you can eat, dark leafy greens are typically high in vitamins A, C, K1, and folate, as well as fiber. Per calorie, they’re also rich sources of protein, as well as minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, and phosphorus. All these goodies, in addition to a pharmacopeia of antioxidants, render dark leafy greens powerful anticancer, neuroprotective, cardioprotective, blood-sugar-stabilizing foods.
Dark leafy greens will last at least a few days in your refrigerator. Maximize their life and freshness by storing them unwashed in produce bags or an airtight container. You can consume them raw, in salads, as wraps, or pureed in sauces, dips, or green smoothies. Cooked, they’re at home in pasta dishes, curries, stir-fries, soups, and stews. You can also dehydrate them into chips (kale is the most common one to use in this way), or simply steam the greens for a heart-healthy dish.
5.) Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts can defy winter in your garden, showing off their decorated stalks even when the ground is covered with snow. They’ve become something of an “it” vegetable, which is nice considering how they used to be maligned as something kids had to eat before they got dessert!
How good are Brussels sprouts for you? Let us count the ways. They’re high in potassium, vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin A, and vitamin K1. They’re also a good source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium, as well as sulforaphane and other antioxidants. Eat your Brussels sprouts because they’re delicious, and also reap their benefits for your heart and brain, as well as their anticancer and anti-inflammatory properties.
Brussels sprouts separated from their stalk will last for a week to 10 days in the refrigerator, and for about 2 weeks if you keep them in cold storage while still on the stalk. Loose sprouts do well in the freezer, where they can last for up to a year.
You can eat Brussels sprouts raw and shaved in coleslaw and over salad and pizza. Cooked, they make an excellent side dish, appetizer, or ingredient in grain bowls, stir-fries, and breakfast hashes…
Beets are a great leave-’em-in-the-ground winter crop, largely because of all their sugar, which acts as a potent antifreeze for the beets and makes them taste delicious to us. High in vitamins A, C, K1, and B2 as well as folate, manganese, and copper, beets also deliver huge health benefits. They’re good for the heart, support athletic performance, reduce inflammation, support digestion, and promote brain health, cancer prevention, a balanced immune system, and healthy eyes and liver.
Although they’re so tasty you might want to consume them right away, beets are very comfortable in the fridge, where they can last for months. In ideal cold storage conditions, they might go up to a year and still taste great when eaten raw or cooked. Pickling and fermenting beets are other ways to make them last.
Beets go well raw in cold soups, salads, smoothies, and dips. You can also roast them with other root vegetables in a sheet pan meal, and slice or cube cooked beets into grain bowls and other hot dishes.
Potatoes are a prime example of winter produce and are cold storage superstars, remaining stable and fresh for months when stored in a cool dark place with sufficient humidity. Dark is important, as light turns them green and triggers the growth of shoots (called “eyes”), which can produce unhealthy compounds that also don’t taste very good. Potatoes, far from being “empty carbs,” are in fact among the healthiest of plants. They’re high in many nutrients, especially B vitamins, Vitamin C, potassium, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus. Their sweet potato cousins (actually not really related at all, except for the name) are also rich in vitamin A precursors and other antioxidants, depending on their skin and flesh color.
Potatoes have been shown to help prevent the progression of cancer, their resistant starch helps with digestion and weight management, and their mineral content makes them good for bone and heart health.
You can store potatoes for a week or two on a kitchen counter (remember, they like it dark), or in cold storage. The classic farmhouse technique is to pack them in sand, being careful not to bruise the flesh. If you grow your own, scrape off most of the dirt but don’t wash them, and avoid storing any bruised or cut tubers (use these up first).
Don’t eat potatoes raw. Instead, prepare them in many wonderful ways — boiled, steamed, baked, grilled, roasted, air-fried, sautéed, mashed, smashed (yes, smashed), stuffed, in sheet pan meals, in soups and stews, chilis and curries (I think you can probably sing that last sentence to the tune of “My Favorite Things”). Breakfast potato hash, for example, can be a filling and comforting way to start your day.
As you can see, there are loads of ways to get lots of healthy winter veggies into your diet! One of the best ways to make sure you’re getting enough vegetables in your diet during the winter is to make them a part of every meal. Start your day with a nutritious breakfast that includes a serving of veggies, such as a leafy greens and mushroom omelet. Add a side of roasted Brussels sprouts or roasted squash or root vegetables to your lunch or dinner. And, when you’re looking for a snack, reach for a healthy veggie-based option like carrot sticks or celery with peanut butter.
By making vegetables a part of every meal, you’ll be improving your long-term health and longevity, while keeping your palate satisfied with plenty of variety!