Food Group Spotlight: Vegetables

Finding a way to make vegetables a star on the dinner table is no easy task, when feeding kids it makes this challenge even harder. The challenge may make you wonder "why do we need vegetables"? How do they help our bodies? What can we do to get kids to want to eat them?

Vegetables are one of the 5 major food groups and how many servings we need in a day can be determined by factors such as age and gender.

There are many kinds of vegetables and can be categorized into 5 subgroups: dark-green vegetables, starchy vegetables, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas, and other vegetables. 

These subgroups are determined by the nutrient contents of specific vegetables and each provide a variety of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. It is important to eat a variety of different vegetables to ensure that your body is getting all the different kinds of nutrients it needs to stay strong and healthy.

  • Dark-Green Vegetables: Fiber, folate, carotenoids, vitamin C, vitamin K, iron, and calcium (Examples: arugula, spinach, kale, leaf lettuce, collard greens, romaine lettuce, chicory, swiss chard)
  • Starchy Vegetables: Fiber, calcium, iron, and B vitamins (Examples: parsnip, plaintain, potato, pumpkin, butternut squash, corn)
  • Red and Organe Vegetables: Vitamin A, citamin c, vitamin k, and potassium (Examples: acorn squash, butternut squash, carrots, pumpkin, red peppers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes)
  • Beans and Peas: Iron, zinc, folate, potassium (Examples: kidney beans, pinto beans, lima beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, split peas, lentils)
  • Other Vegetables: Contain a variety of nutrients mentioned in the previous subgroups (Examples: asparagus, avocado, beets, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, onions, yellow peppers, zucchini)

As you can see, vegetables provide a number of nutrients to the body, but just what do these nutrients do?

  • Fiber, provides a feeling of fullness with fewer calories, it also helps reduce blood cholesterol levels
  • Folate, used to make DNA another other genetic material, it is needed for the body's cells to divide
  • Carotenoids, powerful antioxidants that can help prevent disease
  • Vitamin C, aids in growth and repairs tissue in all parts of the body
  • Vitamin K, allows blood to clot
  • Iron, an important component of hemoglobin which is the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs and transports it throughout the body.
  • Calcium, necessary for contracting muscles, forming and strengthening bones/teeth, conductive nerve impulses, clotting blood, and maintaining a normal heartbeat
  • B Vitamins, essential for bodily functions such as energy production to making red blood cells
  • Potassium, an important electrolyte that helps keep a normal water balance between cells and body fluids. It also aids in nerve conduction and muscle contraction.
  • Zinc, helps the body to stay healthy and is found in cells throughout the body, helps the immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses, it also helps make proteins and DNA

It's clear to see that vegetables are equally as important, if not the most important food group that needs to be represented on the dinner table and of every persons' plate. Veggies are difficult to serve on their own and have them be received well, but with proper seasoning and a little creativity, they can be fun and easy to eat for people of all ages!

Check out these great recipes to get vegetables on your dinner table!

Zucchini Casserole

Sweet Potato Fries

Post by Andrea Knott, Nutrition Intern

Bridgewater State University, Health Studies

Reviewed by Kate Thomas, MS, RD, LDN