By Brittany Lightsey, MS, RD, LD
October is Farm to School Month and schools across Georgia are celebrating locally grown lettuces. Be on the look out for your child’s school to serve nutritious lettuces and leafy greens as part of its menu this month. This leafy group of vegetables is an important part of a healthful diet. Remember our four healthy habits? One of them – keeping half your plate fruits and vegetables- can easily be accomplished with the help of lettuce and other leafy greens. Let’s look at a few benefits:
1. A great way to vary your veggies everyday!
One of ChooseMyPlate’s main messages, “vary your veggies,” encourages us to get a rainbow of vegetables each day. Choosing dark-colored lettuces creates a great foundation for a salad. Try and see how many colors your can pair with your salad. Spinach with grape tomatoes, red onion, sliced bell peppers and fruit like strawberries or blueberries is a beautiful accompaniment to any meal.
2. Lettuces and greens are stocked with vitamins and minerals.
A general rule of thumb is: the deeper the color of the fruit or vegetable, the more nutrient dense the food. This is where darker lettuces and greens come into play. Kale and spinach are often called nutrition powerhouses. These greens and many others provide us with a significant amount of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium, iron and fiber. What is so important about these nutrients? They can prevent chronic disease and support healthy bodies. Here is a closer look at each:
Calcium: Most of us know that the calcium in milk helps develop strong bones, but did you know that you can also get calcium from vegetables? Think like Popeye and eat greens today to support strong bones and teeth. A lesser known fact about calcium is that it helps support muscle functioning. This important nutrient keeps our bodies in tip-top shape!
Vitamin A: Just one serving of spinach can provide more than your daily Vitamin A requirement – promoting healthy eyes and skin. Remember one serving of lettuces and leafy greens is one half cup cooked or 1 cup raw.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C performs several functions including healing cuts and bruises and supporting healthy gums and teeth.
Iron: This nutrient supports health in a critical way. It keeps our blood cells healthy, meaning that the oxygen we breathe can get to all the organs in our body that it needs to. Be sure to eat iron-rich foods like leafy greens everyday.
Fiber: Fiber plays many roles in our body. First, it helps to keep us full. This is key because it helps us stay full on nutrient dense foods before filling up on the less nutrient dense ones. Plus, we are less likely to overeat at our next mealtime if we eat foods full of fiber. Secondly, fiber keeps our tummies happy by keeping us regular. Among these other roles, fiber also promotes heart health by binding bad fats like cholesterol and washing them out of our bodies. It is found in all fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
3. Easy to eat!
Lettuces and greens can be incorporated into your diet at all times of the day. Feel like fresh lettuces go bad too quickly? Frozen leafies are a great option too. Frozen spinach can be added to soups or stir-fries and sautés, quiches or omelets. It is always a staple to keep in your freezer.
What about lettuces that are usually eaten raw like butterhead, looseleaf or romaine? Add to sandwiches, burgers or tacos. Or you can toss the tortilla! Turn your favorite burrito into low-calorie option using butterhead lettuce as a wrap.
See the next page for a fun recipe to try with your kids this month. This crispy, low-calorie and nutrient-dense snack will leave everyone asking for more.
Collard Chips by Kids Eat Right
Serves 6; 1.5 cups per serving
1 bunch collard green leaves (about 10-11 leaves)
Sea salt, to taste
- Preheat oven to 375ºF.
- Wash collards, remove center stem and rip leaves into chip-size pieces.
- In bowl, coat each piece with cooking spray (or toss with olive oil if preferred).
- Mist baking sheet with cooking spray and arrange collard pieces in single layer.
- Sprinkle salt.
- Bake for 8-9 minutes, until slightly brown and crisp.
Per 1.5 cup serving, this recipe contains 20 calories, and approximately 90% of the % Daily Value of Vitamin A, 40% of the % Daily Value of Vitamin C, and 10% of the % Daily Value of Calcium.
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your needs may be higher or lower depending on your individual calorie needs.
Be sure to check out our articles monthly on the School Food and Nutrition Website found on www.sccpss.com. These articles will highlight tips, tricks, and recipes to keep your family happy and healthy!