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Pros Share Tips On Optimizing Your Kitchen For Vegetable-Rich Diets

“Just one in 10 adults meet the federal vegetable recommendations,” reported the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in one of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports. “As a result, we’re missing out on essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber,” noted the study’s lead author, adding, “This puts [you] at risk for chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.”

Are you one of 90% that aren’t getting enough vegetables in your diet? Is it something you’re committed to changing? If so, these professionals’ tips on storing and preparing vegetables can be your resource for healthier eating now and year-round. (A companion article in two weeks will focus on fruits and outdoor cooking.) Wellness design can support your healthy food goals. 

Mom Was Right

“Eat your vegetables” was a mealtime command millions of American kids grew up hearing. It was good advice too, according to registered dietitian and fitness chain Life Time’s weight loss program director, Anika Christ. “Produce naturally provides some of the best sources of critical nutrients (fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients) that are responsible for so many metabolic processes in the body,” she points out. 

Most clients are aware of their importance, she believes, but need help finding ways to incorporate them into their meal planning and knowing the best ways to prepare them. Otherwise, these well-intentioned purchases often spoil before they’re cooked or eaten. Add in outdated, underperforming appliances and thousands of dollars and nutritional opportunities are potentially wasted.

Optimizing Produce Preparation

Nutrients can be lost in the cleaning and preparation of produce if you’re not careful, Christ comments. “For soaking, you want to stick to leafy greens, while more porous veggies like carrots or celery you’ll want to rinse instead. I also like to encourage my clients to keep skins on when possible,” pointing to the extra nutrition and fiber from cucumbers and carrots in particular.

A hands-free kitchen faucet and pro-style chef sink with accessories can help make produce preparation easier and more convenient. The hands-free feature means you won’t be spreading foodborne illnesses from raw meats to produce, or seasonal viruses between family members. 

Pro-Inspired Space Planning

When it comes to arranging kitchen spaces, professional chef, appliance trainer and regenerative food entrepreneur Bridget Bueche is inspired by what she calls the logic of a commercial kitchen: Receiving ingredient areas, prep space, cooking features, storage capacity for ingredients and tools, plus a cleanup area all in a sequential order.

“I love vegetable prep centers as they consider space to clean, prepare and cook.” They can be designed into a kitchen — potentially on an island opposite the refrigerator, or equipped with refrigerator drawers — for all of the functions she cites and for storing cooking tools like small appliances, pots, pans, cutting boards and utensils as close as possible to where they’ll be used. (You might also plan your storage areas for left- or right-handed usage, depending on your needs.)

For those who’ll be spending prolonged hours in the kitchen, Bueche suggests cushioned mats. Low maintenance countertops like porcelain slab, engineered stone of hybrids will also make your cooking experience more convenient, as you won’t be as worried about staining if your produce leaks onto them and you don’t notice as quickly.

Enhancing Produce Preservation

One question people often have is where to store fruits and vegetables in their kitchens? Bueche responds with chef-level insights for the most popular purchases. “I would say there are several important ‘do not refrigerate items’: potatoes, garlic, onions and shallots favor some movement of air (baskets, cloth/netted bag) in cool but dark and dry storage.” That means pantry or cabinet storage, and locating that spot close to your refrigerator in a “food storage zone” will make meal prep more convenient.

“Tomatoes are best ripened on a counter and eaten right away,” she advises. Your refrigerator is great for cruciferous/Brassicaceae family members, like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, Bueche says. Brussel sprouts and green leafy vegetables also love to be chilled with a touch of moisture to keep them vibrant and crisp, she adds.

“New refrigeration columns or units come with separate bins with controls for humidity and temperature,” notes Bueche, who also works as an appliance trainer for showrooms and manufacturers. “This is optimal for the  extended life of your organic produce.” The luxury brands offer air purification and elimination of gases and contaminants, creating a fresher compartment. Some manufacturers offer blue light technology for preservation, she adds.

Appliance chain owner and blogger, Steve Sheinkopf of Boston area Yale Appliance agrees. “The two compressor or evaporator systems are better. Blue lighting inside the refrigerator mimics sunlight so that veggies continue photosynthesis and last longer,” he explains. 

Cooking Produce Tips

“There are ups and downs of every cooking method,” dietitian Christ observes. “Some can cause a loss of minerals or water-soluble vitamins (e.g., boiling) while other methods (e.g., microwaving) might [decrease] antioxidants in some foods (e.g., cauliflower), but not others (e.g., peppers).” Her approach, she says, is to determine which cooking method works best for each individual and suggest vegetables that are best prepared that way.

Christ often recommends steaming food, as it can reduce GI distress that accompanies some produce like broccoli or brussels sprouts, then recommends adding a healthy fat and sea salt to make the results more flavorful. Roasting is another cooking method the dietitian favors: “I’ve found it to be one of the best ways to amp up flavor and intake.” Vegetables can also be consumed raw as snacks or combined for fresh salads.

“Combination ovens have been on the top of my list for vegetable preparation for over 20 years,” Bueche declares about the hybrid steam-convection appliances. “The combination of wet and dry heat creates the most amazing tender and crisp results, even browning.” She also likes counter-installed steamers for vegetable prep centers. “These can be used to blanch,  steam-cook and sous vide all in one unit,” she shares.

Sheinkopf is a fan of combi-steam and sous vide too, he says, and touts the potential of smart home technology. “WiFi functionality will be a good idea in a few years when it can truly assist beyond the basic features.” Some brands do help aspiring home chefs learn how to best prepare their ingredients.

One essential for your kitchen is a good, properly-installed cooking ventilation unit. “I think venting is so important especially with stir frying, wok cooking, grilling and griddling of any foods,” the appliance pro says. Some of the latest models sync with companion cooktop elements to adjust to the needed speed and intensity.

Specialized countertop appliances can also be a feature of a vegetable prep center, the chef says. “Having a food processor for ricing, slicing, shredding, grating, chopping, and for purees is irreplaceable. A sous vide circulator and cryo-vac machines are also incredible machines  to cook, store, and reheat vegetables,” she comments. Two more items Bueche likes for a prep center are an induction burner and composter for anyone who grows their own vegetable gardens.

Last Words

Bottom line, as nutrition pro Christ points out: Eat more vegetables! “There tends to be a lot of confusion on this category, depending on what diet is on trend or what we might see in the latest study. When I coach clients, they worry too much about which veggies are the best. No matter what the latest science or food trend shows, what we always know is real food wins.” 

Part Two of this short series will publish in two weeks and focus on fruits and outdoor cooking.

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