It’s the peak of summertime—and that means fresh produce is abundant. But amidst concerns about heading to the local farmer’s market or stepping foot in crowded grocery stores, many of us are turning to veggie share boxes.
Additionally, weekly veggie share boxes allow you to support local restaurants and farms, and give you the opportunity to get really creative in the kitchen.
Whether you’re a veggie share veteran or someone who just started dabbling, consider this your guide to making the most of your farm-fresh produce.
What To Know About Veggie Boxes
Remember the pre-school saying “you get what you get, and you don’t get upset?” Here’s the first important thing to know about veggie boxes: You’re going to receive a box of mystery ingredients. Sometimes it’ll feel like you hit the veggie jackpot; and sometimes you’re going to get a whole bag of something you need Google’s help to identify.
Once you’ve accepted the adventurous nature of veggie boxes, the next step is to determine which foods need to be consumed asap. “The key is to figure out what you need to use first in order to not waste it; that’s how I start,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club and owner of Nutrition Starring YOU. “If I get frisee lettuce, for example, it’s not going to last as long as an apple or orange that can stay for weeks in the fridge.”
From there, consider what you need in order to create a week’s worth of healthy, balanced meals. Harris-Pincus recommends building a plate that’s half produce, a quarter whole grains, and a quarter protein.
“Say, for example, you get cabbage in the mail and you’ve never cooked with cabbage before. Think about using the cabbage as the base for a meal and adding foods on top or on the side,” suggests Tori Schmitt, M.S., R.D.N., L.D., founder of YES! Nutrition, LLC. “Maybe you’ll slaw the cabbage and mix it with a zesty citrus-soy dressing for some good fats, then pair it next to some salmon for nutrient-rich protein and omega-3s, and a portion of quinoa for fiber-rich carbs.” If you’re not sure what to do with a particular vegetable, Schmitt suggests starting with a quick web search.
Harris-Pincus also likes taking inspiration from restaurant menus and checking the veggie box’s website for ideas or recipes they provide.
From there, it’s time to cook!
How To Use The Different Types Of Veggies In Your Box
Want more ideas for putting your veggie box to work? Here are some tips, tricks, and nutritional details for some common veggie box contents.
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Sometimes called bulbs, alliums are the veggies that give that extra hit of flavor to your dishes—think garlic, leeks, onions, and shallots.
“Alliums are known for their cardiovascular benefits,” Harris-Pincus says. Plus, they offer important antioxidants to your meals, adds Schmitt.
Try adding chopped alliums to stir frys, eggs, soups, or roasted veggie sides. One must-try is caramelized onions. Make them by sautéing sliced onions in a fat (like olive oil), covering them, and letting them deeply caramelize on a medium-low flame for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. These are excellent as burger toppers, omelets, and so much more!
You can also enjoy alliums simple and raw, says Harris-Pincus. She loves to top her sandwiches, salads, and burgers with raw, crisp onions, or infuse olive oil with garlic or onions for flavor.
Schmitt agrees: “I typically don’t use scallions all too often, but I recently received them in a veggie box. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them, so I chopped a few very finely and added them to eggs for our family’s breakfast,” she says. “I chopped the rest finely and added them to homemade chicken salad for lunch. So easy.”
Cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower are go-to ingredients for stir-frys or a big tray of roasted veggies, and these flower-like foods have a ton of nutritional value. They’re also super-versatile.
Foods in this family tend to be rich in folate, vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K says Harris-Pincus. Plus, they have potential anti-cancerous and anti-inflammatory properties.
“Broccoli delivers the important phytonutrient glucoraphanin, which helps your liver do its job to detox,” says Schmitt. She likes to add broccoli to her summer barbecue menu by grilling it up as steaks, or finely chopping it up into her favorite whole-grain pasta salad.
“Cauliflower has become the make-anything-with-it vegetable,” Harris-Pincus says. Try cutting it into florets and giving it a whirl in the food processor until it’s a rice-like consistency. Then, swap it in anywhere you’d use rice or freeze it to add to smoothies.
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Yes, some foods we know as vegetables are technically fruits by definition. Eggplants, zucchini, squash, and tomatoes, for example, have fruit-like seeds but are often used in savory cooking.
These foods can benefit digestion, help manage blood sugar levels, support heart health, and are high in vitamin A, which can promote healthy vision, says Harris-Pincus.
“Zucchini obviously became famous for zucchini noodles, so it’s great as a pasta substitute or in addition to your regular pasta,” she says. “People who want to eat low-carb but still want pasta can sub in half zoodles. It’s way more satisfying and enjoyable when you still have that starch.”
If you’re tired of zoodles, Harris-Pincus also loves to swap thinly-sliced eggplant for noodles (like in eggplant rollatini) or add grilled or roasted eggplant to pasta sauce.
Want to encourage someone who may not be so enthusiastic about eating their veggies to dig into some of these fruits? Harris-Pincus suggests adding shredded zucchini to brownies, muffins, and quick breads. The veg adds a ton of moisture without any fat to baked goods—and is undetectable in many desserts.
Mushrooms are one of the most versatile foods on the market. Grilling up portabello caps for vegetarians at barbecues is just the beginning.
“Mushrooms deliver vitamin D, the ‘sunshine vitamin,’ which is helpful for supporting the health of your bones and your immune system,” says Schmitt. “Mushrooms, like humans, naturally produce vitamin D levels when exposed to sunlight.” Plus, mushrooms tend to be high in fiber and potassium, and can help regulate blood pressure, Harris-Pincus adds.
One epic way to sneak mushrooms into your regular routine: Add them to your meat. “The most common thing I do with mushrooms is to ground them up and use them in meat dishes like tacos, burgers, or meat sauce,” says Harris-Pincus. “The texture and flavor is undetectable, but this stretches your meat budget and adds some veggies in your food.”
Leafy greens like cabbage, lettuce, kale, and bok choy can be more than just a salad base. After all, they’re incredibly nutrient-dense! These foods can support blood pressure, cognitive, and bone health, and prevent heart disease, says Harris-Pincus. Many are also packed with vitamin K, magnesium, iron, and potassium.
Sauté leafy greens in a pot and add them to meals to bulk them up. Harris-Pincus adds sautéed spinach to frozen meals, restaurant leftovers, soups, and sauces to add some extra heft to dishes that need a little extra something.
“If it’s a solid leaf, you can use it as a lettuce wrap for a low-carb sandwich, if that’s important to you,” Harris-Pincus says.
Schmitt agrees: “Use a whole cabbage leaf as a ‘taco shell’ and add some grilled chicken or edamame for protein, avocado for good fats, and sliced mango for some sweet carbs.”
Also important to note: Most leafy greens can be used interchangeably in recipes, says Schmitt. Any kind of smoothie, salad, sandwich, sauté, or egg dish that calls for one leafy green will turn out great with another.
Vegetables like beets, carrots, parsnips, and radishes often come with a leafy-green top, because they’re actually the root of the plant! Often a good source of gut-promoting fiber, roots can also help reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease and pack a ton of antioxidants, says Harris-Pincus.
Beets, in particular, offer some seriously cool benefits. “Beets can potentially help to improve athletic performance,” she says. “They are rich in nitrates, which the body converts to nitric oxide and dilates blood vessels.” (She specifically loves sliced beets on salads.)
Not all root veggies are created equal, though. “In my first veggie box, I got three different kinds of radishes—and I’m not a radish person,” says Harris-Pincus. “I had to Google and see what they were and how to cook them. I got a few ideas: pickle them, roast them, or cut them into a salad.”
Often roots can be sliced like fries and baked as a delicious side dish, Harris-Pincus adds. Sliced raw root vegetables are also delicious in snack boards. Pair sliced carrots and radishes with delicious dips or sliced cheeses instead of crackers for a healthier twist.
Vegetables like green beans and snow peas are known as “seeds” and often high in vitamin K, folate, and vitamin C. For these reasons, they’re excellent foods for healthy bones, skin, and hair.
Harris-Pincus loves to nosh on raw green beans and snow peas dipped in hummus. Be careful when cooking them, though. “Don’t overcook your green beans,” she says. “They’re really good blanched, stir-fried in Asian-inspired dishes, or baked with whatever spices you like and a squeeze of lemon.”
Sometimes we actually eat the stem of a plant—in the form of veggies like celery and asparagus. Asparagus, specifically, has a ton of folate, copper (an important mineral for collagen formation), and vitamins A, C, E, and K, says Harris-Pincus.
Schmitt loves to roast or grill these veggies and add them to eggs. “Roasting and grilling vegetables brings out their natural sweetness and a pleasant tender texture,” she says.
These veggies are also great raw. Celery, especially, is delicious chopped up into tuna or egg salad—or even as the star of its own salad with chopped dates, Parmesan, lemon, and some red pepper flakes, Harris-Pincus says. And don’t underestimate the classic celery snack. Schmitt loves to fill celery stalks with almond butter and dried cherries for a quick pick-me-up.
Is there a wrong way to eat a potato? And considering they offer a ton of vitamin C, more potassium than bananas, fiber, magnesium, and antioxidants, there’s no reason to skimp on them, says Harris-Pincus. “Potatoes get a bad reputation,” she says. “They’re good for you and they don’t make you fat,” says Harris-Pincus.
Potatoes are particularly awesome for their resistance starch. Basically, when you cook and cool them, potatoes develop more resistance starch, which means you’ll have less of a blood sugar response after eating them.
Harris-Pincus loves potatoes in the air fryer, roasted with olive oil and rosemary, or in a vinegar-based potato salad.
Another fun option: “I like using one medium-sized baked potato as the base for a layered taco bowl,” says Schmitt. “I’ll bake the potato until warm and tender, split it in half, then add black beans, chopped tomatoes, chopped peppers, jalapeño peppers, avocado, plain Greek yogurt (as a sour cream swap), and salsa.
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