Vegetable Series (Part 3): How to Ensure Your Family Gets the Right Vegetable Variety

by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD on November 2, 2012

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Everyone knows that vegetables are good for them and their loved ones — but how exactly? Is it enough to shoot for a colorful plate or is there more that can be done? What nutrients are kids likely to fall short on when they go on veggie strikes?

In this third post in our Veggie series, we cover all you need to know — and then some.

Know the 5 vegetable subgroups
Vegetables are categorized into subgroups based on the nutrition they offer. For example, orange vegetables are rich in vitamin A and starchy vegetables, like potatoes, are packed with potassium. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines categorizes vegetables in the 5 subgroups detailed below:

1. Red and Orange – These include red and orange vegetables such as red peppers, tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and pumpkin.

Nutrition: This class of veggies are rich in vitamin A and contain varying levels of vitamin C. There are numerous carotenoids (antioxidants) responsible for the orange and red colors which the body converts to vitamin A. For example, beta-carotene is found in carrots and lycopene in tomatoes. Vitamin A helps maintain a strong immune system and is essential for eye health.

Tip! Serving orange and red veggies as a side dish is great but if your child is resistant, try carrots/red pepper slices with a tasty dip, pumpkin/butternut squash breads and muffins, pureed carrot or squash soup and homemade tomato sauce on pizzas and pastas. Cantaloupe (orange in color) is rich in vitamins A and C too.

2. Dark Green – These include dark-green leafy vegetables and broccoli, including spinach, romaine, kale, collard, swiss chard, turnip, and mustard greens.

Nutrition: This class of veggies contain varying levels of vitamins A, C, and K and folate. Some leafy greens like collard greens, spinach and swiss chard contain beta-carotene while others are rich in antioxidants vitamin C, lutein and zeaxanthin.

Tip! Greens can be sauteed or served in salads; also serve broccoli raw with a dip, roasted or steamed. Resistant kids can have greens added to smoothies and sandwiches or may like Kale Chips. If your child won’t touch a green in any way shape or form, vitamin A can be found in orange veggies and cantaloupe, vitamin C in fruits like oranges, strawberries and kiwi, vitamin K in vegetable oils and folate in cereals and other grains.

3. Beans and Peas – These include all cooked beans and peas such as kidney beans, black beans, lentils, lima beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, and pinto beans (not including green beans or green peas).

Nutrition: Beans are the only vegetable that counts as a protein and vegetable because they are rich in protein, iron and zinc (similar to meat). The bonus is they are packed with dietary fiber, potassium and folate and according to research, has one of the highest amounts of antioxidants in the vegetable family.

Tip! Have meatless meals (like meatless Monday) and include beans as the star show. Put in burritos and quesadillas, include in chilis and soups, serve as a side dish and top on salads.

4. Starchy Vegetables – Potatoes, corn and peas.

Nutrition: While all vegetables contain potassium, starchy ones lead the pack and are also rich in fiber. On small potato contains 21% Daily Value (DV) for potassium, 21% vitamin B6, 15% Manganese and 10% manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, niacin and folate.

Tip! Perfect as a side dish such as baked potatoes, Parmesan peas, grilled corn, baked fries and mashed potatoes. Peas are a nice addition to pasta dishes like macaroni and cheese while potatoes go well in many soups.

5. Other Vegetables: This category includes veggies like iceberg lettuce, green beans, cucumbers, celery, mushrooms and onions.

Nutrition: These vegetables still contain key nutrients and phytochemicals, they just vary in amounts and are hard to group together. Mushrooms are rich in selenium, for example, while celery are cucumbers are good sources of vitamin K.

Tip! In one study, kids didn’t think cucumbers (and tomatoes) were actual veggies because they liked them so much. Many of these vegetables are good raw with dip, in salads or roasted. Even though they may not be the super star vegetables, they are still vegetables, and a stepping stone to the more colorful variety!

Rotate Variety

To maximize nutrition and exposure for kids, rotate these subgroups in your family’s diet. Below are weekly recommendations taken from the Dietary Guidelines based on age/calorie intake. Please use this as a guide for offerings (and not literally) or it will drive you crazy!

Young toddler: 1/2 cup dark greens/2.5 cups orange/1/2 cup beans/2 cups starchy/1.5 cups other
Preeschooler: 1 cup dark greens/3 cups orange/1/2 cup beans/3.5 cups starchy/2.5 cups other
School age: 1.5 cup dark greens/4 cups orange/1 cup beans/4 cups starchy/3.5 cups other
Teen/adult: 1.5 cups dark greens/5.5 cups orange/1.5 cups beans/5 cups starchy/4 cups other

Are you happy with your family’s vegetable variety? Did this post spur any ideas?

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Tanya November 2, 2012 at 10:18 am

Here’s how I try to get a variety of veg into my veg-resister:

– Spinach smoothie. We all have this every morning. She’s only started drinking it with any enthusiasm recently.
– Cocoa courgette muffins. 2-3 courgettes in a batch, and so yummy!
– Baby carrots and baby corn. For some reason, anything with ‘baby’ in it’s name appeals more!
– Beetroot ‘lipsticks’. She will happily eat beetroot (baked in wedges), but only if she gets to look in the mirror after each bite!


Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD November 3, 2012 at 10:30 am

Thanks Tanya! Some good ideas!


Courtney November 2, 2012 at 3:27 pm

I am having trouble figuring out ways to get my son to eat a variety of vegetables. He’s 21 months old, so too old for baby food, but he has trouble still with things like raw carrot sticks. I’d rather not be sneaking purees into things, as I want him to learn to like and appreciate vegetables as I did when I was a kid.

What are age-appropriate ways I can introduce new vegetables to him?


Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD November 3, 2012 at 10:33 am

COurtney — Alex has some good ideas. Have you tried cooked veggies cut up into small pieces? You can also steam and then roast veggies with some olive oil to enhance taste. You can also blanch veggies like carrots and slice thin and use a dip. And I never enourage hiding but showing yoru child how you add veggies to smoothies or muffins so they get to see them used in a variety of ways. This second post in the veggies series may help!


Alex November 2, 2012 at 5:55 pm

Courtney, one of my favourite ways to up my kids vegie intake is Minestrone soup. My soup is usually quite thick – almost more like a stew – and chock full of vegies and pulses. My kids love it as it tastes a bit like liquid pasta sauce and is very easy to eat. I always make a big batch and freeze some for later.
Another way to get my kids to eat vegies is vegie bakes. Sometimes with tuna. With a white sauce.
If he doesn’t like raw carrot sticks, have you tried using a vegie spiraller? It’s a gadget that will turn your carrot into little curls.
Or you could include the carrot in things like home-made Sushi.

I personally wouldn’t stress over him not liking a particular type of vegetable. Chances are this is just a phase. Concentrate on the ones he does like and build from there.


Courtney November 3, 2012 at 9:43 pm

I do have a julienne peeler that I can use on the carrots, so that might work. I did find that using a sauce seemed to help once, so I’ll have to try that one again.

I’m going to try some of your suggestions this week. Thanks for all the tips!


Dr. Julia Ahmed October 23, 2014 at 5:07 am

I really helped me a lot to organize my talk on nutrition. I will use it for IYCF (infant and young child feeding), adolescent girls, as well as for pregnant and lactating mother nutrition program.

Many thanks!


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