Fruits and vegetables are essential for a healthy diet. Find out how to pick the ripest and freshest vegetables before the next trip to the grocery store.
Grocery stores, farmers markets, and produce home delivery businesses make it easy for us to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, but being able to pick out the ripest and freshest, most flavorful produce takes some know-how.
Vegetables and Nutrition
Vegetables are nutrient-dense plant foods that add flavor and color to dishes. They are low in calories, and high in cancer-fighting antioxidants and phytochemicals. They contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals essential to health and well-being.
Tips for Buying Produce: Looks are Important
Have an open mind at the store and buy what looks “good” and not necessarily what’s cheapest or what was planned. Sometimes there may be a poor crop of a particular item at a great price that looks unhealthy. Move on and buy something that looks fresh instead, even if it wasn’t on the original grocery list.
Buy Local, Organic Vegetables That are in Season
If possible, buy local, organic vegetables to avoid harmful pesticides and get the best quality. Learn which vegetables are currently in season before menu planning. Chances are that the vegetables in season will be the ones that are at a good price, in the best condition, and full of flavor. Vegetables purchased out of season could be less nutrient-dense because of the artificial means to grow/ripen them or because of the extra amount of time they had to spend in shipping since they weren’t grown locally. Fruits and vegetables in season are also thought to contain the nutrients the body needs during that particular time of year.
Buy Healthy Vegetables at Their Peak
Below is a list of common vegetables and what to look for and avoid before purchasing.
Artichokes – look for artichokes that feel heavy for their size and have tightly closed buds. Scales should be thick and green. Avoid wilting, drying, large areas of brown discoloration, or opening buds.
Asparagus – look for firm, straight and smooth spears with tight buds on top with no wrinkles. If buds are droopy and open, they are past their prime. Avoid spears that are yellowed, ribbed, shriveled, or woody.
Beans – look for bright color without brown or soft spots. They should be crisp, firm, not limp, and not overly large.
Broccoli – look for a deep green color, tightly closed buds, and firm stems. Avoid buds that are open and yellowing, as well as soft, slippery spots.
Cabbage – look for firm, tight heads with no broken or bruised leaves. The head should be hard with a few loosely wrapped outer leaves that can be discarded. Avoid too many loose leaves and yellowing.
Carrots – look for bright colored carrots with smooth texture. Avoid a “hairy” exterior, gnarled skin, dry cracked skin, or bruised spots.
Cauliflour – look for leaves that are green and crisp, have firm stems, and firm white or cream-colored heads. Avoid brown spots and bruising.
Celery – look for crisp stalks that are rigid. Avoid celery with completely wilted leaves, slight wilting is okay.
Lettuces – should look crisp and fresh with tightly closed heads that are firm but easy to squeeze. Avoid leaves that are wilted or browned.
Mushrooms – should be dry and firm, avoid any mushy or wet mushrooms. They should have a sweet earthy smell. Gills on opened caps shouldn’t look squashed.
Onions and Garlic – look for fresh plump, firm bulbs with many layers of intact dry, papery skin.
Peas – look for bright green pods filled with peas but that are not bulging.
Peppers – look for color that is deep and even, skin should appear glossy The pepper should be well-shaped, firm with thick walls, and have no soft spots.
Potatoes – should be firm with a sweet smell. Avoid sprouted eyes or greenish tint under the skin.
Pumpkins and Acorn, Butternut, and Hubbard squashes should all be firm, heavy, smooth and free of blemishes with deep color. Avoid any squashes that have spots of mold. Choose the squashes and pumpkins with stems still attached, if possible.
Spinach – look for deep green, firm, crisp leaves. Avoid insect damage, browning, mushiness, or wilting.
Sweet potatoes – should be firm, average-sized and have tapered ends. Avoid blemishes, sprouts, and visible decay.
Tomatoes – look for rich-colored tomatoes that are firm but not rock hard. Avoid blemishes, wrinkles and cuts. Remember that if they smell good, they will taste good.
Zucchini and Yellow squash – look for vegetables that are no longer than 8 inches with thin, glossy skin.