This edition of Tasty Table delves into the fun and importance of spinach and sweet potatoes!
Spinach is a leafy green flowering plant originally grown in central and western Asia. It’s packed with key nutrients that children need for proper growth and development, such as vitamin K for bone, brain and heart health; calcium for bone strength; and iron for normal blood and muscle function.
We may all know eating leafy greens is healthy for us, but it can be difficult to know how to include more of them in our meals in a way that is appetizing for our families. Baby spinach is a great place to start because of its sweet and mild taste, making it so versatile. Oftentimes kids don’t even notice it’s there! It can be eaten fresh or cooked. Sneak a handful into fruit and yogurt smoothies. Stir it into soup or pasta sauce and let cook 3-5 minutes for added nutrition. Or even sauté with chopped onion before pouring in eggs for a nutritious scramble.
Baby spinach is a type of flat-leaf spinach. Another variety is savoy, which has crinkly, curly leaves that are darker green. And then there is semi-savory spinach with its semi-crinkly yet still crispy leaves. Both savoy and semi-savoy spinach are best used in cooking because of their slightly bitter taste.
When shopping for spinach, look for leaves that are bright green and crispy; avoid leaves that are limp, yellow or dull. Fresh spinach can be stored in a plastic bag in a refrigerator for 3-5 days.
Take advantage of spinach’s amazing health benefits by adding more into your family’s everyday meals!
Next up: sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes have so much to boast about, yet they remain a humble and sometimes underrated staple food. Let’s take a closer look at what they have to offer for you and your family.
As we unveil this root vegetable, we find that one medium sweet potato contains over 400 percent of our daily vitamin A requirement, according to the USDA’s National Nutrient Database. Benefits of vitamin A go beyond the commonly known maintenance of eye health. It is vital for regular growth and development of children, it plays a role in proper immune system function to help our bodies fight off illness and it is a natural antioxidant, which means it combats harmful inflammation in the body. That means it is beneficial for kids and adult alike!
A discussion about sweet potatoes wouldn’t be complete without mentioning its 4 grams of fiber. Eating 25-35 grams of fiber per day contributes to regular bowel movements, lower cholesterol levels, normal blood sugar and more.
Because sweet potatoes are so simple, they are also versatile. Bake them in the oven whole or season and cut into crispy fries, wedges, cubes, chips, etc. Cubed sweet potatoes work well topped onto salad or quinoa. Baked or boiled sweet potatoes can be mashed with low-fat milk, oil and seasonings to make a smooth side dish. Summer is the time for grilling! Cut sweet potatoes into wedges or strips, and place on the grill until lightly browned on each side. They can also be spiralized, cooked and tossed with other ingredients into a fun veggie noodle bowl. During the colder months, cook it into soup, stew or chili for a natural sweetness. This is especially easy to do if you own a slow cooker. If all you have is a microwave, you can still cook a sweet potato! Just stab it with a fork about five times and microwave about 5 minutes on high, flipping halfway through.
There are many ways to incorporate sweet potatoes into your family meals. Try them all to see what you and your children like best!
There are recipes that incorporate both spinach and sweet potatoes… Try this one from MarthaStewart.com.
Sautéed Sweet Potatoes and Spinach
- 2 large sweet potatoes
- 1 ½ pounds (24 ounces) baby spinach
- ½ cup chopped red onion
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- ½ cup water
- 1 ½ teaspoons curry powder
- Pepper and salt to taste
- Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cut sweet potatoes into small cubes; cook, stirring, until starting to soften, 8 to 10 minutes.
- Add curry powder. Cook 1 minute. Add water and chopped red onion. Cook, stirring, until water evaporates, and potatoes are tender and browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
- In the same skillet, cook spinach in 2 batches, adding second batch when first wilts, 2 minutes. Drain; add to potatoes.
- Stir in balsamic vinegar; season with salt and pepper.
There is no shortage of recipes that feature both spinach and sweet potatoes. Try this one from GreenValleyKitchen.com…
Roasted Sweet Potatoes Stuffed with Quinoa and Spinach
- 2 medium sweet potatoes
- 6 cups baby spinach, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 ½ cups cooked quinoa
- ¼ cup pecan pieces
- ¼ cup dried cranberries
- 1-2 ounces feta cheese, cubed
- Pepper and salt to taste
- Bake sweet potatoes 30-40 minutes in oven preheated to 400 degrees F by slicing in half lengthwise, lightly coating in oil, and placing face down on a parchment lined baking sheet.
- Cook quinoa according to package directions.
- While the sweet potatoes are roasting, add olive oil to a large sauté pan and heat over medium heat. Add garlic and half the spinach and cook until wilted and then add the rest of the spinach to the pan and cook until it’s wilted – about 4 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Stir cooked quinoa, pecans, cranberries, feta, black pepper and salt into spinach mixture.
- When sweet potatoes are ready, remove from the oven and let cool slightly.
- With a spoon, press down on the center of the sweet potatoes to create an indentation. Spoon quinoa and spinach mixture evenly over sweet potatoes and serve.
Jennifer Forte is a former dietetic intern at Keene State College.