How to cook vegetables and preserve their nutritional properties

Vegetable cooking methods : here are some tips for cooking vegetables while preserving the nutrients that make them so beneficial to health.

The topic of vegetables and children is always of great interest. We all know that it is very important to eat vegetables, but many children do not like them or even refuse to eat them. For this reason, we parents just have to find delicious recipes for cooking vegetables or tricks to hide them among the ingredients of a dish.

But if it is important that vegetables are present in the diet of children, it is equally important that they are taken trying to preserve their nutritional qualities as much as possible. In fact, during handling and cooking vegetables change their structures and this means that the nutritional properties contained in vegetables (vitamins, minerals, sugars) are lost unnecessarily.

So let’s see how to behave when we want to cook vegetables for our little ones, minimizing the loss of nutrients during preparation and cooking.

Vegetable cooking methods: how to choose and prepare vegetables

To minimize the loss of nutrients from vegetables, we begin by treating vegetables appropriately right from cleaning and preparing them. Here are some useful tips:

  • Choose vegetables at km 0. The more vegetables and greens come from nearby areas, the fresher they are. And freshly picked vegetables are known to be synonymous with quality and good flavour.
  • No pesticides or chemical treatments. There’s no need to even say why. Probably the untreated vegetables will not be aesthetically beautiful and shiny but the appearance does not matter. In general, when vegetables look impeccable and keep fresh for a long time, they have probably been treated with chemicals.
  • Eat vegetables as soon as possible. The fresher the vegetables, the richer in nutrients, so it is better to buy less of them but more often instead of stocking up on them and consuming them when they are no longer fresh.
  • Store vegetables in the refrigerator. The temperature at which vegetables are stored can influence their proper preservation. The cold preserves well and does not affect the properties of the vegetables.
  • Avoid exposing vegetables to too much light, heat, oxygen or prolonged soaking as these elements can deplete vitamins and minerals.
  • Use the outer layers and leaves of the vegetable whenever possible. In fact, the outermost leaves, especially if it is a green leafy vegetable, are the richest in vitamins and minerals.
  • Wash whole vegetables, peel and cut vegetables just before consumption or preparation and into large pieces. This will ensure that no time is given to oxidation and will avoid the loss of nutrients.

Methods of cooking vegetables to preserve the nutritional properties

Once selected and prepared, the vegetables can be eaten either raw or cooked. Let’s see how.

Raw vegetables

We all know that eating fresh fruits and vegetables, without peeling or cooking, would be ideal for keeping their nutritional intake intact . Raw vegetables can be prepared and eaten with cold pasta, mixed salads, rice salads, bruschettas, spreadable creams, in dips or in smoothies and concentrates.
Here are some → recipes for preparing raw vegetables
The most suitable vegetables to be eaten raw are tomatoes, cucumbers, fennel, lettuce, rocket, carrots, artichokes, celery.

Cooked vegetables

If children do not like raw vegetables or the type of vegetable does not allow raw consumption (such as spinach, broccoli and others), the vegetables must be cooked.
Here’s how we can consume it and what are the main methods of cooking vegetables and how this affects their nutritional value. 

1. Boiled vegetables

Boiling or boiling vegetables is one of the most used cooking methods by mothers. This is because at the beginning of weaning we start preparing the vegetable broth, which is rich in nutrients.
However, when you have to cook vegetables for children, boiling is not the most suitable method to preserve the nutritional properties. The bubbles in fact destroy vitamins that are thermally labile such as vitamin C.

For this the vegetables should be added to the boiling water and not before. In this way the cooking time is significantly reduced and there will be much less contact with the water.
To use the mineral salts and vitamins dispersed in the water, it is recommended to use the cooking water to prepare sauces, soups or purees, except when it comes to chard, spinach or beetroot.

2. Stewed vegetables

Stewed vegetables are very good but stewing causes nutrient losses (although much less than boiling). To stew vegetables in order to lose a few vitamins, put the vegetables in a saucepan over medium heat until they stick slightly, then add a little water for cooking. You don’t have to cover the pan otherwise the vegetables would be boiled and not stewed. Better to cook for a short time. All types of vegetables lend themselves to stewing.

3. Steam cooking

Steam cooking is perhaps the best cooking method for vegetables and consists of cooking the food in a sort of colander over a boiling liquid. It allows you to maintain the original color of the food and preserve the original vitamins and nutrients in a greater proportion as long as the cooking times are not long and there is not much contact between the steam and the food.
Here are some useful tools for steaming:

4. Microwave cooking

The microwave is also a cooking system that maintains the nutritional properties of vegetables well . By causing friction between the water molecules within the food, microwave cooking produces heat which is transmitted to the rest of the molecules by contact. Vegetables that contain little water by themselves are cooked before those that contain more. For this reason, the cooking times must be set correctly. The microwave cooking time is also calculated in relation to the volume of the food. Here are some useful tools for steaming:

5. Pressure cooking

The pressure cooker is a little used cooking method but also excellent for cooking vegetables. Cooking times are reduced and it allows to preserve its nutritional properties. Using the special basket is like steaming but with half the time it takes with a normal pot or pan. When used correctly, the nutritional value of vegetables cooked in a pressure cooker is better preserved than boiling or stewing them.
Here are some useful tools for pressure cooking:

6. Baking

Cooking vegetables in the oven is definitely practical and tasty, but you need to pay attention to the ingredients used and maybe it’s not suitable for all vegetables. As a type of cooking, it tends to dry the vegetables and therefore not all the nutrients are retained. This can be solved by setting the steam oven cooking which is available in new generation ovens or handyman ovens like this one:

7. Grilling

Grilling lends itself to preparing delicious recipes, but does not guarantee the maintenance of all those nutrients that vegetables are rich in. The close contact with the flame and the consequent production of juices cause the loss of nutrients. Furthermore, scorched compounds that adhere to food can be unhealthy, especially for children.
An interesting alternative method that uses the grill or embers is cooking in foil which allows you to protect the vegetables from direct heat and to enjoy the steam that forms inside the foil.

Tips to better preserve the nutritional value of cooked vegetables:

However, whatever cooking method you choose to cook your vegetables, always keep these useful tips in mind:

  • Use a little water to cook the vegetables, except in the case of green vegetables.
  • Cut large pieces or boil them whole to reduce the contact surface with the water. During cooking, the more vegetables are divided, the greater the contact with water and the greater the amount of minerals and vitamins lost.
  • It is best to eat vegetables cooked al dente. The longer the cooking time, the greater the loss of mineral salts, vitamins and sugars contained in it.
  • If we spend more cooking time , not only will the vegetables be soft, but they will lose their colour.
  • Once the optimal cooking point has been reached, to interrupt the further cooking process, immediately drain or remove the vegetables from the heat and, if you prefer, you can also pass them under cold water.
  • The suggestion for green vegetables is to cook them with plenty of water and an uncovered pot to preserve their organoleptic characteristics.
  • The best cooking methods to best preserve the nutritional properties of vegetables are those that cook in the shortest possible time.
  • Eat immediately after cooking.

Kathryn Barlow is an OB/GYN doctor, which is the medical specialty that deals with the care of women's reproductive health, including pregnancy and childbirth.

Obstetricians provide care to women during pregnancy, labor, and delivery, while gynecologists focus on the health of the female reproductive system, including the ovaries, uterus, vagina, and breasts. OB/GYN doctors are trained to provide medical and surgical care for a wide range of conditions related to women's reproductive health.

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