We all know how hard it can be to feed our families nutritious meals. Planning, shopping, and cooking take lots of time and energy.

But the good news is that to prepare a simple family meal; you do not need to spend hours in the kitchen or concoct a three-course dining experience. A very simple entree, like sandwiches, soup or pizza, can make a great meal, especially if you round it with 1-2 vegetable sides.

But when it comes to veggies, it is easy to fall into a rut. And although my three years old may be happy to eat raw cherry tomatoes three times a day for weeks in a row, I crave more variety. But I am not looking forward to spending hours cooking every day, so keeping it simple is the key to my sanity.

Here are seven easy ways to prepare vegetables for family meals

1. Salads

It is great to always have a green salad on the table to go with your meal. It will immediately add color and nutrition even to the simplest of meals. Besides, serving a salad gives children an opportunity to nibble on different fresh foods in case they do not like the entrée.

Depending on what you serve for the main course, the salad can be as light or filling as you wish. The simplest version consists of a couple of handful of fresh and crisp salad leaves tossed with a splash of olive oil and a bit of lemon juice.

More complicated and filling versions include a variety of seasonal vegetables, a little bit of cheese and maybe some beans.

To streamline my dinner preparation process, I try to wash a lot of salad greens in advance and keep them in the salad crisper in the refrigerator where they can last for at least five days.

Before dinner, I take some out, place them in a bowl and add whatever fresh, roasted or steamed vegetables I have that day. A little bit of salt and pepper, olive oil, lemon juice or vinegar and here you go – a fresh, colorful salad to go with your meal.

When the entrée is not too filling, like fish or vegetables, I may boost my salad with additional protein and fat, adding boiled eggs, cheese and seeds or nuts. The salad leftovers make an excellent lunch for the next day, especially if you put some away in the refrigerator before seasoning and adding the salad dressing.

Some easy salad combos that we like:
– seasonal greens with onion and shavings of parmesan cheese
– spinach, raw mushrooms, onion
– romaine lettuce, avocado, tomatoes, cilantro
– arugula, roasted or boiled beets, onion, blue cheese, walnuts
– mache, boiled egg, canned fava beans or steamed edamame
– arugula, roasted pumpkin or butternut squash, shallots, pumpkin seeds
– tomato, basil, mozzarella
red, green and yellow peppers, tomato, onion, chickpeas

2. Veggie crudités:
On especially hectic nights when there is no time to prepare a salad, a plate of vegetable crudités and a dip can do the job. Cut-up celery, carrots, red and yellow peppers and cucumber can be kept covered in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.

Before dinner, take some out and serve alongside with a dip, store-bought or homemade. Hummus, white miso dip and simple olive oil with a sprinkle of salt are my family’s favorites.

3. Roasted veggies

Roasting takes a bit of time which can be a problem on busy nights. My solution: roast a variety of veggies on one night and serve them cold or walked up with dinners throughout the week.

Some simple roasted veggie recipes:

Spaghetti squash
Roasted sweet potatoes chips
Roasted carrots
Roasted cauliflower
Roasted asparagus
Roasted brussels sprouts
Roasted butternut squash
Roasted broccoli
Breaded zucchini sticks
Kale chips

4. Spiralized veggies

I am always very reluctant about adding another gadget to our kitchen, but the spiralizer was not a purchase I ever regretted! My kids love using it, and we have experimented with so many different fruit and veggies. The fun crunchy spirals be roasted, sautéed or just added to salads raw.

Feel free to spiralize a bunch of produce and keep it in the fridge to use for quick veggies sides on busy weeknights.

Spiralized zucchini – 3 ways 

Roasted spiralized beetroot

Spiralized sweet potato fries

5. Sauteed vegetables

Quick sautéing immediately brings humble veggies to a completely different level, at least in my kids’ eyes. In most case, I just use a little olive oil or butter, and just a sprinkle of salt and pepper. But to elevate the simple recipe, add a sprinkle of your favorite seasoning or herbs. We have experimented with cumin, adobo seasoning, taco seasoning, nutritional yeast and grated parmesan cheese.

Sautéed asparagus

Sautéed green cabbage

Sauteed mushrooms
Sauteed zucchini
Sauteed peppers and onions

6. Steamed vegetables

You can steam pretty much any vegetable – here is a simple procedure to follow.
My kids’ current favorites: artichokes, green peas, frozen corn, and edamame.

Tip: try serving frozen green peas and corn for snack or as a super easy dinner side dish – you may be surprised to find out your kids actually prefer them this way!

7. Veggie soups

Vegetable puree soups are incredibly easy to prepare, can be made in advance and are perfect for freezing. I like serving them to my kids in tiny teacups or little bowls, for an additional cuteness factor.

My family’s recipes for green pea soup, butternut squash soup, mushroom soup, tomato soup. 

Tell me, what is your favorite simple vegetable side dish?

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