Food Preparation

Dark, Leafy Greens: Great Ways to Prepare Them

June 7, 2018   /


Reviewed and updated by Anne Danahy, MS, RDN, LDN

Contributed by Jason Machowsky, MS, RD, CSCS


People have touted the health benefits of eating dark, leafy greens for quite some time. One cup of kale, for example, provides more than 100% of your daily need for vitamins A and C, and over 600% of your daily need for K. Most dark, leafy greens are also a good source of folate, B vitamins, copper, manganese, and fiber—all wrapped up in a little 33-calorie package.


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Eating more kale, or any dark, leafy greens can help to reduce your risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

The problem is, if you give someone a big bunch of greens and tell them to “eat up,” many people are at a loss with what to do, especially with the heartier greens, such as kale, collard greens, and dandelion greens. Working these greens into recipes and dishes usually is the best option for most individuals. Below are some ways to get bunches of these greens into your diet in a tasty, satisfying way.

What better way to eat your greens than to drink them. When blended with frozen fruit, milk, yogurt or even a scoop of nut butter, even the most rugged greens become smooth and tasty. Regular blenders can do a good job with greens such as spinach, parsley, cilantro, or watercress. Check out this Groovy Green Smoothie recipe. Consider a high-powered blender for tougher greens, such as kale and collard greens.

Spinach is an especially good option for adding to omelets. Other tasty options include arugula, beet greens, and parsley. The key is to choose greens that soften quickly, but ones that do not release too much liquid. Check out this omelet recipe with turnip greens, goat cheese, and chili!

Radicchio, not technically green but still a very nutrient-dense leafy vegetable, endive, and a whole heart of Romaine lettuce, are great options to throw on the grill. Serve with flavorful companions such as roasted peppers, olives, herbs, and/or a bit of cheese.

Pasta sauce
Heartier greens, such as collards and kale, can cook down and soften during the simmering period, providing an additional texture to pasta sauce. Make sure to chop the greens into bite-size pieces for the best results. Try Pasta With Greens & Tomato Sauce. Remember, you can make a pesto chock full of greens, such as basil, arugula, and parsley—just go a bit easy on the olive oil, pine nuts, and cheese for a lower fat version.

Baked kale chips are amazingly fast, easy, and healthy. Simply wash and dry the kale, tear into bite size pieces, and add a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of salt and/or some spices. Toss the kale to coat and then spread across a baking sheet. Bake at 350° F for 10−15 minutes until the kale is crispy and enjoy. You also can bake them into Italian classics, such as lasagna.

Soups and stews
Many classic soups and stews include dark, leafy greens, such as kale, mustard greens, and turnip greens. Like pasta sauces, soups and stews are cooked for a long time, so the greens can soften and provide a texture and taste to contrast the other ingredients. Greens go especially well in tomato-based stews or soups with beans. Try this Lentil and Green Collard Soup flavored with cumin, cinnamon, garlic, and lemon or a fantastic Tuscan Bean Soup with kale.

Whether cooked with bacon or lentils, collard greens create the foundation of some classic side dishes. Try cooking kale or Swiss chard with some olive oil, fresh garlic, lemon zest, and a dash of Romano or Parmesan cheese for an Italian-style satisfying side. The sweet, savory, and spicy flavors from the pine nuts, raisins, and red pepper flakes in Sautéed Greens With Pine Nuts and Raisins nicely complement the slightly bitter component of the greens.

When shredded finely, even tougher greens become easy to handle. You can shred greens for a healthy garnish on mashed potatoes or mix them into your favorite coleslaw or even guacamole recipe. Use a combination of shredded greens with some quinoa, mint, lemon juice, and olive oil to make a simple tasty “tabbouleh.”

Crunchy greens that contain a good amount of water, such as Swiss chard, bok choy, escarole, or romaine lettuce, make fantastic “wraps” for a variety of fillings, ranging from roasted eggplant, tomatoes, onion, and garlic to teriyaki chicken with mandarin oranges. Check out these Swiss Chard Taco Wraps.

Note: If you are on anticoagulant therapy, such as Coumadin®, please speak with your physician before significantly changing your intake of dark, leafy greens, because most are high in vitamin K which can interact with your medication.


References and recommended readings

  1. American Institute for Cancer Research. Foods that fight cancer: dark green leafy vegetables. April 17, 2018.
  2. Nutrition data for kale, spinach. Accessed April 17, 2018.
  3. Foods with vitamin K. Bristol Meyers Squibb Customer Connect website. Accessed April 17, 2018.


Current review date: 6/7/18

Previous review date: 6/8/11