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Eating Nutrient-Dense Leafy Greens Easier Than You Think

rainbow chard cooked with olive oil, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and lemon juice
On your next shopping trip, give greens a try. It may take time to get used to working with them but keep trying until you find something you like. Try this Rainbow Chard with Lemon and Garlic recipe.


Kale, Swiss chard, collards, turnip greens, spinach … It can be confusing, trying to figure out these greens. For many, the only green they eat is iceberg lettuce and it’s not exactly a green. I’m here to help you expand your horizons and learn how easy it is to eat nutrient-dense leafy greens.

Leafy greens are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. Spinach, kale, collard and turnip greens are also fair sources of the mineral calcium, though it may not be absorbed as well as calcium from dairy products.

Eating leafy greens is easy once you know what is needed to buy, and how to prepare and cook them. Buy only fresh greens. Leaves should be vibrant dark green, crisp, and full, not yellowish or wilted. They are best when they are young and tender. Kale’s thick ruffled leaves should be crisp, green and clean. Collard greens should have broad, flat, dark green leaves, while mustard and turnip greens should be fresh, tender crisp and good green color.

Once purchased, store unwashed greens in plastic bags with the top open in the coldest part of the refrigerator for no more than 2 to 3 days. Store washed greens in an airtight container in the refrigerator for no more than 3 to 4 days. If stored longer than several days, Vitamin C may be lost.

Wash greens when ready to use. Submerge in a sink of salted cool water (1 to 2 teaspoons salt per gallon of water), separate the leaves and agitate with your hands to remove any soil, debris and bugs left behind. Shake off water and transfer the greens to a salad spinner and give it a whirl. If you do not have a salad spinner, shake off as much water as possible and dry the leaves thoroughly with paper towels or a clean dishtowel. Whisk away as much moisture as possible to avoid wilt, and then refrigerate. For heavier greens such as kale and collards, wrap lightly in clean tea towel and place in zip top bag, opened.

For sturdy green with tough stalks such as kale and collards, strip the leaves from the fibrous stalk. Hold the base of the leaf at the stalk in one hand and then using the other hand, run your fingers from the base of the stalk to the tip to strip off the leafy portion. Discard stalks or use in stock vegetable base. Use the leafy portion in smoothies, or sandwiches in place of lettuce. Julienne and use in salads, or rough chop for soups or sautéed in stir-fry dishes.

Greens can be eaten raw or cooked. If you are a smoothie drinker, throw them in the mix. This is an efficient, easy way to eat greens raw.

Kale chips, a favorite of many, honestly aren’t one of mine. They are easy to make with a dehydrator or in your oven and there are many recipes out there.

Using greens in a salad seems an obvious choice, but you have to consider the green you are using. Spinach and chard are mild, with a less bitter flavor; whereas, kale has a more bitter punch. When adding rich, dark leafy greens such as kale to a salad, chop them finely and mix with other greens or lettuces.

Greens that are cooked before added to a recipe can be steamed in a covered pot with only the water clinging to leaves; one fourth cup water can be added if necessary. Cook only until wilted, then save cooking liquid for soups.

Most greens benefit from only slight cooking. Overcooking turns their leaves a green-grey color, and causes them to lose their nutritional value. So brevity is the key with greens. You just want to cook them long enough to wilt the leaves. Cook until the color has perked up and the leaves have softened; this will yield the best flavor.

On your next shopping trip, give greens a try. It may take some time to get used to working with greens but keep trying recipes and techniques until you find some you like.

Rainbow Chard with Lemon and Garlic

3 bunches rainbow chard, trimmed and rinsed

1/4 cup olive oil

6 cloves garlic, sliced, or to taste

1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Strip stems of the chard from the leaves. Cut the leaves into thin strips and set aside. Thinly slice the stems. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or pot over medium heat. Stir in the sliced garlic, red pepper flakes, and chard stems; cook for 3 minutes until the flavor of the garlic mellows and stems begin to soften. Stir in shredded chard leaves, cover and cook 5 minutes over medium-low heat. Stir, recover, and continue cooking until the chard is tender. Toss with lemon juice to serve.

Click to get your copy of Arkansas Fresh Greens, contact the Miller County Extension Office, 870-779-3609 or visit us in room 215 at the Miller County Courthouse. We're online at, on Facebook at UAEXMillerCountyFCS/CarlaHaleyHadley, on Twitter @MillerCountyFCS or on the web at

By Carla Haley-Hadley
County Extension Agent - FCS
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Carla Haley-Hadley
County Extension Agent - FCS
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
400 Laurel Street, Suite 215 Texarkana AR 71854
(870) 779-3609

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