Steaming Vegetables

Steaming is the best way to preserve nutrients and retain the natural flavor, texture, and color of vegetables, adding aesthetic value to any meal. 

Cooking vegetables in water leeches the water-soluble vitamins and minerals into the cooking water.  Because water soluble vitaimins are heat sensitive, quick cooking times also reduce nutrient loss. The fiber and phytochemicals found in vetetables are important to loweing risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity, cancer, and vision loss.

Nearly all vegetables are candidates for steaming. Steaming is the healthiest cooking method for both fresh and frozen vegetables. Frozen vegetables come to us partially cooked having undergone blanching prior to freezing. Despite blanching, frozen vegetables may still be more nutrient dense than fresh vegetables that have spent time in transit, sitting in a warehouse, or on display at the store during which time, nutrients are lost. This would not be true of fresh from the garden produce, however. Commercially, vegetables are quickly harvested and delivered to processing plants where they are rapidly prepared and flash frozen, retaining most of their nutrients, color, flavor, and texture.

Vegetables often get a bad rap largely because they are over cooked and are soggy or mushy. Steaming is one way to control over cooking and can be accomplished in different ways–stovetop, microwave, pressure cooker, and oven.

Stovetop Steaming. Steaming vegetables on the stovetop and in a steam basket is the traditional and easiest method. (A strainer or colander will also work in place of a steam basket.) Begin by cutting the vegetables to even-sized pieces. In a pan that will fit the steam basket, bring 1 inch of unsalted water to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low. Place the steam basket over the simmering water and add the vegetables to the basket. Cover and cook until the vegetables are tender or of the desired doneness; time will depend upon the vegetable and the size. Test for doneness by inserting the tip of a knife into the pieces. If it slides in easily, it is done. Once the vegetables are done, carefully remove the steam basket and empty the vegetables onto a plate; season or dress as desired and serve. Cooking with Amira tells you how.

Microwave Steaming. Follow the method by wikiHow on YouTube: How to Steam Vegetables in the Microwave.
Steaming in the Bag is now a convenient option for microwaving frozen vegetables. Frozen vegetables sold in microwavable steam bags are available as vegetables alone or vegetables with sauces or seasonings. Either are a nice convenience as no additional equipment is needed. In general, microwaving foods in plastic containers may carry some health risks due to the transmission of BPA and pthalates from the plastic to the food. However, the bags being used for the steamed vegetable products are specifically manufactured for microwave steaming and do not contain BPA or pthalates.  These bags are designed for a one-time use.  If there is any concern, the packages can be opened and the vegetables steamed or prepared by another method. While steam bags do add cost to the vegetables, the vegetables can be used in the same way as any frozen vegetable including opening the bag and taking out only what is needed and steaming by a different method.

Pressure Cooker (pan or electric) Steaming. Follow the directions that come with the pan or unit for best results. As with stovetop steaming, a steam basket or trivet is needed to keep the vegetables above the water. Cooking time is usually followed by a quick-release of pressure.

Oven Steaming. Use the method shown by wikiHow on YouTube: How to Steam Vegetables in an Oven. Another method of oven steaming is to wrap the vegetables in parchment paper pouches or packets.

Frozen vegetables should be steamed prior to use in a salad. Thawing and eating without cooking may result in a food-borne illness. Vegetables are blanched prior to freezing; blanching stops the aging of vegetables but does not necessarily take care of contaminants that may be found in the field such as salmonella, listeria, and E.coli; contaminants can penetrate the tiny cell walls which are broken when the vegetables are blanched.  All vegetables are packaged as ready-to-cook, not as ready-to-eat. Therefore, vegetables should be cooked to 165 degrees for that reason. In most cases this temperature can be reached by steaming the vegetables to tender-crisp and then letting them sit in a closed container for 5 minutes before serving.

The best cooking method for vegetables is steaming.  Choose a method of preparation that works for you. Besides nutrient retention, steamed vegetables will have better flavor and more desirable textures.

Updated January 2023, mg.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Fresh fruits and vegetables are always an easy and nutritious choice to put into a lunch box and using seasonal fruits and vegetables is an easy way to teach your child about seasonal growing. When you don’t have fresh produce to use you can turn to dried or packaged fruits and vegetables. Remember, variety is important so try to change the selection on a regular basis.

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Lean meats, cheeses, nuts, yogurts and peanut butter provide an excellent protein source for the lunch box. Hummus and hard boiled eggs are also easy, nutritious foods high in protein that children usually enjoy.

If introduced at an early age, whole grain breads and crackers are usually accepted by children of all ages and are always a healthier choice than the alternative. So many new products are on the market today that include whole grains. You might consider using whole grain flour tortillas to make wraps on occasion to bring variety to the lunch box.

Healthy beverage ideas for the lunch box always include low fat or skim milk, water and 100% fruit juices. High sugar drinks should be avoided except for special treats whenever possible.

Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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