FEATURE — When it comes to adding a burst of color and nutrition to your meals, red leaf vegetables take center stage, and among them, red leaf lettuce stands out as a true culinary gem. The rich, ruby hues of red leaf lettuce not only make your plate visually appealing but also bring a host of health benefits to the table.

Stock photo courtesy of USU Extension Create Better Health blog, St. George News

In this post, we’ll dive into the vibrant world of red leaf vegetables, with a special focus on red leaf lettuce. From its impressive nutritional profile to creative recipes, let’s explore the world of red leaf lettuce and discover how it can transform your meals into colorful, nutritious masterpieces.

How to grow a red lettuce plant

Growing a red lettuce plant is a straightforward process. Here’s a simplified step-by-step guide to help you get started:

Choose the right location: Select a sunny spot in your garden or on your balcony that receives about six hours of sunlight daily.
Prepare the soil: Red lettuce prefers well-draining, fertile soil. Amend your soil with compost or organic matter to improve its quality.
Sow the seeds: Plant red lettuce seeds about a quarter-inch deep in rows or containers, spacing them 6-12 inches apart. Water the soil gently after planting.
Maintain moisture: Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Water when the top inch of soil feels dry.
Thin the seedlings: Once the seedlings have a few leaves, thin them to provide adequate space for growth. Leave the healthiest-looking plants with enough room (usually about 6 inches apart).
Fertilize sparingly: Red lettuce doesn’t need heavy feeding. You can use a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer sparingly.
Protect from pests: Watch for common pests like aphids and slugs. Use organic pest control methods if needed.
Harvest carefully: Red lettuce is ready to harvest when the leaves reach a desirable size. Use clean scissors to cut the leaves just above the soil level.
Repeat planting: For a continuous supply, consider succession planting every few weeks.
Enjoy your harvest: Use your freshly picked red lettuce in salads, sandwiches or as a garnish for your favorite dishes.

But the real experts on growing lettuce are our friends at USU Extension. Head over to their website to get an in-depth guide on growing red leaf vegetables – and just about anything else you want to grow.

Harvesting leaf lettuce

Red leaf lettuce is cool-season crop, which means it may be one of the first vegetables ready to harvest in your garden. It’s best to harvest it before the full heat of summer hits. Simply wait until the leaves are large enough for your preference, typically around 4-6 inches long.

Use clean scissors or your fingers to snip or pinch the leaves just above the soil level. This method allows the plant to continue producing new leaves, giving you a continuous supply of fresh, homegrown lettuce for your salads and sandwiches.

How to select good red leaf lettuce

When selecting red leaf lettuce at the store, choose leaves that are closely bunched together without brown or wilting edges. Lettuce doesn’t have a very long shelf life, so it’s important to use it quickly and store it correctly.

Stock photo courtesy of USU Extension Create Better Health blog, St. George News

The best way to store it is to wrap the leaves in a dry paper towel and place it in a plastic bag or airtight container in the refrigerator. The paper towel will absorb any excess moisture which causes the lettuce to rot. When stored this way, the lettuce will last about a week.

Nutrition facts of red leaf lettuce

Not only is red leaf lettuce fat- and cholesterol-free, it’s also low in sodium. It’s an excellent source of vitamins A and K.

An interesting fact about red leaf lettuce is that according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it is a calorie-free food. It is considered calorie-free because it has less than 5 calories per serving, which makes it a valuable tool for weight management. Because of the fiber and water content in red leaf lettuce, you can feel full on little calories when you eat a good-sized portion of red leaf lettuce.

Recipe ideas to enjoy red leaf lettuce in 

Red leaf lettuce salad: Combine torn red leaf lettuce with sliced cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, red onion slices and your choice of dressing for a refreshing salad.
Grilled chicken salad: Toss grilled chicken strips with red leaf lettuce, avocado slices, roasted corn, black beans and a cilantro-lime dressing for a satisfying meal.
Asian-inspired wrap: Use red leaf lettuce leaves to wrap cooked shrimp or tofu, shredded carrots, sliced bell peppers, cilantro and a drizzle of hoisin sauce for a flavorful Asian-inspired wrap.
Red leaf lettuce tacos: Use red leaf lettuce leaves as a healthier alternative to taco shells. Fill them with seasoned ground turkey or beef, diced tomatoes, shredded cheese and salsa for a low-carb taco option.
Red leaf lettuce boats: Stuff red leaf lettuce leaves with quinoa, chickpeas, diced cucumber, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese and a lemon vinaigrette for a nutritious and filling meal.

Next time you pass by the red leaf lettuce in the grocery store, consider buying a head and incorporating it into your weekly meal plan. You won’t be disappointed!

This article originally appeared on Feb. 7, 2024, on the USU Extension Create Better Health blog.


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