Protect Your Edible Investment

This rainbow is a healthy investment.

Eat a rainbow every day!

Have I mentioned how much I hate grocery shopping? The crowds. The lines. The screaming kids (usually my own). The screaming moms (usually me). The reckless cart drivers. The prices. The physical labor. The MATH! …

Fortunately for my hungry family, I love to eat more than I hate to grocery shop, so I do it anyway. However, I’m not willing to suffer this torture more than once/week if I can help it and, by golly, it’s gotta be worth the effort. This means wasting as little as possible of what I buy. I’m not lugging all that stuff home just to feed the fruit flies or to let it rot in the fridge!

Besides, have you seen the price of fresh produce recently? Eating healthy requires a significant investment of both time and money (neither of which I have in abundance), and protecting that investment is key to successful consumption (something I enjoy). Otherwise, you may as well just throw those apples in the trash as soon as you get home. Let’s face it, work is work…whether you pick those apples from the orchard yourself or pick through them in the produce aisle. And I, for one, want to do as little of that as I can get away with.

The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot of extra time or effort to lengthen the life of your produce. You’ll not only make up that time (with interest) later, but you’ll be more likely to actually eat all the yummy, healthy goodies you lugged home. As soon as you get home, wash and dry your lettuce, fresh herbs, “bowl fruit” (apples, oranges, etc.), grapes and berries before putting them away. They’ll be ready to eat/prepare when you want them, last longer and look more inviting.

If you have the time, go ahead and bag up individual portions of fruits and veggies before putting them away so that you or your family members can grab a healthy snack any time. I find that non-organic cut bell peppers, celery, carrots, and cucumbers will stay fresh for up to a week if stored properly in the fridge. This saves me oodles of time on lunch preparation throughout the week, because I can bag it up as soon as I get home from the store and then just toss it into the lunch boxes each morning. (If you shop organic, the shelf life may be shorter, so you’ll have to figure out what works best.) One cutting board + one knife + one time washing them and putting them away = three reasons for this busy/lazy mom to smile.

Just to be clear, I don’t wash everything before I put it away…just the things I’ve found make a difference. Here are a few tips that have worked well for me:

  • Do not use detergents or chemicals, but adding white vinegar to the water (at least 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water) will help kill most bacteria and remove pesticides without changing the flavor.
  • Make sure everything is as DRY as possible before putting it away.
  • If towel-drying, always use a fresh, clean dish towel or paper towel.
  • The water should not be more than 10 degrees warmer than the produce.
  • If submerging, use the tub of a salad spinner rather than the kitchen sink, as the drain area of the sink can harbor yucky stuff you don’t want to eat!
  • Spin leafy vegetables and fresh herbs dry after washing and store in an airtight container or zip-top bag with a paper towel to absorb any excess water. (I store my lettuce in a large Tupperware container with a paper towel on both the bottom and on top and it will stay fresh for at least a week.)
  • Tear lettuce rather than cutting it with a knife, as cutting may cause it to brown.
  • Remove grapes from stems and rinse thoroughly. Lay on towel in a single layer and allow to air dry completely before bagging.
  • Berries must also be completely dry before storing in an aerated container (not airtight).
  • Dry “bowl fruit” completely after washing and keep it out of direct sunlight.
  • Soak cut apples in salt water for five minutes to keep them from browning. Drain and store in an airtight container in the fridge…they’ll stay fresh and crisp for at least a couple of days!
  • Don’t forget to use your freezer! Toss a few of those individually portioned bags of grapes in the freezer for a refreshing snack that will last much longer than in the fridge. Freezing excess produce is a great way to preserve that initial investment until you need it.

Your needs may be slightly different depending on what you buy, how often you buy it, whether or not it is organic, and how picky you are about texture and freshness. The point is to do whatever you can to make sure the food you bring home is getting consumed by you and your family and not pests or the garbage disposer.

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What’s For Dinner, Mom?

Reservations? But seriously, how many us can answer this question without any hesitation and how many don’t require a phone or car keys to implement the solution?

One of the biggest challenges facing today’s busy parents is feeding a hungry growing family healthy meals on the go. It’s so much easier to order take-out, make a quick run through the drive-thru, or –SHRIEK!– nuke some flavorless frozen cardboard. With all the sports practices and dance classes we find ourselves racing to each week, one would expect today’s youth to be a generation of muscular, cardio-vascular machines. Yet childhood obesity is on the rise. One look at the fast food and junk food wrappers strewn across the backseats of many a minivan is all it takes to unravel that mystery. But what’s a busy working mom (or dad) to do?

Every good parent knows how important it is to give their child a loving home, a good education, and a variety of opportunities for building confidence and self-esteem, but many fail to recognize that good nutrition is an important building block for all of the above. Without a healthy diet, kids can’t perform their best physically or academically. Self-esteem and confidence begin to suffer and that loving home turns stressful and tense. But your healthy family dinner doesn’t have to get gobbled up by your busy family schedule. You can have your (rice)cake and eat it too. All it takes is a little advance planning and some determination.

The key ingredient is a weekly menu plan chock full of quick and easy recipe ideas. Now when I say “recipe”, I don’t necessarily mean a written recipe. The quickest meals to prepare  are the ones you can do without reading. But not everyone is blessed with the Julia Child gene, so if creative cooking isn’t your thing, find a good resource you like for healthy but fast recipes and keep it close by. (Some of my favorites are Ellie Krieger’s So Easy and The Food You Crave, The Sonoma Diet Cookbook by Connie Guttersen, and the Eating Well app for iPhone.)

Next, you’ll need your calendar and a shopping list. The calendar is key because you need to know what’s on the agenda for each night of the week in order to plan meals that will fit into your schedule.

Armed with recipes, calendar and shopping list, sit down and plan your menu for the week. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Incorporate some variety. (I like to plan a variety of poultry, beef, lean pork, fish, and  vegetarian meals each week)
  • Give yourself a break. Plan at least one super-simple meal each week for the busiest night. For example, you can serve soup and sandwiches or pick up a rotisserie chicken at the super-market and pair with a salad and some multi -grain bread. Another favorite in my house is homemade veggie pizza using a store-bought pizza crust and fresh veggies. No one said you have to make everything from scratch.
  • Make more than you need and freeze the leftovers or use them in a meal later in the week.
  • Prep in advance. Chop all the vegetables you need for dinner the night before or in the morning or buy pre-chopped versions. Make use of your crock-pot so you can switch on and go before work.
  • Get the kids to help. If they are old enough, make them your sous chefs. As they say,”Many hands make light work.” An added bonus is the quality time you’ll be spending together. Play your cards right and you just might be able to put them in charge of making dinner one night a week!
  • Snack early, dine later. Stock the fridge with healthy snacks for before practice and use the time during practice to cook dinner for afterwards.
  • Make your shopping list as you plan so that you are sure to have everything you need on hand. If using recipes, make note of the cookbook and page number right on your menu plan so there’s no fumbling around for the recipe later.
  • Remember to include side dishes in your menu plan so that you aren’t scrambling to figure out what vegetable to serve with it on the day of. (Fresh fruit also makes a great no-fuss side dish.)
  • Post your menu on the fridge. Not only will it remind you of your game plan when you’re making breakfast, but chances are, you won’t have to hear “What’s for dinner, Mom?” because they will already know.