Having recently published my second book on the best of fresh produce, it’s safe to say by now I’ve researched nearly every fruit and vegetable one can fathom. While I may sound like the expert nowadays, growing up I was like most of the rest of my generation – a suburban-supermarket baby with not a clue how to pick out a ripe avocado. In all honesty – it’s slightly embarassing to admit – but I was always a little suspect of farms and produce stands, what with all their food that came out of dirt! As knowledge has progressed and the public is more informed about the merit of fresh produce, it’s been a thrill to spend my retirement researching and appreciating the ins and outs of fresh, tasty good-for-me food; but best of all, it’s such a joy to help chefs-in-waiting save money, waste less, and eat better. Here are a few of my favorite tips on how you can make the most of your produce.
1. The experts agree: keep it simple
One of my favorite new books is Turning Point for Modern Medicine by Dr. Michael Badanek. In it he writes, “Many health-minded individuals go to great lengths to feel better. They buy air and water filters; shop at health food stores, take nutritional supplements, and exercise. Yet ‘well-being’ eludes them.” Dr. Badanek is pointing out an inconvenient truth – we can buy all of the latest supplements and health technology; if we’re not eating right, we’ll never reach our greatest potential for wellbeing. So, what should we eat? Ocala’s own Nuris Lemire, occupational therapist and staff member of the holistically-focused Lemire Clinic tells us, “We should be eating what people ate 150 years ago: a simple diet of roots and fruits, greens and beans, seeds and weeds, plus fish or wild game.” Her words reminded me our ancestors couldn’t always get meat, and when they could, they didn’t eat a lot of it. Even Thomas Jefferson, famously said, he used meat “as a condiment” to flavor his meals. While the average age of modern man (78.8) massively exceeds any previously recorded human life expectancy figures, humans also face unprecendented rates of chronic disease. Lemire continues, “modern food processing has stripped nutrients from food and changed the modern diet to: meats and sweets, pies fries, chips and dips, cakes and shakes. No wonder we’re in trouble!” Lemire explains humans are designed to be more alkaline which decreases inflammation in blood and tissue. She says, “the key to good health is an acid-alkaline diet of 80% alkaline or plant-based foods and 20% acid or animal foods.” Amidst all the scientific stuff, there’s one thing the experts can all agree on – fresh food from the earth is best, vary the colors of your fruits and veggies for optimal nutrient intake, and stay to the outside aisles of the grocery store if you want to stick to simple real foods. I simply remind myself to eat fresh produce, eat more of it than meat, and I will feel better, all over, all year!
2. You can’t always make it to the farmer’s market – if not fresh, eat frozen.
Fresh is best, but frozen is your next best bet – and here’s why: a frozen bag of corn will list only one ingredient, “Corn.” Corn in and of itself has 58 mg salt and 5 g sugar. If you opt for a can of corn, you will see a few extras on the list – like added salt and sugar – additions we don’t need. Whereas almost all frozen fruit and vegetables stick the basics – all we need…the real ingredient we know and love. So do yourself a favor, and practice the 3 F’s: Fresh and Frozen First. Last but not least, make sure frozen produce moves freely in the bag. If lumpy, they haven’t been properly manufactured, transported or stored.
3. Save money by knowing what to buy.
The common knock on fresh produce is always the cost. While it can be expensive, there are ways to save money and buy less. One of the best ways is to get to know what you’re buying. For instance, the larger circumference an asparagus has, the tastier; smaller beets are sweeter and yellow-bellied watermelons that pass the thump test tend to be more ripe.
4. Waste less by storing produce properly and knowing how to buy wisely.
When it comes to making fruits and vegetables last, it’s all about the company they keep. For instance, never store potatoes and onions together, as onions give off a gas that quickly ages potatoes. Nobody wants to have to throw away potatoes! And they’re hardly the only thing to get trashed from our fridge every week – the Natural Resources Defense Council tells us that the US chucks nearly 40% of its food every year. What gets trashed most? You guessed it, fruits and vegetables. If you want to defy the odds and make the most of all you buy, here are a few of my favorite time-tested tips. Go European and shop for produce twice a week; buy only what you need for a few days as a lot of produce, especially fruits, won’t last a week. If all you need is garnish or a small side dish, consider shopping the salad bar rather than buying a full size item.
5. Live on the edge.
When it comes to leftovers, be bold! Add unused beet, radish or celery greens to a salad, save stray bits of produce for an omelet, tortilla, pasta salad, or antipasti. Those ancestors didn’t set out to make salsa or chutney; they were putting the little bits to use. TV Chef Ann Burrell usually has a big bowl next to her as she preps vegetables, she drops peelings in the bowl. Later those peelings are used to make a simple vegetable stock for soups, gravies and sauces. Another trick for daring greatly with produce is to freeze things you never imagined! Cabbage, celery, lemons, and grapes all freeze well. One of my favorite ways to use fruits and vegetable bits? DIY beauty products! Make hair masks, skin masks, shower gels, you name it. So think outside the box and have even more fun being healthy!