Good morning and happy Tuesday! I hope y’all had a great weekend! If you joined us last week, you know that I started a series I’m calling Whole Foods for the Family Table. To kick off the series, I shared some ideas for sourcing organic fruits and veggies in your area, including co-ops and CSAs. Today I wanted to share some tips on how to best prep and store all that produce so it doesn’t go to waste.
The first time I lugged our co-op bin home, I was a bit overwhelmed. All those fruits and veggies (including unusual varieties I wouldn’t normally buy) stared me in the face. The un-bagged lettuce leaves with dirt still clinging to them mocked me. It certainly seemed easier to take spring mix out of a plastic bag stamped with the words: “triple washed.”
It took me a little while to get into an efficient rhythm, but here are a few tricks I’ve learned throughout the past several years for prepping, storing and getting the kids excited about your fresh co-op, CSA or farmer’s market produce. If you have other suggestions, please share them with us all in the comments!
When we first bring the co-op bin into the house, the oldest two help unload, and the five-year-old takes off any stickers. They then separate it all into fruits or veggies. It’s fun to watch the thrill on their face, and they frequently ask questions about certain varieties. This past week they got excited about the mangoes and plums and asked about the tomatillos. Getting the kids involved in the unloading and prepping is also a great way to encourage them to try a suspicious veggie when it’s on their plate. Those tomatillos will make an appearance in chicken enchiladas later, and when they ask about them, I’ll remind the kids how they helped sort the little green fruit.
Once everything is unloaded, I put the items that need a pre-wash into a vinegar bath. Simply fill your sink with cold water and pour in about a cup of white distiller vinegar. If I received lettuce or other greens, I usually drop in several ice cubes and plunge the leave in first, since they have the potential to wilt quickly. The ice helps to revive any already-wilted leaves. Swish the greens around and let them soak for a few minutes, then dry in a salad spinner. If you don’t have a salad spinner, you can lay some leaves in a dish towel, grasp the corners and then take it outside and swing the dish towel around to rid the greens of water. (This is also provides endless amusement for your kids! Really get that dish towel spinning. It sounds crazy, I know. But it works!)
Once the greens are dry, gently pack them in plastic bags between a few pieces of paper towel. The paper towel absorbs any moisture. Delicate greens will last 4-5 days, whereas sturdy greens (Romaine, chard, kale) will last one to two weeks.
Once you’ve washed your greens, soak anything else that needs a pre-wash. Some sources even suggest that berries last longer when washed in a vinegar solution. Because I keep a pitcher of lemon water in our fridge, I even throw citrus into the vinegar wash just in case something might be lurking on the skins.
If you received beets with the greens still attached, cut off the greens, wash them and store them in a separate bag. The beets will last longer in your crisper drawer without the greens attached. The greens are good sautéed with a little olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. We also frequently add them to quiche or even sweet potato black bean tacos (recipe forthcoming).
The produce items I do not pre-wash include stone fruits and root veggies. I’ve found that stone fruits tend to spoil quicker if they’ve been pre-washed, and root veggies will last longer if you leave a thin layer of dirt on the skins. Just wash these items immediately prior to eating. I realize some of these tips may seem obvious, but I would have welcomed some of these simple suggestions in the beginning, when the co-op membership was a bit overwhelming.
If you need a few inspiring recipes for all those fresh fruits and veggies, hop on over to these sites. Although several of these sites are vegetarian (we’re clearly not) I still love browsing these pages for creative, fresh takes on assorted produce items. The authors create intriguing dishes and showcase beautiful photography.
In the next few days, we’re going to talk a little bit about how to source quality, free-range organic animal protein, including dairy, beef and eggs. I’m also going to post a few ideas for making this lifestyle work with small kids, including some simple whole foods recipes that I like to pull out when we’re strapped for time or when the pantry is bare. Not only are these recipes easy, but the kids love all of them. Lastly, I have a fun book review of French Kids Eat Everything coming up, including a few recipes that author Karen Le Billon has given me permission to share. They’re good ones! You don’t want to miss ’em!
What about you? How do you regularly manage to source whole foods for your family and get it on the table so your kids will eat it? Leave your reply in the comments, and feel free to include a link if you’ve written a post with some ideas!