Prepping and Storing Fresh Foods —SCB

I had the pleasure of watching Jamie Oliver’s TED talk, Teach Every Child About Food, this past week. I am grateful to Jamie for bringing these issues to national attention (I believe he even has a reality TV show in the works). I feel pretty passionately about fresh, cooked from scratch food—mostly because I really, really love to eat—but also because I think our health, quality of life and the sustainability of our resources depend on it.

You should know that in our household, we don’t really have healthy, fresh eating all figured out. We are two working parents with kids to shuttle to after school activities and appointments and not a lot of free time. Living without a full kitchen for nearly a year while we remodeled left us dependent on packaged, prepared foods and take-out, a habit we are still trying to shake. We live on a pretty tight budget. We have a child with a clinically limited palate. It’s not always easy, but it is always worthwhile. I try to keep the big picture of how I want my kids to feel about food and their connection to it in mind. This week I wanted to share some tips for storing and preparing perishables and fresh foods that have worked for our family. I will share what’s in our pantry in another post (maybe when we finish building our pantry, ahem).

I store most foods in glass containers and jars. Glass does not absorb odors or transfer chemicals, is easy to clean in the dishwasher, can be heated in the microwave and works on the table without having to transfer to a serving dish. I like that I can see what’s available in all the containers every time I peek into my fridge. I also use a china marker to write the date made and contents of things that are not obvious. I got my china marker at the office supply store; it washes off with each use. As I’ve mentioned before, I buy all my glass jars secondhand. They are easy to find at most thrift shops and garage and estate sales. I keep a large supply of small jelly jars that I use for my kids lunches (the glass has never broken) and fill with individual servings of homemade puddings, fruit crisps or yogurt with fruit or honey. I think store-bought individual size yogurts are a waste of both money and resources, and the ones aimed at kids, even the organic ‘natural’ ones, are full of sugar and other junk. Good quality, full-fat yogurt with some preserves or sweetener will appeal to most kids. I buy extra plastic lids because they are really easy for my kids to open and close properly. For protein-rich, readily-available snacks, we keep a supply of cheese cubes, pieces of salami, hard-boiled eggs and hummus or other bean spreads on hand. I will take an hour or so every few days to make sure we’re stocked with these kind of snacks.

This time of year, we get our produce from an organic produce delivery service. In the summer months, we are more likely to go to the farmer’s market or eat from of our own garden or those of our friends. I highly recommend signing up with a CSA or a produce delivery (ours is mostly local, but includes some Californian treats like avocados and kiwi) because they will provide you with a variety that you might not choose for yourself. It’s a great opportunity to try new things or rediscover old favorites. As soon as I get my delivery, I make a plan for how I will use everything (otherwise I will find it sad, wilted and brown at the bottom of the produce drawer in a week or two). I prepare anything that can be washed and cut ahead of time. Lettuce and salad greens are washed and dried (I store them rolled in a towel inside of a zip-lock bag), beets and carrots are peeled and shredded for salads and sandwiches, onions are chopped for soups (chopped onions will also freeze well), broccoli is trimmed and chopped, melon is seeded and cut into chunks. I love to eat a big salad for my lunch—but it only happens when the greens are washed and ready to go. Once a week I check to see if anything has been ignored and find a way to use it. Quiches and frittatas are a great way to use up hardy greens and other vegetables that may be a little past their prime. Sorry-looking or bruised fruits can be trimmed and baked into a crisp, cobbler or quick bread.

And, finally, one of the best incentives to eat fresh and sustainably is to grow your own food. Even just a small container garden or herbs in a sunny windowsill can make a tremendous impact. Dirt is the best at keeping food fresh and delicious.

Happy eating everyone!