Sunday, March 23, 2014

Ah-ah-ah-ah Stayin' Alive... Stayin' Alive...

Thankfully (or sadly?) I don't remember much of the disco era even though it's technically mine!  And this song always brings this to my mental movie screen:

Courtesy of The Week
But keeping it alive is also a big deal when it comes to your produce.  If you're eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, you might find that you're throwing a lot of it away, and if you're anything like me, when I clean out the fridge every Sunday, all I can see in the garbage can is dollar signs.  I can literally add it up in my head as I'm throwing food out, getting seriously pissed off as I hear that 'cha-ching' of all the actual money I'm throwing away in the form of fresh produce that has gone bad because we didn't eat it fast enough.

Those days are actually in the past for me as I've learned some tricks since then!  Things I learned the hard way by trial and error, that is!  So stick with me through our usual Sunday ritual and I'll share! :)


Here's our receipts for the week:  I spent $103.37.


This was a week that we stocked up on bulk goods, so a good portion of this is going to last us for the month.  Here's what it bought:  It seems like less food than usual for the same amount of money, but consider that $20 was just in meat!


Oatmeal was on sale at Sprouts for $0.69 lb, so we stocked up.  These two giant bags of oatmeal cost me a total of $4 and will last us at least a month considering it's used both in baking and for breakfasts.  I'm tellin' ya: purchasing in bulk when you can will save you a TON of money!


This week's menu will include turkey chili (recipe this week), That Meat Stuff With the Corn (recipe here), stuffed portabello caps (recipe to come!), and lentils in some form.  I've been working a lot of over time, so my apologizes that posting has been spotty for the last two weeks.  I'll try harder. :)


Before




So by now, you know my Sunday Drill:  Go grocery shopping. Come home.  Clean out the fridge.  And then cook/bake/chop/grill for a couple of hours in preparation of the week when I really don't have time to do a lot of extra cooking or baking.  



Just like the Boy Scouts, THIS is the main key to eating healthy for every meal: Be Prepared.  




After :)




And after that 2 hours or so, THIS is what I have to show for myself!  It's a great feeling of accomplishment to have THIS much to show for so relatively little time.  And the time it saves me over the course of the week FAR outweighs the time I spent preparing it on Sunday. 

So yes, I'm being preachy: take a couple of hours of your weekend and invest it in you and your family.  A little preparedness can change your eating habits for life!


Now: to the waste aspect.  As you've seen, we buy a LOT of fresh produce.  And I can honestly say at this point that our waste is almost nil.  The main trick of course is to EAT IT! :)  Because it WILL go bad.  But we throw very little away, and here's how:

Some vegetables and fruits like moisture.  Some don't.  The next time you're shopping for produce, take a look at how the produce section is set up.  There is a part that sits under a watering system to make sure it stays hydrated.  And then there are the displays that can just sit in the open air.  This is what you want to recreate when you get home.

Take asparagus for example.  I noticed when I first started buying it, that I would throw a lot of it away and pretty quickly after I purchased it!  The tips would get gooey and smell bad.  So I started doing this:  

When you bring them home, take the rubber bands off both ends.  Lay a paper towel on the counter top, and lay them on the paper town.  Roll them tightly making sure those tender tops are encircled with the paper towel as that's the most important part to keep dry.  Then, holding them in one hand, run JUST THE BOTTOM ENDS, the cut ends, under a thin stream of water making sure to keep the paper towel dry.  You just want the stalk to be freshened up before you package them.  










Now place the wrapped asparagus back into the plastic bag, squeeze out the air, and put it in your crisper drawer of your fridge.  I've been able to keep fresh asparagus fresh this way for over TWO WEEKS!!!  Asparagus for a good portion of the year is quite spendy, upwards of $4 a pound.  But sometimes you just want some freaking asparagus!  And having to throw any part of that money in the trash is a huge disappointment and yet another thing I can't afford.  This will keep that from happening.


Mushrooms are another food that needs to be refrigerated but in low humidity. For being relatively dry in appearance, mushrooms are FULL of moisture and will sweat inside a plastic bag.  But if you try to leave them out of a bag, they shrivel up.  They go bad in the fridge really fast either way.

But using this same principal, you can make them last for over 1 week sometimes 10 days.  I generally buy my mushrooms in bulk, mainly because I don't use an entire pre-made package in time before they go bad, even doing this.  So I buy them just as I need them.  

So do the same thing here as you did with the asparagus.  When you get home, take them out of the bag and then line the bottom of the bag with a clean, dry paper towel.  Set the mushrooms back in the bag, cap side down, on the paper towel.  This method will also work on sliced strawberries and keep them from becoming slimy before their time. :)


Leafy greens, on the other hand, need more moisture.  I noticed that my kale would dry up and get really limp pretty quickly.  This vegetable needs more moisture before you put them in the fridge.  This also works well with different types of lettuce (green leaf and red leaf in particular).  

When you bring them home, take them out of the bag and give them a good wash.  Run them under water for a minute and make sure that some of that water gets into the middle of the bunch. Then make sure you let it drain well.  You don't want a puddle of water in the bottom of your bag, but you do want them to still have droplets of water on the leaves when you put them back in the bag.  Once you do this, squeeze as much of the air as you can from the bag, and put it in the fridge.  This will keep your kale crisp for up to THREE WEEKS.  Again, make sure you don't have a ton of water in them or they get soggy.  But seriously...did I mention three weeks?  

And then there's watermelon.  One of my favorite fruits.  But Rik isn't a big watermelon eater and I sometimes have a hard time eating it all before it goes bad.  You know how you cut it all up and put it in a bowl, but then it sits in its own juice and the bottom of the bowl goes bad so the entire bowl has to be tossed?  Here's a trick for that:  

First, make sure you have a bowl big enough to hold the melon without squishing it down when you put the lid on. If that happens, you're basically "juicing" your melon by smooshing it and making more liquid that seeps to the bottom which is what you're trying to avoid!  Take some smaller lids and put them on the bottom of your plastic container, then put your melon chunks on top of that.  It keeps them from sitting in that extra fluid!  When you've filled your bowl, put the lid on part way and drain any extra juice out of the bottom before you put it in the fridge, and every time you open it over the week to eat some, drain it again.  This will double the life of your watermelon and give you twice the time to finish it before it turns! :)  This will also work on fresh pineapple and other juicier fruits that you'd like to keep cut in the fridge but may not eat them as fast.  

If you still find that you're not able to eat your fruit in time, most fruits can be frozen.  That includes watermelon!  In fact, adding a few hunks of frozen watermelon to your morning smoothie not only makes it cold, it adds an almost margarita-like quality to your drink!  (And hasn't craved a good margarita on the way to the office?!)  The trick to freezing fruits is to make sure that they don't touch each other.  Here's how:  


Line a cookie sheet with one of those produce bags you just got from the store.  I keep mine rolled up in a bag to reuse for things like this.  Great way to recycle!.  Take your chunks of fruit and put them on the sheet in a way that they're not touching each other as much as possible.  This way they don't freeze into one giant hunk of banana.  


 Put it in your freezer like this over night.  


The next day, with the food still on the plastic bag, turn it inside out, and voila!   You've got frozen chunks of fruit already bagged and ready to pull out!  This works on almost any fruit: Pineapple, papaya, bananas, strawberries, watermelon, peaches, apricots, blueberries, black berries...the only fruits that don't turn out so well that I've experimented with so far are apples and pears.

So now we've eliminated yet another excuse not to eat more fresh produce!  And you're saving
money!  Seriously guys:  Yes, it takes a little bit of time to eat well.  It's an investment in you and those you love.  But it doesn't take a TON of time.  I promise.


And don't be afraid to remind yourself what you've got in that fridge!  I make a note every Sunday night and tape it to the 'Meat' drawer about eye-level in the fridge telling Rik exactly what is in there for him to use to put together a healthy lunch because we all know that stuff gets shoved to the back of the fridge and you forget it's there! Yet another way to make sure you're not throwing away your hard-earned money and the work you put into eating well this week, and a reminder to your family -- and yourself! -- that you love them!