Why Buy Organic

Why Buy Organic

Not that long ago organic products were hard to find on the shelves of most grocery stores or supermarkets.

Small “health food” stores started popping up with a variety of products, mostly supplements and herbs or natural remedies and were generally viewed as remnants of the hippies and tree-huggers from the 60s and 70s.  Fresh produce was almost unheard of and maybe the local farmer’s market had one or two growers that claimed to be organic, but had no way of proving that they were.

How things have changed!

It is now impossible to walk into any supermarket that doesn’t carry at least some organic products.  From fresh produce to the largest brand named goods, organic products are plentiful and normal.

Being called organic is not just a frivolous claim, it is guaranteed by the USDA and labelled as such.  Even organic farmers at the roadside stands and farmer’s markets can only claim they are organic if they can prove it, and the demand for organic products has exploded along with the product offerings.

 

What exactly is USDA certified organic?

Food qualifies for the USDA Certified Organic label if it has been grown or raised according to USDA organic standards.  Those standards mean that the food is free of pesticides and other synthetic additives, dyes, chemical fertilizers, and have not been processed with industrial solvents.

Organic meat requires the animals to be pasture raised (not chemically treated grasses) or fed 100% organic feed and not given antibiotics or hormones.

There are slightly different requirements for other organic products like baked goods, but the idea is still to keep the food free of artificial chemical additives and genetically modified contents.

 

Why does eating organic matter?

Let’s begin with health and safety.

Organic foods are cleaner, minimizing your exposure to environmental toxins and potential serious health issues that come from non-organic foods.  It seems like common sense that the more natural a food is, the easier the body will recognize and accept it. If you swallow a marble, a stone, or a piece of plastic you might do nothing to your body and pass it through without any changes to it, and you will certainly not gain any nutritional value in the process.

However, as you ingest chemicals that are foreign to the body, there may be consequences, whether a slight allergic reaction, irritation, possibly sickness or even cancer as it builds up in your system.

The incidence of cancer around the globe seems to be in direct proportion to the amount of chemicals, pesticides, and fertilizers used in the production of food. While there may certainly be other factors like pollution (chemicals breathed in or swallowed in water) or just the fact of living in a more stressful world (body chemistry), the correlation between chemicals in our food supply and the rise in cancer cannot be ignored

Some of the most common carcinogens (cancer causing agents) are still commonly found in foods we eat every day.  Any processed meat that is preserved by chemical preservatives carry a risk, so although they can be generally consumed without fear, they should be limited to no more than a few ounces 3-4 times a week.

Salami, sausage, ham, and hot dogs are the worst because of all the salt, chemicals and other possible additives used in processing them, so eating organic meat or grass-fed beef is going to be better for you in the long run. When choosing bacon or sausage or other such products, make sure you get nitrate/nitrite free.

 

Healthier Environment

Organic food production is also better for the environment.

Whether grown or raised, food production on a massive scale usually leaves the soil in worse condition when not done organically.  Fertilizers and pesticides artificially add nutrients into the soil and cannot replace a soil that is enriched naturally. The result is that mass produced food with chemical enhancements are less nutritious and less flavorful too.

It used to be common practice to let fields lie fallow, letting them sit for a season without crops so they could restore the fertility naturally.  With the growth of corporate farming that aims to maximize profits, such practices disappeared, and chemicals are added yearly to keep the nutrient levels up artificially.

Those chemicals are in the water supply, the soil, and eventually in the food and our digestive systems.

Pesticides are also killing off the good insects along with the bad ones.  Those killing chemicals are added into the mix when you eat food grown conventionally so it is another foreign matter added to your system that the body cannot recognize, properly digest, or even eliminate, causing sickness or disease.

Conventional dairy products are also suspected in the occurrence of early puberty in girls since BGH (bovine growth hormone) is a synthetic hormone used to increase milk production.

Organic farming uses natural means instead of artificial and damaging methods to raise crops and animals.

Soil is improved by leaving plant waste (green manure) or livestock manure in the fields.  Instead of planting the same crop year after year, plant rotation preserves soil quality and interrupts cycles of pests and disease.  Predatory insects or pest traps are used to control the bad ones, and mulch controls the weeds instead of chemicals. Cover crops preserve the soil and are plowed under to add nutrients naturally, improving soil quality.

 

The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen

When it comes to eating organically, some will say that it is not available or too expensive compared to conventionally raised foods.  While those reasons may be perfectly valid for many, there are certain foods that are notoriously high in pesticides and should be avoided as much as possible.

Currently, the worst offenders are:  strawberries, spinach, kale, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, and potatoes.  Try to avoid any non-organic food that comes out of the soil itself, the root vegetables like radishes, beets, etc.

You can find the latest lists from the Environmental Working Group by going to their website.

If you are eating conventionally grown foods, the ones that seem to have the lowest levels of pesticides and chemical residue are:  avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, frozen sweet peas, onions, papayas, eggplants, asparagus, kiwis, cabbages, cauliflower, cantaloupes, broccoli, mushrooms, and honeydew melons.

It seems like the foods with protective outer layers or the more hearty structures  are less likely to have the bad stuff, so use that as a general rule of thumb too.

The bottom line in health and nutrition is the standard rule of eating more fruits and vegetables.  The benefits of eating them outweigh the risks of eating conventionally grown foods with potential pesticides, but try and eat organically whenever possible and stay healthy!

Plan Ahead Tips For Fast Dinners

Plan Ahead Tips For Fast Dinners

“I need more hours in the day!”  Have you ever found yourself speaking words like that?

 

Rundown of the Day

This fall season brings another cycle of activities and demands on our time.  Whether we are dealing with children and school activities, work responsibilities, or just fewer daylight hours that seem to make the days seem shorter too, time will be as precious as ever before, and if we plan ahead just a little bit, we can accomplish more in a shorter time.  Even better, time savers can give us more of that precious time to use for our more favored activities.

So, what are the activities that take up the most time in our day?

Work?  Yes, and perhaps in another blog we can talk about working smarter instead of harder.

Sleep?  There never seems to be enough of it and sacrificing sleep hours to gain more hours awake can be a prescription for too many negative outcomes to discuss here.

Meals?  On a good day we enjoy 3 of them and apart from the one hour limit imposed by cultural and corporate norms for lunch, we can take as much or as little time as we choose to manage our breakfast and dinner hours.

A healthy breakfast is supposed to get us off to a good start and sitting down with the family in the morning is wonderful if you can manage it.  However, when we are in a morning rush we can get along with a quick smoothie, and with all the options available to us we can at least be sure of getting the Target Trifecta we should be getting in every meal: protein, fat, and fiber–all needed to keep us in balance, start the day off right and keep us satisfied.

However, when it comes to dinner, there are few other activities that command my attention and commitment.  The end of the day, good or bad, deserves a reward with a good meal in my opinion.

 

Come and Get It, DINNER!

Sure, every once in a while a pizza delivery will suffice and fit the mood, but in general there is nothing like sitting down at the end of the day to regroup with the family, discuss and evaluate the day, and to replenish and nourish ourselves with a wholesome, healthy, and tasty meal.

The thing is, the more elaborate the meal, the more time is usually required to prepare it.  If we cannot get out of preparing a great meal, we can at least figure out ways to shorten the time needed to make it, and those options are numerous.

 

Dinner Prep Made EASY 

To begin, there is a French culinary phrase called “mis en place” which means “putting in place” or “everything in its place”.

The purpose of mis en place is to allow the cook to prepare his food in the easiest and most time saving way possible.

Being efficient with your time so you don’t have to stop is a huge time saver and to accomplish that all you have to do is plan ahead and get all your food, utensils, spices, herbs, etc. to your work space and arranged for quick access.

With all of your ingredients close at hand you will avoid the panic run to the cupboard, searching for that one ingredient you haven’t used in weeks, or digging through to the back shelf of the refrigerator while your pot is boiling over.

Simply review your recipe and stage all the ingredients, even measure them out into cups, bowls, or whatever, so all you need to do is add them as needed when the time comes.

Mis en place is a huge time saver for professionals–and us!

 

Menu Planning WORKS

Another huge time saver is menu planning for the week.

If you think about the leftovers of a meal and how they can be incorporated into a lunch or dinner later in the week, you can realize some huge savings in prep time.

For example, if you are grilling chicken one night, make a little extra.  Take a cold but grilled chicken breast out of the fridge and slice it up over a nice spinach or lettuce salad and you have a 5 minute healthy meal, or one that transports easily in a lunchbox.

The same thing goes for pasta.  One night you have spaghetti and later in the week you can have extra pasta already cooked (time saver) that is easy to warm up or perfect for another version of a cold lunch salad, maybe mixed in with some fresh veggies and a simple dressing (insert link to dressing recipe?).

Planning ahead for the week is an easy step to help you in your meal preparation as well as your shopping, and when you are buying for specific needs you will also reduce food waste and your grocery budget.  There are a lot of options available for menu planning to help you get organized and my favorite is obviously Dinner Answers. 🙂

 

Additional Time Saving Tips!

  • Read the entire recipe before you start cooking!  Too often we have to put one step on hold because another step was supposed to be done earlier.
  • Buy a box of latex or vinyl gloves for handling meat to reduce the number of times you wash your hands during meal prep and avoid cross contamination, especially when you make meatloaf. I keep a box of them in my pantry just for this task.
  • Don’t be a slave to perfect measurements.  Experienced chefs can pour spices into their hands and come close to that teaspoon/tablespoon and in time you will as well. Next time you measure a spice, instead of putting into your recipe, put it into the palm of your hand first so you can see what half a teaspoon or a teaspoon looks like. You’ll be eyeballing your measurements in no time!
  • When bringing a pot to a boil, cover the pot, it will boil faster and save your energy bill.
  • Get an oil drizzler to avoid going to the cupboard and opening up a large bottle every time.  One pass of drizzle around the pan is about a tablespoon. The French use these lovely oil can/dispensers that are also decorative and practical.
  • Use an electric kettle to boil water instead of putting a pot on the stove; it will boil in a lot less time–this is one of my most favorite appliances.
  • Use a pinch bowl of salt and learn how to hand measure like your spices.  Measure some salt into your hand with the various measuring spoons and see what it looks like.  A pinch is about ⅛ tsp, 2 pinches ¼, a quarter sized pile in your palm is ½ tsp, and a palmful is about a tablespoon. It’s easy and makes you feel like a pro!
  • For soups, stews, and even casseroles, make a double or triple batch and freeze the extra for future easy meals.
  • Reduce cooking time of rice and beans by pre-soaking them, or…
  • Get an InstantPot® or other version of a pressure cooker.  It is amazing to see food cooked in a fraction of the time–rice is done in just 15 minutes!
  • Have you ever had to start over with a recipe because you added a spoiled egg?  If you are unsure about how old an egg is, put it in water. If it floats it’s too old, throw it away.
  • De-stem hearty greens?  Don’t waste time cutting the kale or other leaves off the stem; just grab the stem in one hand and strip it down with the other. Save the stems to add to soups and stews for extra fiber–keep them in the freezer and chop fine before using.
  • Organize your kitchen!  Keep your most frequently used items close at hand and keep your counters free of clutter. I teach my NutriCoaches how to do this in one of our lessons–it completely changes the way your kitchen operates!
  • How many times during meal prep do you walk over to the trash can?  Instead, keep a scrap bowl to collect your peelings and other scraps and dump them once. Thank you Rachel Ray for that game changing idea.
  • Peeling potatoes takes a long time, but if you just peel a single strip around the fat middle, you can put them in boiling water for a few minutes and then put them in cold water.  The peels will come right off and this works with tomatoes also. (I just made a giant batch of gazpacho, so this one came in handy today.).
  • Combine your fresh herbs and olive oil in an ice cube tray and freeze them when you have leftovers.  This will reduce your waste and give you an easy pre-measure to use in the recipe. One cube or two?
  • Use frozen vegetables and reduce the prep time needed to clean, cut, and chop.  Don’t use the ones that have sauces incorporated, just use the plain fruits and veggies that are generally flash frozen when fresh so they still have most of their nutrients.
  • Preheat your pans.  Turn on the heat ahead of time so you don’t have to wait for them to warm up once you are ready to start cooking.
  • Clean & put away while you cook.  Keep a soapy sink full of water and throw anything you’re using (except knives!) in there so you don’t have anything stuck on at the end. This is a reverse mis en place and will save you a lot of clean up time.
  • Recruit your kids or grandkids at an early age to work with you in the kitchen.  It will teach them valuable life skills, help them learn about healthy eating, and give you some real quality time as more hands make the job easier and more fun!

 

Let me know what you like to do with all that extra time you will have on your hands!

Ready for more fast dinner ideas? Join Dinner Answers and get weekly seasonal menus and access to our custom menu planning tool. Save $20 off your first year with coupon code BACKTOSCHOOL. Click here to join now.

Back To School With Bento Box Basics

Back To School With Bento Box Basics

This is the time of year when we get ready for a new school year and all that it entails. “Graduating” from kindergarten or elementary school, or from eighth grade into high school, each year seems to be significant in the child’s life.

Whether returning to the same school and friends or going to a new school, this is a time to appreciate the changes in life and may be a perfect opportunity to develop new habits or rituals, like study and bedtime scheduling, TV or video time allowed, or particularly around healthy eating.

 

Up Your Lunchbox Game

As we think about eating and the new school year, it means we have to up our game in the take-it-to-school department.

Are you familiar with bento boxes or even heard of them before?

If not, they just might become your new best friend when you find out how they can make some of your back to school problems disappear and make your life, and your children’s, much happier and healthier.

The best part about this is that you don’t actually have to go out and buy a bento box.  Think of this more as a template, a theoretical structure to use in preparing your kids’ healthy school lunches.

 

The Bento Box Theory

A bento box is a shining example of Japanese culture, and their traditional diet that supports the idea of a wholesome meal.  In more practical terms it is actually a Japanese lunch box, with each box a single portion meal that you pack at home or buy as take-out.  Of course, in Japan this is not just for kids and many adults also prepare or buy bento boxes regularly.

Some of these boxes look like a TV dinner tray with each portion of food in a recessed compartment away from the other foods.  While this might sound familiar to many of us, rest assured the food in a compartmentalized bento box is arranged with a lot of thought, effort, and aesthetics in mind, and most likely contains food that is much more wholesome than a TV dinner.

 

The Lowly Lunchbox Aesthetic 

If you think about all the restaurant meals you may have eaten, think about how you responded when the presentation of your dinner or dessert made you feel special.  Have you ever taken a photo of your dinner and posted it on social media? C’mon, we all know it is common practice these days and one reason is because of the presentation of the food alone; the look of the food gave us joy.

Why not let your kids have that same sort of joy every day at school?

Instead of opening up a lunch pail and seeing a boring sandwich in a zip lock bag, how do you think your child would react when they open up their bento box and see that their food looks like a cartoon character they like?  Even if it doesn’t really look like Superman or Sponge Bob, you know they will get a chuckle out of seeing a face made out of their food, right? Do you think that maybe that good feeling will also get then to eat some food they would otherwise reject if they were in a bad mood?  I think so.

 

Bento Box Breakdown

So what normally goes into a bento box meal?

Wholesome and well balanced foods in controlled portions for keeping calories in check while providing the essential nutrients the body needs.

Simple, right?

Typically in Japan you would find rice or noodles, a portion of fish or meat, and an assortment of vegetables, either cooked or raw.  Since that is fairly normal for most Japanese meals it is no surprise to hear that they do not have the same level of childhood obesity that we have in the U.S.

So…based on the bento theory, how can we make our children a wholesome lunch that they will eat?

First, make sure that whatever you feed them for a healthy lunch is well balanced with protein, fat, carbs, and lots of nutrition.  A basic rule of thumb is that the more food is processed, the less nutritional value it retains.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?  OK, that serves a purpose and is acceptable to anyone who isn’t a really picky eater.  However, minimize the jelly part of it, use a low sugar variety, and organic is certainly preferred.  Try to get away from standard white bread that has no nutritional value. How about making the butter fresh in the store, maybe with your kids helping out so they can learn and enjoy what is going into their lunches?

How about almond or cashew butter instead of peanut butter?  Similar in taste, easier to digest, and all the nutrients.

Instead of stuffing it in a sandwich bag, how about cutting it into triangles or a large circle cutout without the crust?  Anything that changes up the mundane will get a more positive response, and the more variety you can put in the box, the more likely that even picky eaters will sample and eat more.  Isn’t that the purpose of the lunch box in the middle of a long day of classes, to get refueled?

Try to get your kids to like raw veggies if they don’t already.   Carrot sticks, cucumber slices or sticks, or broccoli florets with dressing/dip are an “adult” sort of food for those who want to be more “grown up” like mom and dad.  Celery sticks with peanut butter or cream cheese are other options, as well as bell pepper strips, green beans, cherry tomatoes, or a green salad.

Do you have leftover chicken?  Chop it into a salad or put chunks on a skewer with cheese or veggies.  Corn or flour tortillas for wraps will mix things up too, or even just a roll-up of meat and cheese, like a party appetizer.  The different methods of eating will also expand their world, so you don’t even need bread on some days.

How about some apple slices with cinnamon on them?  Tasty snack, nutritious, and cinnamon can help hide any browning from the slices being cut hours ago.  Dipping those apple slices in peanut (cashew, almond, etc.) butter is also a change from the mundane and provides energy throughout the day.

 

Healthy Lunch, Healthy Child

The main thing is to provide a healthy meal and to avoid the types of food that will slow down the brain and the body.  Fried food is not a healthy option, and overdosing on sugar is a sure bet for creating problems with focus and behavior.  Forget the bag of chips or sugary roll-ups.

Stick to the basics of protein, fat, veggies and fruit for fiber and nutrition, and you cannot go wrong.

Making lunch components with love and thought will translate into kids that know they are loved and they will certainly be healthier for it too.  If you want to go the extra step and create funny images out of the food, there are probably a lot of sites on the web to give you ideas.

If you want to make sure the lunch arrives in good shape, maybe consider an actual bento box, which will not only protect the lunch from getting crushed, but can also be quite decorative and a head turner at the new school.

Don’t forget to give them a hug and a kiss as they set off on this new journey, no matter how old they are. 🙂

Ready to make meal planning easy this school year?  Join Dinner Answers and get weekly menus and access to our custom menu planning tool.  Save $20 off your first year with coupon code BACKTOSCHOOL and get three bonus recipe collections to make lunches easy, too.  Click here to join now.

46 Fresh Market Foods for August

46 Fresh Market Foods for August

In August, there are so many types of foods ripening in the fields and on the trees, I am just like a kid in a candy store when I hit up my local Farmers Market.

Have you been to the market lately?

I truly believe that we need to support our farmers and shopping at your nearest market is the best way to do that. More of the cash goes in your farmer’s pocket, and you get the freshest food available to you, that you can’t or won’t grow yourself.

The following is a breakdown of what foods are in season in August in most parts of the United States.

August Farmer's Market Guide Infographic

Note: This list will vary depending on where you live!

August Farmer’s Market Guide

 

APPLES

Health benefits: Vitamins A and C, beta-carotene, fiber (well-reputed for keeping doctors away)
What to look for: I could tell you to buy apples that are firm and free from bruises, but you already knew that. Give your apple a sniff. A good fresh apple will smell like a good fresh apple.
Tip: Yes, apples are available all year long, but they are at their absolute best when you get ‘em fresh off the trees. Buy organic apples when possible because of how heavily sprayed this tree fruit is.

Click here to read more about apples.

APRICOTS

Health benefits: Vitamins A and C, potassium, copper, fiber, antioxidants
What to look for: Choose apricots with rich, orange-colored skin. They should be soft to the touch and smell like apricots.
Tip: Try drying your own apricots in the oven or food dehydrator. (If you turn your oven on its lowest setting and prop the door open, it will dehydrate your halved apricots in about 8 hours.)

ARTICHOKES

Health benefits: Cancer prevention, antioxidants, fiber, liver health, digestive aid and hangover cure.
What to look for: Squeeze the leaves. Fresh artichokes have squeaky leaves. Choose small artichokes for the sweetest hearts.
Tip: Best enjoyed steamed for 15 or 20 minutes

AVOCADO

Health benefits: Anti-inflammatory, carotenoids, vitamins B6, C, E, and K, magnesium, potassium, folate, fiber
What to look for: Gently squeeze the ends of the avocado. If you have some give, the fruit is ripe. If it’s very soft, it is probably overripe. If it’s hard, it’s underripe and needs more time on the counter before slicing into it. Also, you can pull off the little stem to check the color—it should be greenish, not brown.
Tip: To store your avocado once it has been opened, squeeze fresh lemon juice on the exposed flesh and store it in the fridge, wrapped in plastic wrap. It should be eaten within a day or so.

BEETS

Health benefits: Magnesium, Vitamin C, fiber, folate
What to look for: Choose beets that are heavy for their size, with no surface cuts or nicks.
Tip: Enjoy beets raw in juice or salads, or you can cook them in a variety of ways: steamed, stir fried, or roasted. (They are best with a squeeze of lemon juice and some butter.)

BEET GREENS

Health benefits: Vitamins A and K
What to look for: Select beet greens that are a bright, deep green and fresh looking. They should not be wilted and limp.
Tip: When you get your beet greens home, give them a good rinse before chopping them into bite-sized pieces. I like them steamed with a squirt of vinegar. They are delicious with a serving of fresh fish.

BLACKBERRIES

Health benefits: Antioxidants, fiber, folate, anti-inflammatory, vitamins C, K, and E
What to look for: Choose blackberries that are black in color, which is an indication that they’re fully ripe. Sniff the berries. If they are too sweet smelling, they’re overripe. If they don’t smell like berries, they are underripe. They should smell slightly sweet.
Tips: When storing blackberries, don’t use containers more than 5 inches deep because the berries at the bottom will be bruised. A 9×13 inch pan does the trick!

BLUEBERRIES

Health benefits: Fiber, Vitamin C, manganese, antioxidants
What to look for: Look for blueberries with a deep blue or purple black color and a nice silvery sheen.
Tip: Do not wash your blueberries before you store them. For easy freezing, spread blueberries onto a cookie sheet and pop in the freezer. Store them in containers after they’re frozen.

BOK CHOY

Health benefits: Vitamins A, C, and K, calcium, antioxidants
What to look for: Baby bok choy is better in my opinion than the bigger bok choy, so get the little ones if you can. Leaves should be nice and crisp.
Tip: The green leaves should be separated from the big white stalks as the leaves take very little time to cook and the white takes a little longer, so cook the chopped stalks first, add the leaves at the end of cooking.

BROCCOLI

Health benefits: Fiber, folate, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, manganese, phytochemicals and vitamins A, C, K, B-6, and E.
What to look for: Choose heads with tight green and brightly colored buds. Yellowing is a sign of broccoli past its prime. Stalks should seem young and tender. Look for moisture where the broccoli was cut at the stem. That’s a sign it was just picked.
Tip: Enjoy broccoli in stir fries, eaten raw with other veggies or added to soups and salads.

CABBAGE

Health benefits: Vitamin C, fiber, folate, manganese, omega 3 fatty acids
What to look for: Cabbage should be brightly colored and firm to the touch.
Tip: Cut your cabbage in quarters before cutting up to use (unless you’re making cabbage rolls!). Having the cabbage quartered makes it easier to slice. Store by wrapping plastic wrap around the cut pieces. Use up within a few days to prevent too much vitamin C loss.

CANTALOUPE

Health benefits: Vitamins A, B, C, and K, copper, potassium, folate, fiber
What to look for: To choose a ripe cantaloupe, start by picking cantaloupes that are heavier than they look. When you have a good heavy one for its size, tap it and listen for a deep, dull sound to indicate that it’s ripe. If the sound is hollow and high, it’s probably not quite ready to be eaten yet.  When you press the stem end of a ripe cantaloupe with your thumb, it should give away a little bit. If it feels squishy, it’s probably overripe.  Smell the bottom end of the cantaloupe, and if it smells like a cantaloupe, it’s probably ripe. If it smells extremely sweet, it’s past its prime. No scent at all? It’s not ready.
Tip: If you purchase an underripe cantaloupe, you can keep it on the counter at room temperature for a day or two, but only if it’s whole and intact.

CARROTS

Health benefits: Vitamin A, beta carotene, fiber
What to look for: Choose stiff and unbending carrots. If carrots are limp, they’re not fresh. If the tops are attached, they should be fresh and bright green.
Tip: Remove the greens when storing carrots. Keep carrots wrapped loosely in plastic in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer. New carrots need only be scrubbed and eaten raw or steamed until tender.

CAULIFLOWER

Health benefits: Cancer fighting abilities, digestive aid, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, B vitamins and Vitamin K.
What to look for: Choose cauliflower with creamy white curds and firmly attached, bright green leaves. Avoid cauliflower with loose sections or brown spots.
Tip: Take the stem off your cauliflower, and keep the cauliflower in an opened plastic bag in the fridge. It will last a good week or longer. Best enjoyed raw or lightly steamed.

CHERRIES

Health benefits: Anti inflammatory, fiber, vitamins A, E, and C
What to look for: Choose fruit with the stem still attached. The stem should be nice and green and not wilted. A fresh looking stem is a sign that the fruit was picked recently.
Tip: Cherries bruise easily, and they are very perishable. Cherries will only stay fresh in the fridge for a few days, so eat them shortly after bringing them home.

CORN

Health benefits: Manganese, B vitamins, fiber, antioxidants
What to look for: Choose ears that feel plump. The silk coming from the top of the husk should be pale golden yellow and slightly sticky.
Tip: Only buy corn if you can find it organic. You’ll notice farmers bragging about their organic, pesticide-free grown corn. Organic=GMO free, fyi.

CUCUMBERS

Health benefits: Anti-inflammatory, magnesium, manganese, silica, cancer prevention, vitamins C, K, and B5
What to look for: Choose firm cucumbers with no soft spots.
Tip: Enjoy sliced into salad or chopped up and served alongside spicy curry dishes.

EGGPLANT

Health benefits: Folate, fiber, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, calcium, B vitamins, Vitamin A
What to look for: Don’t purchase eggplants with bruises or tan patches. A ripe eggplant will be smooth with shiny skin. It will be heavy for its size, and when you gently press its skin, your finger should leave an imprint.
Tip: Sprinkle your cut eggplant with salt and let it sit for an hour, to cut bitterness. Of course rinse the salt off before using. The skin of an eggplant is edible, but it may also be removed.

FIGS

Health benefits: Vitamin B6, potassium, manganese, fiber
What to look for: Fresh figs are extremely perishable, so buy them the day before you need them. Choose figs that are free of bruises, plump and that smell mildly sweet. When shopping for dried figs, make sure they’re soft and watch out for mold.
Tip: Keep ripe figs in the fridge on a paper towel-lined plate. Do not cover them or they will dry out. If you’ve purchased under-ripe figs, store them on a plate at room temperature and don’t set them in direct light.

GARLIC

Health benefits: Rich in vitamins, lowers cholesterol, good for heart health, lowers blood pressure, antiviral and antibacterial, prevents cancer, and aids in iron absorption.
What to look for:
Choose smooth, blemish-free garlic bulbs with no sprouting or signs of decay.
Tip: Garlic burns quickly, so when adding minced garlic to your cooking, add it in closer to the end, and never toss right into a hot pan or it will turn bitter.

GRAPES

Health benefits: Vitamin B2 and K, copper, antioxidants
What to look for: Ripe grapes are nice and plump. They should be firmly attached to their stems.
Tip: Give your grapes a rinse and freeze them for a nice summer treat.

GREEN BEANS

Health benefits: Vitamin A, Vitamin C, folate, potassium, manganese, fiber
What to look for: When shopping for green beans, to make sure they’re fresh, snap one in half. If it breaks when bent, the bean is fresh. If it bends along with you, it’s old!
Tip: Don’t boil green beans for more than seven minutes or they will turn a brownish color on you. Four or five minutes in the boiling water should be enough to cook fresh young green beans.

HONEY DEW MELON

Health benefits: Vitamin B6 and C, potassium
What to look for: When you’re shopping for honeydews they ought to have a smooth, almost velvety surface and feel heavy in weight. And don’t forget the sniff test–a ripe melon will tell you it’s ready to refrigerate by its smell!
Tip: Honeydew is a great snack to include in your diet if you’re trying to lose weight. Add a little string cheese and you’ve got salt and sweet together; very complimentary and satisfying.

KALE

Health benefits: Fiber, iron, vitamins C and K, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, liver health, calcium, sulfur, digestive aid
What to look for: Leaves should be brightly colored and crisp with no signs of wilting.
Tip: Toss kale leaves into salads, stir fries, and soups. Juice it, braise it, and make it into chips. Kale=love.

LEEKS

Health benefits: Vitamins A, B6, C, E and K, manganese, copper, folate, iron, fiber, magnesium, calcium, omega-3 fatty acid
What to look for: Leeks should have nice long white stems. Look for crisp-looking leeks with their stem attached.
Tip: For optimal health benefits, let your chopped leeks rest for at least 5 minutes after you cut them, before cooking.

LIMA BEANS (BUTTER BEANS)

Health benefits: Vitamin B1 and B6, fiber, copper, manganese, folate, phosphorus, protein, potassium, iron, magnesium
What to look for: It’s not easy to come by fresh lima beans, so if you find them at the market, buy them! Look for firm, dark green beans that are free of blemishes.
Tip: Because they’re so hardy, lima beans make a perfect soup bean.

NECTARINES

Health benefits: Vitamins A and C, antioxidants, fiber
What to look for: A ripe nectarine will smell good enough to eat! Gently press the fruit with your thumb and if there’s some give to it, the fruit is ripe.
Tip: Enjoy nectarines raw in salads or grilled for a delicious treat when served with Greek yogurt.

OKRA

Health benefits: Vitamins A, C and K.
What to look for: Choose small, bright green and unblemished pods that are crisp and firm to the touch.
Tip: Okra is normally prepared by cutting away the crown and tip and cutting the rest of the pod into circular bite-size pieces.

ONIONS

Health benefits: Vitamins B1, B6 and C, manganese, copper, fiber, phosphorus, potassium, folate
What to look for: Buy onions that have crisp, dry outer skins. They should not have sprouting or dark patches.
Tip: Cut onions should be stored in a sealed container and used within a couple of days, before they start losing their nutritional benefits.

PEACHES

Health benefits: Fiber, vitamins C and A
What to look for: Use your whole hand to gently check if the flesh of the peach has some give to it (the pressure of your fingertips might leave bruises). The skin of a ripe peach will look creamy yellow or golden in color.
Tip: Peaches are good for sweet or savory dishes. They can be eaten out of hand, chopped into salads, or served atop pork chops.

PEARS

Health benefits: Vitamin C and K, fiber, copper, antioxidants
What to look for: Pears should not be hard, but they should be slightly firm to the touch. Look for smooth skin that’s free of bruises. And don’t buy pears with puncture wounds.
Tip: Sliced pears are perfection on top of a salad.

Click here to read more about pears.

PEAS

Health benefits: Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, manganese, protein, fiber, folate, phosphorous, magnesium, copper, iron, potassium, zinc, omega 3, blood sugar regulator, vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, C, and K
What to look for: Choose peas with velvety pods that are smooth and firm. Avoid peas with pods that are yellowish or light green in color. You can tell how full the pods are by shaking them. If there’s a rattling sound, there’s probably too much empty room in that pod.
Tip: I enjoy peas raw, but they are also delicious in soups or steamed and served as a side dish.

PEPPERS

Health benefits: Vitamin C, beta-carotene
What to look for: Choose firm peppers that sound hollow and are free of wrinkles.
Tip: As the pepper gets more ripe, it not only has a better taste, but it also gets more nutritious. Enjoy peppers raw, roasted, or in a stir fry.

PLUMS

Health benefits: Vitamins A and C, fiber
What to look for: Look for smooth-skinned plums without discoloration.
Tip: Eat them while they are at their ripest because not only will they be as sweet as can be, but they’ll also be at their max for antioxidants. Also, refrigerate your ripe plums. The coolness will be refreshing in the heat, and they’re juicier when cold.

Click here to read more abut plums.

POTATOES

Health benefits: Vitamin B6 and C, potassium, fiber, antioxidants
What to look for: Look for clean, smooth potatoes that are firm to the touch with no cuts, bruises or discolorations.
Tip: Because of how heavily sprayed potatoes are, you should only buy organic.

RADISHES

Health benefits: Fiber, vitamins C and K, cancer prevention, folate, B vitamins, manganese, potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium, copper, zinc, sodium
What to look for: Choose radishes with medium-sized firm, crisp roots. Smaller is better when it comes to choosing radishes. Leaves should look crisp, be in tact, and be of good color. Radishes should not be soft or wilted.
Tip: Radishes are delicious sliced into salads and eaten raw, but they also add a nice spice to a pot of vegetable soup. You can roast radishes for another unique spin. Radish sprouts are amazing in a salad, giving it a nice peppery heat. Store your radishes in the crisper drawer of the fridge for no more than one week.

RASPBERRIES

Health benefits: Cancer fighter, fiber, potassium, calcium, lutein, zeaxanthin, folate
What to look for: Choose fully ripe raspberries—those that are slightly soft, plump, and deep in color. Avoid overripe raspberries that are very soft or mushy.
Tip: Raspberries go moldy quickly, so you should eat them the day they’ve been picked. Important: Do not wash raspberries until you’re just ready to use them. You can also freeze them to enjoy later.

Click here to read more about raspberries.

RUTABAGA

Health benefits: Fiber, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, Vitamin C and cancer prevention.
What to look for: Choose rutabaga with purplish skin. Avoid bruised or blemished rutabagas. If there are green shoots coming from the rutabaga, it’s overripe.
Tip: Enjoy rutabagas in soups, baked (rutabaga fries!) or mashed with sweet potatoes.

SNOW PEAS

Health benefits: Vitamins A, B6, C and K, fiber, iron, folic acid, niacin, thiamin
What to look for: Buy snow peas that are bright green, fresh looking and crisp.
Tip: Double up on the snow peas next time you make a stir fry. Eat them hot for dinner one night, refrigerate overnight, and recycle them into a salad for lunch the following day. They’ll have a completely different feel and you’ll get a two-fer; cooked once, eaten twice in two different ways!

SPINACH

Health benefits: B vitamins, vitamins C and E, omega 3 fatty acids, beta carotene, glutathione, and an endless list of additional minerals and phytonutrients. Fights heart disease, macular degeneration, cancer, and cataracts!
What to look for: Dark green leaves that are not bruised, wilted, or slimy. The smaller the leaf, the tastier the spinach.
Tip: Get more leafy greens into you by adding a couple handfuls of organic spinach to your morning smoothie.

STRAWBERRIES

Health benefits: Potassium, iron, calcium, Vitamin C, flavonoids, antioxidants, fiber, folate
What to look for: Choose organic red berries with no signs of bruising or mold.
Tip: Freeze strawberries to have on hand for smoothies.

SUMMER SQUASH (yellow squash and zucchini)

Health benefits: Vitamins A and C, folate, fiber, magnesium, potassium
What to look for: Choose zucchini or yellow squash that are less than eight inches long and firm, with bright skin. Organic is important for yellow squash!
Tip: Enjoy summer squashes grilled, steamed, roasted, or raw. Fabulous chopped up in stir fries, or try them grated as well—raw and cooked.

Click here to read more about zucchini.

TOMATOES

Health benefits: Cancer fighter, lycopene
How to choose: Choose deeply colored tomatoes that are firm and free of wrinkles. Tomatoes should smell sweet.
Tip: Tomatoes can be eaten raw, roasted, grilled, or sauteed. Freeze these summer beauties for later cooking use in the middle of winter.

TURNIPS

Health benefits: Fiber, calcium, potassium, digestive aid, anti-inflammatory, manganese, antioxidants, and vitamins A, C, and E.
What to look for: Choose turnips free of scars or soft spots. Choose small turnips that are firm to the touch with fresh leafy green tops.
Tip: Add chopped turnips to almost all of your different salads: chicken salad, tuna salad, apple fruit salad, etc. They can also be easily added to most stews and soups.

VIDALIA ONIONS

Health benefits: Vitamin C and chromium.
What to look for: Choose onions that are firm with no visible signs of decay. Skins should be dry, and the onions should not be sprouting.
Tip: Vidalia onions should not be eaten raw.

WATERMELON

Health benefits: Potassium, Vitamin C
What to look for: Choose a blemish-free specimen with a creamy yellow underside (this is the side it was growing on). The melon should feel heavy—remember, it’s about 90% water.
Tip: Cut leftover watermelon into chunks (removing seeds and rind), place in a blender, and blend till pureed and smooth. Freeze the juice in ice cube trays and add to lemonade for a refreshing and colorful drink!

 

Instant Pot Dos and Don’ts

Instant Pot Dos and Don’ts

It’s Back to School season and it’s time to get “regular” with our routines again!

Even if you don’t have to pack lunches for the littles anymore, there’s nothing like shifting with the seasons and getting back to a regular routine after a nice, lazy summer.

My partner Mark has fond memories from his childhood of his mother in the kitchen, cooking a family meal.  He said because they had a large family, she was probably always in the kitchen, either planning and preparing a meal, cooking it, or dealing with the aftermath until the kids were old enough to help with the cleanup.

We had 3 kids in my family, but there was indeed a lot of time spent in the kitchen by my working mom–a lot!

If the Instant Pot existed back then it seems like moms in the 70’s would have been a lot easier. Sure, there were pressure cookers, but we were generally scared of them. We saw what happened when Lucy tried cooking with one after all…disaster!

When it came to convenience, we did have the crockpot (in lovely avocado green or harvest gold) but it was nothing compared to an Instant Pot!

It can truly change your life and your cooking experience, not to mention the simplicity of cooking with just one instrument, simplifying the cleanup process dramatically!  However, there are certainly some things to be aware of to make your cooking most enjoyable, and here are my favorite Do’s and Don’ts for using an Instant Pot:

My Favorite Do’s:

  1. Read the instructions!  While it may seem obvious to some, this device has features and benefits that you can best understand and utilize if you actually read the instructions when you first take it out of the box.  Guy’s, you are exempt from this step, of course, and please get out of the kitchen and stay away until you do read it. 😉
  2. Understand that Instant is not the same as instantaneous.  “Instant” is in the name but this isn’t Star Trek and cooking will still take some time, so don’t be impatient and enjoy the true time savings once you are using it.
  3. Run a water test (boiling 1-2 cups of water under pressure) to make sure it is working properly and you are comfortable with the operation.  If you are already cooking with it then you are already beyond this, so no worries.
  4. When following recipes and planning your meal, remember to add approximately 10 minutes to account for the initial warmup and pressure sealing of the unit before the actual cooking time counts.  Also, be aware of the extra time needed to depressurize the unit, often referred to as NPR (natural pressure release) or QR (quick release). A 10 minute recipe will not be ready in 10 minutes but will instead require at least 20-25 minutes to get it out of the pot.
  5. Use the “saute” button the same as you would use a skillet.  When it comes to one pot cooking, this will be a real blessing because the pot can be used in multiple ways, including the initial saute of your vegetables.  I generally prefer ghee or avocado oil because of their high smoke points.
  6. Make sure when starting to cook that you place the pressure relief valve in the “sealing” position or the pressure will never build up and your food will not cook.
  7. Make sure the inner silicon sealing ring is in place.  Without that seal you will never build pressure in the pot to cook.
  8. Make sure you have liquid in the pot for every recipe.  It is the steam from the heated water under pressure that cooks your food and without water you are only baking a brick.
  9. Consider getting a 2nd silicon sealing ring.  Some people are sensitive to the crossover of flavors if the ring is used on different foods and having different seals for specific types of food makes a difference.  I don’t know how long a sealing ring lasts and I have used mine extensively, but if it ever fails then you will have to wait for Amazon to deliver a replacement if you cannot find one at your local store.
  10. Learn how to adjust the temperature, pressure, and cooking times.  Rice is a perfect example of how food that seems to all be the same is really quite different.  As a food staple for many, the mixture is generally 1:1 for rice and water, but Jasmine rice will cook in about 3 minutes, Basmati rice will take 6 or more, and brown rice can take 15 minutes.  BTW, for softer rice instead of al dente, add a little more water, up to ¼ cup.

 

My Favorite Don’ts:

  1. Don’t use without reading the operating instructions!  Sound familiar? 😉
  2. Don’t ever cook without adding liquid, at least ½ – 1 cup of water or other liquid.
  3. Don’t add dairy to the pressure cooking.  Add your milk or cream after the pressure cooking is completed or it will likely curdle and ruin your soup.
  4. Don’t add cold dairy to your hot liquid.  When you do add your dairy (milk or cream); make sure it is warmed up first.  If you add cold milk to a hot liquid it can also curdle or separate and ruin your recipe.
  5. Don’t add any thickeners (corn starch, flour, arrowroot, potato starch) to your recipe until the pressure cooking stage is done.
  6. Don’t use the quick release (QR) option when cooking soups or other dishes that can have foam on top.  If you do release pressure quickly there will likely be spitting and spraying all over your kitchen, so let it drop pressure naturally, or carry the pot outside first and stand upwind.
  7. Don’t use the quick-release (QR) when cooking most meat as it will reduce the moisture content and tenderness that results from a slow pressure release.
  8. Don’t ever cook without using the inner pot.  (I know, this seems obvious, but there are stories out there.)
  9. Don’t use the “timer” button for cooking time; it is used for delayed cooking time, not actual cooking time.
  10.  Don’t place a towel over the pressure release valve when doing a quick release (QR) as it can mess up the controls and proper operation of the pot.
  11. Don’t put your hand in the steam as it is released as it can cause severe burns.  Perhaps this is also obvious, but some cannot resist the urge to test it, especially children when they are around.
  12. Don’t place your pot under your kitchen cabinets because the release of steam will likely damage them.
  13. Don’t place your pot on a stove because a burner could be accidentally turned on and will melt your unit.
  14. Don’t ever try to open your pot if it is still under pressure.  Although there are safeguards built in to the unit, if you were to try and open the pot while there is still pressure built up you can have an eruption all over your kitchen, and possible injuries.
  15. Don’t store your Instant Pot with the cover on.  Instead, remove the silicon ring or store it with the cover upside down so that the silicon ring doesn’t get “fatigued” over time and maintains it’s spongy properties for a good seal when cooking.  It is sort of like storing a classic car in the garage, when you put it up on blocks instead of sitting on the ground and flattening the tires. (OK guys, you can come back in the kitchen now that we are discussing classic car storage.)

Now how about a recipe? 🙂 

Print Recipe
Instant Pot Spiced Shredded Chicken Tacos and Quick Pickled Onions
A super easy and delicious recipe for tender and flavorful shredded chicken for tacos or salads or whatever you want!
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 90 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 90 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Place sliced red onion in a strainer and boil a kettle of water.
  2. In the jar you're using to store the pickled onion, place vinegar, salt, honey, garlic, and peppercorns. Stir until salt and honey are dissolved.
  3. Once water boils, slowly pour water over the sliced onion. Blanching them so their slightly tender.
  4. Give the strainer a little shake to help get rid of excessive water, then add onion to the jar with vinegar mixture. Press into jar until onion is fully submerged. Seal and place in refrigerator for AT LEAST 2 hours before using.
  5. In an Instant Pot, pour half the jar of salsa and make sure bottom is evenly coated.
  6. Place chicken on top of salsa, then onion on top of chicken.
  7. In a small bowl, combine spices (salt through coriander). Season onion and chicken evenly, then top with remaining salsa.
  8. Seal Instant Pot, then select "Meat/Stew" setting and cook for 90 minutes. Once it's done, let rest for 5 minutes, then release the vent for the steam.
  9. After the steam settles, remove lid and, using two forks, shred the chicken!
  10. Serve on tortillas with pickled onions and other toppings! You'll find some of our topping favorites listed above but we encourage you to add whatever your favorite toppings are!
  11. DIG IN!!!
Recipe Notes

TO MAKE PALEO: use lettuce leaves instead of tortillas (iceberg lettuce is nice and sturdy and will have a good crunch!) and OMIT any dairy (so no cheese or sour cream as a topping)

TO MAKE KETO, aka HOT MELT: follow Paleo instructions above AND make sure to had a generous serving of avocado!

Want more recipes like this one?  Get our One Pot Recipe Collection, available in Classic, Paleo, or Low-Carb.  This collection includes 100 one-pot recipes to make dinner a breeze! Click here for more information.

How to Clean and Maintain Your Garbage Disposal

How to Clean and Maintain Your Garbage Disposal

A lot of people these days have a garbage disposal, even those who shouldn’t.  What?!! Who “shouldn’t” have a disposal?

People with septic tanks if you listen to plumbers talk! Food scraps and especially fats and oils are terrible for septic tanks and while a disposal is to be avoided, there are likely a lot of homes with septic tanks that have garbage disposals.

Regardless, if you have a garbage disposal in your home, there are some steps you should take to properly maintain it so it lasts as long as possible.


Using Your Garbage Disposal

First, be aware of what you are putting in it.  

Remember, if you have a disposal and are on a septic system you need to use it as little as possible and avoid putting meats and other food products down the drain.  Animal fats turn solid and will clog the leech holes, or just the solids themselves will accumulate at the intake port and not break down, throwing off the bacterial balance needed for decomposition and making your system less efficient and needing more frequent pumping.  

If you have stuff in the sink, remove as much as you can by hand before flushing the remains down the disposal.

If you are on a sewer system you will be okay with most kitchen scraps, but you still want to avoid hard objects like shellfish shells, unpopped popcorn, bones, etc.  Not only will they dull the blades over time, but they will not break down fully and can cause more clogs down the line as a result.

Also, avoid fibrous or starchy items that can cause blockages.  

One Thanksgiving we had guests that wanted to help in the kitchen and pushed all the potato peelings down the disposal, totally blocking the drain under the sink.  It was handled quickly, but diving under the sink to take apart a P trap was not in the plans that day!

Any food particles that go into the disposal should be small and ground up in small increments.  Avoid some of the most common stuff like banana peels, celery, corn cobs and husks, pits from peaches or avocados, coffee grounds, egg shells, and onion skins.  

Most of them will do great in your garden compost anyway.  

Obviously, you want to avoid hard and non-vegetative items like plant clippings, hair, glass, pull tabs, bottle caps, etc. I had to say it–these are some of the common issues with garbage disposal dysfunction!

Whenever you use the disposal, make sure you are running cold water at the same time!  Without the water (or with hot water) the motor and bearings can overheat.  

Run the cold water, turn on the disposal, and after the all debris is cleared you still should run the water for 30-60 seconds to provide enough water to wash it all down the line, since it still has a long way to go.  

Also, hot water can melt any fat at first, but it will solidify down the line as it cools and create a blockage, so use cold only–even with fat.


Cleaning Your Garbage Disposal

Now believe it or not, that funky garbage disposal needs a little TLC and cleaning every now and again.

With the disposal turned off, you can simply use a paper towel to wipe off the rubber at the entry hole to reduce any potential debris and odors.  

For the interior chamber, ice cubes can be used to knock of any build-up on the blades to increase efficiency.  

If you are really ambitious you can make ice cubes with a mixture of vinegar, biodegradable cleanser, or lemon juice, making sure to still run the cold water and be sure not to confuse those ice cubes with your cocktails!  YIKES!

You can also slice up some orange, lemon or lime peels into small pieces and grind them up. They really take away any odors that might build up down there.  

Another trick is to pour in some baking soda and then vinegar, like the old science project.  The chemical reaction will do a fine job, but stand back though when you pour in the vinegar–it will bubble up big time.


Troubleshooting Your Garbage Disposal

And if your disposal ever stops working, don’t call an expensive plumber right away.  

First check to see if it has popped a circuit breaker at your electrical panel.

If all circuits are fine, then look for a small red button on the bottom of the disposal, since they usually have their own breaker in the unit itself. Push the red button and hold for 30 seconds. That usually does the trick.

If not, look for the small metal hexagonal wrench that looks like a lazy S that came with your disposal. Insert it into the center pivot hole on the bottom of the disposal so you can manually rotate the blades to break loose any hard refuse that might be binding the blades.  

You never want to put your hands down in the disposal for obvious reasons, and even with the power turned off the release of tension can cause the blades to move enough to cut you.  

I have used tongs in the past when I needed to retrieve something that went down there accidentally.


Replacing Your Garbage Disposal

If you ever have to replace your garbage disposal, the cost will vary depending on the motor size and warranty.  Expect to pay $100-200+ for the unit and another $150+ to have someone install it for you, but replacing a disposal is not usually necessary unless none of these tricks worked or it’s ancient and useless.

While keeping your garbage disposal in top form is important, so is keeping your health in top form! Check out these great products (LOVE the throat spray!) from our friends at Beekeeper’s Naturals. 🐝

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