Cooking Fresh at Home
by Andy Johnston, Produce Manager
Eating a well balanced diet is essential to maintaining good health. To keep up with the demands of our busy lifestyles, we eat on the run, order out, or pop it in the microwave. Technology has made it even easier—hop in the car after work, speed dial, order, pull up to the window, swipe card, take food, eat. It’s fast and easy! The frozen food industry has also caught on to our needs. Take a stroll down the frozen foods aisle in almost any grocery store and you’ll find gourmet, ethnic, and special diet TV dinners—I mean “fine cuisine.” If you don’t want to cook, you don’t have to. Convenience is sold everywhere, and there are a lot of people buying it. In theory, you could eat healthy and well without ever setting foot in your kitchen.
I agree, sometimes it’s really nice to not have to come home from work, get dinner ready, and do the dishes. But more often than not, I enjoy the meals cooked at home far more than any meal out, especially at this time of the year!
August is the peak of the local growing season, and just about all of the vegetables in the Co-op’s Produce department are certified organic and local. They are as fresh as it gets! Sourcing locally grown, organic, seasonal produce means you are maximizing the nutritional value of your dollar. You are getting tomatoes that have been picked ripe and mature. They have not been sitting in cold storage and shipped halfway across the country. When items that ripen are picked in their “green” stages, they do not produce the optimal levels of nutrients they would in their ripe state. Cold storage also depletes the nutritional value of fresh vegetables. I’d bet we’re all aware of the limitations of just how long we can keep something fresh. Most produce items are best used within three to four days of being purchased. Beyond that, they start to break down and rot. Think about it. A green pepper from California has probably been sitting in refrigeration for seven to ten days before it even gets to Madison. A green pepper from Tipi Produce in Evansville was most likely picked a couple of days ago. To me, the obvious choice is the local pepper; however, incorporating any fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet is better than none.
Cooking fresh at home starts by knowing what’s in season. Knowing this will get you the freshest products, and will help you do a little planning. When I think of August, I think sweet corn, tomatoes, and watermelon (main course, side dish, and dessert!). As you can see, I like to keep it simple. Other items that you’ll find in August include green and yellow beans, hot peppers, not-hot peppers, beets, carrots, herbs, garlic, onions, fresh potatoes, chards, collards, kales, summer squash, bok choy, eggplant, and edamame to name a few. Purchase products that are firm and have vibrant color. All of the local products in the Produce department have purple price inserts, and in August, most of the inserts are purple. Finding fresh produce shouldn’t be a problem!
Now that you know what’s in season and where to get it, plan out a few meals for the week. It’s time to evaluate your cooking skills and determine how much time you can spend preparing the meal. If you’re short on time, plan on something quick and easy.
Are you planning veggies as the main course, or as a side dish? There are plenty of cookbooks and other resources available to help you plan. Eating healthy doesn’t take much time, just a little planning.
Involve others in the planning and preparation, especially kids. Let them pick a recipe and bring them shopping with you. They’ll be amazed at all the different colors and shapes in the Produce aisle. One of my favorite recipes is a quick pasta sauce made with crushed cherry tomatoes. Let the kids do the crushing with their hands! Corn on the cob? Guess who gets to shuck it. Not me! Grilling kabobs? Have family and friends skewer their own veggies. When you’re cooking with top quality ingredients, it’s easy to get everyone involved, regardless of age!
Cooking fresh at home doesn’t have to be chore. Keeping it simple and easy is the secret behind cooking fresh. Any good chef will tell you that. Support your health. Support your family’s health and keep it fresh!