When summer sizzles, take cool care of season’s bounty!
Fresh fruits and vegetables of almost every kind are in abundant supply at your local commissary this time of year, so be absolutely sure to get your recommended servings from each of these food groups every day. In case you don’t remember, that’s 2 cups of fruit and 2 ½ cups of vegetables for most of us. Canned or frozen versions also count toward the recommended daily servings, but now is the time to choose fresh. Since most items are plentiful, the price should be very reasonable and the quality should be at season’s peak.
Whether you’re a fresh fruits and vegetables new recruit or a seasoned shopper, keeping a few important concepts in mind will help you choose and store the best of what your commissary’s produce section has to offer.
- Select fruits and vegetables that are free of bruises and blemishes, avoiding any that are shriveled or showing signs of decay such as mold. This advice also applies to prepackaged vegetables or fruits.
- Be careful to avoid bruising any soft fruits, like ripe nectarines and strawberries, through careless placement in your shopping cart or rough handling as they go through checkout and bagging. Handing these items directly to the cashier, rather than placing them on the conveyor belt with other groceries, and hand-carrying them to your car is perfectly okay.
- Exposure to heat and light can quickly affect both the nutritional value and the overall quality of sensitive items, so promptly store any produce that needs to be refrigerated.
- Did you know that some fruits and vegetables produce ethylene gas as they ripen and age? Apples, avocados, cantaloupes, bananas, and tomatoes are among the gas producers. Other items such as leafy greens and lettuce, cucumbers, sweet peppers, carrots, broccoli and cabbage are sensitive to ethylene gas and will deteriorate much faster when exposed to its presence. When storing produce, separate the gas-sensitive from the gas producers as much as possible. A basket of fresh fruit, for example, looks very nice with a banana or two draped over the top. Everything will last longer, though, if the bananas are given their own space on a banana stand on the far counter, while the fruit basket occupies a space on the kitchen table. Apply this same principle when deciding where to place produce items in the refrigerator. Apples and avocados, for example, do fine in their own plastic bags stored on a refrigerator shelf, rather than keeping them in the crisper drawer. Tomatoes taste better if stored in a bowl or plate on the counter, instead of in the refrigerator.
- Wash produce under cool, running water just before you use it. Plain running water is sufficient – the use of soap or detergent is neither necessary nor desirable. Hearty vegetables, such as potatoes and carrots, can be scrubbed with a vegetable brush, if you plan to eat their fiber and nutrient-rich skins.
- Leafy greens, such as lettuce, however, are an exception to the “wash when ready to use” rule. These items will keep longer if they are rinsed before refrigerating. Take care to rinse away all dirt and sand; spin the leaves dry in a salad spinner, if you have one; then store in a zip-closure plastic bag. Placing paper towels between the leaves of greens will help to slow deterioration, if a salad spinner is not available. The trick is to supply just enough moisture to keep the greens crisp but not so much as to encourage deterioration.
- For optimum flavor and nutritional value, use fresh fruits and vegetables within a few days of purchase.
When it’s too hot to cook, but you still need to eat, depend on the season’s bounty of fresh produce to make cool summer dishes that are short on preparation, but long on flavor. Keep cool, stay healthy by eating your fruits and veggies, and I’ll see you soon at the commissary!
I’m a busy working wife and mother of three. I depend on the commissary to provide the means to meet everyday challenges we all face. I do my best to make affordable family meals that are tasty, nutritious and quick and easy to make. Learn more at Commissaries.com!