Did you know that Americans waste an estimated 40% of edible food (source: Natural Resources Defense Council
)? That's a lot of food simply tossed out or washed down the disposal. And with recent droughts in the Midwest and increasing oil prices you're grocery budget will probably get tighter in the next few months. So what are the top tossed out foods? Here's a list that was compiled by the Natural Resources Defense Council, along with some ideas for using them up so that you can stretch your groceries just a little farther.1. Fruits and Vegetables: 52% lost
Half of all fruits and vegetables are tossed out after they are past their prime. Bruised strawberries and gooey green beans = a trip to the landfill. To make them last longer flash freeze your produce if you bought more than you can eat by simply freezing separate pieces on a baking sheet overnight, then placing a cup or two into storage bags. You can also juice lots of fruits and vegetables that are just starting to pass their prime
, and while you're at it this is also a great way to sneak some veggies into your kiddos bellies.And here's a pampered Mom tip: one of my favorite ways to use up old produce that is past the point of eating is by making my own spa masks. Great bases include strawberries, blueberries, pineapple and avocado. Simply mash a tablespoon or two of your overdone fruits with a little bit of honey and rolled oats and it's a spa day. I leave my mask on for 10-20 minutes while the kids and I put cucumbers over our eyes and chat it up.Finally a great way to reuse really overdone fruits and vegetables is to compost them. Composting is incredible easy and doesn't have to be expensive, and in a matter of months (especially if you jump start the process with composting enzyme) you'll have rich soil to rejuvenate your yard or start a garden.
And you always have a science project in your backyard to teach your kids with.2. Seafood: 50% lostYet again, only half of what is harvested is actually eaten.
Given the over harvested state of our oceans and the environmental effects of seafood farming, it's hard to believe so little is actually eaten.
One of my favorite ways to incorporate seafood, and thus some lean protein, into my kids snacks is with hummus
or yogurt dips. Simply combine cooked fish in with yogurt, tahini, white beans and add lemon juice in a food processor and puree til smooth, then serve with crackers or sliced veggies.Another, cook-free way to use up uncooked salmon that is
in your fridge is to simply cure bite size pieces in salt, pepper and raw sugar in your fridge. Within an hour or two you have a great snack that your kiddos can munch on without much work.3. Grain products: 38% lostOne of the beauties about bread is that you can freeze it until you're ready to use it. Another great way to use up both stale breads and cooked rice is with bread pudding and rice pudding, respectively. Another one of our favorites are French toast mini's.
Grains like oats
also make for really tasty granola. All you need is oil, honey, chopped nuts and dried fruit and you have a tasty breakfast or yogurt topper that's really easy to make.4. Meat: 22% lostToo often you plan out your week's worth of dinners and then life gets in the way; soccer practice
, a late night at work or swim class interferes with your dinner. Or those cold cuts you got for sandwiches gets forgotten in the fridge and looks like it might be growing a new type of penicillin.For us the best way to conserve our meat is to freeze it
and only defrost the night before when I'm sure that I can make it. As for cold cuts they make for an excellent snack just by rolling them with sliced cheese and serving with grapes. You can also finely chop it and toss with peas for a fun nutritious salad
.5. Milk: 20% lostUnfortunately the big culprit here are school lunches- many time kids toss milk cartons that haven't even been opened. But in addition we also toss out that last bit of milk in the container, let our kids milk glasses sit out too long, or don't finish our coffee. According to the USDA, we toss 1/3 cup per day per person. That ends up being milk from 800,000 cows. And once milk spoils, there isn't a lot of recourse.
So in this case a little conscientious discussion with the kiddos is needed, and smaller portion sizes. Related Reading:
With all the abundance of Summertime produce why not save some of it for the next year? A great way to use up extra fruit and save a little money is to make your own fruit jam when the pickings are ripe. And with all the great deals on berries and such during the Summer it's also cost-effective to make your own preserves.
When it comes to jams many times they have just one fruit (like strawberry jam). I personally love spreads that have lots of fruit, so that my kids are getting a bunch of different fruits in one bite. Here's a way to utilize the season, use up that Summer fruit, and sneak in some more fruit with that Pb and J- make a Summer fruit spread.
Just one note about added sugar. Some store-bought jams have high fructose corn syrup as a sweetener
. When you make it yourself you can make your jam sugar-free (if your fruit is sweet enough) or with a natural sweetener like honey or agave nectar if your fruit is a little more tart.These also make an excellent gift. I canned mine and gave a couple of jars away already. I have done a post on canning before, so check it out if you want to try canning your own.
Canning times vary based on altitude; I did mine for 10 minutes but take a look at this information from the National Center for Home Food Preservation
for what works best for your elevation.Enjoy!Summer fruit spreadMakes: 6 x 6 oz jars2 cups grapes1 cup blueberries6 plums, pitted and quartered3 large apricots, pitted1 teaspoon cinnamonhoney or agave nectar to taste (depending on fruit sweetness)Combine all ingredients in a large sauce pan.
Bring to a steady boil. Let cook until fruit is soft and falls apart, about 1-2 hours. With a potato masher mash fruit well. Check for doneness by dipping a wooden spoon into the mix; if jam coats the spoon and doesn't drip off it is ready. Add to jars and can or freeze for long-term storage.
OK, so I know that marshmallows are not necessarily a healthy snack. But with Easter right around the corner I figured I would take a treat that is chalked full of preservatives and processed sugar and try to make it a little healthier, and use natural ingredients in the process. It turns out that making your own marshmallows is totally worth the work- they are tons of fun and taste pretty darn good. To be honest I've never been a marshmallow person, they're alright for camping but I've never felt a draw towards them in general. But these were great, and I liked them way more than the store bought types.
For the cut outs I made my own little chick cookie cutter. I didn't have anything that was Easter-like, basically my cutters are limited to Olivia the Pig, a star and a heart. So I fashioned my chick using an aluminum soda can. With gardening sheers I cut a ring out of the can, then shaped it into a chick. I was super proud of myself after that- I am not the artistic type.
After getting over my euphoria of building a cookie cutter, I made the marshmallows. You are supposed to use a candy thermometer to heat your honey, so that you can insure that it reaches 240F. Obviously if I don't have appropriate cookie cutters, I definitely don't have a candy thermometer. What can I say, they're not part of my healthy snack arsenal. So I heated everything for 7 minutes, until it formed soft balls when dropped into cool water.
The marshmallows needs to sit for ~4 hours prior to cutting. After cutting, store them in a tupperware until you are almost ready to dish them out. At that point coat them in sugar, if desired. The reason I recommend waiting is that the sugar can pull out any residual moisture from the marshmallows, making them a little damp. I colored my sugar with a pinch of turmeric, but you can leave them white if you prefer. Then I used a skewer and dipped it in cocoa powder for the eye.
Aren't they cute? Happy Easter- enjoy!
Home made marshmallow chicks
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cool time: at least 4 hours
Makes: ~20 chicks, depending on how savy you are at cutting them out
1/2 cup water
3 packets unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup honey
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter
In a mixing bowl combine 1/2 cup water with three packets of gelatin. Set aside so that the gelatin can bloom.
In a small sauce pan heat 1/2 cup water, honey and salt over medium heat. The mix will start to boil, just stir regularly so that it doesn't boil over.
Using a counter top mixer (or a hand mixer with some creativity) slowly add syrup to gelatin while mixing on low.
Turn speed up and continue to mix for 10-15 minutes, until marshmallow fluff forms. It will hold its shape after you pull out the beater when it's ready. Then pour into a parchment paper lined, then greased, 9x13 inch baking pan. Let sit for 4 hours, then cut.
Prior to serving, mix the following in a clean coffee grinder:
1/3 cup turbinado sugar
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
Coat cut outs evenly with colored sugar. Add a little water to the end of a skewer, then dip in cocoa powder. Make an eye on your chick, then put in plastic baggies and pop them in your kids' Easter baskets.
Hey everyone! I'm still here, just really busy with that Plants and People class I'm teaching. Only two more weeks left, then I can get back to my favorite pet project, snacking. This class has been so much fun though, and my students are really learning about some of the values I preach in this blog. What's great is I can tell it's changing some of their habits. One of our labs from last week was to go to the grocery store and find 50 foods with modified corn products. I think that all told they were able to do it in one aisle or less. It was a lot of fun, but now back to one of my personal favorite corn products...
We're popcorn addicts, the toddler included. Come to think about it he might be the worst of all, I have to supply him with his own bowl to avoid a brawl. But a few months ago we got rid of our microwave and attached oven (if you don't recall my post about Ole Bessie, here's a picture recap)...
and with it went our popcorn source. I figured that you needed a microwave or an air popper to make popcorn, but I was wrong. Apparently you can do it on the stove top, and after a few times or doing it that way I think I might prefer the taste.
Aside from the taste aspect of popping popcorn on your stove top, there's also the health side of it. When you microwave popcorn perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is in the lining of the popcorn bag, can leach out into your popcorn. PFOA stays in the human body for years and can accumulate, potentially reaching levels that can cause cancers in animal studies. PFOA's are also in a class of compounds that can cause infertility.
Furthermore microwave popcorn with butter flavoring contains diacetyl, which has been linked to an increased incidence of lung disease among workers at popcorn factories.
So why not avoid that all by making it on your stove top. There's no fancy equipment needed and you'll be amazed how much cheaper it is than buying the bags. The only trick is to mix regularly (literally pick up the pot and give it a few shakes) to minimize burning. In addition you can use whatever oil you have on hand, but I prefer coconut oil because it lends a mild coconut taste to the popcorn. Enjoy!
Stove top popcorn
Time: 5-10 minutes
Makes: a ton
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
~3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon salt
In a heavy bottomed skillet or a casserole dish (my preferred choice) add oil and kernels. Over medium melt the oil, then stir the kernels evenly to mix.
Put a lid on the top, but leave an opening so that steam can escape by placing a wooden spoon between the pot.
After a few minutes the kernels will start popping. Every minute or so shake the pot to redistribute the kernels. Once the popping slows down, remove from heat. Kernels will continue to pop for another minute or so. Then put into a serving bowl and sprinkle with salt.
Why not use a kid-approved food, like pizza, to add some vegetables to your kids diet? If you make those pizzas snack-size, they are even more appealing (isn't everything that's smaller cuter?) and easily portable. An added bonus- these are fun to make and a kid-in-the-kitchen friendly recipe.
Now I know that this isn't my own personal brainchild. There have been pizza bites in the frozen section of your local grocery store since I was a kid. Bagel bites are the ones that come to mind, which claim to be a natural snack right on the front of the box. But here's a wrap up of what else your kids are eating when you serve them up. Note the fact that salt is listed multiple times.
Pepperoni Bagel Bites Ingredients
Bleached Wheat Flour,Water, Mozzarella Cheese (Milk, Cultures, Salt,Enzymes) Tomato Puree (Tomato Paste, Water) Pepperoni (Pork, Beef, Salt, Spices, Water, Dextrose,Seasonings[Oleoresin of Paprika, Natural Spice Extractives, BHA, BHT, Citric Acid] Lactic Acid Starter Culture, Sodium Nitrate)2% or Less of: High Fructose Corn Syrup, Modified Cornstarch, Salt, Soybean Oil, Yeast, Whey protein concentrate, Nonfat Milk, Flavor enhancer (potassium chloride, ammonium chloride, yeast extract, Maltodextrin, Lactic Acid, Citric Acid, Calcium Lactate, Natural Flavor) Methylcellulose, Citric Acid, Red Pepper, Natural Flavor, Dough Conditioner (Ascorbic Acid) Enzymes.Source: Weighty MattersIn a nutshell there are tons of additives, lots of salt and hidden sugars.
Not very natural, and definitely not a healthy snack.So here's a way to take a snack that is really unhealthy in the store-bought rendition and make it your own. The more you sneak onto these the more nutritious they'll be.
I used cucumbers, tomatoes (both fresh from my garden) and mushrooms but feel free to boost your creativity. You can make these really easy and buy ready-made pizza dough at most grocery stores, though I just make my own so I don't have to worry about dough conditioners and other additives. Either way let me know what you tried.Enjoy!Pizza bitesPrep time: 45 minutes if you make your own dough
, 30 of which are to let the dough riseCook time: ~7 minutesMakes: 24Pizza Dough
1 cup white flour1 cup whole wheat flour3/4 cup very warm water1 teaspoon unrefined sugar1 teaspoon salt
Add all the above except the oil to a food processor. Combine until a ball of dough forms, then pull the dough out of the container and add more wheat flour if the dough is sticky. Knead for about 5 minutes until the dough is manageable.
Form into a ball. Place in a olive oil greased bowl (essentially rub a little olive oil into the bottom and sides of a bowl, then roll the dough in it so it's surfaces are all coated with oil) and let rise for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes punch down and put onto a lightly olive oiled surface. Coat your rolling pin with a little olive oil to prevent sticking. Separate dough into 24 balls, then roll into flat circles that will cover the bottom of your muffin pan.Pizza toppingsthin slices of mozzarellatomato slice
scucumber slicesmushroom slicesshredded Parmesan Preheat oven to 500F.Lightly grease a muffin with non-stick cooking spray
. Add dough and press down to make sure that the bottom is covered. Add a slice or two of mozzarella cheese, then add veggies. Sprinkle the top with Parmesan. Bake for ~ 7 minutes, but keep an eye on them and pull them when the cheese is melted, bubbly, and golden on the edges. Let cool for 10 minutes prior to serving.Related reading:
So I still have pumpkin pie on the brain.
I'm guessing that will last until the day after Thanksgiving. But seeing as pumpkin is so good for you, I figure it's not a bad craving. Just to re-cap from my last post
, here are some of the nutritional benefits from pumpkins:-280% of your daily vitamin A in one serving (keep in mind this is even higher for kiddos)
-Rich in antioxidants and B complex vitamins
-Minerals like phosphorous, calcium (both great for growing bones), copper and potassium.I have made date-nut energy bars in the past, but this time around I wanted to go for something that was bite-sized and easy to coat with crushed high fructose-free graham crackers
(for extra yummy potential). After I processed my ingredients I just rolled 1 inch balls of date mix. You can also press your mix into a parchment lined baking pan to make squares or bars, but personally I like the bite-sized versions.
An added bonus to the tiny, easy to handle size is that my uber drooling, cranky, teething toddler has been almost living on these since he is having a hard time eating anything besides ice cubes and frozen yogurt tubes. So if you've introduced nuts into your toddlers diets, then these are a great, easy to chew, snack for them too.Enjoy!Pumpkin pie energy bitesTotal time: 5 minutesMakes: 16 x 1" bites1 cup pitted dates1/2 cup pecans1/4 cup pumpkin puree3/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice3 crushed graham crackers
Place graham crackers into a bag and crush them finely with the end of a rolling pin.
Process dates, pecans, pumpkin and spice in a processor for about a minute until ingredients are well-combined.
Then roll 1" inch balls, Drop balls onto a plate with crushed graham crackers and coat evenly. Let set up in the fridge for a ~ 1 hour. Store leftovers in the fridge in an airtight container.
This idea comes from a dear friend of mine that has a PhD in Physiology, is an amazing baker, a devoted Mom and phenomenal chef on top of it all. Anytime she gives me an idea, I know it will be great. I hope you all think so too.
Around here we have a cream cheese problem. It's so flavorful and creamy, and (sadly) so full of fat. In a scant 1 oz serving (which is about enough for half a bagel if you live at my house) is packed 9 whopping grams of fat. Six of those grams are saturated fat, a.k.a. the bad fats. Alas our love of cream cheese is not a healthy affair, but it's still so darn good.
Enter another of our great loves, Greek yogurt. If you like it too, then read on. And even if you aren't the biggest fan, try this out and see if you will be a convert.
Here's a quick way to make a spread that tastes just like cream cheese, but with a lot less fat. Just use Greek yogurt, which is simply regular yogurt that has been strained. And to make it even more decadent, just strain it a little more overnight in cheese cloth. Surprisingly you'll get another tablespoon or two of liquid out of it. The end result will be a thick creamy spread that is just like cream cheese. And it's also very versatile. You can do savory blends or sweet, go gourmet or keep it basic.
To strain it all you need is some cheese cloth, a half cup of Greek yogurt, a small strainer or colander, and a medium bowl to set it in that will collect the liquid.t. Add your yogurt to the cheese cloth and tie it off to seal it. Place this wrap into your strainer or colander and stick in the refrigerator overnight.
Here are some ideas to flavor your yogurt spread:Savory bell pepper and chivesAdd two tablespoons chopped roasted red bell pepper, a tablespoon chives
, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a teeny bit of finely minced garlic. Mix together and let sit for a few minute so the flavors can meld. Use on sandwiches, on a bagel or as a dip with whole wheat crackers.Honey walnutAdd 1 tablespoon honey and two teaspoons finely chopped walnuts to make a sweeter spread for
bagels or toast.Sweet preserves blendAdd two tablespoons fine quality preserves or fruit butter to spread and mix. Serve with toasted baguette slices or with regular toast.
Mixed herb spreadMix in 2-3 tablespoons of whatever fresh herbs you have on hand and a 1/4 teaspoon salt. The final amount depends on how strong your herbs are. Use a combo as opposed to one type for variety. Serve as a dip with whole wheat crackers.Lox schmear
Mix in two tablespoons of finely chopped smoked salmon, 1 tablespoon chopped tomato and 1/2 teaspoon finely minced shallot. Serve with whole wheat crackers or on a bagel.Related reading: Pumpkin pie dip
As promised, here's how to can your own fruits. This was how I preserved my apple butter
, but it will work for any fruit product. If you are planning on canning vegetables, your equipment list will be different because you'll need a pressure canner as opposed to a boiling. This difference is due to the fact that fruits have lots of acid, which inhibits the growth of bacteria.Here's a basic list of what you'll need, though you can actually buy kits at varying prices that have everything included. I opted to go the cheap route and only bought a few things, then I used stuff that I already had. What I bought is bolded, the rest is what you'll either need to be innovative with or buy yourself
Wide mouth funnel
Non-metal spoon to remove bubbles
Canning kettle or stock pot
I actually already had a huge stock pot from my beer brewing, pre-kid days and I put a small cooling rack in it in lieu of a canning rack. So all told I spent about $20 for my canning equipment.Steps
1. Using your funnels, fill sterile jars with your fruit. You can sterilize your jars and lids by boiling them in water for a few minutes or in your dishwasher on a sterilize cycle. I opted for the latter and had the dishwasher set on heated drying so that the jars were warm when I added the apple butter. If your jars are already warm it will reduce the chances of cracking when boiling.
2. Make sure to leave head space in your jars so that you have room for expansion during heating. You can leave enough head space by just filling your jars to right below the rim
3. Using a non-metal spoon, remove any air bubbles by inserting the spoon in the center and dragging it to the edge of the jars. I actually inverted my spoon and used the handle to do this since it was a little less unwieldy.
4. Thoroughly wipe the rims of your jars. This step is crucial; otherwise moisture that's not sealed inside the can might form mold growth. Yuck!
5. Hand tighten your lids on the jars
6. Using a canning rack or with the jar holders, place jars in a kettle with simmering water. Make sure that there is at least an inch of water over the tops of your jars.
7. Boil your cans in a canning rack or on top of a cooling rack in a large kettle for at least 5 minutes. Additional boiling time depends on your elevation. This elevation guide can be found on the back of the box the jars come in if you purchase Ball bars.
8. Cool jars on a cooling rack on your counter for ~12 hours, then store in a cool dry place for up to a year.
If you can hold onto them long enough enjoy your canned fruits throughout the year or give as gifts to your friends. It's a bit more work then buying a jar from the grocery store, but it's really rewarding and actually pretty easy. If I can do it with a 4 year old and a toddler, then you can do it too and impress all your friends. Enjoy!Related reading: Slow cooker honey apple butter
Slow cookers have re-entered the cooking scene with a vengeance. The convenience of having dinner (and now breakfast, lunch...and snacks) made by the time you get home with very little work on your end has been rediscovered. All the blogs are posting slow cooker recipes and meal plans, so I thought that I would throw one in myself. Now obviously slow cooker does not equate with fast snack, but this is a recipe that you can make overnight and there isn't much active time.
In addition to featuring a slow cooker snack, I'm also starting a new tag (essentially category) called "Back to Basics". These are recipes and tips that bring us back to simpler times (and ultimately ingredients), where a family made a lot of their own foods. I promise you won't be churning your own butter and milking the cows, but I'm going to give you all tips on canning, making a basic cheese, and using up apples while they are in season. Because eating seasonally is a great way to diversify your diet (and get out of a food rut) and maximize nutrient content. The fresher your produce, regardless of if it's a fruit or vegetable, the higher the nutrients.
In line with that theme, we went apple picking this past weekend in a small farming town called Wilcox. As so happens when you are surrounded in produce, we might have overpicked just a teensy bit. At $1.09/lb for organic apples, how could we stop? Twenty two pounds later we left and I have a new mission to figure out how to utilize all that fruit while it's at its peak freshness and nutrient content.
Apple butter is a great way to use up extra apples, since one 1/2 pint jar of apple butter is roughly the equivalent of one pound of apples. I recommend cooking them in the slow cooker overnight since it's a 9-11 hour process, but you can also start them first thing in the morning. Either way our house will smell terrific.
This recipe makes 3 pints of apple butter.You can divide it into 6 x 1/2 pint containers and either freeze them for your later use or can them for gifts. I'll let you know how I did the latter next time. We've been eating apple butter with plain yogurt and toast all week. Let me know what you use apple butter with so we can try it out. Enjoy!
Slow cooker honey apple butter
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 11-12 hours
Makes: 3 pints
6 pounds apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2-1 cup honey, depending on how sweet your apples are
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker and toss to mix. Cook on high for one hour. Reduce to low and cook for 9 hours, or until mixture is dark brown and apples are soft. Whisk until mixture is creamy. Cook uncovered for another hour to evaporate excess liquid. Aliquot into containers and save. Let cool completely and refrigerate prior to eating.
Step 1: Add ingredients to slow cooker
Step 2: Cook on high for one hour. Reduce to low and cook overnight.
Step 3: After ~9 hours, mixture should be dark and thick. Whisk and cook uncovered for one hour.
Step 4: Pour into jars and freeze or can.
A while ago, when I was working on a guest blog about travel snacks
I noticed that lots of parents rely on energy bars as snacks for their carbound kids. Energy bars have some great nutritional benefits, but can be a little too much for kids with regards to sugar, calories and additives. I have tried my hand at date energy bars (pumpkin pie
, cherry pie
, apple pie
and ginger cookie
) but this time around I wanted to make ones with a crunchier texture.In this recipe I made my own almond and oat flour by processing raw almonds and rolled oats in a processor for a few minutes. That makes the base for this recipe full of fiber, vitamin E. good fats and tons of minerals (thiamin, magnesium and phosphorus, and manganese)
. Add chocolate chips for the antioxidants
and walnuts for the omegas
and you have a great snack. One of the best parts is that you don't need to bake it, so it's also really easy. Finally if the ingredient list doesn't speak for itself, these taste great.
In fact I even heard them called "dangerously good", then they quickly disappeared.Enjoy!Chocolate chip walnut energy barsPrep: 5-10 minutesMakes: 9 squares2 cups raw almonds1/2 cup rolled oats1/2 cup chopped dates1/4 cup chopped walnuts2 tablespoons honey1 tablespoons water1 tablespoon roasted flax seed
s In a food processor process almonds and oats for a couple minutes so that it becomes fine crumbs.Add oats and almonds to a bowl. Add dates, walnuts
and honey. Combine until crumbly with a fork. Add water. Using your fingers, combine until mixture holds together. Press firmly into a parchment lined loaf pan. Sprinkle on flax seeds, then press into the bars with your hands. Refrigerate for ~30 minutes, then cut into 9 squares and serve. Store remaining bars in a tupperware in the fridge.