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Thursday
Jun182015

10 Produce Items to Preserve Now (and How to Use Them Later)

Now is the best time of year to start stocking up on produce!

As we move toward the peak of summer, grocery stores and farmers markets are packed with the widest variety of vibrant and colorful options.

My clients always find it easier to consume their recommended intake of fruits and veggies (9-12 servings) during the warmer months because so many produce items look and taste better as well as cost less.

With a little planning, you can also take advantage of the seasonal abundance now to make healthier eating easier (and cheaper) this fall and winter. Below are my top 10 picks for preserving the season’s best and making good use of them later in the year.

Strawberries

Strawberries are plentiful (and still inexpensive in some stores) this month. If you freeze strawberries for later, they’ll be great in any of your baking recipes or shakes/smoothies.

Another great way to use them is to cut them into smaller pieces and turn them into ice cubes by freezing them in an ice cube tray with water. These make great flavors for water or party drinks.

Finally, if you have a dehydrator, drying strawberry slices is a great way to make your own dried fruit (with no sugar added) that can be stored and used later in your morning oatmeal or homemade trail mix.  

Blueberries

Blueberries are by far one of the healthiest fruits you can eat, and they taste amazing this time of year. Loaded with phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber, they are a great low-glycemic fruit option to complement any meal, particularly salads.

To preserve them, I’d suggest freezing. Rinse the blueberries, and put them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in your freezer, and let them freeze overnight. Once frozen, transfer them into a vacuum sealed/plastic bag. Just like store bought frozen berries, you can use these in a morning protein shake, or thaw them before use and add them to Greek yogurt.

Zucchini 

Zucchini boats are a dinner staple in my household! During the summer months, I try to incorporate this summer squash as often as possible for a veggie serving.

For preserving, I would suggest shredding zucchini and storing it in a sealed bag before freezing. Later you can use it to make baking purees, add it to soup or sauce recipes, or include it in a breakfast scramble.  

Peppers

Green, red, yellow and orange peppers are readily available this time of year! Although peppers lose their crispness and texture once frozen and thawed, they can still be great for cooked dishes in the winter.

I like to slice or dice peppers and then freeze them on a cookie sheet before transferring them to a vacuum sealed/plastic bag. Use them later for soups, chili, stir fry, sauces, or even sausage and peppers during the cold months. You can also try freezing roasted peppers (a popular part of many recipes)!

Eggplant

Eggplant is so vibrant this time of year and can be used in so many ways. Freezing is the best way to preserve it for later. Similar to other vegetables, you’ll want to peel and slice first, blanch the vegetable (use boiling water for 4 minutes), and then cool immediately before freezing. You can use your stores later to make pan-fried eggplant, mini pizzas or eggplant parmesan.

Beets

Beets are one of the most overlooked root vegetables! Because many of us have bad memories of eating canned or overcooked beets as children, we often discount this fabulous, nutrient dense vegetable.

During the summer months, beets can compliment a fresh salad or be made into dips and soups. For preserving, the two most common forms are freezing or pickling beets. For freezing, cook the beets in boiling water until tender (between 30-40 minutes). Cool them promptly in cold water and then peel, removing both the stem and tap root. Cut them into slices or cubes and freeze. These would be great to add to soups in the winter or to roast again for a warm salad or side dish with a delicious steak dinner.  

Cucumber

In the summer, cucumbers can make a great base for a salad, are fabulous raw with some hummus or veggie dip, or can replace our bread for mini tuna salad sandwiches. I often pickle cucumbers for snacks later in the winter to cut costs and to custom design specific flavorings.  

Summer Squash

Other summer squash varieties include yellow squash (crookneck) or scallop squash (pattypan). Summer squash is loaded with nutrients, including antioxidants, fiber and potassium.

During the summer months, it’s great for grilling or roasting with a little olive oil and seasoning. During the winter months, it will be perfect for brightening up those cold days! Like zucchini, you can shred summer squash and freeze immediately (no blanching required) to use in baking recipes or to add to other cooked foods. If you prefer to eat it as a side vegetable, I’d recommend cutting it into 1 inch slices, then blanching (3-4 minutes in boiling water) before freezing.

Raspberries

Just like blueberries, raspberries are plentiful this time of year and great to freeze for shakes, smoothies or cream desserts later. If you have some jelly lovers at home, using raspberries to make your own jams can be a great option that is healthier and cheaper compared to commercial and artificial jams.

If you’ve never made your own preserves before, it’s as simple as boiling water (1-2 Tbsp for every cup of berries), adding the berries, and simmering for about 5 minutes. Add a little liquid stevia for taste if desired. Then pour your preserves into sterilized jars to seal and then freeze.    

Green Beans

Frozen greens beans might be one of the most popular frozen veggies purchased from the grocery store! It’s easy, however, to make your own right at home. Wash and trim green beans before blanching (about 3 minutes in boiling water), and cool them promptly in cold water. They are then ready to be stored and frozen. Use them later just as you normally would for a side dish, or add them into other recipes like soups and stews. 

For many of these produce items, blanching is recommended. You can use the same pot of water several times. Plan ahead, and spend a weekend morning prepping all of your produce. A little effort now will pay off big later - for your diet and your wallet. 

Thanks for reading, everyone. Would you like more ideas for taking full advantage of summer produce? Talk with a registered dietitian today. 

Written by Anika Christ – Senior Program Manager of Life Time Weight Loss

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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