While we’re all going through unprecedented times, I feel that I have a lot to offer you in this area as a nutritionist. My job isn’t just about telling you which foods to eat for optimal health. Before starting my own business, I ran a nutrition education program for vulnerable groups. I spent almost 10 years working with people on low incomes, people with low literacy and new migrants how to shop, cook and eat well within their budget and skills.
I feel like we’re all going to benefit from saving money and shopping smarter over the next few months.
Here’s my top tips for making your fruit and vegetables go further. This is important and very relevant for isolation and lockdown for two reasons:
- To help you save money; you’ll be wasting less food and only buying what you need.
- To help you go longer between shops. This is a key way to #stayhome more and reduce your exposure to people and high-touch public spaces. I am slowly getting used to only shopping once a week!
Now, some of these tips may seem contradictory (eg. some of the longer lasting fruit and vegetables may not be in season right now or grown locally where you are). This is OK. We’re in a very tricky situation at the moment and it is temporary. We need to prioritise our usual preferences and do what we can to get by. Our usually high nutrition and ethical standards can resume when life gets back to normal.
1. Buy seasonal
Starting off with produce that is fresh, seasonal and (where possible, local) is giving you a head start with how long it will last. In the supermarket, looking for “grown in Australia” is a good place to start. Australian grown doesn’t exclude things that have been stored but it’s going to stop you buying food grown overseas that have travelled a long way and might not be at their best.
You can also acheive this by buying from your local fruit and vegetable retailer. They need our support now more than ever. Plus, they KNOW their produce. Ask them what’s tasty right now, and what will last you the longest. Make use of their knowledge and expertise.
2. Stock up on hardier fruit and vegetables
Some fruit and vegetables naturally last longer. Luckily most are abundant this time of year! For those that aren’t in season, I do feel like it is worth making an exception to add these to your list if you’re looking for produce that will last 1-2 weeks or even longer.
- Sweet potato
3. Wash your fruit and veg
But not all of it. Leafy greens like kale, spinach and rocket do being stored as is. Otherwise they get soggy and gross. Put some paper towel in their container (or transfer to a container with paper towel in the bottom) instead and wash when you’re ready to use.
Prepared and packaged vegetables like bags of salad or chopped vegetables also do best in the bags they came in. Leave them be until you’re ready to use them.
Fresh berries, cucumber, cauliflower, asparagus, tomatoes and broccoli do really well with a good wash. In normal times, a clean sink filled with water and a splash of vinegar or fruit and vegetable wash is enough. The CDC and the WHO both continue to confirm that the risk of Sars-Cov-2 (the virus that causes covid-19) being transmitted on food is very low. This means we do not need to panic about it and that you do not need extra hygiene practices around food. Put your effort into avoiding other people instead.
Having said, I am putting a splash of dish soap because I’m washing them anyway, soap breaks down viruses and it can’t hurt (it might help, it also might not…).
4. Keep them in the dark
Potatoes, sweet potatoes, whole pumpkins, onion and garlic do best kept at room temperature in the dark. I keep ours in a tub in the bottom of the pantry. I put a tea towel over the top to keep them dark (that cupboard door is getting opened a lot at our house at the moment!).
5. Get them in the freezer
When you realise you wont get through some produce in time, find a way to make use of it and get it in the freezer. Here’s some of my trusted ways of freezing produce.
Chop herbs and put them in ice cube trays. Fill with olive oil and freeze until needed. Simply add the ice cube to a warm pan to melt before cooking with, or allow to melt completely in a small bowl to use in salads.
Make your own frozen veg
Vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, snow peas, green beans freeze very well. They need to be blanched first, by dropping them into a saucepan of boiling water for a minute or two. Take them out and cool them under running water before freezing in zip lock bags or freezer-safe containers.
6. Try pickling and fermenting
Spending more time at home may be the perfect time to learn how to pickle and ferment vegetables. It’s a great way of using up anything you won’t eat before its past it’s prime. Pickling and fermenting aren’t as tricky as you think and you don’t need any fancy equipment. I like having pickled and fermented foods on hand to add in extra variety and flavours. This is important to consider if access or affordability is limiting the range of foods you are buying. Try this quick pickling recipe if you want something you can eat quickly (they’ll last about a month in the fridge).
7. Processed versions are fine
Jar versions of minced garlic and ginger are very convenient to keep in the fridge. They reduce waste, have no prep and last for ages once opened. The options in the fresh produce section of the supermarket tend to have no (or less) added sugar and salt than the ones in the herbs and spices aisle. However, it really is fine if all you have is the one with added sugar and salt as you only use a small amount anyway.
Frozen fruit and vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh; so stock up on those too. The other added benefit of frozen is there is no waste and no prep! Canned fruit and vegetables are still very nutritious but do often have the peel removed (eg: canned fruit) which reduces the fibre content, and they some have added salt (eg. canned vegetables). Some vitamin C is lost into the canning liquid, but this isn’t a problem if you have an otherwise healthy and balanced diet. Choose low or no-added salt vegetables and legumes, and supplement with fresh and frozen wherever you can.
Commercial pickled and fermented foods are great too! They last a while in the fridge once opened and can add some much needed variety and flavour to salads and snack plates. Keep in mind that only the fermented vegetables in the fridge section will contain live probiotics for gut health – but all types of vegetables contain essential prebiotics.
Pickled vegetables are in a vinegar, like shelf stable sauerkraut, pickled onions, gherkins and jalapenos. Vegetables can also be preserved in oil and brine, like sundried tomatoes, roasted capsicum strips, artichokes and olives. Some of these options can be high in sodium though, so stick to small amounts – just enough for a flavour a flavour boost.
Stay safe x
Sarah Moore is a mum, and university qualified Registered Nutritionist with a decade of experience working with families to improve their health and well-being. Sarah has a simplistic and practical approach to family nutrition and can help the overwhelm of eating and living well with private consultations, email Q&A and her school lunchbox ebook. You can also find her on Facebook and Instagram for more healthy tips and tricks.