Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Don't Scrap It ... Eat it!

Dieting and making healthy lifestyle changes is often a game of “Best Intentions” that we play with ourselves.

If you are anything like me (in which case you have my sympathies) you might go to the grocery store and load up your cart with lots of good things … fresh fruits and veggies, low fat this and sugar free that.  But then life happens; you have a meeting one night and decide it’s easier to grab something than to go home and cook.  A friend calls and you go out for a meal.  When the end of the week rolls around, there are all kinds of (now) suspicious looking foods in your refrigerator that you feel you really need to throw out. 

And what about those weeks when you actually manage to make dinner for yourself every night.  When you diligently prep your food, cutting up your fruits and veggies for easy grabbing (to quell nasty cravings).  How much are you throwing away that is actually edible as well?

Research in the United States estimates that at least 14 percent of purchased food ends up in the garbage.  According to studies in the UK half of the world’s food never makes it to our plate, with two billion tons binned due to bad storage, confusion over sell-by dates, supermarket bulk-buying offers and aesthetic imperfections.  Granted the two billion tons number includes wastage in the developing world where it occurs early in the food chain due to poor engineering and agricultural practices, inadequate transport and storage capabilities.  BUT – in Europe, North America and other developed nations, perfectly edible foods are discarded because of supermarket marketing strategies and CONSUMER BEHAVIOUR.  As shoppers are bad at making the best use of the food that we buy.

Maybe we need to go back to the “clean your plate” mentality that was prevalent during my growing up years.  However, this would be unwise.  With the skyrocketing obesity epidemic and the mounting national health crisis, it’s time for a new approach.  Instead, we should view these statistics as motivation to reduce waste, cut grocery costs and safeguard our health by shopping and eating smarter.

The most common source of food waste is “over shopping”.  Buying more food than we need is easy to do when we shop without a list or when “buy one – get one,” offers tempt us to pile food into our carts.  Food that will, admittedly, often go to waste.

So how can you avoid wasting food – especially that healthy food that you had all the best intentions of eating?

Shop smarter!  Check your refrigerator to see what needs to be used or frozen before it spoils.  Check your calendar to see if there are meals that you know you will be eating away from home.  Before you go to the store, decide how many days worth of food you need.  Then take a few minutes to formulate a shopping list.  Don’t make things complicated – no need to decide what will be served each day – just plan enough breakfast, lunch and dinner meals to last until your next grocery run.

Remember, cheap food is not always a bargain!  Be flexible when you shop.  It’s okay to adjust your list if you see something on special.  For non-perishable food like cereal and pasta, only buy sale items that you are sure you will use. 

If perishable items are on sale, choose them as a replacement for something else you had planned or buy and freeze for later use.  Foods that you don’t like or that are unhealthy are no bargain – regardless of the price, because they will end up in the trash.

Things have changed since great-grandmamma grew her own food in the garden behind the house.  They have changed since grandmamma went to the corner store every day to buy fresh fruits and veggies.  Now we have super-stores, so don’t be fooled by marketing ploys and stuff your refrigerator with foods you will never eat or your tummy with foods you SHOULDN’T eat, just because you found a good deal.  If you are tempted by a “buy one – get one” deal, be sure it is something you will actually use and freeze the second item on the day you purchase it.  Alternatively, go halves with a friend to split the cost – and the savings.

Consider getting your groceries from small independent stores.  It will not only help you avoid tempting offers (and the candy aisle), but you’ll also find they stock the misshapen squash and less-then-perfect pumpkins that supermarkets refuse to sell, often a lower prices.

What if you still have leftovers?  If you consistently prepare more food than you need, the simplest solution is to cook less!  While this may seem obvious, many of us continue to cook the portions we always have, even when our households shrink in size or when we stop eating as much food as we used to, no matter whether dieting for weight loss or simply deciding to make healthier lifestyle choices.

You can also repurpose leftovers as the basis for one or two new meals each week.  The money you save from purchasing fewer meals will add up substantially.  Leftover chicken can go on a low-carb pizza or into chili or soup.  Extra fish or seafood is a great addition to a salad or a pasta dish.  And, already cooked vegetables (or fresh vegetables that won’t last much longer) can be combined in a stir-fry, soup or chili.

Before you let fruit go to waste, add it to your morning cereal or oatmeal bowl, or throw it into a green salad for a little change of pace.

Remember you portion control!  Don’t let your eyes rule your belly!  Plan to clear your plate without overeating, so only buy and cook as much as you are going to consume.  If you’ve made too much, think about packing it up and enjoying it at your desk for lunch the next day.

Shop well and keep food from being wasted before you even get it home!  Buy your cold or frozen food at the end of your shopping trip.  Check the “best before” dates on all the food you purchase.  Keep raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood away from other food in you grocery cart and your grocery bags.  Examine fruits and vegetables carefully and avoid buying items that are bruised or damaged.  If you use reusable grocery bags or bins, make sure to use a specific bag or bin for meat, poultry or seafood.  Label the bag with the type of food it carries.

It is extremely important to keep cold food cold and hot food hot, so that your food never reaches the “temperature danger zone”.  This is where bacteria can grow quickly and cause food related illness.  Refrigerate or freeze items as soon as you get home from the grocery store.

Refrigerate fresh fruits and vegetables that need refrigeration when you get home.  This especially includes pre-cut and ready-to-eat products. 

The following are recommended refrigeration times for safety, and the freezing times are for quality (since freezing really does keep food safe indefinitely).  If you store properly wrapped food in your freezer the quality may be maintained for longer periods of time than listed.

So, that about covers what you can do to make better choices and save money while you are actually out buying your food.  But what about at home when you are preparing your food.  Even if you only buy healthy foods and you eat everything you buy … there are still ways you can help feed yourself and your family, keep everyone healthy and cut down even more on food waste. 

Now it’s one thing to throw out food that has spoiled, or has been in the regrigerator too long but what about the things we throw away because we aren’t familiar with eating them, did not know that they were edible or simply do not know how to prepare them.  Canadians toss out a whopping $27 billion in unspoiled food annually.  Yes, that is NOT a typo, I meant to type “unspoiled food” – much of it highly nutritious.  Here’s how those fruit and vegetable trimmings can save you money and enhance you health.

You can add these “FREE” super-foods to your menu.

Carrot tops banish bloat!
Don’t waste those delicate protein, mineral and vitamin-rich carrot tops.  They contain six times the vitamin C of carrots and tons of potassium, which acts as a diuretic to flush excess water from your system, helping eliminate bloat and lower blood pressure.  In fact, they are so packed with potassium, they have a little bitter bite, similar to arugula.

Carrot tops are so flavourful they are sold without the carrots in France!  Those long, lanky tops of carrots have a taste reminiscent of Italian parsley.  As with other vegetable greens, carrot tops have robust antioxidants that help knock out cell-damaging free radicals.

Simply remove any thick stems, chop them and then wilt them in a hot pan with a bit of bacon and/or jalapeno.  Or sauté with garlic and onion, then mix with fresh, salted ricotta cheese and use as a topping for pasta.  You can use carrot tops as you would parsley in dishes such as tabbouleh or bean salads.  Try blending carrot tops into pestos or chimichurri sauces.

A pervasive urban legend says that carrot greens are poisonous.  That is entirely false unless you nosh on them by the bushel-full!

Beet tops keep bones strong!
Beets are the perfect two for one vegetable.  The bulb is delicious, but the slightly bitter leafy tops are brimming with nutrients.  Just a handful of these colorful greens pack more calcium than an entire glass of milk – plus three times your daily need of vitamin K. another bone building nutrient.  The kicker – one cup of the raw greens (which taste like spinach) has only 8 calories.

Substitute beet greens in any recipe that calls for spinach, add them to green smoothies or sauté or steam them until just wilted, dress with salt and vinegar and enjoy.  Chop them up and add them to a frittata for dinner.

Celery tops calm you down!
These parsley like leaves pack five times more calming magnesium andcalcium than the stalks – and are loaded with relaxing potassium. Bonus: the tops – which have a fresh taste similar to the stalk – are also brimming with
Vitamin C.

Chop the leaves and use in place of parsley in recipes for and salads.

Cauliflower leaves filter toxins!
Naturally sweet cauliflower leaves are loaded with chlorophyll, which
gives them their bright green color – and loads them with purifying enzymes that cleanse the liver and bind to heavy metals like mercury, ferrying those troublemakers our of the body fast!  No wonder eating cauliflower leaves is linked to reduced rates of breast, ovarian and colon cancers.

The naturally sweet leaves are yummy in stews and soups.  Or chop and steam them, then add to omelets or dips.  Or sauté them in olive oil with garlic and pancetta, a bit of chicken broth and rosemary.

Keep the broccoli stalks!
Peeled broccoli stalks have a wonderful, tender texture similar to asparagus.  Best of all, they’re packed with Vitamin C, and antioxidant needed for proper eye function.

Peel away the tough outer layer, thinly slice and add to stir-fries, scrambled eggs or pasta dishes.  You can also slice peeled stalks into matchsticks and add them to a crudite platter, or shave and toss into salad or slaw.

Radish tops reduce the risk of cancer!
Large, lush and full of pepper flavour, the oft-overlooked radish leaves deliver six times more Vitamin C than the actual radishes.  Even more impressive, they are an excellent source of natural detoxifier (sulforaphane), which lab studies suggest cuts your risk of breast cancer – and which new Baylor College of Medicine research shows zaps leukemia cells on contact.

Toss them raw into salads or quickly sauté the leaves in a bit of butter or olive oil with a little garlic and red pepper flakes.

Swiss Chard stems speed healing!
Think Swiss Chard stems are too tough and fibrous to eat?  Not so!  They just need a bit of extra cooking time to make them tender and sweet – and those few minutes are well worth it.  Research reveals the stems contain immunity-boosting batalains, which bolster the body’s ability to recover from injuries and surgery.

Mostly overlooked by home cooks, these stems have a satisfyingly crunchy texture.  Cut washed stems in ½ inch pieces, pat dry, toss with olive oil and sea salt.  Roast in a single layer in a 375-degree oven for 20 minutes or until tender.  Serve them with a spritz of lemon juice.  You can also sauté sliced stems for a couple of minutes before tossing them into other dishes.  Try braising the stems in an herb infused tomato sauce and garnishing with Parmesan.  Whole chard stems pickled in vinegar, mustard seeds and sugar can gussy up a grilled cheese, scrambled eggs or an antipasto platter.  The smaller leaves generally have the most tender stems, and cooking brings out their natural sweetness.

Turnip greens improve vision!
It’s not secret vision declines with age: an older adult’s retina receives just one-sixth the light of a 20-year-old’s.  But if you think there’s nothing you can do about it, think again: eat turnip greens, a top source of UV-shielding carotenoids.  Bonus:  Folks who consume the most carotenoids from foods also a 30% lower risk of cataracts.

Turnip greens boiled for an hour or so with ham hocks or salt pork and a pinch of sugar are a staple in Southern Cuisine.  Some cooks add bacon, garlic, and/or onions, though the dish is flavourful enough on its own.

Kiwi peel!
Surprise!  Fuzzy kiwi skin is very much edible.  It’s also rich in Vitamin E, and antioxidant that is believed to block an enzyme involved in cancer cell survival.  As with any fruit and vegetable peels, give kiwi skin a good scrubbing before you eat it.

Thinly sliced whole kiwi is a fun addition to salads and crepes.  For a nutritionally charged smoothie, blend a whole kiwi with avocado, mint, baby spinach and coconut water.

Squash seeds!
Butternut squash seed contain magnesium.  Scientists at Harvard found that higher intakes of magnesium can slash the risk of heart disease by 30 percent.

Rinse the squash seeds, pat dry and toss with oil and seasonings.  Spread out on a baking pan and roast at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes, or until crispy.  Enjoy then on their own, or add to trail mixes and granola.

It definitely benefits the budget and often the waistline as well to try new things.  And let’s face it … it’s fun – if for no other reason than creeping out your friends and family.  But you never know what will turn into a new favourite.  After all, not that long ago I might have scoffed at eating sushi and raw fish!

But remember the golden rule when it comes to food safety …

Never risk eating inedible or contaminated food.

DO NOT rely on look, smell or taste.

Foods that cause food poisoning may look fine and have no off flavour or odour.

NEVER taste suspicious food.

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