Fresh, Frozen, or Canned? What to Choose?
The decision to promote your baby's good health and development by providing organic food is a great first step on the road to healthy eating for your family and better health for the planet. More decisions await, however. Is it always best to choose fresh produce? The answer to that is — it depends.
Fresh, Seasonal Produce
The ideal would be to be able to have a wide variety of fresh, organic produce available at an affordable price all year long. There are a number of avenues to procure fresh, organic produce.
One is your local farmers' market or farm stand. In rural communities, farm stands on the side of the road sell the fresh-picked fruits and vegetables that were growing on the farm just that morning. Some farms even offer you-pick-it opportunities to bring the consumer closer to the land. Nothing could be fresher than picking a bushel of apples off the tree and bringing them home to eat and cook right away.
In urban communities around the country, the farm comes to them. Farmers awaken in the pre-dawn hours to bring fresh-picked produce to urban neighborhoods for same-day purchase. Not only does the farmers' market shopper get the chance to purchase fresh, in-season produce, but she also gets the chance to ask questions directly to the farmer about growing practices, thereby getting the best information about possible chemical exposure or organic status.
Another option that is gaining popularity is community-supported agriculture (CSA). The basic idea behind a CSA is that the consumer helps support the costs of growing the fruits and vegetables. Consumers purchase a “share” r membership in the CSA, and then pay either by the week or by the growing season in order to receive a box or bag of fresh fruits and vegetables.
The CSA model has helped many small farmers to continue to farm. The revenue gained from the membership or share fees goes toward buying seed and the initial costs of planting, so the farmer does not have to wait for the harvest to collect money. This model allows the consumer to play a more active role in the food-production process.
An interesting facet of the CSA idea is that usually you will receive a box or bag of produce, but won't know beforehand what you are going to get. This element of surprise can keep cooking exciting when you receive a previously unknown root vegetable or variety of green.
Organic produce is becoming increasingly available at well-stocked grocery stores. Demand dictates what grocery stores stock, so if you want to see more organics at your local market, be sure to ask the manager. By letting management know that organics will be purchased and not go to waste, you are likely to see a positive response to your requests.
Organic produce can be as close as your own backyard. Growing organic fruits and vegetables can be as easy as setting up some pots with organic soil and seed on your balcony or in your backyard. This can be an inexpensive option to ensure that the organic tomatoes you love are readily at hand.
You can also turn an area of your yard into an organic garden plot. This can take longer, as you often have to remedy past soil contamination problems, but can be well worth the effort if you have the space and the inclination. The Internet, libraries, and bookstores are full of resources to help the interested gardener. For instance, check out OrganicHomeGardener.com, About.com Organic Gardening and Organic Gardener magazine. Don't be afraid to ask for help at your local gardening center, either.
It can be difficult to know what produce is in season in each region of the country. The National Resources Defense Council has made it much easier to figure out when to expect Brussels sprouts in your community. Visit their website and check out the “What's Fresh Near You” service. It lets you know what's growing in your region of the country.
Fabulous Frozen Food
One of the best ways to take advantage of each growing season is to freeze extra fruits or vegetables for later use. Whether you cook up an extra-large batch of purées, or you wash and freeze an extra quart of blueberries, you will be happy to have the taste of late summer when the leaves are falling off the trees.
Frozen fruits and vegetables can be used for up to six months, and meats can be used for up to three months. That means that May's plums can still be enjoyed in October. Freezing can allow you to store extra produce for future use, extending the life of fruits and vegetables that would otherwise go to waste. If you have five very ripe bananas, but will only be able to eat one in the next day, peel the others and freeze them for use in smoothies later.
Most vegetables and fruits are picked, packaged, and frozen within six hours of being harvested. These frozen vegetables can have more of certain vitamins than the fresh ones that you buy at your grocery store, as that produce may have been harvested five or more days before it reached you.
Because most commercially frozen organic produce is flash frozen immediately after picking, most of the nutrients are preserved. Although your supermarket might have fresh organic berries in December, they could have traveled halfway around the world before they came to your community.
Buying frozen fruit that was grown and frozen in your state will have used considerably fewer resources than the out-of-season fresh option. You can use these frozen fruits and vegetables to add variety when there are only limited fresh choices available in your region of the country.
What About Canned?
Canned beans, fruits, and vegetables can provide convenience and nutrition. Although dry beans can be an extremely affordable protein source, sometimes busy parents don't have the time necessary to soak and cook the beans before preparing them in their dinner entrée. Canned beans are a good source of protein, iron, and fiber. They also only require draining and rinsing before they're ready to incorporate in a salad, soup, or casserole.
Canned tomatoes and tomato sauces are among the best sources of lycopene. Lycopene, found in red-pigmented fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, may help prevent certain cancers. The heat from the canning process allows the lycopene in the tomatoes to be better absorbed in the body.
Many canned fruits, like pineapple, mandarin oranges, and tomato products, are good sources of vitamin C. They are great to have on hand to use in a wide range of recipes. Canned tomatoes and tomato sauces are also a great source of lycopene, an antioxidant. Using canned pumpkin instead of cooking a whole pumpkin can mean the difference between having quick, nutrition-packed muffins or doing without.
The important thing is to ensure that your family is eating a diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables. Using a combination of fresh, frozen, and canned can help promote your family's good health.