Fruit and Vegetables

photo by chispita_666

photo by chispita_666

Summer’s vegetables are here! I’m scrambling to add fresh garlic scapes, sugar snap peas, and baby chard to our daily meals before the next box from our CSA arrives.

Ideally, I would sip from a glass of fine wine as I sauté the chard until just tender and bright. In reality, there are the two children, straddling that fine line between too much snacking and hungry for dinner, asking for legos to be broken apart and playdough to be rolled and flattened. In particular, my 2 ½ year old daughter is transitioning from the age of taking an afternoon nap and waking up crabby; to not taking a nap and remaining crabby from 3 o’clock until the aforementioned dinner. At our house, I call the time before dinner “the witching hour.”

But dinner is important to me, to have a time where we sit down as a family, share each other’s day, and enjoy a home cooked meal together. Prep time is much easier with the proper tools, so here are my favorites.

  • A sharp knife
    I’ve heard chefs’ most prized possession is their knife, but I never experienced how much this matters until I cooked at my brother-in-law’s house, using his quality knives. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. It slices! It dices! I could cut vegetables easier, faster and safer, and it made prep work a breeze.
    Now I have a new Santoku knife. It’s inexpensive but sharp, and that alone makes a huge difference. I never add it to the dishwasher to maintain its sharp edge.
  • Multiple cutting boards
    I have three large and three small cutting boards. They store flat, fit easily in the dishwasher, and allow me to keep on chopping.
  • Salad spinner
    My CSA farmer does a bit of prewashing, but the greens still hold a considerable amount of dirt. The salad spinner consists of a colander and bowl, and makes quick work of washing and drying greens. It’s also more earth-friendly than blotting dry with paper towels.
  • Food chopper
    I like my hand-held food chopper when I have a lot of chopping to do. It’s from Pampered Chef, with a plunger handle and Z-shaped blade. Unlike a food processor, it works right on the cutting board so there’s no bowl to clean, and it works under your own power. It’s especially nice for chopping and mincing onions.
  • Sink or dishpan full of soapy water
    If I have a lot of clean-up, I fill one side of my sink with hot soapy water. When I finish with a tool, I simply slide it in. By the time dinner is done, the tools will have practically cleaned themselves, and it uses less water than washing each of them individually.

What are some of your favorite time-saving tools?

photo by Abhijit Tembhekar

photo by Abhijit Tembhekar

Ah, those convenient little servings of fruit and applesauce…already diced, pre-portioned, shrink-wrapped, swimming in a sweet syrup, where they keep indefinitely…

Unfortunately, those perfect little servings of fruit are not so perfect after all.

  • They often contain high fructose corn syrup, turning what I believed to be a healthy serving of fruit into a dessert. When I began reading labels, I found small cans of fruit made with pear juice concentrate instead. I would also look for unsweetened applesauce, ones where the ingredients read simply, “apples, water.”
  • They’re expensive. At local grocery stores, I usually paid around $3 for a package of 4. My two children would finish the package each day, if not each meal.
  • And speaking of package…How much packaging can fruit have? A lot. There’s the outer whiteboard container, which in many communities is not recyclable, followed by a plastic film over the top of each cup. Finally, there’s the plastic cup container, also not recyclable.

Make your own reusable fruit cups

I wanted something more reusable and less expensive.

  • I bought a variety of small plastic containers with lids. They seal tightly enough to put in my son’s lunch. I opted for the inexpensive kind in case they “disappeared.”
  • I buy a large jar of unsweetened applesauce. Buying a large jar is less expensive and it’s recyclable. If you like, you can always add a teaspoon of sugar. Add cinnamon or a small amount of fruit jam for a treat.
  • Try a large container of raisins, or other dried fruit such as cherries or blueberries. Dried fruit is a little more costly, but it keeps well. My son enjoys dried cherries from nearby Door County.
  • Another option is cut up apples or pears tossed with a small amount of lemon juice to keep them from browning. Cut up 3 or 4 at a time and keep in the refrigerator.
  • A portion of grapes works well, as the plastic container keeps them from being crushed. Again, you could prepare several cups at a time and keep them in the refrigerator ready to go.

Of course, fruit in its pure form is always an option. My son usually requested an apple for his lunch. No package needed.

What fruit do you pack for your kids?