Making the most of the last of the garden produce
It’s that time of year in Kansas when gardens are beginning to overflow with fruits and vegetables. Seasoned gardeners with large gardens are usually prepared to preserve their tasty summer produce through canning. However, freezing produce and meal planning can also ensure food does not go to waste, especially for those gardeners who lack proper canning equipment, time and storage space.
With around 40 percent of the United States food supply being wasted, which is equivalent to about 1,500 wasted calories per person per day, it is important to help reduce food waste as food producers and consumers.
There is that saying, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” or in this case, when life gives you tomatoes, make salsa. Whether it’s excess tomatoes, cucumbers or peppers, you should be mindful of the foods you have in your garden and incorporate them into your meals and snacks.
The first step of meal planning is taking an inventory. Start by writing down a list of meals that include the produce from your garden and foods that you already have in your refrigerator and pantry that your family enjoys.
Next, find a calendar that has plenty of space and pick a day to start with that is not very busy. Write in meals from your list on your calendar, filling up one to two weeks, and decide what foods you would like to add to complete the meals. Keep the five food groups in mind (grains, protein, fruits, vegetables and dairy), and try to include three different food groups for breakfast and all five food groups for lunch and dinner.
Snacks also can be important, especially for children. Plan fun, healthy snacks using your garden produce.
Tomatoes can be quickly frozen without blanching them first. You may freeze tomatoes whole, sliced, chopped or pureed (with or without their skins). Choose firm, ripe tomatoes and rinse and dry them before freezing. Frozen tomatoes can easily be incorporated into cooked dishes such as soup, sauces and stews.
Sweet, bell and hot peppers can be frozen after washing. Wash sweet and bell peppers and cut off stems, remove seeds and slice. “Tray freezing,” or freezing in a single layer on a cookie sheet for at least an hour or until frozen, can be done before transferring peppers into a freezer, zip-top bag to prevent peppers from sticking together. Hot peppers can be frozen whole after they are washed, dried and destemmed.
Zucchini can be frozen for soups, casseroles, pastas dishes and even baked goods. Blanch cut zucchini in boiling water for three minutes then drain, cool promptly, seal and freeze. Freeze zucchini for baking by washing, grating and steam blanching for one to two minutes using a pot with a basket and tight-fitting lid.
You also can freeze peas, corn, onions, berries, peaches and more! Keep your freezer at zero degrees or below to maintain the quality of frozen foods. Frozen fruits and vegetables should be eaten within eight months for best quality.