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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Healthy Food Storage Made Easy

Not long ago, food storage was a term primarily used by 'preppers.' Not so now. With an ever sluggish economy, ongoing increases in food prices and increasing focus on healthy eating, it's little wonder that food is consuming a larger chunk of the family budget.  Adding a hectic daily schedule to this mix can make healthy eating seem like a pipe dream.  The solution?  Start with food storage.

So why think about how to store food?

Convenience - while the kitchen may be the heart and soul of the home, scrounging around cupboards or running emergency trips to the grocery for that missing ingredient of your favorite recipe is (let's face it) a terrible waste of time.  Having the food you need, knowing where it's at and that it's fresh is a real time saver.
Money savings - even making a few basic changes in how you store and use food can really pay off.  How?  Knowing how long you can store various foods and keep them fresh allows you to shop for the best price, purchase in bulk at a lower cost and avoid tossing food in the trash.   
Better selection of foods - healthy eating is important, but if your family is like mine, everyone doesn't enjoy the same foods.  Better food storage can provide more options for healthy choices.  Case in point?  Cereal.  My family loves cereal.  Nobody eats the same cereal though, and none of us eat cereal every day.  As you know, cereal can go stale very quickly particularly in the heat and humidity.  The answer for us? Cereal storage containers to keep our favorite brands fresh and crisp longer.

Minimize food waste - why is this important? According to the National Resources Defense Council as a nation we toss up to 40% of our food supply every year, which for the average family of four the NRDC estimates to be $2,275 annually.  Most of this food waste goes into landfills, where it produces the greenhouse gas methane that contributes to global warming.

What are some easy ways to get the most from your food storage?

The right 'tools' are everything - every home should be well stocked with quality, BPA free kitchen storage containers.   'Quality' will enable them to be used year after
An example of how to keep fruits and vegetables fresh.
Strawberries - see what a difference good food storage makes?
year. Get multipurpose containers that can be used for storing, freezing, food preparation and possibly even as a to-go container. If you enjoy a particular food, such as fresh herbs or salad, consider purchasing a container designed specifically for its storage.  Need an example?  If you've ever purchased berries today, and they were soft and moldy two days later, you'll appreciate this image. All of these berries were from the same container and were roughly the same size. The strawberries on the top though were stored for over a week in the refrigerator in a produce storage bag, and were quite firm and delicious when I ate them.  The two below were simply stored in a glass compote next to the 'test' berries in the produce bag.  You can clearly see the difference the produce storage bag made.

In addition to produce storage bags, examples of specialty food storage containers can include:
  • Banana bags for keeping bananas fresh
  • Pasta containers - perfect for open boxes of pasta
  • Fresh herb storage containers
  • Meat and deli containers
  • Flour containers - particularly useful if you can freeze the container and contents
  • Sugar containers, especially airtight containers for storing brown sugar
  • Cereal containers
  • Lettuce containers
Look for containers that make it easy to organize and maximize the use of your kitchen and pantry storage space.  Why?  It makes it easier to find what you're looking for.  Here are some tips for selecting containers:
  • Stackable - think 'up' in your cabinets. Make use of the
    vertical space by using stackable containers.
  • Use clear containers or label them so you know what's in the container without opening it.
  • Have a range of sizes - super small containers are perfect for storing small amounts of food and can double as a to-go container, while bigger ones can be used for larger quantities of food or organizing foods like seasonings.
Become familiar with the 'shelf life' of foods you eat and have a reputable resource you can refer to for this information, such as WHfoods.org.  Periodically check the 'best by' and 'use by' dates on food stored in your home.

Have a plan for where and how to store foods to maintain their optimal freshness.  Most 'shelf stable' foods like pasta, sugar, cereal and beans store best in a cool and dry location.  Other foods, such as some produce, should only be stored in the refrigerator.    While this can sound daunting, try these simple tips - develop a list of the foods you frequently purchase, focus on those first then gradually add more foods as your comfort level increases.

Look for ways to use leftovers or extend the storage life and freshness of foods.  Need some ideas?
  • Flour, berries and some other fresh produce can be frozen.
  • Leftover fresh herbs can be dried for later use.
  • Some foods can be morphed into useful household products; lemon halves can be used to create effective green cleaners and eggshells to create a natural soil booster for house and garden plants.
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