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Back-to-school season is just around the corner, and for many parents that means back to packing lunchboxes. This school year, go beyond the basic PB&J and include more organic fruits and vegetables in your child’s lunch. Sound intimidating? Don’t worry—not every lunchbox has to be Pinterest-perfect. Creating a wholesome, nutritious and delicious kid-friendly lunch can be easy with a little planning. Here are five creative yet simple ways to pack more organic fruits and vegetables into your child’s midday meal.
- Out with the jelly, in with the berries. Does your child simply love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Kick the nutrition up a notch by using fresh organic berries in place of your standard jelly. Organic berries are full of fiber, vitamin C and manganese and provide only natural sweetness (jellies can often be loaded with added sugar). Simply smash the berries in a bowl and spread on the sandwich just as you would jelly. You can also add organic banana slices for another twist on the classic.
- Pack a pita full of veggies. Pita-pocket sandwiches are easy for kids to eat—the pocket helps contain the filling and prevents a mess! Stuff a whole-wheat pita pocket with your child’s favorite organic vegetables and a little hummus or cheese. Roasted squash and eggplant with tomato, spinach and feta cheese makes a tasty combo. Do you have a less adventurous eater on your hands? Try adding an extra veggie—lettuce, tomato, roasted red peppers—to the familiar turkey sandwich.
- Try tapas for lunch. A tapas-style lunch can be fun for kids to eat and gives them an opportunity to try several foods in different combinations. Invest in a bento-box to simply the packing, and fill each compartment with a different tasty snack. Try organic carrots, sliced cucumber, bell pepper strips and cherry tomatoes with a tablespoon each of hummus, tzatziki and guacamole and include whole wheat crackers and a nut such as almonds for a colorful and nutrient-dense lunch.
- Soups on! When the weather gets chillier, soup makes a comforting lunch at school. Pack an organic vegetable soup in a thermos along with a whole wheat roll and a few pieces of cheese. (Tip: To keep soup hot, first pour boiling water into the thermos and let it sit for ten minutes. Pour out the water, add the hot soup and close the lid tightly to seal in the heat.)
- Get fruity for dessert. What child doesn’t love a sweet treat at lunchtime? Instead of packaged cupcakes or cookies, utilize the natural sweetness of fruit. Pack cut organic mango, pineapple chunks, apple slices or grapes with vanilla yogurt dip for a nutrient-packed dessert that’s fun to eat. Chocolate-dipped organic strawberries (or strawberries and a small piece of chocolate for those busier mornings!) makes a nutritious treat as well.
In honor of National Mushroom Month, let’s talk about ‘shrooms! Often considered a vegetable, mushrooms are in fact an edible (and tasty) fungus and a versatile ingredient in the kitchen. Here’s the lowdown on this unique piece of produce and why you should eat more organic mushrooms this September and all year long.
Growing Organic Mushrooms
Mushrooms are uniquely grown indoors in a warm, dark, damp environment. They grow in compost, which is a combination of organic matter such as straw, hay and corn cobs. Organic mushrooms are grown under organic conditions without use of conventional fertilizers, pesticides or fungicides.
Mushrooms develop from microscopic spores, not seeds. Spores are used to generate a spawn, which is worked into the compost. In about 2 to 3 weeks, the root structure of the mushroom, called a mycelium, spreads throughout the compost. After this initial process is completed, it takes another 2 to 3 weeks for the mushrooms to fully develop.
Varieties of Mushrooms
Representing about 90 percent of the mushrooms eaten in the United States, white button mushrooms are the most popular variety on the shelves. They have a mild taste, can be eaten raw or cooked, and are commonly eaten in salads, atop pizzas, on burgers and with other popular American dishes. Similar to white button are crimini mushrooms, also known as baby bellas or brown. With a slightly deeper flavor and firmer texture, these mushrooms mix well with meat-based dishes. Often used as a replacement for meat are portabella mushrooms, large caps with a rich flavor and thick texture.
Other common yet slightly less well know varieties include oyster, shiitake, maitake and beech. These mushrooms are best enjoyed cooked.
In general, all mushrooms are low in calories and sugar and are free of fat. A cup of mushrooms packs about 2 grams of protein and 1 gram of fiber. Mushrooms are an excellent source of riboflavin, a B vitamin involved in energy metabolism, and a good source of selenium, a mineral involved in producing antioxidant enzymes in the body, and copper, a mineral needed for several enzymes in the body.
Research has linked mushrooms to several aspects of health. Studies have shown eating mushrooms may benefit the immune system and help to lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
Cooking with Mushrooms
Mushrooms are a versatile ingredient in the kitchen. They make tasty addition to stir-frys and casseroles, work well in pasta and rice dishes, and add texture and taste to salads and sandwiches. With a deep umami flavor and hearty texture, mushrooms are an excellent substitution for meat. Turn nearly any dish vegetarian by swapping in mushrooms for meat, or try using a blend of mushrooms and meat.
Apple picking is a family-favorite fall activity and a fun way to take advantage of this in-season fruit. Go ahead and collect a surplus at the orchard; there are countless ways to enjoy apples in your kitchen at home. From breakfast to dessert, here are 25 ways to use organic apples this fall.
- Add chopped apples to oatmeal with a sprinkle of cinnamon.
- Make an apple quick bread or apple muffins.
- Fold chopped apples into Greek yogurt with granola.
- Add apples to pancakes or waffles.
- Make apple butter to spread on toast or spoon onto yogurt.
- Add thin apple slices to your favorite sandwich.
- Toss chopped apple into salads.
- Make an apple slaw with carrots and cabbage.
- Top butternut squash or pumpkin soup with chopped apple.
- Make a panini with apple, chicken, spinach and brie cheese.
- Add apples to smoothies.
- Smear peanut or almond butter onto apples.
- Make applesauce.
- Bake apple chips.
- Make apple fruit leather.
- Top a pizza with apple, prosciutto, arugula and cheese.
- Top roasted chicken or pork with sautéed apple slices.
- Add apple to stuffing with almonds.
- Serve roasted squash and apples as a side dish.
- Stuff a baked sweet potato with sautéed apple.
- Bake apple pie or apple crisp.
- Make an apple cake.
- Top a baked apple with vanilla ice cream.
- Make baked apple doughnuts.
- Make caramel or candied apples.
One of the easiest ways to get your daily dose of veggies is to commit to eating a big salad for lunch most days. Salads don’t have to be boring or dainty, but they don’t have to be complicated either. Follow these four steps and you’re on your way to a nutritious, colorful and satisfyingly delicious lunch every day of the week.
Step 1: Pick a Green Base
Generally, the darker the green the healthier it is. There are so many fun organic mixes to choose from in the store and opting for a precut blend saves you time and effort. Spinach, kale, chard and the like are the most nutrient dense, but there’s nothing wrong with iceberg or romaine if you’re in a crunchy and crisp mood. You can also opt for chopped salad mixes that incorporate cabbage, carrots, Brussels sprouts and more.
Step 2: Add More Color
You’ve got your green base, now it’s time to pile on the color. Most adults should aim for at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, but research shows getting in ten servings can mean big things for longevity and health. Add at least two or three extra veggies, such as organic grape tomatoes, diced organic cucumber, chopped organic celery or sliced organic radishes. An easy and flavorful trick is to add roasted vegetables such as sweet potatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts or cauliflower. Make a big batch on the weekends or use leftovers from dinner the night before.
Step 3: Choose a Protein
To elevate your salad from appetizer to entrée status, you need a protein to help keep you satisfied. Leftover chicken or steak, canned tuna or salmon, or hard boiled eggs are go-to options if you like a little meat. For vegetarian protein sources, try quinoa, beans, hummus, seeds, chickpeas or lentils. Remember, a serving of animal protein is about the size of a smart phone; for vegetarian sources the standard is half a cup.
Step 4: Dress it Up with Healthy Fat
Adding some healthy fat to your salad will help bring flavor, promote satiety, and aid in absorption of all the nutrients in those vegetables. Olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice or splash of vinegar is the simplest way to go, but there are plenty of wholesome organic dressing options available in the store. Pick a dressing with simple ingredients and that bears the USDA Organic Seal, and stick to just about one tablespoon of dressing. Another tasty idea is to dress it up with avocado. This creamy fruit will add nutrients and fiber. If you opt for avocado, go a little light on the full fat dressing.
Summer is finally here—that means warm weather, sunny days and colorful produce hitting your local market. Nothing beats the beauty or taste of seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables and summer has plenty to offer. Whether you’re browsing a farmer’s market or shopping in your usual store, be on the lookout for these five organic summer favorites.
If you’ve ever sunk your teeth into a thick slice of summer tomato, you’ve tasted the difference the season can make in terms of texture and taste. Juicy, sweet and bursting with flavor, summer tomatoes require very little preparation and can transform any simple dish into a summery masterpiece. Organic tomatoes are packed with antioxidant compounds and contain vitamins A, C and K. Fresh organic tomatoes, whether they’re red, green, yellow or orange, can elevate any salad or sandwich and pair beautifully with fresh pasta or fish. Choose tomatoes that give when squeezed but are still slightly firm. For an elegant yet easy summer appetizer, try a Caprese Salad. Simply arrange slices of organic tomato and fresh mozzarella on a plate, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh basil.
- Sweet Corn
Who doesn’t love eating corn on the cob? For most, this summertime favorite evokes nostalgic feelings of long days on the beach, trips to the lake or summer evenings spent with family and friends. Sweet corn can be yellow or white and is different from the field corn used to make corn syrup and other processed goods. Choose ears with tight husks, moist silk and plump kernels and if you stick with the organic version you’ll be steering clear of GMOs. Corn can be shucked and tossed into salads or pasta dishes, but most prefer to eat it straight from the cob. After husking, boil it the traditional way or try throwing it on the grill. A dab of butter and dash of salt is the standard preparation, or try your own flavor combination such as olive oil and herbs or lemon juice and spices.
Zucchini is possibly the most versatile vegetable in the garden. From breakfast breads and omelets, to appetizers and snacks, to main dishes and sides, to cakes and desserts, the possibilities are endless for ways to use zucchini. Low in calories and mild in taste, organic zucchini can take on nearly any flavor you ask of it and gives dishes added volume, fiber and a little vitamin C and folate. Zucchini noodles are one of the hottest tricks in health-conscience cooking: Using a spiralizer, transform organic zucchini into low-carb “noodles” and pair with your favorite pasta sauce or pesto. Zucchini boats are another trending favorite: Slice organic zucchini in half lengthwise; hollow out the middle; stuff with ground meat or veggies, sauce and cheese; and bake until it is all cooked through.
Nothing says summer like a juicy nectarine. Organic nectarines can be found in most markets and stores; peak season in the U.S. happens in July and August. An average nectarine has just 60 calories, over 2 grams of fiber and a little potassium and vitamin C. They’re similar to peaches but with smooth skin and their inner flesh can be yellow or white. Nectarines are delicious paired with nuts as a wholesome snack, slices over yogurt for a nutritious breakfast, or used in pies and tarts for a fruity dessert. For something more creative, try making nectarine salsa and spooning over grilled chicken or fish.
Strawberries and blueberries tend to steal the berry show, but it’s time to let the blackberry shine. These sweet little nuggets pack a whopping 7 grams of fiber per cup, plus half the daily value for vitamin C and a healthy amount of vitamin K, folate, manganese and copper. Organic blackberries are available in most farmer’s markets and conventional stores. Get your daily blackberry fix by sprinkling them over cereal, oatmeal or yogurt or try a grown up PB&J by spreading mashed blackberries and natural peanut butter on your favorite whole wheat bread.
Who needs sugar when you have organic peaches around? While peaches have impressive health benefits – vitamin C, phenols, iron, fiber, antioxidants – their real magic is mouth-watering delicious taste that can replace added sugar all summer long. Before I pass over the nutritional benefits completely, it’s worth noting that the combined benefits – nutrition as well as replacing added sugar – put organic peaches into a “yes you should” category for nutrition that helps prevent and address major diseases like breast cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
Organic peaches shouldn’t be a hard sell in the summer but here are a few tips to do even better in getting more people to buy and eat organic peaches all year long.
- FREEZE THEM: organic peaches can be a great way to add sweet nutrition to your Fall and winter meals long after they are in season. Advise people to purchase, wash, cut and freeze today, so they can enjoy later. Hint: you may want to dip them in citrus juice if you care about the color later (if blending or baking them in the future, no need).
- DEHYDRATE THEM: make Mother Nature’s candy for after soccer games, for school lunches, and for an easy nut butter & peaches sandwich at work or pre-workout.
- SUMMER COCKTAIL / MOCKATILS ARE PEACHY KEEN: use frozen or ready to eat peaches in your cocktails and mocktails in place of syrup and you can also make peach and cucumber water.
- BAKE THEM: organic peaches bake into a sweet sauce that can be drizzled over plain yogurt (dairy or dairy-free) as well as baking peaches with greens can make a delicious sweet and tangy dish.
Here’s a favorite peach smoothie recipe to share:
The Better Peaches ‘n Cream Smoothie
Load up on fiber, magnesium and healthy fats with this sweet creamy smoothie.
1 cup organic frozen peaches
4 cups organic spinach, tightly packed
4 dried organic apricots
1” piece organic ginger, peeled
1 tablespoon organic extra virgin coconut oil
3 tablespoons Manitoba Harvest vanilla hemp protein
2 tablespoons Manitoba Harvest hemp hearts
Pinch of sea salt
Juice of 1 organic lemon
Combine all ingredients in a high-speed blender with 3 cups of water. Blend on high, 45 seconds until smooth and creamy.
For more better nutrition tips, tools and resources, head over to www.AshleyKoffApproved.com and let’s get/give better health, together!
Following a long and cold winter, organic cherries will be in abundant supplies over the next two months, according to several Washington grower/shippers. While only a very small percentage of the overall cherry crop, organic cherry production continues to grow throughout the Northwest.
While a small part of their market, organics are on the rise," said James Michael, vice president of marketing for North America, Northwest Cherry Growers, a Yakima organization that represents cherry growers in five states, “The Northwest region is the country's largest producer of sweet cherries, each season growing about three-fourths of nation's sweet cherries. As of last year, shipped volume of organic cherries rose to three percent.”
(Photo Credit: Northwest Cherry Growers)
Michael adds cherry harvest has begun as late as June 13th in recent years. “With retailers and shippers looking to solidify merchandising plans anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks out, it makes it a challenge to line up promotions. When most of the crop ships within 45 and 60 days from the start of harvest, it's critical to have as much quality information as possible with which to make decisions.”
Briana Shales, communications manager for Stemilt, said significant cherry production should be underway by mid-June. “We had a late cherry bloom in Washington following a long winter. We expect many shipping weeks of organic cherries, with the bulk of the fruit coming off the tree from June 26 to July 17.”
Blake Belknap, organic sales manager for Rainier, projects a slightly earlier start, with production slated for the first week of June. “Bloom is set, and looks to be a fantastic year. Our earliest cherries are organics and we believe our harvest will start on June 8. Organic cherries haven't reached volumes to come close to market demand. And we are seeing more retailers developing strategies in merchandising organics, giving them further momentum.”
All agree higher volumes will allow for greater promotion at retail. Says Belknap, “We are seeing retailers begin to promote organics for month long periods, even replacing conventional fruit.”
They don’t say “cool as a cucumber” for nothing! The interior temperature of a cucumber can be up to 20 degrees cooler than the outside air. In peak season during summer months, cucumbers are a hydrating food at 96% water by weight, making a refreshing snack during hot summer days.
Keep the skin on organic cucumbers to reap the most benefits from this vegetable. An entire cucumber with peel comes in at just 45 calories and offers about 2 grams of protein, 1.5 grams fiber, and a good dose of potassium and vitamins A and C. Cucumber peels are also packed with flavonoids, powerful antioxidants linked to anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits.
There are endless ways to enjoy refreshing summer cucumbers: Add slices to salads and sandwiches, flavor water with cucumber slices, cut cucumbers into sticks and eat them with dip, make homemade pickles, or just snack on them plain.
At your next summer party, serve this Quick and Easy Tzaziki Dip made with cucumber, dill, yogurt and chives. Enjoy this tasty dip with fresh pita, pita chips, freshly cut organic vegetables, or your favorite organic potato chips.
Quick and Easy Tzaziki Dip
- 1 clove organic garlic, minced
- 1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1/2 medium organic cucumber, peeled and grated to a pulp
- 1 tablespoon organic dill, finely chopped
- ½ teaspoon freshly squeezed organic lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons organic chives, finely chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Add all ingredients to a bowl and mix well. Serve with pita chips or fresh vegetables, or use as a spread for sandwiches.
Though the first official day of summer isn’t until June 21, Memorial Day seems to be the unofficial start of the season. That means summer produce is now on everyone’s shopping lists.
Yellow squash and zucchini are supermarket standards year-round but the summer season brings more varieties with unique features and tastes.
Here’s what you need to know about different types of summer squash when browsing your local farmer’s market or grocery store:
Green zucchini is the most widely recognized and versatile summer squash of the bunch. It can be used to make everything from a simple veggie side dish to low-carb noodles to desserts and breads. Green zucchini has soft, thin green skin and a mild taste. Choose zucchini that is firm to the touch—if it’s flimsy it’s past its prime. Go for organic green zucchini if you’re looking to avoid GMOs, as conventional zucchini can be grown with GMO seeds.
There are also yellow zucchini and Costata Romanesco zucchini, which both have a straight shape and similar taste to a green zucchini but are different colors. Yellow zucchini is, you guessed it, yellow, while Costata Romanesco has pale green ridges on darker green skin.
Round zucchini is similar in color, texture and taste to zucchini; the only difference is it’s round. Choose this unique squash when making “stuffed” dishes: Cut off the top, scoop out the interior, and stuff with rice, vegetables or meat, just as you would a bell pepper.
Yellow squash is the other most common variety. It also has thin skin that can be eaten raw or cooked—it’s great in pastas or soups or simply sliced into salads. There are both crookneck and straightneck varieties and both have a mild taste. As with zucchini, choose organic to avoid GMOs, as conventional yellow squashes may be grown with GMO seeds
Zephyr squash is long like a zucchini but is yellow on top and green on the bottom. Like other summer squashes, the flesh is firm and the skin is edible, so you can use it as you would a yellow squash or zucchini.
Pattypan squash looks like a squashed pumpkin, or some even say a flying saucer. It’s small and round with scalloped sides and comes in different shades of yellow and green. It’s a bit tougher than some squashes, and though it can be eaten raw it does well when cooked. Sauté it, roast it or add it to stews.
Cousa squash is short and squat and light green in color—it looks a bit like a fat, pale zucchini. It’s very tender and slightly sweet but can be used as you would other types of squash.
Don’t be afraid to try new vegetables! Most summer squashes have a similar mild taste and can be interchanged in many recipes. You can also simply slice them up and use them in salads or serve with dip. Summer squash is generally low in calories and has some fiber, potassium and vitamin C. Conventional summer squashes are commonly grown with GMO seeds so choose organic versions if you want to avoid GMO crops.
In the past few weeks there have been several articles circulating with the same basic premise: millennials can’t afford to buy homes because they are spending all their money on avocado toast. While the argument, stemming from Australian millionaire Tim Gurner, has stirred up quite the internet controversy and is by all means an exaggeration, there is truth to the fact that avocado prices are on the rise.
What exactly makes this fruit so expensive?
Demand for avocados is high, partly due to the popularity of trendy dishes like avocado toast and perennial favorite guacamole. People are also interested in the health benefits of this nutrient-packed fruit and are finding ways to eat more of it. There is a growing body of research showing avocados can support heart health, help with weight management and lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Avocados are high in monounsaturated fat (the good fat), fiber, vitamin E, and other compounds that are linked to health.
Right now, demand is higher than supply. Both organic and conventional avocado production in California is lower than it was last year. Mexico and Peru also produce avocados, but there are not as many organic avocado farms in those countries.
Prices change depending on the growing season and availability, and there is a good chance prices could be lower next year.
Get the most out of the avocados you buy by cutting into them when ripe and preventing them from browning during storage. Choose avocados that are just slightly firm but not too soft. Ripe avocados will give a little when gently squeezed—firmness tells more than color. Once cut, sprinkle the flesh with lemon juice and seal in plastic wrap or in an air-tight container if you are going to store part of the fruit. This will help prevent the avocado from browning.