The Food and Agriculture Organization released a report last year that stated a shocking 1.3 billion tons of edible food get lost or wasted worldwide.  That’s a lot of chow!  To reduce waste and stretch a dollar in your kitchen, here are some tips for utilizing food items you may be throwing away:

Feed it to the worms.  If you have a yard and you garden, a worm bin is a cheap and easy way to make your own high quality soil out of food scraps.  Here are some nice detailed instructions on how to make a worm bin from somebody at WSU.  If you do not have a yard and do not garden, see if your local sanitation department offers yard waste pick-up.  You do not have to have a yard to request a bin; you can use it solely to dispose of food scraps.  Your city will then use the scraps to make compost for parks and public spaces.

Make a broth Meat and vegetable scraps can be used to make your own delicious broth.  Store-bought broths are often extremely high in sodium, making your own allows you to add a more sane amount of salt.  I keep a large zippered bag in my freezer, and throw my flavorful scraps in there throughout the month.  When the bag is full, it’s time to make broth.  The guidelines for this are extremely loose, just simmer it all in water with some salt in a big pot until it has a flavor you like.  Strain out the solid bits and you’ve got broth!  I keep broth in my freezer in one-cup servings in jars, and then defrost them as needed.  When choosing items to include in your broth bag, pick scraps that will give it either a good flavor or a nice color.  Some of my favorites to include are:
  • Onion bits and skins
  • Garlic skins
  • Carrot nubs
  • Beet nubs
  • Mushroom stalks
  • Carrot greens
  • Animal bones or tough scraps


Make magic with broccoli stalks.  Often people will only eat the pretty floret portion of the broccoli plant, banishing the homely stalk to the waste bin.  I get it; the florets are tender, they look pretty, the stalk seems tough and foreboding.  There are a LOT of different things you can do with that stalk.  There are a number of different ways you can prepare it, but before you do anything take a vegetable peeler and take off the tough outer layer of the plant.  This will make the whole thing much more edible.
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Make a quick pickle.  I like to cut my stems into matchsticks and make a quick pickle.  Simple instructions for pickling can be found at smitten kitchen.  Add tasty flavors to your pickles like garlic, dill, cayenne, or cilantro.  You can add your pickles to sandwiches, salads, or just eat them by themselves!

Add your broccoli stems to your florets.  This seemed like an obvious one but I’ll just throw it out there anyways.  If you’re making a stir-fry with broccoli florets, chop up your stems into bite-size pieces and add them in.  They will take a couple minutes longer to cook than the florets, so add them to the pan first.

Make a green pizza.  On nights where we don’t want to cook sometimes my hubby and I will buy frozen pizzas and load them with veggies.  Sliced broccoli stems make a nice green pepperoni substitute!

There are many edible portions of plants that are often thrown out, such as chard stems and beet greens.  I hope this gives you some good ideas for alternative uses for food scraps.  Next time you’re chopping a vegetable and about to toss part of it out, give it a second look and ask yourself- could I eat this?



This article is a reprint from my old blog www.iheartmuscles.com.

 
Handling food safely helps protect you and your family from foodborne illness.  Unsafe food handling practices could result in unwittingly eating harmful microorganisms along with your meal.  These bacteria and parasites, such as E. coli and Anisakis, are serious villains- you don’t want to mess around with them!

Here are some basic guidelines for protecting your food from contamination:

Wash all fresh produce under cold clean running tap water for at least 10 seconds.  This goes for every piece of produce, even ones where you don’t eat the skin such as an avocado.  That avocado has been handled by dozens of people before it gets to your kitchen, and any pathogens on the outside will be carried right through the edible portion when you slice it.

Do not use any soap or special produce wash, the USDA recommends using only clean water.

Vertically organize your fridge.  Sort foods in your fridge in the following order:
  • Raw meat on the bottom
  • Cooked meat and dairy next
  • Fresh produce on top

Raw meat that is placed on the top shelve of a fridge can leak juices on the food below, resulting in something called cross contamination.  Juices from meat often contain potentially harmful bacteria that are obliterated during the cooking process.  When raw meat is cross contaminated with a vegetable that may be eaten raw, those bacteria will never get cooked away.

Watch those cutting boards!  Speaking of cross contamination, this phenomenon is very likely to occur on a cutting board.  Only use your cutting board for one food in between each washing, and never cut raw meat on the same board as cooked meat or fresh produce.

Wash, wash, wash your hands.  You touch a number of fantastic things in a day, and some of those things are likely to contain bacteria that you don’t want to get in your food.  Wash your hands with soap and warm water when you:
  • First enter the kitchen
  • After handling raw meat
  • Before handling food that is ready to eat


For more information on handling food safely, check out the recommendations from our federal government here.
 
Keeping a diet diary is a great way to begin mindfully looking at your food intake.  I’ve found that most people modify their diet simply through the act of writing down everything they eat.  When you have to record everything that went on your plate, suddenly that second serving doesn’t feel so necessary!  Here are some different tools you can use to keep a diet diary:

Good ol’ pen and paper.  Try writing down everything you eat either in a journal, or use this template from Your Personal Nutrition Guide here.  After each meal jot down the following information:
  • Foods eaten
  • Approximate quantities
  • Your mood
  • Satiety level: from 0 (starving) to 10 (bursting belly)

Put your camera phone to good use.  If you don’t have time to write it down, just snap a picture of all your meals and snacks.  Scroll through your pictures at the end of each day and contemplate your choices.

Use some newer fangled technology.  There are a whole host of apps available for your smartphone or tablet that can help you keep track of your diet.  Some of them give you neat reports on your total caloric intake, nutrient balance, and other statistics.  There are a lot of these so I am far from familiar with all of them!  Here are some that I have checked out and enjoy:
 
Unfortunately the nutrition information provided on food packaging can sometimes be a wild and confusing place.  The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act was enacted into law in 1990 so that Americans could be provided with consistent information on what was inside their packaged foods.  However it can be a big challenge to understand what that information means and how it applies to you!

Here we’ll go through some of the pertinent information provided on a nutrition label, and talk about what it means to you.  There is also a video below hosted by the lovely nutritionist Shaekira Collins that takes you through the same information.

Serving size:  Check out this number first!  The nutrition information provided applies to a particular serving size.  If you are eating double the amount of the serving size listed, make sure you double all the information contained on the label.  For example if you plan to eat 1 cup of popcorn instead of the standard ½ cup serving, you will be eating double the calories listed on the label.

Calories:  This is the total amount of calories within the serving size.  The amount of calories you should eat in a day depends on your size and activity level.  The best way to figure out how many calories you should eat is to talk with a nutritionist!

Fat:  The first number here is the total amount of fat within the serving size, followed by a breakdown of types of fat.  For a discussion on the differences of types of fat, see this older post.

Sodium:  This is the amount of salt contained within a food.  Packaged foods are often very high in sodium, which can result in high blood pressure and stress on your cardiovascular system.

Protein:  This number is the total amount of protein contained within the serving size.  Protein is good for keeping you full for a long time and fueling your muscles, so look for a higher amount!

Vitamins & Minerals:  The percentages in here compare the amount of nutrients within the food to the Daily Recommended Intake from the Institute of Medicine.  If these numbers are very high (for example 500%), the food has been fortified or enriched.  This means the nutrients have been added into the food during processing.  We’ll discuss enrichment and fortification more in a future post, that’s a whole subject unto itself!
It’s important to keep in mind that food companies are allowed a 20% margin of error in these measurements, and the numbers provided are often slightly lower than what is actually contained in the food.  A 2010 Tufts University study showed that a number of frozen dinners contained an average of 8% more calories than what was claimed on the label.  My husband is a chemistry professor, and he uses a calorimeter in his labs on occasion to measure the calorie content of different foods.  He has found that foods consistently contain more calories than what is stated on the label.

Remember it’s best to eat a diet with foods close to how they are found in nature, so avoid packaged foods when possible.  Save your money and your health by shopping in the bulk and produce aisles instead!
 
Today we'll discuss some of my favorite resources for healthy recipes.  As I've mentioned before, investing time in the kitchen is an important part of taking care of your health.  It’s always nice to get some fresh ideas for new dishes from the experts, especially when it comes to trying a new ingredient (for example dark leafy greens).  You may have already perused some of these, most are them are linked through my “Other awesome sites” page.  I wanted to give a brief description of each of them here so you know what you’re getting into!

101 Cookbooks

This is the recipe site of Heidi Swanson, the author of Super Natural Cooking and Super Natural Every Day.  Her recipes are all vegetarian, and I like that they rely heavily on veggies for flavor instead of sauces or condiments.  I’ve made this Raw Tuscan Kale Salad from her site several times before; it’s a good dish to bring to a picnic!

Cookus Interruptus

This is the website of Cynthia Lair, author of Feeding the Whole Family.  Cynthia was my Whole Foods Cooking instructor at Bastyr University.  This site is great because every recipe has a video that goes along with it, just in case you need a demonstration!

Golubka

This website has creative vegan and gluten-free recipes, along with really beautiful photography.  It also has a lot of raw recipes, but they are not all uncooked.  I have a lot of stone fruit right now, so I’m going to try these Roasted Plum and Rosemary Popsicles tonight!

Good Fish

This is the website of Becky Selengut, author of a cookbook by the same name as her site.  Becky is also a culinary instructor at Bastyr (I see a theme here).  If you’re intimidated by cooking or shopping for fish, get thee to this website.  Becky has videos on all sorts of cooking techniques for seafood; they go step by step and are entertaining!

Green Kitchen Stories

This vegetarian website is authored by a married couple.  They are coming out with their first cookbook in 2013.  Perhaps you could try these Cinnamon Roasted Vegetables if you’re interested in adding healthy spices to your diet.

My Global Kitchens

This is the website of my friend Marilyn Weissman.  She is a well-traveled lady who creates recipes inspired by her international travel.  For an easy breakfast check out her simple Frittata recipe.

My New Roots

This vegetarian recipe blog (I’m not vegetarian, I just like vegetables!) is authored by Sarah Britton, a holistic nutritionist and chef.  This is another great resource for recipes that are centered around fresh veggies.  Since we’re knee-deep in squash season, maybe you could try her Summer Stuffed Patty Pans.

Post Punk Kitchen

This vegan website is authored by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, a punky chef who was born and raised in Brooklyn (my former city of residence).  While her website does have a lot of dessert-focused baked goods, it also has a whole host of healthy main dishes and homemade condiments.

Roost

This gluten-free blog has a number of creative recipes that either use alternative grains or are totally grain-free.  The author of this site also has some instructive videos for her recipes like this one for cabbage salad.
 
Once again the idea for this snack came from Sara in the Human Nutrition Lab, I don’t know what I’m going to do for Healthy Snack Sunday when I don’t work there anymore!

Seaweed is a nutrient-rich food that is not often encountered in an American diet.  Sea vegetables are a great source of many minerals including iodine, calcium, and absorbable iron.  For more information on the health benefits of seaweed check out this page on The World’s Healthiest Foods.
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I called this recipe “sloppy” sushi because it has all the elements of sushi, but I didn’t bother to roll it up it a neat little package.  You just scoop it all up in the nori, smoosh it into a little bundle and eat it!

How to make your brown rice sticky

The white rice that is traditionally used for sushi is sticky because it is high in a gluey kind of starch.  Brown rice sushi usually falls apart easily because the rice is much lower in sticky starch.  To make my rice sticky I added the traditional rice vinegar plus some ground up flax seeds.  Flax meal gets gooey when you add warm water to it, so I stirred it in when the rice was just about finished cooking but still had a lot of moisture in it.  I don’t have any specific measurements for you, it was around 1/3 cup of flax meal to 2 cups rice, plus a big splash of rice vinegar.  This also adds some healthy omega 3 fatty acids to your snack.

I also added a dash of toasted sesame oil to my rice for flavor.

Sloppy sushi
  •   3 sheets toasted sushi nori
  •   ½ cup cooked sticky brown rice
  •   A smattering of veggies of your choice

Nori usually comes in larger sheets, so cut yours down into a piece you can comfortably hold in your hand.  I cut mine into fourths.

Scoop a Tablespoon or two of rice into your nori, then top with vegetables.  Smoosh it all up into a little ball and put directly in your mouth!

For my vegetables I used radishes mixed with some pickled ginger, and it turned out great.

If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you can get locally harvested nori from Sound Sea Vegetables.
 
We established earlier in the week that whole grains in moderation are part of a healthy diet.  Today we’ll cover which grains are good to keep on hand, and how to store them.

Just like oils, it’s a good idea to keep a few different textures and tastes of grain in your pantry.  Here are some examples of grains you could keep in your kitchen, going in order of soft to crunchy.

Teff:  This African grain is very tiny, so it cooks quickly and results in a creamy porridge texture.  There’s a nice recipe for teff breakfast porridge from Lorna Sass here.

Polenta:  This is coarsely ground cornmeal.  It does take some care and attention to cook polenta without burning it, but it my opinion it’s worth the time!  Polenta also results in a creamy texture, which will firm up when cool.  I like to portion it out in muffin tins so I have servings of polenta pucks ready to go.  Top a puck with some cooked veggies and a protein and you’ve got a nice little meal!

Steel cut oats:  We talked about this whole grain in our breakfast article yesterday.  Keep some handy in your pantry for a warm meal option in the morning.

Millet:  The texture of this small round grain will vary based on whether you toast it before cooking or not.  It has a pleasant nutty flavor, which is also more pronounced post-toasting.  There’s a good article on toasting and preparing millet here.

Brown rice:  This whole grain can be used in so many dishes, will last in a dry pantry for months, and is inexpensive.  What more is there to say?

Quinoa:  This complete vegan protein has a sturdy texture that will hold up in soups and chili.  Quinoa has a nice subtle flavor, rinse it before cooking to avoid any bitter aftertaste.

Wild rice:  This grain is chewier than brown rice, and will also hold up well in soup.  I like to use it for grain salads because it won’t get mushy in the fridge.

Popping corn:  Always good to keep in your kitchen for a fast snack!  It’s cheap and will store for months in your pantry.

There are so many different whole grains out there; these are just a few viable options.  These are all grains intended to cook whole; we’ll cover flours another time.  The use and storage of flour is a little different.

Here are some tips for storing grains:
  • Keep your grains in a dry, cool, dark, cupboard.
  • Store grains in an airtight container- I reuse jars and yogurt tubs and whatnot.
  • Label everything, and write the water/grain ratio right on the label for easy reference.

If you’d like a cookbook that has many different whole grain recipes, check out Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way by Lorna Sass.
 
This entry is part one of a series on creating your whole foods pantry.  In this series we’ll talk about which cooking oils are best to keep on hand for different tasks.

Different oils work best for different tasks based on their composition, and how they’ve been processed.  It’s a good idea to keep at least three types of oil on hand:  one for high heat, one for medium heat, and one to use raw.

If you use low-heat oil for a high-heat project, your oil could smoke or even catch fire.  If your oil does start smoking, carefully dispose of it in the sink immediately.  The oil has spoiled and has carcinogens in it at that point.  Not something you want to eat!  Spectrum Organics oils have a handy graphic on the label that illustrate the smoke point of each oil.
Here are some examples of suitable oils for different projects.  For a more extensive list, check out this awesome one from my local co-op.

High heat cooking:
Refined Sunflower Oil
Refined Safflower Oil
Refined Walnut Oil

Medium heat cooking:
Coconut Oil
Olive Oil
Peanut Oil

Oils best used raw:
Unrefined nut oils like macadamia or hazelnut
Toasted Sesame Oil

Quality cooking oils can be pricey.  However good oils have good flavor, so you shouldn’t have to use much for each cooking project.  Stores with a well-stocked bulk department will have oil tanks available with refillable bottles for a lower price.

Here are some general tips for storing oils to keep your investment safe:
  • Keep oils out of direct sunlight
  • Store oils in a dark-colored glass container
  • Keep oils away from heat (until you’re using them), don’t store your bottles too close to the stovetop!
  • Close your oil container after you’ve poured to minimize exposure to oxygen

 
Taking care of your health rarely involves quick fixes.  Long-lasting wellness is the result of a commitment to self care, which requires a lot of hard work.  A large chunk of that effort takes place in the kitchen.  Good food is one of the best preventative medicines we have, so investing time in creating healthy meals for yourself is key.

It’s important to acknowledge that this is not easy.  Between work, family, and other commitments it’s easy to be tempted by convenience foods.  One thing to keep in mind is that it simply is not possible to get a healthy, balanced diet from ready-made foods.  Unless you’ve got the money to get a personal chef (what I like to call “Oprah money”), you’ve got to make it yourself!

So where to begin?  Here are some guidelines to weekly meal planning and preparation:

Your calendar is your friend.  Just like a work meeting or fitness class, schedule out times for food shopping and preparation.

Pick one weekly grocery shopping day.  Block one time out per week for grocery shopping, and stick to it.  It’s hard to make a meal with an empty fridge!

Schedule one day to stock your refrigerator with food for the week.  This is a time to pre-wash and chop your vegetables, cook a batch of beans or grains, and keep it in the fridge ready to go.  I like to have a container of whole grains, a container of prepared veggies, and a container of some kind of protein at my disposal at all times.  That way as I’m rushing to get ready for work in the morning I can put a little bit of each in a small container (usually with hot sauce on top) and have my lunch ready in a flash.

Even if you love to cook, there will be days that you don’t feel like dealing with this.  Just remember that time invested in the kitchen is time invested in your health.  Do it for your own wellbeing!
 
It can be challenging at times to eat healthfully on a tight budget.  Fresh whole foods often do cost more than processed packaged food products.

As an example fresh organic raspberries cost $11.82 per pound right now through Amazon Fresh.
Haribo® Raspberry Candy costs $3.84 per pound on Amazon Grocery.
In order to eat well and budget thoughtfully you’ve got to shop smart.  One easy way to save money is to purchase beans, grains, spices, oils, tea, coffee, and other staples through the bulk department.  A well-stocked bulk section has everything from peanut butter to pasta to cinnamon.  The price is often far lower, and there’s no wasteful packaging that you have to throw away later.

It’s important to realize that the bulk bins will not always be less expensive than the packaged version.  In order to determine the better value, check out the unit price.  This is the small price at the bottom of the tag on the shelf.  It will tell you the price per weight.

You can see in the picture below that the price for this box of cereal is $3.95, and the price per ounce is $0.26.  Now you may go over to the bulk bins and find that a similar cereal costs $0.20 per ounce, in which case that would be the better buy.
When creating your monthly food budget, keep in mind that an investment in fresh whole foods is an investment in your self.  A dollar invested in broccoli now saves many dollars in medical bills down the road!

To create even less waste while shopping bulk, you can re-use your bags.  There are drying racks where you can hang your plastic bags after you rinse them out like this one (although in my house we just use a clothesline).  There are also washable reusable bags sold like this set.

If you want a super cool reusable grocery tote that shows your love for bulk bins, you can buy one in my shop.