There are so many things to love about summer in the Northwest. Warm weather for hiking and camping, light late into the evening that allows for more time outdoors after work for exercising or entertainment, and a region that produces a buffet of some of the finest produce in the world. It makes providing your family with truly fresh produce on a daily basis easier and less expensive, not to mention better tasting.
Go fresh: Genuinely fresh fruits and vegetables are bursting with flavor and require little to no preparation to make them into delicious snacks, meals, and desserts. Leaf some lettuce and chop some tomatoes for a light and lively salad or put some fresh fruit into a bowl with a splash of cream for a delectable dessert. We’re also blessed with many locally-run groceries, farmers markets, and fruit and vegetable stands throughout the area to fill your refrigerator. Planning out your menu in advance is helpful, both from a time and a cost angle.
Preserve it: Keep an eye out for specials as things come into season and take advantage of getting nice ripe fruits and vegetables at prices you can afford. If you end up buying more than you think you can eat, try preserving things. Many fruits freeze really well without losing much of their flavor and frozen fruit is wonderful in smoothies. Freezing can be less forgiving for many vegetables, but I find that they do well when made into soup.
Shortly after my wife and I were married 35 years ago, I found plans for a food dehydrator at a local hardware store and we built it. I still use it in the summer to dry fruits and vegetables. I have dried onions (smelly process but great in soups), tomatoes, apples, cherries, and even zucchini. I grow seedless grapes in my garden and make my own raisins. Drying is a great option for preserving food, especially if you do hiking or backpacking.
Preserving excess produce also allows us to have fresh variety in the winter. There are a number of agencies around town that offer classes on how to preserve your food. Check them out.
Pack it: Sometimes it’s hard to eat healthy when you’re “on the road” like many of us are in the summer months. But with planning, it’s possible. Grapes, carrots, peas, fresh fruit – even fresh nuts, like hazelnuts, are harvested this time of year. Get some extra sandwich bags and fill them each week with fresh and healthy snacks. Then they’re ready to grab when you’re headed out the door.
Plan for it: Schedule some time on your calendar to pick your own fresh produce, or purchase from our local growers. June and July serves up strawberries and cherries. In August, we all run for local peaches. And in September, apple harvest begins. Check out the schedules at our local growers associations for fun events to choose the perfect “picking day.” Seeking out and enjoying fresh fruits and vegetables can be a fun family activity. Many of us have fond memories of berry picking with the family, or learning about where different foods come from, and getting dirty harvesting – which makes the rewards all the tastier.
More fruits and vegetables in your diet helps to improve digestion, promote weight loss, lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Whether you eat more produce in the summer because it all tastes so good or because you are working to make healthy changes to your diet, enjoy the bounty our region has to offer.
Dr. Bob Riggs is a family medicine physician practicing at Kaiser Permanente’s Riverfront Medical Center. His column appears biweekly in The Spokesman-Review.
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