Top | Dinner Guest Blog
(article, Cindy Burke)
Shopping for food during the winter can be a challenge. Organics are often very expensive in winter and the price of many diet staples has increased dramatically in the past year. What are your best strategies for eating healthy while still getting a good value for your grocery dollar? Buy food that is in season. Citrus fruits and tropical fruits are in season and at the peak of flavor in winter. Good winter vegetable values include: Non-organic: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, avocado, onion, garlic. Organic: potato, sweet potato, beets and other root vegetables, carrots, leafy greens. Avoid foods that are out of season: strawberries, raspberries, bell peppers, cucumber, zucchini. They will tend to be very expensive and of poor quality — not a good combo. If you buy grapes, buy only domestic grapes. Imported grapes from Chile and Argentina are fumigated with methyl bromide (a neurotoxin) to kill medflies and other pests when they reach U.S. ports. Tropical fruits and citrus with thick skins that you do not eat (orange, grapefruit, lemon, tangerine, kiwi, banana, coconut, mango, pineapple, avocado) typically have low or no discernable pesticide residues, so save your money and buy non-organic. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage) have low or no discernable pesticide residues, so there's no need to buy organic here either. [%image "promo-image" float=right width=400 caption="Their pungent smell provides some foods with a built-in pest repellent."]Green foods should be purchased as organic or avoided in the winter. If you look outside and don’t notice much “green,” you’ll know that “green” food had to travel a long way to get to your grocery. Non-organic green food has been treated with not only pesticides, but anti-mildew sprays and food waxes to maintain an appearance of “freshness.” Leafy greens, crunchy fruits and vegetables (celery, apples, pears, cucumbers, peppers), and all lettuces are better to buy organic. Cruciferous veggies and tropical fruits are the exception to this rule. Use plenty of onions, garlic, and shallots when you are cooking. They have a built-in “pest repellent” with their pungent smell, so commercial growers use little or no pesticides to grow them successfully. Buy organic dairy products. If you cannot afford organic, choose nonfat dairy. The more fat a conventionally grown product contains, the more toxins are found in the food, because many toxins concentrate in the fat. Choose organic or sustainably raised meats. If you have to buy non-organic, do choose chicken and meat labeled as raised “antibiotic and hormone-free.” To use organic meat more economically, make it a flavoring instead of a primary ingredient — soups, stir fries, casseroles, and stews all feature the flavor of meat, but in small portions. If you do want fruits that are out of season (such as peaches), choose canned fruit. Canned peaches, apricots, and cherries have considerably less pesticide residue than those same (non-organic) fresh fruits. Farmers who grow fruits used in canning use fewer pesticides because the fruit does not have to look “perfect.” Additionally, the fruit is scrubbed and washed several times before processing. Finally, store your food properly to avoid waste. When you buy organic vegetables with greens still attached (carrots, beets, turnips), remove the greens as soon as you come home. To keep leafy greens crisp, rinse, trim, and pack the greens with a damp paper towel on top. Store apples and other soft fruit in your refrigerator. Potatoes, garlic, and onions should be stored in paper bags (not plastic!) and away from bright light (moisture and light cause them to begin sprouting).