We’ve been part of a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) produce group for several months now, and it’s been one of the biggest factors in getting my family eat more fruits and veggies. For those who aren’t familiar with how a CSA works, a group of people get together and partner with a local farmer to buy boxes in bulk, and have them delivered on a weekly or monthly schedule. There’s usually one central drop-off and pick-up location, and by placing large orders direct from the farmer or grower, you can usually save yourself money by cutting out the middle man: the grocery store. On top of saving money, you are supporting local agriculture and getting produce that is wonderfully fresh and in-season. Living in Southern California, we are truly spoiled by our monthly produce boxes and their vast abundance, and I can honestly say I get a strange sense of excitement the week I know we’ll be getting a new batch of fruits and veggies to try.
But that wasn’t the case last time my family and I gave CSAs a shot. Truth be told, we were different people back then, with different eating and cooking habits, and we ate a lot less produce than we do today. I participated in the group for about six months before I finally called it quits because we either never ate the whole box of produce, letting it go to waste, or I would forget to pick up my box for days and the produce would wilt and die before it even made it out of the box. Now, though, I wait for the call that our boxes are ready for pickup, on pins and needles and look forward to planning our meals around the freshest ingredients our area has to offer.
How do I get through so much produce? And what is my plan of attack each time I get a new delivery? I now have a system that helps me flush out the old stuff, and get through the new, and, for the most part, leave nothing to waste.
Here’s a step-by-step process I follow for each time we get a new delivery:
1. Take inventory & clean out your fridge or pantry.
Before our new delivery even arrives, I spend 20-30 minutes going through the fridge, where we store a lot of our produce, and figuring out what I still have. At this time I clean out the shelves and crisper drawers, and figure out what items will soon go bad and brainstorm how I can use them. I take a very casual approach with this and don’t take notes or make lists or anything, just more mental notes. This shouldn’t feel like tedious work — just basic maintenance so you can minimize waste and avoid unnecessary purchases.
2. Separate your old produce out, and make room for the new items.
One too many times I’ve mixed all the items together, leaving the fresh carrots on top of the older ones and prompting me to reach for those when preparing meals. I now make it a point to leave older veggies either in the top crisper drawer or on a top shelf in the fridge. This way, I know to use those first. I even make it a point to leave some items that are minutes away from going bad out on the counter to serve as a reminder to use them pronto! For instance, this past week I had a few beets getting soft and some greens that were sadly wilted. I left both out on the counter, and when I had some time throughout the day, I put the greens to simmer for homemade veggie stock, and roasted the beets to use in salads throughout the week. I can always count on this method working because if I leave things out too long, my husband will inevitably ask why there’s a bunch of sad-looking veggies out on the counter. It serves as an extra reminder to use them up!
3. Once your produce arrives, take a few extra moments to properly store them to prolong their life.
We all get busy and tired, and I’ve been known to let my veggies sit in their box for a bit too long if life is especially hectic, but if I can spare a few moments as soon as my produce arrives to properly store them, I never regret it. I wrap up delicate greens like spinach and lettuce in lightly moistened paper towels. I store asparagus in a shallow glass of water. Basically, when you get produce from a CSA, it is usually very fresh and very ripe, so it has to either be used very soon, or you have to take steps to prolong its life. For example, while tomatoes are technically supposed to be kept at room temperature. If they are very ripe I definitely keep them in the fridge until I need to use them. Take stock of what you have and what seems super ripe, and plan your meals to eat the ripest right away and take steps to stretch out the life of everything else.
4. Meal plan, meal plan, meal plan!
In order to really get through your box of produce, you really have to do some strategic meal planning. The common complaint people have with CSA produce boxes are the random produce items that their family “will never eat,” but truth be told, those are the things that get me the most excited! I freely admit that I’m a vegetable nerd. When I get something new or strange-looking, I do a Google search and find recipes using those ingredients. It’s really pushed me and my family to cook with new ingredients and try new things. Not every item is a rousing success, but I appreciate the adventures new items offer. For all the other common items you find in your box, center your meals for the week around the things you have the most of, and go from there.
5. Add produce to EVERYTHING!
After you’ve done your meal planning, you’ll get a good sense of what you’ll have left over. From there, start adding fruits and veggies in any way possible. If you’re making a spaghetti sauce, add in items like zucchini and carrots, even if it’s not called for. Add extra potatoes or green beans to soups, and add in fruits to cereal and oatmeal. Saute greens and serve underneath your over easy eggs, or scramble them all together. Juice your own orange juice instead of buying a gallon that week. The idea is to just add in extra produce whenever and wherever it makes sense.
Beyond the strange ingredients that sometimes accompany our produce box, the biggest hesitation friends and readers have in joining a local CSA is that they’ll never eat it all. I’m going to be honest here and say if you can’t get through one box of produce in one to two weeks, you’re not eating enough fruits and veggies! The truth is, most Americans are in fact eating almost half the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables. Subscribing to a produce delivery service or taking part in a local CSA will undoubtedly push you out of your comfort zone a bit and may be challenging at first, but after you get the hang of it I promise it becomes like second nature. I now find myself incorporating veggies into meals in the strangest yet yummiest ways possible, and I have the CSA program to thank for that.
Do you take part in a produce delivery service or a CSA program? If so, how do you manage to get through all the fruits and veggies? I would love to hear any other ideas.