During the warm spring and summer months, many of our favorite fruits and vegetables come into season. With bright colors, fresh flavors, and a variety of options, it’s a great time to focus on getting the recommended minimum of 5 servings per day. But what about the winter months? As a dietician, I often observe a significant drop in fruit and vegetable intake as outside temperatures drop. One of the biggest reasons is a decrease in available options. The good news is that there are ways to change that, and here’s how you do it:
Dehydrating. Slice up your favorite summer fruits or vegetables and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Set your oven to 180 degrees Fahrenheit and wait approximately two to three hours or until dried (time can vary based on the food you are dehydrating). Store in a food container with a seal.
Freezing. Cut up produce into smaller pieces and place in a freezer-friendly plastic bag or container. Consider pre-portioning for a quick “grab and go” single serving.
Tip for freezing fruit: When thawed, fruit tends to lose its texture. Try mashing fruit up or throwing it into a blender to make fresh fruit sorbet. Use frozen fruit for smoothies, pies, hot cereal, or toss into your water to add natural flavor.
Tip for freezing vegetables: Vegetables may lose their bright color, texture, or taste once frozen. To prevent this, try blanching your vegetables in boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes before freezing.
Blending. Blend your favorite fruits and vegetables to make a soup base and freeze for the winter (and yes, there is such a thing as fruit soup!).
What about herbs?
The good news is that many herbs can be found in dried form all year long. More good news is that there are ways you can also store fresh herbs for the winter months:
Toss in some vinegar. Chop up your favorite herbs and place in a glass jar with your vinegar of choice (garden enthusiasts recommend starting with white vinegar). Place the jar in a cool, dark place such as a cabinet or your refrigerator. You now have your own herb-flavored vinegar that you can use to flavor foods all year long! Many find that using vinegar helps cut back on salt, as the vinegar helps bring out food’s natural flavors.
Tip: When using a glass jar, do not use a metal top, as vinegar and metal react. Use jars with a cork top or non-metal screw cap.
Hang out to dry out. Wrap a rubber band or a trash bag twist tie around your favorite herbs (keep to 4-6 stems per bundle). Place in a brown paper bag with a few holes punched out and use another rubber band or twist tie to tie off the bag. Hang upside down from a laundry line, hanger, or doorknob and wait a couple of weeks. When dried out, crumble up and store.
Tip: You can also try microwaving. Place herbs in a microwave-safe bowl or plate. Line the bottom and cover the herbs on top with a paper towel. Microwave until crispy (approximately 1-2 minutes) and store.
Freeze your herbs in one of two ways:
Fill an ice cube tray with water or extra virgin olive oil with your choice of chopped herbs and freeze overnight. Pop out the cubes and place in a freezer-friendly plastic bag. You now have individual servings to throw into your favorite winter soups and stews!
Roll up your favorite herbs in a log-like shape and place in a freezer-friendly plastic bag. Make sure to squeeze out any excess air, tie a rubber band around the bag, and store.
Whether you are eating your fruits, vegetables, or herbs right away or storing them for winter use, remember to wash and pat dry first and always strive for 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily!
- Collette Romstedt, MA, RDN, LDN, ACSM EP Registered Dietician and Certified Exercise Physiologist