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Stocking Up on Healthy Foods

By Gary F. Zeolla

I went to Pittsburgh’s East End Food Co-op yesterday for the first time in three years. I used to go there regularly, but due to my worsening health, was no longer able to make the trip. That meant I had to make do with the limited variety of organic produce and other organic foods available at my local Giant Eagle. Due to my chemical sensitivities, it is best if I only eat organic foods.

In any case, I really stocked on the fresh and frozen produce and other items. So today, I’ve really been enjoying myself. In my morning oatmeal, rather than a boring banana, I had thawed out frozen cubed mango and (my favorite fruit) cherries. For my morning snack, rather than an unexciting apple or orange, I ate a luscious peach.

For lunch, I ate a massive stir fry with seven different fresh veggies, plus minced onion and garlic, garbanzo beans , nuts, and spag sauce, on a bed of brown rice. I should have taken a pic; with the variety of colors it looked great. And for my afternoon snack, I just ate a couple of juicy nectarines (my second favorite fruit).

If you live in the Pittsburgh area, I’d highly recommend the Co-op!

 

The above message was posted on my Facebook page on May 24, 2014. It shows the importance of having a variety of healthy foods in stock in your home. By doing so, you will be excited about eating healthy foods, and you won’t be tempted to consume unhealthy foods. In this article, I will provide some tips on how to stock up on healthy foods, without the foods spoiling or spending an excessive amount of money.

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Fresh fruit and vegetables are probably the most important food items to consume on a regular basis for optimum health. I discuss their importance in my book God-given Foods Eating Plan. I also discuss why it is best to consume organic produce, at least for some items. But the problem with stocking up on fresh fruits and vegetables is they can spoil rather quickly, and they can be expensive, especially organic produce.

To cut down on the expense of purchasing all organic produce is to only buy organic those items that are most contaminated with pesticide residue. In my book I provide lists of which items are most contaminated, and thus are best purchased organic, and those which have little pesticide contamination, and thus do not need to be purchased organic. So for instance bananas and watermelon have negligible pesticide contamination, while strawberries and apples have significant amounts.

As for storage, I have found that fresh fruits and vegetables will keep longer than you might think, if you keep them refrigerated. And it helps if you eat them in the order of the ones that spoil the quickest, to the ones that spoil the slowest. I usually only go to the Co-op every four weeks, so I have learned in what order to eat fruits, so they do not spoil on me.

For fruit, the first step is in the store. Do not purchase any fruit with signs of spoilage already on it. Also, if you purchase fruits that are hard, they will keep longer than if they are soft. So I feel every piece of fruit before purchase. If they are in packages, I will inspect the container as best as possible, to look for any spoilage, and try to eye the firmness of the fruit. If the fruit is still hard when you want to eat them, put them in a paper bag overnight, and they will soften up. But then consume them quickly, as they will spoil quickly once softened.

If fresh and hard, I have found that apples will keep weeks if they are refrigerated, while oranges will last almost as long. That is why organic apples and oranges are available year-round, and why they can be kept on hand for a stand-by fruit.

Strawberries, however, spoil rather quickly, so they need to be eaten with a few days of purchase.  Other berries will keep a little longer, but not much. And given how expensive they are, it is best not to purchase more than will be consumed in a few days. Frozen berries can be purchased for much longer storage.

Peaches spoil in about a week or so. As such, they are best eaten soon after purchase. Nectarines, however, will keep for about two weeks. So eat peaches first, then nectarines. Plums keep about as long as nectarines.

Melons should not only be hard, with no soft spots, but have a hollow sound when tapped. So inspect each carefully before purchase. They will keep for about three weeks, if you do not cut them. Once they are cut they will spoil in a few days. On my monthly Co-op trip, when melons are available, I will buy one or two, and keep them in the back of the fridge. I will eat the other fruits first, then the melons. And they usually will not have spoiled.

So the order to eat fruit in is: strawberries, other berries, peaches, plums, nectarines, melons, oranges, apples.

For vegetables, the same tips apply about inspecting each item carefully to be sure there is not already any spoilage, and when applicable, that the veggie is hard.

Dark greens are probably the healthiest foods you can eat, but they tend to spoil quickly. So I will only purchase a couple of bunches of collard greens or kale, and steam them on the day of my Co-op trip. Once cooked, they will keep only a few days, so eat them quickly. They’re expensive, but nutritional powerhouse, so even consuming them a few days a month can be beneficial.

Lettuce will keep for only a week or so. But fortunately, many standard grocery stores carry organic lettuce. But other vegetables will keep longer.

Zucchini will keep longer if it is hard to begin with. If is it, and is refrigerated, uncut, it will keep for 2-3 weeks. Once cut, it will keep about a week. The same goes for tomatoes.

Broccoli will keep for a couple of weeks if uncut. Cauliflower will keep a little longer. But once cut, both will spoil in about a week. Green beans are about the same.

Cabbage has long been a favored food for its longevity. It will keep for at least a month. The Co-op carries both green and red cabbage. The latter is actually purple, and it really adds color to dishes, and is probably healthier than the green due to greater antioxidant content.

Onions and garlic will keep even longer than cabbage, and do not even need to be refrigerated. But once cut, they will spoil rather quickly if not refrigerated. But if you cut an onion, and want to save some, store it in a heavy plastic bag or plastic container, to keep it from smelling up your fridge. Minced onion and garlic will keep for about a week. Potatoes are similar to onions and garlic in that they will keep for weeks without refrigeration, but once cut or cooked, will spoil in a few days.

Try and error will determine how long other produce will keep. But basically, the texture is the biggest determining factor. Hard, solid, large produce will keep much longer than soft, leafy or small produce.

Grains and Nuts

Unprocessed grains have a long shelf life. They do not need to be refrigerated, and will keep for weeks or even months if they are kept dry. So they can be stocked up on when on sale. And it is probably not that important to buy organic grains, as they absorb little pesticide residue from the soil in growth. So my basic plan is to buy regular grains, unless the organic grains are not that much more expensive.

Processed grains, like breads and cereals are a different story. White bread will keep a long time, but that is because it is nutritionally worthless. This may sound strange, but I have a simple rule: if bugs and bacteria won’t eat a food, neither will I. As such, I would strongly recommend consuming whole grain breads.

However, whole grain bread will spoil in a few days if not refrigerated. But if refrigerated, it will keep at least a couple of weeks. And it can be frozen for months. Some whole grain products, like sprouted grain bread, will only be found in the freezer section of a grocery store. But I have found I can keep it in the fridge for a couple of weeks, which makes it easier to separate the slices.

Tree nuts are similar to grains in that it is probably not necessary to buy organic, especially since organic nuts are very expensive. Nuts might also seem to be like grains in that they keep for weeks without refrigeration. But this can be deceptive, as they can suffer from unseen mold growth. So if possible, it is best to refrigerate nuts. This is especially true if they are raw rather than roasted. They will keep for weeks if refrigerated, and months if frozen, so they can be stocked up on when they are sale.

Peanuts are actually a legume not a nut, but most consider them to be nuts. And the same tips for nuts would apply to peanuts. I know most people do not refrigerate them, and I generally don’t either. But I usually eat a container within a couple of weeks. Any longer, and it is best to refrigerate them.

Most people don’t refrigerate peanut butter either. But I know of people who have gotten sick as a result. Moreover, I would strongly recommend getting natural peanut butter. In that case, it definitely needs refrigerated, but then will keep for weeks. The same goes for almond butter, which is a tasty and somewhat more nutritious alternative.

Meats and Other Animal Foods

I discuss in my “Eating Plan” book the importance of getting meats and other animal foods that come from animals that have not been given hormones or antibiotics. That to me is the most important point when purchasing animal foods. Many recommend also getting organic and even grain fed products. And yes, those would be the best option. But such are rather expensive and even hard to find. So I’d recommend at least looking for hormone/ antibiotic-free products. If you can find and afford organic and grain fed, then get them, but if not, I don’t think it is as big a deal as avoiding the unnecessary hormones and antibiotics.

Fresh meats will keep for up to a week in the fridge, and for months in the freezer. Once cooked, they will keep for up to a week in the fridge, and several weeks in the freezer. Cheeses will keep for a few weeks in the fridge, and can be frozen for months.

The dates on milk and yogurt are usually “Sell-by” dates not expiration dates. The manufacturer is assuming they will keep for at least a week past the sell-by date. So don’t throw away milk or yogurt just because it’s past the date on the label. Moreover, I can often find yogurt with dates up to a month away, and they keep that long just fine. So I can stock up as needed. Just be sure to use the smell and growth tests before consumption.

Canned and Bottled Foods

Canned foods will keep for a long time, several years in fact. So they can be stocked up when on sale. However, canned foods are not always the healthiest option, as the canning process can cause a significant loss of nutrients, and canned foods often have high amounts of added salt. As such, beans, fish, and tomato products are the only foods I buy canned. The canned tomato products can be used in a variety of recipes, so I like to have a few cans around.

Bottled foods are the same. I buy bottled salsa, spaghetti sauce, and oils, but that is about it.  Fresh or frozen food is usually much better than canned or bottled.

Where to shop

Most any grocery store now carries some organic items, and, as mentioned, for many items it is not necessary to buy organic. Major grocery stores often have sales on foods that can be stocked up on. And coupons can be attained in many ways to further reduce costs.

However, the variety of organic and other healthy foods is not as great in a regular grocery store as in a health food store. But smaller health food stores can be rather expensive. That is why I joined a co-op. It only cost a one-time membership fee of $100, but I now get 2% off every purchase, and a quarterly 10% discount that can be applied to whichever order I want.

Plus, the co-op has bi-monthly sales. It used to be just monthly, so the same foods were on sale an entire calendar month. That is how I got in the habit of going once a month.  That way, I could stock up on whatever was on sale that month. Now that they’ve gone to bi-monthly, I check the flyers and pick the two-week period with the most foods on sale that I want to stock up on.

If you don’t live in the Pittsburgh area but live anywhere near another major city, almost certainly there will be a food co-op in your area. You just need to search for it.

Another option is Whole Foods. They have stores in most metropolitan areas. They carry many organic items and other healthy foods. Pittsburgh has a Whole Foods. I tried it once, but did not like it as much as the co-op. My biggest concern was it sold both organic and non-organic produce, and the organic fruits were loose in a bins right beside their non-organic counter-parts, and I could see how easily they could get mixed up, while the co-op only sells organic produce. But Whole Foods is a good option if there is no co-op.

Another option is a health food store warehouse. In my area this is Frankferd Farms. It provides food to the co-op and other stores in my area, but it also sells to consumers. However, you have to order in advance and pick it up. And you only really save money if buy in bulk. But a five-pound bag of almonds, for instance, is just too much for me, but it might be just what many need.

A local farm or famer’s market is a good option for locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. But be careful as just because it is locally grown does not mean it is organic. You need to ask the farmers if they use pesticides or not.

A local farm is also a great option for hormone/ antibiotic-free meats. I get most of my meats from Pound’s Turkey Farm, which also sells chicken and beef. Such a farm can be found in many areas. But you often need to buy in bulk, like a quarter of a steer.

Finally, many foods, like nuts and grains, can be ordered online. I get many such items from iHerb. Their prices for many items are cheaper than what you would pay in a store. And since I’ve been shopping from them for so long, I now get an extra “VIP discount” of 5-12% every time I order. And it only takes a $20 order to get free shipping. Use coupon code HOP815 to receive $5.00 off your first order.

Bulk and Expired Foods

I mentioned above about feeling every piece of fruit before purchase. That might have made some people uncomfortable at the thought that others were doing the same before them. But at least with fruit you can wash off every piece, but that is not the case with grains and nuts.

I mention this as the East End Food Co-op has a large bulk section. And the prices in it are cheaper as compared to packaged items. I used to buy many times from there, but now it makes me uncomfortable. You have no idea if someone has been reaching into those bins, or sneezing in them, or whatever.  But if you’re not squeamish about it, bulk foods can be a source of savings.

Another option that might also make some uncomfortable is stores that sell only foods that have passed their expiration dates. Yes, there are such stores, and they offer foods at great discounts. I first heard about such stores on the news when it reported about a study that found the expiration dates on packaged foods are almost worthless. Most foods last long after their expiration dates, so people throw away perfectly good food.

I mentioned about this on Facebook, and a “friend” mentioned that he regularly shops at such a store, and only once purchased a product that was uneatable. Even if you don’t’ shop at such a store, remember this before throwing out an item just because it has passed its expiration date. Just be sure to use the smell and growth tests before consuming any such items.

Where to put all of this?

Shelf space, fridge space, and freezer space are limited for a lot of people. If so, that can make stocking up on foods difficult. But all three are easily remedied. It will cost money initially, but that will be made up over the years in the savings that will accrue.

Wooden shelves are not that difficult to make yourself, if you’re at all handy with a saw and a hammer. And wood planks are not that expensive. It is much more expensive to buy pre-made wooden shelves. A cheaper alternative would be metal shelves. You need to be handy with a screwdriver to put them together, but it’s not that difficult.

Fridge space is more difficult. When I go to the Co-op, I try to purchase as much produce and yogurt as will last the month before I go again. But doing so would really fill up my fridge, so I purchased a compact fridge just to store this month’s supply.

Such a fridge costs about $250, but being able to stock up on fresh produce makes it worth it. And it should last many years, so it is worth the investment. But a small tip, do NOT get a compact fridge with a freezer space within the fridge. Such a freezer space is worthless. It will only freeze water, nothing else. And it frosts up quickly, so you will need to defrost it every month or two. I had such fridge and replaced it with one without a fridge for these reasons.

A stand-along freezer is a more expensive but a very worthwhile purchase. It will last many years, and will pay for itself in the savings that will be accrued by being able to stock up on foods while they are on sale. Meats, cheeses, nuts, and breads can all be stocked up and frozen. Frozen fruit is great to have around when you run out of fresh fruit. But it can be expensive, but stocking up on it when on sale will reduce that significantly.  And you can even freeze fresh veggies when they are in-season, and eat them later.

Conclusion

There are many other ways to stock up on healthy foods, while saving money in the process, and I hope this article has given the reader some ideas. The most important point is: it is possible to always have a variety of healthy foods in your home, so you’ll not be tempted to turn to turn to unhealthy foods.

Stocking Up on Healthy Foods. Copyright 2014 by Gary F. Zeolla.

The above article was posted on this Web site May 31, 2014.

Nutrition
Nutrition: General Nutrition

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