How can I plan to use all this good food?
Meal Planning Around CSA Produce
by Dollar Stretcher contributors
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Meal Planning around CSA Produce
We joined a CSA a few months back and have definitely noticed a difference in how much we're saving on produce each week. I love the variety we get in our weekly CSA bin, but I have found it has made it quite a bit more challenging to meal plan. I have to wait until I get our bin each week, so I can plan around our new fruits and veggies in order to use them before they go bad. It takes me quite a bit of time. Then I have to plan to freeze/preserve any fruits and veggies I do not incorporate into our weekly meals and make sure I use them at some point in the future. Sometimes I wonder if it is worth the effort. Does anyone have any tips to make meal planning around CSA produce easier?
Keep It Simple
A possibility is to plan to use any assortment of vegetables in a stir fry one day, a frittata or quiche another, a soup another, and a chef's salad another. All of these can be made from basic recipes. There might even be some form of veggie wrap included. Also, some veggies make good smoothie ingredients.
Get a Heads Up
Perhaps the CSA can tell you what produce will be ready during various times, so you can then plan ahead. Almost anything can be frozen with little effort, including tomatoes. I used to quarter them and bag them without blanching when I harvested too many and make them into sauces and stews in the winter. The skins will float off when cooked. It would be wise to keep a record near the freezer of what is in there and when it was frozen, so it can be used while it is still in prime condition.
My Experience with CSA
I had this challenge when I first started a CSA as well. I found online and printed out a chart of which vegetables would be in season during what month and posted it on the fridge. With that and a few chats with the CSA farmer, I had a heads up for what was coming next. It wasn't exact, but it was close. I also posted a food storage guide on my fridge to remind me what to eat first.
The second thing I did was to get out my really good vegetarian cookbook, and I checked a variety out from the library over the summer. Vegweb.com also has recipes for almost anything vegetable. It is vegan, but if you are not, it is easy to change "egg replacer" and "alternative milk" back into eggs and milk.
Over the course of the first season, I developed a few "go to" recipes. I generally started the CSA week with whatever needed to be eaten fresh. Then I moved on to my veggie-skillet with chopped onion and garlic with whatever else I needed to use or a soup. I occasionally tried something new like parsnip and carrot mash. The cookbooks usually have a seasoning guide. Then I froze any leftovers in a freezer-soup container or for work lunches. Toward the end of the week, I cooked, froze, or dehydrated what was left.
Get Your Hands on a Seasonal Cookbook
We were fortunate that our CSA farmer had a newsletter she sent with every delivery that included a recipe for anything new or plentiful for the week. She recommended several cookbooks, including The Farmers Market Cookbook: The Ultimate Guide to Enjoying Fresh, Local, Seasonal Produce. Search online for "seasonal cookbook" to find one that fits your tastes and local area.
Donna in Ohio
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Tips from Former CSA Farmer
I used to run a CSA from our small farm, and since I no longer market garden, I have become a CSA participant. I would suggest to any CSA member to request recipes with each delivery. I always provided two to three recipes and information on how to freeze or can excess. As the market gardener, I had a good idea of what would be in the very near future baskets and would mention possible veggies for the next pickup in the current newsletter. Most CSA owners want feedback on how to make their market a success. If your CSA owner doesn't supply a newsletter with preparation suggestions, recipes or product information along with upcoming veggies, please ask them to include it.
I personally find meal planning easier with a CSA basket. Your CSA owner should have given you a list of planned produce for the membership term. Look through the list and plan out two to three meals per expected item. For example, with tomatoes, you can make BLTs, salad, bruschetta with spaghetti (possibly spaghetti squash might be in the basket, too), salsa, or a Mexican dinner. I hope you don't give up!
Develop a New Normal
I would begin by researching which vegetables and fruit are currently in season and finding recipes on the internet for each type of item. Keep a notebook or recipe card system that uses these veggies and categorize them by type of vegetable. Try looking into slow cooker meals, which can be made up and frozen ahead of time using whatever you receive. It may be just a case of your family not being accustomed to eating vegetables in quantity. As you add more vegetables and fruit to your recipes, the new quantities may be become the norm and you will be following the most current healthy-eating practices.
Solve Your Menu Quandary
I had a CSA for many years. I would recommend making yourself a file of recipes that feature the seasonal fruits and vegetables that you are likely to receive. That way, a quick browse will solve your menu quandary. There are several cookbooks that feature recipes that might inspire you. I would also make and keep up with a freezer log, so those treasures you preserve don't get forgotten at the bottom of the freezer.
You should utilize a dehydrator in the summer to help store some of the garden bounty. Dried kale, peppers, tomatoes, and herbs can be added to soups and casseroles during the long winter months. Enjoy your beautiful produce!
Sarah in Olathe, KS
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