Prairie Fare: Be Inspired by Fall Colors and Add Veggies to Your Plate or Bowl

Proper buying and storing of vegetables rewards you with high-quality vegetables and less food waste.

My husband pointed out some yellow and orange leaves the other day as we drove down the street.

I knew exactly what he was going to say. I turned and looked at him. I could have mouthed the words.

"In a couple months, this will all be covered by snow," he said.

He probably knew what I was going to say.

"It's not snowing yet. Let's just enjoy the season," I responded.

We both enjoy fall and the changing colors. Neither of us is a huge fan of the long, cold month of January in particular. I did reconnect with the snow blower after he had shoulder surgery a year ago.

He was not supposed to do snow removal. I didn't let him, anyway. He kept watching me like a hawk as I attempted to clear the driveway with a 200-pound mechanical octopus.

I suppose I could continue to help with snow removal. However, he is fine now. I think I will stay inside this year and make soup and bread.

Autumn is my favorite season for both the crisp temperatures and the beautiful landscape. I think autumn can be a good reminder to include more colors of nature on our plates.

Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthful diet. They provide fiber, vitamins such as vitamins A and C, and minerals such as potassium to maintain health. Eating enough fruits and vegetables may help prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease, Type II diabetes and cancer.

Aim to have a variety of fruits and vegetables in your daily diet because different colors of fruits and vegetables provide different nutrients. Eating more low-calorie vegetables and fruits may help you reduce your calorie intake, which may help with weight management.

This week I have a 13-item buying and storing checklist for you to consider. For each of the following sentences, give yourself a point if you follow these tips. Your reward is high-quality vegetables and less food waste.

When you select vegetables, which of these tips do you already use?

- I buy in season. Vegetables that are purchased in season usually will be the best quality and give you the best buy.

- I consider the storage available, and I buy only what I can store and use within the recommended time.

- I handle produce gently because the bruised parts are most likely to spoil.

- I pick frozen vegetables that are frozen solid and get them to my freezer as quickly as possible.

- I buy canned vegetables in cans without sharp dents in the seams. (Dents in the seams are more likely to leak and spoil.)

- I buy dried vegetables in tightly sealed, undamaged packages.

When you store vegetables, which of these tips do you already use?

- I store the vegetables properly. Most fresh vegetables should be kept cold and humid.

- To increase storage humidity, I keep vegetables in a plastic bag or in the hydrator (crisper) compartment of the refrigerator, or both.

- For best quality, I do not refrigerate hard-shell (winter) squash. Store them at cool room temperature; about 50 degrees Fahrenheit is best. Potatoes should be kept in a cool, dark and dry place.

- I sort vegetables before storing and remove any with bruises or soft spots.

- I store frozen vegetables at 0º F or lower. At freezer temperatures, frozen vegetables can be stored for 8-12 months. They are safe as long as they remain frozen, but quality can decrease through time.

- I label canned goods with the date of purchase and store them in a cool, dry place.

- I store dried vegetables in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. I use them within a few months.

Here's a nod to the German-Russian heritage in North Dakota. This recipe was submitted to our upcoming "Growing Together" cookbook by Rosemary Jones. I can attest that it was delicious. If you prefer, add one pound of beef chunks and use beef broth in place of vegetable broth.

Borscht (Beet and Vegetable Soup)

2-3 large beets, peeled and diced

1 large onion, diced

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 carrots, diced

6 c. water or vegetable broth

2 large potatoes, diced

2 large tomatoes, diced

½ medium cabbage, cut into strips

1 bay leaf

¼ c. lemon juice

Salt and pepper (to taste)

1 tsp. dill

½ c. fresh parsley or cilantro, chopped

Sour cream or Greek yogurt (optional)

Add vegetable oil to a large heavy-bottomed pot and heat on medium. Add onions and sauté until soft, then add garlic and sauté briefly. Add broth and/or water and heat until simmering. Add carrots, beets, potatoes, cabbage and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add bay leaf, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Simmer until all vegetables are tender (20-30 minutes).

Add chopped herbs and adjust seasonings if needed. Top with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt if desired.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 130 calories, 0 g fat, 4 g protein, 30 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber and 160 mg sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson)


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