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Best questions to ask at the farmer’s market

Who doesn’t love going to a farmer’s market on a Saturday morning and coming home with a plethora of beautiful local fruits and vegetables? But are you sure they are local? Are you sure you got the best bang for your buck as far as cost and what produce will taste the best? I know I’ve gone to the farmers market countless times only to come back spending more money than I wanted to and finding out little about the actual food.

There is no better way to find out everything you need to know about the produce (or meat) you are buying at the farmer’s market than from the mouth of the farmer. Don’t be shy! Ask the farmer or vendor at the farmer’s market some of these helpful questions to guide you to the best purchases of fruits and vegetables. By asking these questions, you enrich your own farmer’s market experience by learning more about your food and the farming involved with producing it.

What is selling for the best price?

I think it’s fair to say, we have all come home from a farmer’s market with far too much produce and spent more money than we intended too. But the produce is all so beautiful, right? Right. If you are working on a budget, ask the vendor which produce is selling for the best price. They are running a business too so they should give a you straight shot answer.

When was the fruit or vegetable picked?
No one wants to go home with fruits or vegetables that start rotting the next day. We want the freshest of the fresh depending on how we plan to consume the produce. If it was harvested over >48 hours ago, you may want to shop around and ask other farmers if they have harvested within the last 24 hours.

What produce are you spraying with pesticides or chemicals? Is it organic?
If pesticides and/or chemicals are a big concern for you, don’t be afraid to ask the vendor or farmer which produce do they spray or are they certified organic? This may help guide which produce you purchase. For example, you may gear more towards fruits or vegetables that don’t have edible skin if standard pesticides are used (i.e. bananas or oranges).

How can I cook this?
Variety in consumption of fruits and vegetables is key to great health. But often we are too scared to try something new or have no idea how to cook or prepare it. If you’re looking to try a new fruit or vegetable from the farmer’s market, the farmer is likely the best person to ask what it’s best served with or how to prepare it. Ask if you can try a sample!

Where is your farm located or are you a wholesale market?
Many of us shop at farmer’s markets because we love the idea of supporting local farmers and businesses. However, just because someone is standing behind a table selling produce, doesn’t always mean they are a local farmer. Vendors can be just as knowledgeable, but some travel for larger wholesale companies selling other people’s produce, which does not equate to supporting local business.

Do you need an extra hand?
If you are really eager to find out more about farming or how their farming is done, ask them if they need a free hand sometime. This may be an invaluable experience for truly understanding farm-to-table in West Michigan.

-EAW

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How to stay healthy while spending more time outside

Warmer weather is finally here in West Michigan! Many of us can’t wait to dust off those bicycles and spend more time outside.

As eager as we are to get a nice big ice cream cone from the local creamery, we do need to keep our health at the forefront.

Here are some easy ways to spend that time outside (and not in the kitchen!) without sacrificing your health:

Watch my WZZM 13 segment here!

Grill smarter! Grilling season is here! We all love a big, juicy burger off the grill to kick off warmer weather. Grilling is a great way to enjoy the outdoors while cooking, but keep in mind grilling can have some potential health concerns, especially if you are only cooking high saturated fat foods, such as burgers or steak, and charring your meats at extremely high heat (>300 degrees). If grilling is your specialty, make an effort to include leaner meats, fruits, and vegetables. Grilled vegetable skewers offer a great punch of flavor and antioxidants that may help offset the potential carcinogenic HCAs from grilling meats at high heat.

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Throw a vegetarian bonfire party! Ok, so you probably don’t need to call it that when you invite friends over for a bonfire, but hey, using fun veggie or fruit-based recipes with campfire cast irons or roasting extension forks is a great way to spend time outside while eating healthy. S’mores and hot dogs will always be a staple, but spicing it up with new veggie-based recipes is a fun way to involve kids in cooking while promoting better consumption of fruits and vegetables. Try some of these recipe ideas using campfire cast irons:

  • Apple Cheddar Panini – whole grain bread, sliced Granny smith apples, part-skim Swiss cheese, Dijon mustard
  • Vegetable Pizza Calzone – whole grain bread, pizza sauce (low sodium if available), basil, light or part-skim mozzarella cheese, and choice of vegetables (mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, etc.) IMG_1997
  • Apple Cinnamon Pie – whole grain cinnamon raisin bread, cinnamon, sliced apples, unsweetened cinnamon apple sauce
  • Banana Foster – whole grain cinnamon raisin bread (I used Aunt Millie’s), 1/2 banana (sliced lengthwise), cinnamon, rum or coconut extract, coconut or vanilla yogurt IMG_1999

Start a garden! Although this may seem labor-intensive initially, your hard work will equate to less time spent inside a grocery store later. There are many levels of gardening. If you are intimidated about how to get started, start small. Start with just herbs or 1-2 vegetables that you know you and your family eat on a regular basis. Avoid planting too much at one time. Still feeling nervous? Use pre-potted plants or herbs instead of growing from seeds. Flowerland is a great place to start and has a ton of options to choose from.

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Utilize one-sheet pan or 5-ingredient or less recipes! Sticking to one-sheet pan dinners or five ingredients or less is an easy way to avoid excess time in the kitchen. Cooking and eating healthy does not have to be complicated. Pinterest is my go-to for easy recipes by searching for 5 or 10-ingredient or less recipes.

Try these one-sheet or 5-ingredient or less healthy recipes to get you started:

Sheet-pan Chicken Fajitas (Eatingwell.com)

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Prep time: 20 mins, Total time: 40 mins

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 large red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 large yellow bell pepper, sliced
  • 2 cups sliced red or yellow onion (about 1 large)
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 8 corn tortillas, warmed

Lime wedges, cilantro, sour cream, avocado and/or pico de gallo for serving (optional)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat a large rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.
  2. Cut chicken breasts in half horizontally, then slice crosswise into strips. Combine oil, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder and salt in a large bowl. Add the chicken and stir to coat with the spice mixture. Add bell peppers and onion and stir to combine. Transfer the chicken and vegetables to the prepared baking sheet and spread in an even layer.
  3. Roast on the middle rack for 15 minutes. Leave the pan there and turn the broiler to high. Broil until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are browning in spots, about 5 minutes more. Remove from oven. Stir in lime juice.
  4. Serve the chicken and vegetables in warmed tortillas accompanied by lime wedges and topped with cilantro, sour cream, avocado and/or pico de gallo, if desired

Spinach, Hummus, and Bell Pepper Wraps (Cookinglight.com)

Total time: 10 mins

Servings: 2 wraps

Ingredients:

  • 2 (1.9-oz.) whole-grain flatbreads
  • 1/2 cup roasted garlic hummus
  • 1 small red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup firmly packed baby spinach
  • 1 ounce crumbled tomato-and-basil feta cheese (about 1/4 cup)

Directions:

  1. Spread each flatbread with 1/4 cup hummus, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edge.
  2. Divide the bell pepper evenly between the flatbreads; top each with 1/2 cup spinach and 2 tablespoons cheese. Starting from one short side, roll up the wraps. Cut each wrap in half, and secure with wooden picks.

Cheers to the warm weather and Michigan summer approaching!

-EAW