Try to incorporate fresh produce in diet

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Despite the high temperatures, July is one of my favorite months. There are tons of delicious fruits and vegetables available in North Carolina, many of which you can find at the Wilson Farmers and Artisan Market. Unfortunately, many people believe that eating fruits and vegetables is “too expensive” or “too difficult.” It doesn’t have to be!

Buying fresh fruits and vegetables when they are in season is the best opportunity to buy fruits and vegetables. The produce is cheaper when it is in season, is usually of better quality and is even more delicious.

One predicament with fresh produce is that it does not last as long. Especially for produce with a short window of seasonal availability, produce shelf-life is certainly a consideration to keep in mind.

One tip for buying fruits and vegetables is to buy it in season and freeze it. Freezing foods when they are in season ensures preserving nutrients as they are at their peak, shortly after being harvested. Not only can you freeze these foods and continue eating healthy throughout the rest of the year, you can also home-can those items to have fruits and vegetables preserved in the case of a power outage.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a resource available to find recipes and “how to” guides for canning, freezing and all things related to food preservation. This is a resource that can be found online at https://nchfp.uga.edu/; this website is widely used by North Carolina Cooperative Extension because all of the information is based on research for quality and food safety. North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Wilson County Center also has canning and food preservation classes available at the Wilson Ag Center, but pre-registration is required.

In addition to cost effectiveness, I oftentimes hear that people simply don’t know how to prepare many fresh produce items. In regards of produce available in July, cabbage and eggplant seem to be items that consumers may be less familiar with preparing. If they are familiar with preparing these foods, they tend to run out of ideas and variety for cooking methods and flavors.

I love to prepare cabbage! I like to slice cabbage into wedges, wrap them in tin foil, add about a tablespoon of olive oil per foil packet, and grill for roughly 15-25 minutes. Once the cabbage comes off the grill, you can then top it with your choice of seasonings. I have discovered “the simpler, the better.” I like to use a little bit of salt and pepper with Italian seasoning — delish!

Another way to use cabbage is to shred it and top tacos, burritos and wraps. This adds another layer of crunch, adds to your vegetable consumption for the day and helps you use up the cabbage in your fridge.

I have also added thin strips of cabbage to my chicken “fried” rice (https://medinsteadofmeds.com/chicken-vegetable-fried-rice/). My final tip for using cabbage is to add it to a main dish that incorporates bell peppers (also available in July) and whole grain pasta — bring on the fiber! This dish is one of my new favorites (https://medinsteadofmeds.com/cabbage-pasta-pepper/).

Eggplant is an additional produce item available in July. I have recently discovered that most people I interact with have either never tried or never cooked eggplant. Did you know you can turn them into mini pizzas? Slice the eggplant into “coins,” top with tomato sauce, your favorite pizza toppings, and bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes; top with reduced-fat mozzarella cheese and place back in the oven until the cheese melts. You can also cut the eggplant into strips and use in your lasagna recipe to replace the noodles. Eggplant can even be dipped in an egg mixture and rolled in seasoned breadcrumbs, baked and served as a healthier alternative to fried eggplant Parmesan.

If you are interested in learning more about working with fresh produce, finding new recipes, or curious about cooking and nutrition classes, please contact the Wilson County Cooperative Extension Center at 252-237-0111 or email Cassidy Hall (Cassidy_hall@ncsu.edu).

Cassidy Hall is area agent, family and consumer sciences, for Wilson and Johnston counties.