How to Utilize a CSA Without Wasting Produce or Feeling Overwhelmed
So you signed up for a CSA. It’s all the rage. All your friends and coworkers rave about the fresh, local produce they receive each week. There are so many benefits. You are supporting your community. You know where your food is coming from. It is seasonal. It is local.
And then it shows up.
A box FULL of beautiful, fresh produce…
…that you have no idea what to do with. Overwhelmed, you put it in the fridge and worry about it later.
The number one complaint I hear from people who have tried a CSA is that they were completely overwhelmed. They don’t know what to make. The produce goes bad. Before you know it a new box full shows up and the cycle continues for a whole season.
I want to share my tips with you for successfully using a CSA because when that box shows up every week it is like Christmas morning to me. I have a couple of friends who are the exact same way. Being involved in a CSA should be an enjoyable experience that helps you to enjoy fresh, healthy, seasonal produce.
Here are my top tips so that you don’t waste food or feel overwhelmed.
Plan ahead. – This is first and foremost. I am lucky that the CSA I belong to shares an email update each week with a list of the anticipated produce that will be included for the week. Our CSA also shares storage and cleaning tips for the specific produce that week. For me this works out perfectly because I receive a CSA update by Friday and I grocery shop on Sunday. That means I can incorporate the produce I am receiving into my meal plan for the week. If you are saying, “Meal plan? I don’t have time to meal plan!” I need you to get on board with me. It is really not hard. Before I shop on Sunday I choose 4-5 meals to cook for the week and shop for those ingredients plus our other staples and snacks. If you cook regularly you can start to build a list of 10-20 dinners you like and rotate through those (If you are interested in how I meal plan let me know. That could be a full post). Your take away here should be to find out in advance what will be arriving in your CSA for the week. Yes – for the first few weeks you might feel like all you eat are salads, but lettuces are seasonal and only grow really well in the spring (at least in Minnesota). Remember, this is part of the beauty of a CSA; you are eating what is in season in your local climate.
Clean and prep the produce the day you receive it. – I cannot stress this enough. This is the most important tip I have to share. It can feel a little overwhelming but after the first week or two you will get a system down. Each week on CSA delivery day (Wednesdays for us) as soon as my daughter goes to bed I invest about 45 minutes to an hour prepping and cleaning the produce. The reason this is so important is because if it is cleaned and prepped I find I am more likely to use it. The produce from a CSA isn’t preserved in any way either so you want to handle it carefully and be prepared to use it in a timely manner. My favorite tool for this is a salad spinner. I use it as a clean place to soak produce as well as a method to dry it. I leave the basket in and add a few splashes of white vinegar. Then I fill the bowl with cool water and submerge the produce for a little bit. This works especially well with lettuces. I cut them up first, then do the soak. All of the dirt falls to the bottom. Drain and rinse well. Then you can transfer the basket back to the spinner bowl and dry out your veggies. Some things, for example strawberries, shouldn’t be washed until the time you are going to eat them for maximum freshness, but in general you can prep most things ahead.
Utilize Pinterest or your favorite recipe outlet. – I have a few boards on Pinterest dedicated to the CSA. I originally had one board for CSA recipe ideas. For example, if I was perusing and stumbled across a great zucchini recipe, I would save it there knowing they will show up in the CSA later in the season. Now I have even broken my Pinterest boards down more into board for specific veggies. This is so helpful when I receive my weekly update. I can head to my Pinterest boards and see if I have any recipes saved for each specific veggie. As long as you have an idea of what types of produce are local and seasonal to you, you can always be on the lookout for ideas. Another helpful thing is to rely on friends. I am friends with other people who are part of my CSA so when I receive something that I don’t have a recipe idea for I have someone to bounce ideas off of. This week I wasn’t sure what to make using the bok choy we got and a friend gave me an excellent stir fry recipe to try.
While simple, these are the critical things that I do to make sure I use all of the produce in my CSA and can do so without feeling like it is a daunting task. Using these 3 tips, we have wasted very little food from our CSA. What do you do to make sure you utilize your produce?
Have a great week!