Adventures in CSA: New-trition

Three weeks into the CSA, I’m starting to see a few patterns or trends emerging. And let me just preface this by saying: it’s not like we never ate fresh fruits or vegetables in our house. It’s just that we have relied more on convenience items (i.e. frozen vegetables) than we’d have liked, and we haven’t always kept up with the fresh fruit (either in terms of buying it or using it all before it spoiled). We are the recently (new) proud owners of a tumbling composter, so at least the rinds, excess, etc. isn’t going to waste anymore – BUT that doesn’t change the fact that the CSA has pushed more fresh produce into our house in three weeks than we’d had in months.

So, what are the trends?

First off, I miss cooking. Before we had kids, I used to like cooking. DH and I would trade off – one of us would cook and the other would do dishes – and we would prepare meals that were weeknight friendly but not necessarily kid-friendly. The CSA has forced me to do more actual cooking (time spent hanging out near the stove) because I’m creating more from scratch than grabbing a box, bag or can. Why grab a can of diced tomatoes when I can just dice a fresh one? Why heat fries from the freezer when I can make my own from the potatoes that are on the butcher block? There’s no way that I would’ve considered spending 1-1/2hrs making an Acorn Squash Risotto unless someone brought me an acorn squash and practically dared me not to let it go to waste.

Second, our preparation over the years has helped a lot. We serve veggies with every meal at home (except breakfast, where fruit is offered), so the kids are used to having produce on their plate and being expected to gobble down at least a “no-thank-you” helping. For people coming cold off the starting block, trying to bring a CSA into a house where fruit and veggies weren’t really integrated into the standard offering, this would probably be a lot tougher.

Third, my creativity is coming up in notches. Of course, some of that is due to my fantastic girlfriends with food-related blogs (like Local Kitchen, Daily Cynema, My Kinda Rain and My Gems of Parenting). When I see some of what these amazing ladies are making, then I get inspired to branch out and see what I can do. Now, armed with a purpose (gotta use those fruits and veggies before the next box comes!), I’ve been able to try out recipes I otherwise hesitated on and I’ve created a few of my own to suit my own needs.

Now, if we put aside the cost factor and we just go on the overall health factor, I’d like to think that this has gotten us to eat somewhat healthier. Sure, risotto isn’t exactly low-fat, low-cal, and I’ll grant you that glazed carrots aren’t exactly the height of eating lightly…but they’re really good. I grew up in a foodie household that worshipped at the altar of Julia Child, and Saturday nights were the nights when we’d bust out the serious cooking. Even the simple meals had flair – my favorite (still) being filet mignon with my dad’s cognac-mushroom cream sauce, with potatoes, veggies and a fresh baguette. Really, if you haven’t tried a meal like that, I just HIGHLY recommend it. Hedonistic? Oh sure. But it’s REALLY, really good. OK, so maybe not everything is healthier, but we are eating fresher foods. And, since the next step up from the frozen veggies is the fresh kind, I’m thinking this is a move in the right direction.

And then we come to the $64,000 question: is it sustainable for busy, working parents? I’m not entirely sure. I know that some friends have adults-only houses, so their flexibility on menu contents and timing is far greater than ours. I know that some friends with adults and kids manage because one parent is in stay-at-home mode. I also know some others that just somehow make it work, probably because they prioritize it higher than we have in the past. We’ve valued routine (getting the kids their dinner on time so bath & bed can be timely) over everything else, often to the detriment of menu creativity, exercise routines, etc.

But, even if it’s not sustainable in its present form past the 8-week run of the CSA, I don’t think it’s impossible. I think what this will have done is open our horizons enough that we won’t just easily fall back into the same mode. More fresh veggies and fruits will come into the house, regardless, and we’ll try to be more creative than we were in the past. As the kids get older, that gets easier too – their palates start to mature somewhat and they’re more willing to try new foods.

We will have to see. This is what I’m thinking mid-way through the week 3 box, where we’ve already used much of what we got and we’re feeling pretty good about what we’ve made (except for the eggplant, which just hasn’t yet really “gotten” me, prompting Daily Cynema to PM me a recipe that she’s sure will make me a convert). Hopefully the remaining five weeks of the CSA will be as fantastic as the first three and prompt me to find a way to get into a winter share (assuming that one isn’t just done through the office again) so that we can keep this going all year long!

4 thoughts on “Adventures in CSA: New-trition

  1. One thing I try to do with my food to cut down the cook time is to prep as many things as I can ahead of time. For example, I know that time will be tight making dinner tonight, so for the eggrolls I want to make, I cut up everything the night before after dinner was all done and cleaned up, so all I have to do is stir fry the filling and assemble. I have been considering getting a Food Saver, so right after I get my basket, I can cut up everything over weekend when I have more time and then use the Food Saver to help keep it fresh until it’s time to use it. Otherwise, I find it hard to keep up with cooking everything before it goes bad.

  2. Welcome to my world: my own cooking changed dramatically after we got our first CSA. And while I am lucky to have more time to cook than most, and to work from home, I know that even if I went back to an office-based, 70-hr workweek, I would never completely go back to the grocery store life.

  3. We have found that we just can’t go back to grocery store produce. After two summers of CSA, I have moved into a 24 week summer and fall CSA, and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to have a CSA pickup all the way into mid-November! Prep time is clearly greater than relying on frozen produce, but everyone, including the three teens, and the two tired full-time working parents, find the time to prepare what we get. I am always trying to do more prep on the weekend so that nothing is wasted when the week is crazy, and that helps. But the flavors from CSA and farmer’s market produce have spoiled us forever.

  4. The cherry tomatoes, sweet corn and strawberries from our local farmstand (thankfully, only 5 minutes away!) have spoiled us completely. The cherry tomatoes have won awards – and it’s easy to see why. When you have those (colorful, flavorful and just amazingly juicy), the bland little red orbs you can get at the grocery store are just a sad comparison. And THIS is why I get so horribly sad when I hear about people who live in food deserts. The idea that high quality produce isn’t available for everybody, and that the best you can do is bland, nearly lifeless fruits and veggies, is very upsetting. Still, if all you have is the grocery store, then at least something is better than nothing.

    Also, I will admit that we went back to the frozen a little here and there this week, just to keep things on track. As luck would have it, our store-brand frozen corn is mega-sweet, and you can get it in 2lb bags, so that’s good. And I definitely second the notion of prepping things in advance. We got into that habit a few years back, especially related to crockpotting – cutting/slicing, browning, etc. the night before so that the morning isn’t a complete nightmare when we’re trying to get us and the kids out the door while juggling making the crock pot for dinner.

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