Going the Distance: Making Meals Last Longer - Action for Healthy Kids
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Going the Distance: Making Meals Last Longer

We all wish some of our favorite foods would last just a little bit longer. If you’re an avocado fan – you know what we mean. Thankfully, a little planning and making the most of what we have on hand can do just that. Building out your non-perishables cabinet and leveraging that trusty freezer are quick and easy ways to make sure healthy meals can go the distance.

Make the most of non-perishables. Don’t overlook the beans, rice, pasta and other non-perishable items in the back of the pantry. Items such as these are great staple items that can help make fresh produce and other refrigerated items go even farther by adding substance and additional nutrients.

  • Stock up on whole grains, like brown rice, farro, barley, and oats, and beans or lentils. These are inexpensive items that add substance and nutritious benefits to many different kinds of meals. Loaded with fiber and protein, these will keep you and the family full longer.
  • Leftover veggies that you’re not sure what to do with? Toss some pasta on the stovetop and stir veggies into the sauce. An easy way to fill up on whole grains and vegetables while also making sure your produce doesn’t go to waste.
  • Get creative with legumes and beans. Beans are a well-known source of fiber and protein and not to mention – delicious! Stock up on a variety, whether canned or dry, and similar to fruits and vegetables – the more colors, the better. Beans are great with rice and vegetables, in a healthy bean burrito or taco, or as the base of a hearty soup.
    • When cooking with dry beans, it’s important to allow them to soak ahead of time.
    • For every 2 cups of dry beans, add 10 cups of water. You can soak overnight with cold water or speed up the process on the stovetop. Heat on high until boiling and leave on boil for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and let soak for 4 hours.
  • Use canned vegetables to add more substance to soups or stews. Look for “low sodium” or “no salt added.” Empty the can into a strainer and rinse under the faucet for a minute before cooking!

Befriend the freezer.  There is no better friend to help you save time while also extending the shelf life of produce and leftovers than your freezer. Freezing meals such as soups and other leftovers allows you to store nutritious, home-cooked meals for those nights when you just don’t feel like cooking and adds a little extra time to perishables that would otherwise go bad.

  • Frozen fruits and vegetables can function as great last-minute additions to smoothies, soups, and other dishes when ingredients are running low. Purchase prepackaged at the grocery store or make your own by stocking up on produce during sales and then prepping and freezing them on your own at home. Check out these tips for freezing fresh fruits and vegetables in order to preserve the most flavor and nutrients.
  • Save money by making your own frozen meals. Soups and stews, chili, sauces and other large-pot dishes not only are great to make in large batches but can easily freeze and be served again later.
    • Be sure to completely cool before packaging. You can do this by placing the pot in a bath of ice water and then stirring to help release heat.
    • Package well to ensure air doesn’t get in. Use zip lock freezer bags to save on space – after sealed, lay bags flat for easy stacking!
    • Reheat safely. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and reheat over low to medium heat depending on the recipe.
  • Don’t let bread spoil! Toss pre-sliced bread into the freezer. When you’re ready to make a sandwich or piece of toast, use a toaster or oven to give it a nice crisp.

Look for a longer shelf life. Sadly, as much as we wish those avocados or bananas would last just a little bit longer, nothing lasts forever – especially produce. On the flip side, some produce has a longer shelf-life and can be key to stretching your dollar further and minimizing your trips to the grocery store. When stored properly, produce such as potatoes, carrots and various types of squash can last weeks and are simple staples that can open up the door to creative new recipes without a hassle.

Stocking up on non-perishable and frozen foods make it easier to make healthy dinners on the fly with minimal preparation. Leveraging items with a longer shelf life can also help you to stay healthy on a budget. As you build out your pantry, be mindful of when items are purchased and ensure they are properly stored before and after opening. It is important to find a balance between fresh, frozen, and packaged but once you find that balance, your dollar and supplies will last much longer than you ever thought possible!

Get a head start by using AFHK’s Going the Distance Shopping List!

Shelf-Stable Groceries

  • Beans (Black, Kidney, Garbanzo/Chickpea, Navy, Lentils)
  • Canned Vegetables (Corn, Green Beans, Diced Tomatoes, Carrots, Peas)
  • Nuts and Trail mix
  • Frozen Vegetables (Broccoli, Peas, Spinach, Asparagus, Corn, Carrots, Green Beans, Medleys, etc.)
  • Frozen Burgers (Beef, Turkey, Chicken, Salmon, Veggie)
  • Canned Tuna
  • Whole Wheat Pasta
  • Whole Wheat or Corn Tortillas
  • Multigrain Low-Sugar Cereals
  • Steel Cut Oats
  • Popcorn
  • Peanut Butter

Long Shelf-Life Produce

  • Apples
  • Beets
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Garlic
  • Grapefruit
  • Green Bell Peppers
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Onions
  • Radishes
  • Russet Potatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Spaghetti Squash
  • Winter Squash