Organic produce

Organic produce (Corey Lowenstein, McClatchy-Tribune / March 28, 2008)

Buying organic produce feels good everywhere but at the checkout line. When the cashier rings up those red peppers, self-congratulation turns to silent reproach: "$5 for two hollow vegetables? Do I really need to pay a premium for organic ones?" Instead of stewing over the questions, we did a quick Internet search and read that, first, red peppers are technically a fruit and, second, buying organic ones is recommended. But buying conventional is generally OK for avocados, sweet potatoes, sweet peas, sweet corn and asparagus. Same for mangoes, melons, kiwi, domestic grapes and pineapple. To continue our education, we turned to Whole Foods associate team leader Jesse Mraz, asking her for insider tips on how to eat more fruits and vegetables without blowing the family budget.

Q. How can families save on fresh produce?

A. If you live somewhere that doesn't have a long growing season, look for what's seasonal. In winter you have citrus fruits like oranges, tangerines, Cuties — the kids love those, and they're easy to peel. Bananas year-round are something you can find relatively inexpensive. Carrots now come in so many different varieties, and you can save money if you buy them in bulk and cut them on your own. Not everyone has time for that, but we really try to teach consumers about ways they can be more involved with diet choices. Getting kids involved in preparing food can make them less apprehensive about eating the food. Whether you're doing organic or conventional vegetables, the most important thing is you're eating more fruits and vegetables. The other important thing is to rinse vegetables before you consume them. Even prewashed spinach or lettuces. That goes across the board whether organic or conventional.

Q. How can families with young kids branch out from carrots to other affordable options? To my delight, I discovered my daughter will eat raw asparagus if I dice it into little discs.

A. There's broccoli and butternut squash, which is something that takes a little more prep if you're buying a whole squash. But a lot of stores have it already peeled and cut for you. Celery is affordable, and ants on a log — celery with cream cheese and raisins on top — is a fun option. I am a huge fan of radishes, and they're easy. You give them a quick rinse, and they're great with hummus or yogurt dip. Grape tomatoes and cherry tomatoes add color. Any of the bell peppers are easy to prep ahead of time and tend to stay fresh a little longer.

Q. I hear that if a certain fruit is out of season, buying frozen can be smarter because it may retain more vitamins than fresh produce that travels from afar. And my daughter actually likes to eat berries, mangoes and peas frozen. And of course frozen lasts longer. But is frozen or fresh typically more pricey?

A. It takes a little bit of time, but it's smart to get in the routine of looking for sales. Fresh organic blueberries were on sale this week and cost less than frozen organic blueberries. When there's a sale, pick up a couple pints, then freeze one. Wash them first and make sure they're dry; don't put them in the freezer sopping wet. If an item isn't on sale, it's typical that fruit will be less expensive frozen than fresh if it's not in season.

wdonahue@tribune.com