How to Choose & Store Foods: Spinach, Oranges, Asparagus

A continuation of yesterday’s post…


When selecting spinach, look for thick, strong, dark green leaves. The stems should also be green and strong, but not too thick. A thick stem indicates the spinach may have been overgrown. I prefer to buy the fresh spinach leaves, complete with the dirt from picking. They're easy to wash at home. The pre-washed spinach in a bag is convenient, but I don’t trust it. This is the type of spinach where bacteria, even E. coli, will creep up every once in a while. Last summer, my sister Madeline found a little “friend” in a brand new bag of pre-washed spinach from Whole Foods. I won’t give the details, but I will say I haven’t bought bagged spinach again since, and I’m sure she hasn’t either. Plus, the fresh leaves that aren’t already prepped and bagged are also less expensive.

Wash the spinach right before you use it to retain the most nutrients and keep it fresh longer. It will store in the fridge for 2-5 days depending on its quality. A slimy coating on the spinach leaves (or on most things in your fridge, for that matter, such as lunch meat or cheese), can indicate it has begun to go bad.


Oranges are one of those fruits that are most likely to contain pesticides, so buying organic is preferable. Some oranges may seem so perfectly colored that it’s too good to be true. Well, you’re right, it is too good to be true. In many non-organic oranges, a dye is injected to create an evenly colored peel. This makes the oranges more appealing at the grocery store and hides any discoloration that may have resulted from harvesting, packaging, storing and traveling. My sister Alice was visiting last month and we had a bag of clementine tangerines, and she mentioned that they just must be dyed because even the white fleshy part right inside the skin was orange, not white. I did some research and (disappointingly), found that they are often dyed. Yet another reason to stick with the organic oranges. Artificial dyes in fresh fruit? No thank you!

Choose an orange that is round and smooth. Although discoloration is not necessarily bad, bruises and soft spots could be signs of rotting. Fully ripened oranges will have the most antioxidants. A heavy orange indicates it carries more juice, whereas a light orange may taste dry and flavorless. Like spinach, very large oranges may be overripe or overgrown and will not taste as good. In general, the smaller the orange, the more flavor and nutrients it will contain.

As for storage, the counter and the refrigerator are both good options. An orange will last a week or two if you’ve chosen a good orange, which is a huge benefit of these fruits. I eat more oranges in the summer months, so I like to store them in the fridge so they are cold and refreshing.


Asparagus reminds me of summer and BBQs. It’s one of our staple veggies because it’s easy to prepare and full of nutrients. A little lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper are all it needs. We used to wrap it in tinfoil and grill it alongside the meat or fish, but we discovered it tastes better and retains more juices if we do it in the oven.

When selecting asparagus, stalks should be very green, very straight, and round. Asparagus tips should be darker green (some are purple) and tightly closed, not flowering open. Also, don’t be afraid to touch the stalk – it should feel nice and firm. Thin asparagus will be much more tender and cook quickly, whereas a thick stalk could be more crunchy and hearty. I usually go for the thin or medium-thickness, to avoid buying asparagus that has been overgrown or chemically altered.

Asparagus should be stored in the refrigerator and will keep for a couple of days (or longer, but eating it sooner will ensure freshness and the most nutrients). Asparagus is very high in folate, which is an extremely important B-vitamin, especially for women of child-bearing age. You may remember from my post last week on water-soluble vitamins that folate is easily destroyed by light. For this reason, make sure you store asparagus somewhere in the fridge that is tucked away and not right underneath a light. A veggie drawer on the bottom usually works well. I also like to wrap it in a paper towel inside the bag, just to be sure.

This wraps up the choosing and storing for some of the more popular spring fruits and vegetables… look for a similar post in a couple of months when we are all moving on to the delicious summer foods!


How to Choose & Store Foods: Apples, Strawberries, Potatoes

These are three foods that are currently fresh and local in Colorado (strawberries are from neighboring state Oklahoma). Yesterday I wrote about the benefits of eating food that is seasonal and local, and today I will give you some tips on how to choose the right piece of fruit or vegetable.


If you are eating the apple fresh as a snack or with lunch or dinner, choose an apple that is firm and free of bruises or brown spots. It should appear nearly ripe. If you give it a little tap or flick near the stem, you should hear a dull thud. If it sounds hollow, that means the apple is too ripe. The softness or mushiness in an apple is a sign of oxidation, meaning some of the nutrients have been destroyed. We should always try to get the most nutrients out of our produce. Remember – it starts losing nutrients as soon as it’s picked. This is why trips to the apple orchard are great in the fall months. You can pick your own apples and they will be more nutrient-dense than any apple you’d find at the grocery store! However, if your apples at home do turn soft and become overripe, you can use them to make applesauce or pie. These types of apples are perfect for baking.

Typically, the rounder the apple the younger it is. When they start to elongate, it means they’ve been on the tree longer. The younger apples will be more flavorful and, in my opinion, are preferable.

Storage is an important part of the apple process as well. All apples should be stored in the fridge so they stay fresh longer. They’ll last a couple of weeks in your fridge, whereas apples in the fruit bowl on the counter will begin to rot much sooner. If you are trying to soften apples up for pie or sauce, keep them out on the counter.


Strawberries don’t last as long as apples, so buy them right before you plan on eating them. They should be bright red and still have their green stems attached. If they appear mushy or have mold on them, search for a better container. With strawberries, I always look closely at the bottom and sides of the clear container to make sure there is no mold or crushed berries. Strawberries are expensive, and I always want to get the most out of the container I buy!

Have you ever been to a farmer’s market and gotten those really small strawberries? If so, you probably noticed how sweet they were. As with many fruits, the smaller the berry, the sweeter it will be. Sometimes the huge ones are a bit more sour and less flavorful.

When you bring them home, inspect the strawberries more closely and remove any moldy or mushy ones before putting the rest in the refrigerator. They will stay fresh for 2-3 days in there, but if you leave them on the counter they will spoil quickly. When you’re ready to eat them, wash the berries well. Strawberries are known for being covered in herbicides and pesticides, so I give them a good (but gentle) scrub before eating.


Whether you’re choosing sweet potatoes, russet potatoes, purple potatoes, or red potatoes, you want to look for ones that are firm, fairly even-shaped, and have few or no blemishes. I like to buy my potatoes from the bulk section rather than in prepackaged bags, because I’ve had bad experiences in the past. Sometimes when you buy a bag it’s hard to tell if all the potatoes are fresh, and so you may end up tossing out some of the rotten ones when you get home.

Make sure your potatoes are not sprouting anywhere on the skin. Sprouting indicates a toxic substance has formed in the potato, and this substance is linked to things like headaches and diarrhea. If you notice any of your potatoes have sprouted, toss them out right away. If the sprouts are very small, you can just shave off that part of the potato and eat it right away.

Potatoes should be stored in cool, dry places such as basements, garages, or pantries. Do not refrigerate them as they will harden and the starches will turn into sugars, altering the flavor. If you keep them on the counter they will rot more quickly. (I am guilty of keeping ours on the counter because I know if I hide them in some cupboard, I’ll totally forget we have them!). They should last a couple of weeks if chosen and stored properly. Potatoes cooked with the skin on retain more nutrients. They’re a great food not only for dinners but also as snacks. Sweet potatoes are especially great for babies and kids, because they taste good and are nutritious.

Tomorrow: Spinach, oranges, asparagus!


Eating Seasonally and Locally

Recently, I got a question from a reader: How do I choose a piece of fruit? I’m going to answer this question in the next few days, but the first step is to read the labels. You want to choose fruits that are in season and grown as close to your home state as possible. Just like reading nutrition labels is a very important skill and a critical component of grocery shopping, reading a fruit or vegetable label is also important.

Eating seasonally is a wonderful thing to do. Our global marketplace allows us to purchase almost any fruit or vegetable at any time of the year, but by eating seasonally, we are more likely to eat foods that are fresh and local. We support local farmers and create a more sustainable eating system. Eating seasonally is the foundation of many wellness approaches, such as Ayurvedic medicine or the 3-Season diet. Our bodies change with the seasons, and we crave different foods at different times of the year. When the weather turns cold, we are drawn towards hot soups, chilis and stews. And as spring approaches, we start to eat more fresh salads and berries. This is very normal and is part of how our body adapts to the changing seasons.

When fruits and vegetables are not local, they take quite the trip to get to our grocery stores each week. Some of the produce you see may be weeks or even months old. The fruits and veggies travel an average of 1,500 miles to get to your store! Often they are picked when they are still green, and they ripen on their trip over. This may seem okay in theory, but remember that fruits and vegetables begin to lose nutrients the moment they are picked. A local strawberry that was picked a few days ago will have many more nutrients than a strawberry that has traveled from another country. Not to mention all the chemicals needed to preserve and protect a fruit for its long trip. Unripe fruits are also highly acidic and can actually leach nutrients out of our bodies when we eat them.

Tip: Learn what is in season in your particular city, and pay attention to country or state of origin stickers. For example, I know that I can get Colorado-grown apples most of the year, so if I buy an apple, I make sure it's from Colorado.

Eating seasonally also saves money. This is because you are not paying for high travel costs or the cost of ripening and preserving a fruit picked too early. Rather, you are paying a local farmer who simply harvests and distributes the fruits and vegetables. Foods can be grown in greenhouses out of season, but it costs more to do so and therefore their price tags at the grocery stores will go up. This is why berries are so much less expensive in the summer months. If you are a gardener, you know that growing your own food can save a lot of money. It does take a little time and effort, but being able to harvest fresh, organic fruits and vegetables from your own backyard is priceless.

Right now in our house we have bananas from Ecuador (these ones are about to go into our breakfast smoothie), grapefruits from Florida (we got a box as a gift - they are SO yummy) and apples from Colorado. Not bad!

Some fruits and vegetables are nearly impossible to obtain locally. For example, bananas are rarely grown in the United States, and some tropical fruits like pineapple or mango are often grown outside the country. Eating locally is something I try to do when possible, but of course I make exceptions.

So how do we know what’s in season in our city or state? There is a great website that can tell you this information. Go here to try it out. You simply enter your state and the current month, and it will give you a list of fresh, local fruits and vegetables. Right now in Colorado, we should be eating apples, pinto beans, potatoes and popcorn. It also shows what is fresh in bordering states. For Coloradans, this includes arugula, asparagus, beets, brussels sprouts, garlic, onions, radishes, rhubarb, spinach, swiss chard and turnips. Try entering your state and find out what's fresh!

Tomorrow I’ll talk more about how to choose the perfect piece of fruit or fresh vegetable at the grocery store.


Business Trips: Hotel Breakfast

Have you ever found yourself in this situation?

You’re on a business trip. In the morning, you walk down from your hotel room feeling a bit groggy from traveling and sleeping in a room with poor circulation and a below-average bed. You have to eat breakfast before you head to your meeting or appointment. Here are your options:

  • Omelet bar
  • 3-tiered tray of muffins and pastries
  • Table with bagels, bread, toaster, butter and jam
  • Belgian waffle bar (complete with whipped cream and strawberries floating in a sugary syrup)
  • 5 big stainless steel containers of hot food: bacon, hashbrown potatoes, sausage, cheesy grits, scrambled eggs
  • Oatmeal bar
  • Cold cereal (most of them highly processed and sugary) and milk
  • Flavored yogurts with granola
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Fresh fruit – usually apples, oranges and bananas

You could take a couple of different paths here:

Eat an enormous breakfast, try a little of everything and bring a pastry to-go. After all, it’s free right?


Have a hard-boiled egg and a banana, or some oatmeal with fresh fruit, which are both similar breakfasts to what you’d eat at home.

I’m not saying it’s terrible to go big when you travel, but just be aware of your decisions. Big breakfasts are usually eaten on special occasions, like Christmas morning after you’ve opened your stockings; Easter brunch with friends and family; the day after a wedding when everyone is gathering to rave about the night… but not necessarily before a business meeting. You need energy and fuel for the day, but keep in mind you are traveling, and until you get home, you will have minimal control over your food options and you probably won’t have time to exercise.

It’s sort of human nature to eat more if there is more food to eat. We have this subconscious need to try a little of everything and clean our plate. And when it’s free, we are even more likely to overeat.

But you don’t want to feel uncomfortably full. You want to feel alert and energized. Also, keep in mind that one scrambled egg prepared at the hotel probably has more calories, sodium and fat than one scrambled egg you cook yourself at home. They most likely use an unhealthy oil and add extra salt.

So stick with the basics and focus on whole foods. Some well-rounded hotel breakfast buffet combinations include:

  • A bowl of oatmeal with some fruit and nuts; water and tea/coffee
  • 2 eggs, scrambled or hard-boiled, a piece of whole wheat toast with peanut butter, a banana, water and tea/coffee
  • 2-egg omelet with lots of veggies; 1 piece of sausage or ham; apple; water and tea/coffee
  • Yogurt with nuts and fruit; 1 piece of toast with butter or peanut butter; water and tea/coffee

Try to stay away from the same things you’d normally avoid at home on a regular workday: pastries, muffins (unless homemade!), donuts, sugary juices, enormous waffles, a huge serving of sausage, etc.

The PWN reader who gave me the idea for this blog post was recently in a hotel where the options included things like white bread toast, powdered eggs, and lots of sugary pastries and muffins. This reader ended up having 2 hard-boiled eggs, a couple bites of sausage, a piece of toast with peanut butter and a banana. Sometimes you’ll be at a place where you don’t have as many choices as the full spread I mentioned above – in these situations, do what you need to do. Either eat whatever you think is best from the hotel options, or go to a coffee shop or deli where you can get something better. I know the hotel breakfast is free, but spending a few extra bucks on something that will give you more energy and make you feel better all day long is totally worth it, in my opinion. When I used to travel for work I would always spend my own money on good coffee, because I typically don’t like hotel coffee.

Again, it’s okay to enjoy the hotel breakfast buffet, but just be aware. If you have a team lunch, happy hour and dinner lined up for the day, you may want to take it easy on breakfast to avoid feeling awful when you return from your trip. It’s the mindless eating that gets us into trouble, and hotel breakfast bars are just one more place where we can work on being more conscious of the foods we are choosing to put into our bodies.


The Lamb Cake

Okay, so this isn’t exactly nutrition-related, but I have to share the story of the lamb cake with you guys. It’s funny, and who doesn’t need some comic relief on a Monday morning?

So here it is:

My mom started a family tradition of making a lamb cake on Easter Sunday every year. As kids, we loved it. She had a mold in the shape of a lamb, and it split in half so you make two cakes – one for each side of the mold – and then bake them, put them together, frost them, cover it with coconut, use jellybeans for the eyes and nose, and serve it on a bed of Easter grass and jellybeans. In theory, very cute and creative, right?

I never thought it was strange until this year when my sister Alice decided to continue the tradition and make a lamb cake for Easter brunch with her husband Ryan’s family in St. Louis. She told her friend Sara about her lamb cake idea, and Sara was horrified. A lamb cake? Sara has a blog called Running From The Law, and she blogged her reaction to the lamb cake there. PLEASE read it – you will die laughing. You can find it here (you have to scroll down a bit to the lamb cake section – trust me, you can’t miss it).

After reading this, the lamb cake went from cute to creepy. I mean seriously, how were my siblings and I not terrified to death when we sat down do Easter dinner with that lamb staring back at us from the middle of the table? But somehow we weren’t, and we have grown up with an emotional attachment to the lamb cake tradition. So I could totally relate when Alice said she wanted to make one this year.

Alice went to her local kitchen supply store, The Kitchen Conservatory, and bought a lamb cake mold. And it cost her $80. I mean, $80 for a cake mold is ridiculous. The price of nostalgia! Needless to say, she wasn’t happy when I told her I found one on amazon.com for $14.99… but she had no time for online orders. She bought the mold on Friday and had to make a cake for Sunday brunch!

Alice brought the mold home and told her husband Ryan about the lamb cake. Clearly, it creeped him out too, as I got a photo text message from him on Saturday morning. It had this photo, with the words "Good Morning":

But I thought that Alice would pull through and create a lamb cake that was adorable and Easter-y and that all of her nieces and nephews would love.

Umm, sorry Alice, but you didn't deliver.

Alice’s lamb lost an ear when she was removing it from the mold. But don’t worry, she had a solution: whole wheat spaghetti noodles. She used the dry spaghetti noodles to create a spine for the lamb. In her words: “The lamb had a spaghetti bone structure. Without the spine, the head would have fallen off for sure”.

Then, she used chocolate frosting (my grandmother’s special recipe) instead of white. A black sheep – hmmm. Maybe this is actually the way to go with the lamb cake. Because real lambs are gentle and cute and fluffy, but lamb cakes are more on the scary side. So if you go with a black lamb cake, you are remaining true to the “black sheep” – which, by definition, means “A person who causes shame or embarrassment because of deviation from the accepted standards of his or her group” (dictionary.com definition). And the lamb cake is definitely a deviation from the more traditional Easter desserts – pies, chocolate rabbits, jellybeans.

Here is the final product:

If you look closely, you can see the lamb’s ear lying on the grass next to it. And you can also make out some of the spaghetti noodle spine sticking out of his head.

Apparently the lamb cake was called many names by her in-laws (which I won’t mention here), but ended up tasting really good! I give her credit for attempting the lamb cake. And I hope that she’s planning on making this a tradition, because I am inspired to start. Next year, I will make a lamb cake. I’m not sure if I’ll stick with the traditional white frosting or go Alice’s route and do a black sheep, but we’ll have one. Thanks, mom, for establishing great family traditions. And thanks to Sara for opening up our eyes to how weird the lamb cake really is!!!