How to Conquer a Box of
Veggies in One Week
Miriam Doerr Martin Frommherz/Shutterstock.com
How does a household of 1 incredibly busy person finish a farm share box every week without any of it spoiling? Hint: it doesn’t involve becoming a homesteader and canning everything in sight. In fact, just the opposite - the trick is to eat fresh. When your meals are always fresh, you are motivated to continue eating fresh, and by the time you finish a subscription, CSA becomes a way of life. The method involves 6 steps: Plan, Supplement, Store, Prep, Cook, Eat. Assuming you know how to do the last step, here is a day-by-day guide for the first five.
...sort the vegetables according to their shelf life and when you plan to cook them...
Day 1, Part 1: Plan
The key to veggie box planning is to divide the vegetables into three categories based on when you want to cook them. The reasons for cooking something at a particular time might surprise you, but as with any new skill, with a little bit of practice, it will become second nature. If you plan the box with good timing, you will always have fresh, delicious meals on hand. Until then, when the box arrives, unbox and temporarily store the vegetables while you plan.
HG/Farm Share to Table
Here are the three categories:
Category 1: needs to be cooked sooner rather than later
Since the boxes are fresher than what you will get in the supermarket, things that fall into this category based on shelf life are rarer than you might think. But there is more to consider. Some very leafy greens might not go bad for a week but will begin to wilt quickly (like carrot tops or herbs), some vegetables get bitter by the day (like chard or eggplant), and some tender veggies like summer squash can suffer damage in transport that can lead to mold or ickiness very quickly. You also just might not have time to cook certain time-intensive methods later in the week (like anything that you want to slow-roast). Put into this category vegetables that lose their quality in less than three days or that you only have the time to prep the way you want to now. You can find a good guide here.
Category 2 – can be cooked later in the week
These are things that keep well for at least a week, like cabbage, kale, and root vegetables (a good resource for guidance here). They can remain in the fridge, on a counter, or in a paper bag until you are ready to cook them. Put into this category anything that keeps well for longer than three days and you don't plan to store long-term (see below).
Category 3 –needs to be stored long-term
There are some vegetables that are commonly kept long-term, such as potatoes and onions, but sometimes you’ll get a massive bunch of herbs or a huge bag of jalapeno peppers that freeze well. You can find a good guide to what freezes well and how best to freeze them here. Put into this category anything you can store long-term and don't plan to use during the week.
Once you have categorized the vegetables, you will know what needs to be cooked in the next day or two and what needs to be prepped for storage, and you can begin to plan meals. If you are comfortable enough in the kitchen not to need a standard recipe, there are some good guides on this site and online on how to make breakfast toasts, frittatas, salads, soups, summer rolls, wraps, bowls, and pasta. Using these guides, you can prep most of your vegetables on the weekend and then assemble quick meals throughout the week.
If you need standard recipes or like something new every week, look for recipes that call for vegetables in categories one and two. If you group them around the way the vegetables need to be cooked, you will save yourself some time. For example, if you have a lot of squash or nightshade vegetables in your box, look for recipes that feature roasted or grilled vegetables so that you can roast them all at one time and then use them in recipes throughout the week. If you have a lot of greens in your box, look for recipes for salads or sauteed greens.
Day 1, part 2: Supplement
When you what you will be making that week, you can buy the ingredients you don’t already have. You will still need to shop for staples and, believe it or not, you may still need other meals, particularly if your household is more than one person. A medium box typically only makes about two or three lunches, three or four dinners, and 3-4 breakfasts. So, you will still need the grocery store. Since any fresh food you may need will only be supplemental, you can worry a little less about quality. That makes online food shopping a much more attractive option.
...supplement - you can now worry a little less about quality when grocery shopping online...
One note – if you are going to try the recipes on this site there are three things we recommend buying if you don’t already have them. They are: good olive oil, good balsamic vinegar, and kosher salt. We highly recommend doing your research and buying the best quality you can afford (links to some good guides above). These ingredients are worth the time and expense, particularly the vinegar. Grocery store balsamic is an entirely different animal and is likely to be too acidic for the recipes here. These three ingredients will make a palatable difference in how your roasted vegetables, marinades, and dressings will turn out, and if you stick with a CSA program you will get that money back in savings down the road.
Day 2: Meal Prep & Store
The first thing to note is that when we refer to meal prep in this context, we mean prepping ingredients for meals, not the meals themselves. The concept is one that restaurants employ as a rule, and rightly so - it is the most efficient way to run a kitchen that serves up fresh food on a tight timetable. If you are a busy person, meal prepping will be the difference between consistently fresh meals throughout the week and vegetables deteriorating before you can cook them.
Look through your recipes or guides and roast, grill, caramelize or sauté anything you can on this day. Also, make one or two fresh condiments from items in this category to snack on or flavor dishes throughout the week. Think pestos, mayos, hummus (hummuses? hummi?), pickles, and salsas. Finally, identify vegetables in categories one and two that can be frozen. Day two is the day to prep and freeze them.
There is an art to meal prepping if you are not planning hard and fast recipes. Over time you will learn to rely on recipes less, but if you are not someone who is that comfortable in the kitchen, here are three great videos that will give you a good start:
Pro Home Cooks has a few videos that use this concept, such as the one that lays out a week of delicious Mediterranean dishes here or the one that walks through 5 condiments and other flavor supplements and how to use them here.
Downshiftology has a video with much more simple cooking - if that is more your speed - here.
Days 3-7: Cook & Assemble
If you prep well on day 3, most of your meals throughout the week are more like assembly. You can make remarkably flavor-packed veggie wraps, salads, or bowls with roasted or grilled vegetables, whatever greens might be in the box, an aged cheese (or not), and a dressing or the fresh condiment you made on Day 2. At dinnertime, you can toss roasted or grilled veggies in pasta with olive oil, garlic, parmesan, fresh basil, and sometimes a chicken or sausage and look like a chef.
...if you prep well, most of your meals for the rest of the week are more like assembly...
A good soup made of pureed roasted vegetables and stock with a dollop of yogurt and a hunk of bread is a well loved classic for a reason (and pureed soup freezes excellently.) For breakfast, breakfast toasts with avocados or eggs and dressed greens, peppers, radishes, or the flavor enhancers you made on day 2 are a 10-minute way to start your workday with a bang. On weekend mornings, you can make flavor-packed frittatas from your prepped vegetables and a little bit of bacon, ham, or cheese in 20-30 minutes. The options are easy and endless if you've prepped well.
The five-step process above takes maybe an hour or two each weekend in the kitchen, but it’s worth it. You'll get that time back in easy meals the rest of the week, and they are fresh, healthy, and absolutely delicious. But if you're not already doing farm share, this might all sound way too theoretical. We understand. To see a box in action, check out our example box here.