Basic Guide: How to Eat a Box of Veggies in 1 Week
How does a household of 1 incredibly busy person finish a farm share box every week? (hint: it doesn’t involve becoming a homesteader and canning everything in sight.) The method involves 6 steps: Plan, Store, Supplement, Prep, Cook, Eat. I've detailed below the first five ( I'm assuming you got the last one.)
Day 1, part 1 - Make a plan
When the box arrives, I unbox and temporarily store the vegetables while I plan my meals. The key is to divide the veggies into 3 categories based on their natural shelf life (a good resource for guidance here). Here are my categories:
Category 1 – needs to be cooked sooner rather than later
Since the boxes are usually fresher than what I will get in the regular supermarket, things that fall into this category are rarer than you might think. I also have to consider what I will have time to cook and when. I put into this category things like very leafy greens (like carrot tops or herbs), things that get bitter with age (like chard or eggplant), and tender veggies like summer squash (the tiniest nick can lead to mold or ickiness very, very quickly). If I don’t cook these things within the first few days I might regret it.
Category 2 – can be cooked later in the week
These are things that keep well, like cabbage and root vegetables. They can remain in the fridge, on a counter, or in a paper bag until I am ready to cook them.
Category 3 –needs to be stored long-term
Sometimes you’ll get a massive bunch of herbs or a huge bag of jalapeno peppers. If I ate that in a single week, I'd be in a whole other category of weird. I'll use some, but mostly freeze them for future use.
Once I know the shelf life, I know what needs to be prepped, cooked, or stored in the next day or two. From there I plan recipes, initially only focusing on recipes for the things in the first and second categories. In some cases, I will find a recipe for something in the sooner-rather-than-later category that, once prepped, actually becomes a candidate for long-term storage. More on that on day 2.
At first, this step took some getting used to. But after a few months, I was looking less up and it was becoming more second nature. It's all a learning process.
Day 1, pt2: Buy your remaining groceries
Once I know the recipes I am making that week I can buy the ingredients I don’t already have. I’m a busy person so I usually Instacart that list (along with whatever else I'm going to eat that week). Believe it or not, I still need other meals – each box only makes for me about two or three lunches, three or four dinners, and maybe 3-4 breakfasts. Or maybe I should buy bigger boxes than the ones I am buying. Yeah, yeah.
One note – if you are going to try the recipes on this site there are three things I recommend buying at the outset if you don’t already have them. They are good olive oil, good balsamic vinegar, and good kosher salt. I highly recommend doing your research and buying quality - these ingredients are worth the time and expense, especially the vinegar (grocery store balsamics are an entirely different animal and way too acidic for the recipes here). These three ingredients will make a very real difference in how your meals turn out and you will get that money back in savings down the road.
Day 2 – Prep and Store
I prep the first category and store the third category on the second day. As a rule of thumb on this day, I roast, grill, caramelize or sauté most of the first category vegetables and then vacuum seal them (sometimes). You really don’t need to invest in a vacuum sealer if you are just trying this out, but if you're in it for the long haul, a vacuum sealer does make a difference in freshness and allows you to space these meals out during the week. Without the vacuum sealer, you will need to eat these recipes in the next few days, which isn’t a problem but can get monotonous. I also make one or two fresh condiments from items in this category – or things that I bought – to spruce things up during the week. Think pestos, mayos, hummus (hummuses?), and salsas.
For the third category veggies, I generally rely on my freezer. Some things I prep first and then freeze – such as roasted peppers, tender herbs, compound butters, and pestos. Other things can go directly from box to freezer, such as hearty herbs or a bag of jalapeños. Over time, these frozen items replace jars of condiments or other supplemental seasonings I used to buy from the store.
Day 3 and 4 - Cook or Assemble
To be real, I usually put something in my breakfast on day 2. Everything’s new and shiny. Beyond that, I might cook one labor-intensive meal when the mood carries me but it's mostly more like assembly. In most seasons I generally make at least two 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 I made on Day 2. At least once or twice I'll toss roasted or grilled veggies in pasta with olive oil, garlic, parmesan, fresh basil, and sometimes a chicken or sausage for dinner. A good soup made of pureed roasted vegetables and stock with a dollop of yogurt and a hunk of bread is a classic (and pureed soup freezes excellently.) I don't get tired of these simple meals because the veggies change from box to box.
Day 5 (ish) – Prep or Cook the Long-Term Storage Items
In some seasons, like late spring, you might get very little if anything that falls in this category. During those times the vacuum sealer is key. I did once finish the whole box in 4 days because everything in it was a sooner-rather-than-later or a long-term-storage veggie and I didn’t end up with leftovers. Greens can fill up a box quickly but can cook down to one or two servings very easily.
Anyhoo, with root vegetables, I mostly roast, grill or pickle them and use them in salads or as side dishes but if it’s something in the cabbage family it can be the center of a meal. By the fifth day, I’m usually bored with what I prepped over the weekend and ready for something new, and so I find a root veggie recipe online somewhere. I find that spending a half hour to an hour in the kitchen working with fresh, beautiful plant life boosts my spirits and the lively flavors help me out of the mid-work-week blues. But that's just me. If that's not you, you might consider a vacuum sealer, although I have found that even cooked vegetables made from veggie boxes last longer in the fridge than store-box veggies.
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That’s pretty much it. I know. It’s not rocket science. But before I thought it through this way I was wasting a lot of food. The process takes maybe an hour or two more each weekend than I usually spend in the kitchen but it’s worth it. You get that time back in easy meals the rest of the week, and they are fresh, healthy, and absolutely delicious.
For anyone not already doing farm share, this might all sound way too theoretical, so in the next post, I’ll get into what a week in my kitchen looks like by going through it step by step with a box. Stay tuned.