The food industry has been significantly impacted by the closure of restaurants, hotels and other food service businesses due to COVID-19. The USDA is purchasing up to $3 billion in fresh produce, dairy, and meat products to support the food industry, prevent food waste, and provide food to communities in need. Suppliers package these products into family-sized boxes, then transport them to food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other non-profits serving Americans in need. For more information on the Farmers to Families program, click here.
Operation Food Search has been on the receiving end of the Farmers to Families program, taking in over 2,000 fresh produce boxes, over 900 mixed dairy boxes, and over 1,000 cases of milk each week from our partners at Ole Tyme Produce (as shown in the picture above), C&C Produce, and Prairie Farms. We have never had this much fresh produce and dairy coming into our warehouse at once! This is an exciting time for our community partners and for Operation Food Search. Our entire Operations Team worked countless hours working through the bid process, planning the logistics of delivery with our limited dock space, and getting additional cold storage on site to hold all the product until we can distribute it. In addition to distributing these fresh food boxes to our community food partner agencies, we are also distributing the boxes throughout the community in partnership with organizations such as the Urban League, Beyond Housing, St. Louis County Library Branches, Catholic Charities, Clinton Peabody, and many others.
With such an influx of fresh produce, the nutrition education team has been making recipes and handouts on storage and usage tips! To download and print our latest Fresh Produce Guide, click here. In addition, freezing is an excellent option to store those nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables longer and preserve that fresh summer flavor all year long. While freezing fresh produce is simple, it requires a bit more prep beyond throwing them in a zip bag and cramming it in the freezer between the tub of ice cream and frozen waffles. Thankfully, the whole process is quick and easy.
Fruit: Freezing fresh fruit is simple! To freeze something like fresh raspberries, line a baking sheet tray with parchment paper and spread the cleaned berries into a single layer. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until solid. Once frozen, dump the berries into a freezer bag or storage container! This way they are not all stuck together, and you can pull out what you need. Before freezing larger fruit like peaches or bananas, slice into bite sized pieces before freezing on the baking sheet tray. Frozen fruit is great in smoothies, yogurt, oatmeal, and fruit crisp! Frozen grapes on a hot summer day is a nice cooling treat!
Vegetables: Freezing fresh vegetables takes a few more steps than fruit. Blanching is a must for almost all vegetables to be frozen. Blanching means putting vegetables in boiling water or steam for a short period of time which slows or stops the action of enzymes that can cause loss of nutrients, flavor, color and texture. It is also important to not over blanch your produce. Softer veggies like peas and greens only need 2-3 minutes while crunchier veggies like carrots, broccoli, and peppers need 3-5 minutes. Bring a large pot of water to a full rolling boil, drop in your washed produce, quickly blanch, and then immediately strain out and dunk in a big bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Once it’s fully cooled, drain well and allow to dry for a bit before spreading on a baking sheet tray lined with parchment paper. Freeze completely before packing away in plastic bags or storage containers.
Now you can enjoy that fresh summer flavor any time of the year!
Peanut Butter Banana "Ice Cream"
- 4 cups frozen sliced bananas
- 1/4 cup peanut butter or nut butter of choice
- 1/2 cup milk or alternative milk of choice
- 1/3 cup chocolate chips
- Place frozen banana slices, peanut butter, and milk into a food processor or blender. Blend on high until smooth. If too thick, add in a splash more of milk.
- Fold in chocolate chips with a spoon or rubber spatula.
- Enjoy immediately for a "soft-serve" treat, or transfer into a sealed container and freeze for 2 hours for a more firm texture.