One of the best parts of summer is having an abundance of fresh food at the farmers market or from your own garden. But that very bounty becomes stressful toward the end of the season when the refrigerator begins to reveal perfectly ripe and delicious vegetables about to go to waste.

Canning and preserving is a great way to extend the harvest. You will save bundles of money and insure that your family consumes healthy, preservative-free foods without harmful additives or chemicals. You are also locking in nutrients and flavor while reducing the amount of sodium in foods you prepare at home, which can be a problem with so much fast-food in our diets.

Another benefit to preserving food is to involve the entire family in the process. Children love to open and eat foods they have helped prepare, whether fresh or canned. With the change of seasons, farmers will usually offer great deals on bulk tomatoes, peppers, etc. which provide a good supply of canned food that will last through the winter months.

Canned goods can last for several years. However, their optimal life is one year. It is most efficient to can enough garden produce to last until the next harvest. This is because, over time, aging canned goods do, indeed, lose some of their crispness and nutritional value. And while many companies are aware of the potential side effects from BPA, some of them still have not made the shift. BPA stands for bisphenol A. BPA is an industrial chemical that has been used to make certain plastics and resins since the 1960s. Epoxy resins are used to coat the inside of metal products, such as food cans, bottle tops and water supply lines. Some dental sealants and composites also may contain BPA.

According to the Mayo Clinic, some research has shown that BPA can seep into food or beverages from containers that are made with BPA. Exposure to BPA is a concern because of possible health effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children. Additional research suggests a possible link between BPA and increased blood pressure. The FDA is continuing its review of BPA including ongoingn research. In the meantime, make sure to look for “BPA-free” on any canned goods you purchase.

There are many benefits to freezing foods, too. Got spinach? I blanch mine then put on a cookie sheet in the freezer before adding to a Ziploc bag. I do this with all sorts of greens, especially if I find I can’t use them fast enough. They don’t have the same texture when thawed (very watery) so they are best used in soups or smoothies. And remember my tip about cucumbers and zucchini: cut them into chunks and freeze them, too. They can act as ‘ice’ in the blender for refreshing cocktails or that green morning beverage.

This super quick and easy classic marinara sauce takes 20 minutes to make, and uses pantry staples that you probably have on hand now. Great for a weeknight meal with pasta, pizza or zoodles!

28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 Tbsp. olive oil

4 garlic cloves, pressed or finely minced

1 teaspoon oregano

1-2 bay leaves

Fresh basil if in season

Pinch red pepper flakes

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Salt to taste

Black pepper to taste

Place oil, garlic and red pepper flakes in a cold medium saucepan and heat over medium heat until the garlic becomes fragrant and just starts to sizzle, being careful not to let the garlic brown, about 1 minute.

Pour the tomatoes into the pan, add oregano, bay leaves, salt and pepper, stir to combine.

Reduce heat to medium low and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally to keep from sticking to the bottom of the pan. If the sauce is bubbling too much, reduce heat further.

Remove from heat, and remove bay leaves before serving. Top with basil chiffonade (cut in small ribbons)

You can simmer longer than 20 minutes, if desired, just stir occasionally to make sure it doesn’t burn. This freezes well, too.

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