Getting a Dehydrator!
I’ve finally gotten a dehydrator! I’ve been wanting one for years and finally hubby bought one for me as a belated birthday present. Truthfully, it’s as much a present for him as it is for me – he loves dehydrated food to take with him on his many camping/hiking expeditions. Plus, the dehydrator can be used to make all sorts of exciting healthy snacks for the kids.
What Dehydrator to Get?
Truthfully, I only have the one and have only used a few dehydrators in my time, so I can’t recommend a particular brand. It’s worth checking online to see reviews. To me, the most important factor would be how reliable it is: does it dehydrate evenly at the expected temperature and is it going to break down? The answer to the first question should be “yes” and the second should be “no.” Everything else is a perk, so whether you want to spend extra to get a fancier model dehydrator is entirely up to you.
Some dehydrators offer fancier features. One of my favorite features is a timer, which is handy when you’re dehydrating stuff for long periods of time. However, if you don’t go for this option (which we ultimately did not), you can always use a standard wall timer to turn off the dehydrator when the time is up. Other features include special trays for dehydrating more liquid ingredients like fruit puree or yogurt. But if you don’t have the right tray inserts, don’t fret: a piece of parchment paper will work just fine.
You will also be able to decide what shape of dehydrator you want. Some are round and some are square or rectangular. I have used both and by far prefer square or rectangular machines. Round machine trays have a hole in the middle. Aside from your fruit leather coming out looking like a very flat donut, it’s harder to cut nice even strips. I like the dehydrators with square or rectangular trays that make it easy to evenly arrange produce in neat rows, and to slice fruit leather or yogurt into strips.
Another detail to consider is what kind of tray to use. The trays in our dehydrator are made of sturdy plastic that is dishwasher safe and easy to clean. However, the holes are quite large, which means you need an insert or parchment paper to dehydrate smaller items like berries or peas. Other dehydrators have finer, more mesh-like trays, which are good for dehydrating smaller items, but which are also much more difficult to get completely clean.
Finally, you have to consider the size of the dehydrator you want. Today, you can get little dehydrators with just 3 or 4 trays that can sit on your countertop, or you can opt for a giant industrial-size model with 16 trays that might have to sit on your kitchen floor. Some models allow you to add or subtract trays so you can purchase extras if your original turns out not to have enough. Consider how often you will be using your dehydrator. If you plan to use it for small amounts frequently, then perhaps a small model will be sufficient. But if you want to preserve large amounts of fruits and vegetables or you have a lot of hungry kids looking for healthy and delicious snacks, then you’ll want a bigger model. A bigger dehydrator will also be good for people who have bumper crops of produce periodically during the year: during those times you’ll want to preserve as much as possible, but during the times when you’re not using it, you can put your big dehydrator away.
Of course as soon as I opened up the dehydrator’s box, I immediately set to work slicing up some fruit to put in it. I filled most of it with sliced apples but also threw in some kiwi fruits, peaches, and a stray nectarine.
Most fruit should be sliced about 1/4 inch thick and be placed peel side down (bananas should be sliced slightly thinner). I have a mandolin that slices apples the perfect thickness. I picked mine up super cheap at Kmart, so if budget is an issue for you a cheap mandolin won’t break the bank and will save you lots of time. Soft fruits like peaches, bananas, and kiwi fruit, however, are more easily sliced with a knife.
Be careful not to slice fruit too thin. I tried that once in a desperate attempt to get my apples to come out crunchy (this won’t happen with a dehydrator – you need a freeze dry machine to get nice crunchy apple chips without cooking the heck out of them). If you slice fruit too thin, it sticks to your dehydrator trays and is unpleasant to try to get off. Fruit shrinks as it dehydrates and a very thin slice will turn as thin as the finest paper (even to the point of being able to see through it) if you don’t leave some thickness to it.
Dehydrating fruit should be set at 135 degrees Fahrenheit (57 degrees Celcius) (strict raw foodists should not set it to be above 118 F or 48 C). If you’re doing what I did and putting in multiple types of fruit, check that they all take approximately the same amount of time to dehydrate.
Healthy Food for Kids from the Dehydrator
Dehydrated fruit is a perfect healthy snack for kids. They will love it if you give them a small bag of dehydrated fruit as a school snack. Dehydrated foods keep for a long time as well, so you can do big batches and then vary what fruits you give your kids. Apples one day, kiwi fruit the next. Or mix them up and give your kids a bag of healthy mixed fruit. Yum!
You can also mix other foods in with dehydrated fruits. Add some nuts, pretzels, or puffed cereals to create a trail mix free of excess salt and processed sugar. A snack like this is perfect for kids on the go, especially if they’re being rushed from one after school sport to the next. Fruits give your kids healthy sugars, nuts have beneficial protein and fat, and cereals contain carbohydrates that provide energy more slowly to sustain your kids. Sprinkle a little bit of Himalayan salt onto the nuts to replenish needed electrolytes.
Dehydrated vegetables can also make other everyday foods more exciting. Dehydrated tomatoes, for instance, can really add some life a salad or pasta dish. And of course the concentrated flavor in dehydrated vegetables makes them into tasty snacks. (Plus, you can use your dehydrator to make healthier potato chips – don’t tell the kids!)
Have Fun with Your Dehydrator!
In the coming weeks I am sure I will get up more posts about the healthy snacks I am experimenting with in my new toy. The most important thing is to have fun. It’s a great opportunity to get your kids involved. Find out what fruits they would like to try dehydrating, or have them blend up their own unique combinations for fruit leather. If you do your shopping in the market, let your kids each choose a few pieces of fruit to dehydrate for snack that week. Getting a dehydrator could become one of your most exciting purchases!