As we move into the summer months, certain fruits will be available in abundance. A great way to enjoy the bounty throughout the rest of the year is create your own dried fruit with a dehydrator. Before you dismiss the idea as too much work, consider the value of owning a dehydrator.

A food dehydrator is designed to remove the water content from food. Low heats are used for extended periods of time to slowly evaporate away the moisture. With the moisture removed, food is less likely to spoil, even at room temperature. When purchasing a unit, look for a unit with a fan to circulate the air. Most machines have stackable trays. In some types you can increase the number of trays. I like this feature. You can start with a smaller investment and as the interest and talent for drying expands, purchase more trays. An adjustable thermostat is another important feature. Meats and fruits dry at different temperatures. A timer is also recommended. Nobody wants to plan their day around their dehydrator. I’ve loaded up my dehydrator at night and in the morning the food is ready to be stored away.

Forget spending lots of money on packaged dried fruits. When blueberries are in season, gather a group together to go berry picking at a local farm. Keep an eye out for sales in the grocery store or farmer’s market. Supermarkets often feature weekly sales. When shopping keep your eyes open for foods you can add to your dehydrator. Having dried bananas and grapes (raisins) on hand are welcome treats to add to your morning oatmeal, granola or midday snack.

With a dehydrator, you control the ingredients. Dried cranberries, bananas and other fruits often have added ingredients and sugars. When you dry your own, you know what’s in the foods. Many of our favorite fruits (strawberries, apples, peaches, pears, nectarines, cherries, raspberries) are grown with high concentrations of pesticides. By choosing organic, you are reducing your intake of harmful chemicals.

I find that if you know how much work went into making your dried snack, you are less likely to overindulge. Most of us have a sweet tooth. We know chocolate cake shouldn't be part of a runner’s regular diet. When it comes to fruit, well, we can eat those dried apricots by the handful, right? A half cup (65 grams) of dried apricots has 156 calories and 35 grams of sugar. After a run, that amount is a perfect part of a post workout meal. However, mindlessly grabbing handfuls of them will quickly boost your caloric intake. If they are homemade, you might just save them for flavoring your granola or Moroccan Beef Stew, rather than wolfing them down right out of the jar.

Dehydrators can be used to make other foods. You can make your own beef jerky. This is especially good if you know a hunter who is kind enough to share some of his or her catch with you. Remember Fruit Roll Ups, those sugary treats with the cellophane backing you had to peel away? To create your own version, puree fruits in a blender and pour the mixture onto the special sheets and dry them. Backpackers will love having another option for dinner. Create an entire meal on your stove top and dehydrate it. At camp, just add water, bring to a boil and enjoy a meal that feels like the kitchen is only a few steps away. I recently made a Tempeh Quinoa Chili that tasted fabulous.

Dehydrators might not be for everyone. It can be just one more gadget in an already crowded kitchen or pantry. With use it does have the potential to offer you much back in return. For runners who have an interest in feeding their bodies the best quality foods, with top notch flavors, it is useful tool to own.