It's the end of the work week and you open the fridge to get some items to start making dinner and realize that your half eaten bag of spinach is not looking the best, the cherry tomatoes are shriveling up, and your untouched bag of celery is as limp as your dishrag! After spending good money on quality, nutritious foods you wonder if it's even worth it when it all seems to go to waste so fast. Sadly, even with our best intentions, busy schedules usually take priority over the rotting food in the refrigerator for most of us. Luckily, all that food doesn't need to end up in the garbage disposal or food compost. Read on for some helpful tricks and tips that will help your produce stay fresh longer and eliminate food waste.
5 TRICKS TO KEEP PRODUCE FRESHER LONGER
*I want to first preface that a clean, sanitary refrigerator will greatly reduce the chances of food spoilage or spores growing on produce. Clean out your refrigerator at least twice a month to keep your produce clean from the start!
1) Use the crisper bins in your refrigerator for fragile produce storage.
Your refrigerator should have two climate controlled bins: one for low humidity and one for high humidity. Store ripened hard fruit and or vegetables that emit an ethylene gas in the low-humidity bin (e.g. apples, oranges, plums, peaches, avocados, kiwis, pears). By switching the drawer to low-humidity, it opens up a window in the bin so that the ethylene gas can escape. This keeps the fruits and vegetables from rotting prematurely. Store leafy greens, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers, herbs, and brussels sprouts in the high-humidity bin.
2) Keep tomatoes OUT of the refrigerator
This is one mistake I made for years! Tomatoes are very sensitive to cold environments and will become soft with a leathery-like skin if refrigerator. They also lose some flavor when kept cold. The best way to store tomatoes is on the counter in a dry location. To avoid bruising don't stack larger tomatoes on top of one another.
3) Rinse and dry leafy greens, then add a dry paper towel to the container or bag
Dark leafy greens seem to be the first thing to go bad in my refrigerator, but I have found a way to lengthen their life a few days. Unless you have purchased organic, pre-washed greens, I recommend rinsing the leaves with cold water and inspecting them after you get home from the store. Get rid of any leaves that look bad, are discolored, or wilted. Then lay them out on a towel (flour sack towels work great for this) to dry completely. Additionally, you can pat dry if you wish. Then place a dry paper towel in the storage bag (I highly recommend these reusable produce bags) or container you plan to use and then add the greens. Place another dry paper towel on top of the leaves to help absorb any additional moisture. The goal is to keep the leaves away from water. If you will not be using the the greens for a couple of days, replace the paper towels every day to keep wicking the moisture away from the leaves.
4) Cut the ends off asparagus and celery and stand upright in a jar with an inch of water
Remove any bands or ties from the asparagus or celery and then cut about one inch from the bottom. Add one inch of water to an appropriate size jar or glass, and place the stalk ends in the water. Cover everything loosely with a plastic bag and place in the refrigerator. Likewise with celery and/or whole carrots, you can cut them into into smaller pieces and then store in a container with a small amount of water for easy grab-and-go snacks. Make sure to freshen the water in jars, glasses, or containers every two days or so in order to avoid bacteria growth.
5) Don't wash berries or mushrooms until you need to use them
In oder to preserve the fragile skin of berries and mushrooms avoid rinsing them until prior to eating or cooking. You should inspect the berries for any rotten ones prior to storing in the refrigerator though! In addition, once you open the mushroom package, store any leftovers in a brown paper bag, away from moisture and light.
5 TIPS TO ELIMINATE FOOD WASTE
1) Move any super ripe bananas to the refrigerator or freezer
Believe it or not, the refrigerator will help preserve a banana even though it turns the skin brown. I prefer to peel extra ripe bananas and cut them in half of fourths, then freeze them in a container. Frozen bananas are great for smoothies or banana "ice cream". In addition, if you are in a pinch and don't have any ripe bananas for a baking recipe, you can easily heat the peeled, frozen banana for 30 seconds in the microwave and mash for recipes like any of my breakfast cookies or my Morning Glory Muffins.
2) Keep leftovers AND eat them
If you make a meal and you have leftovers, eat them the next day for lunch of later in the week for dinner. Cooked meats are good for up to 5 days in the refrigerator. If you don't plan to eat the meal within 5 days, simply freeze it. The next time you don't have time for dinner, you'll have a pre-made "healthier" meal already to go! In addition to leftover meals, if you have a lot of leftover produce try roasting or steaming a batch of mixed vegetables for an easy snack. Cooked vegetables will last 2-3 days longer in the refrigerator, and if you don't eat them in time simply freeze the cooked vegetables for a later date.
3) Freeze leftover cheese
If you buy in bulk in order to save money (like me), you can easily, cut a block of cheese in half, wrap it in tin foil and store it in a plastic bag or container in the freezer for a later date. The same thing goes with shredded cheese!
4) Freeze scrapes from onions, potatoes, celery, and/or carrots
Don't toss the ends or tops of onions, potatoes, celery or carrots. Instead give them a good rinse to remove any dirt, and place them in a freezer bag or container. Freeze for up to 4 weeks to be used to make homemade chicken broth or chicken bone broth.
5) Freeze leftover cooked cauliflower and zucchini
Struggling to use the whole head of cauliflower or entire zucchini? An easy way to get multiple uses out of these vegetables is to chop and steam them slightly (in the microwave or on the stove). Then store the cooked vegetables in the freezer to be used in smoothies or acai smoothie bowls. Not only do these vegetables add nutrients to the smoothie, they thicken it so it's nice and creamy! As long as you add fruit, you won't even taste they're there.
The next time you go grocery shopping or to your local market, I hope you remember to implement some of these tricks to save yourself some money and frustration.
Comment below if you have any additional tips for keeping produce fresh longer or eliminating food waste.