Stop wasting produce: 5 tricks to getting the most out of your freshest ingredients

August 20, 2017

I would never recommend not buying fresh produce. Fresh is the ultimate way to go. But I find that, often, I overbuy on produce — by the end of the week, I have a huge box of spinach wilting in the back of my fridge, or my celery has gone limp. Here are a few tips for reducing the amount of produce you throw out each week.

Shutterstock1. Check the "sell-by" date before you buy

Self explanatory perhaps, but I often forget to look at sell-by dates on my produce when I'm standing in the store. Take an extra moment, and make sure the date on your box of lettuce isn't tomorrow, or even worse, today. If there's a box on the shelf with a later sell-by date, buy that one instead.

2. Know your produce

Some fruits and veggies last much longer in the fridge than others. Apples, for example, take weeks to go bad, while pre-cut kale and spinach can get slimy quickly. Baby carrots go bad faster than regular carrots. Pre-washed greens generally don't last longer than a week at most. Consider buying hardier produce to use toward the end of the week; use your most delicate produce first.

Shutterstock3. Change your meal plan

If you see produce in the fridge reaching its breaking point, change your plans and use it up sooner rather than later. Maybe you had planned to sauté your mushrooms and spinach on Friday but it's only Tuesday and that spinach looks about ready to kick the bucket. Change it up! Make a spinach salad tonight instead of the greek one you had planned.

4. Ripen slowly

When you buy a bag of unripe avocados or stone fruit (like nectarines), instead of plopping the whole thing on the counter, consider splitting up the bag. Put one or two in your fruit basket and store the rest in the fridge, where the cold air will inhibit ripening. When the produce on your counter ripens, eat it up and replace it with one or two from the fridge. Instead of suddenly having four ripe avocados ready to eat on the same day, you can have a ripe avocado every other day for a whole week!

Shutterstock5. Use frozen or canned

Buy fresh produce for the beginning of the week, and plan meals that use frozen or canned produce for the end of the week. You'll be less likely to overbuy if you're only planning for a few days, and if you do go a bit overboard in the produce section, you have the end of the week to use up any excess. If, however, you plan correctly and don't have any extra produce, you'll still get plenty of vitamins and nutrients from the frozen or canned variety. In fact, some frozen veggies, like peas, are almost tastier frozen than fresh, as their sweetness degrades quickly when sitting fresh on the shelf. Keep an assortment of frozen veggies and fruit in the freezer and you'll never be without produce to round out your meals.

Erin Fife