How to Keep Produce Fresher Longer
I love grocery shopping.
I love making a list, plotting everything I’m going to cook with it later in the week. I love checking my pantry just before I go to see if there’s anything I’m running low on, and adding it to the list in addition to my weekly usuals. I love visiting multiple stores (usually Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, my local favorite, Nugget, and maybe once a month, Costco) because I like different things from different stores (there is, for example, no dried pineapple like the Dried Baby Pineapple from Trader Joe’s, no peanut butter as good as the organic unsweetened Whole Foods creamy peanut butter spread, and no ricotta that compares to the Bellwether Farms Whole Milk Basket Ricotta they sell at Nugget. What can I say? I like to have my stuff.
Food shopping is different right now, obviously. Stores are running out of staples like flour, beans, pasta, rice and toilet paper (side note: we have a cheap, easy-to-install bidet and we love it), and people are shopping less frequently in an effort to minimize COVID-19 exposure, which means longer stretches of time between trips. This is fine for all your shelf-stable items, like the aforementioned flour, beans, rice, and pasta, but what about fresh fruits and vegetables? A friend texted me a few days ago asking for tips to keep the veggies in her fridge from wilting quickly so as to support her social distancing efforts, and it struck me that other people might be wondering the same thing. Read on for my best produce-life-extending tips.
Store onions, garlic, potatoes, yams, and winter squash in a cool, dark place to prevent sprouting (in the case of the root vegetables) and to keep them fresher longer.
Keep apples in the fridge, as well as berries and any stone fruit you know you’ll eat soon that has reached ideal ripeness. If something is ripening faster than you can eat it. freeze it on a rimmed baking sheet, then transfer to a zip-top bag or other freezer-safe container and use for smoothies and cooking/baking (like this banana bread).
Store fresh leafy herbs in jars or glasses with a little bit of water, either in the fridge or on the counter, if you use it a lot. Change the water every couple of days.
Use produce bags, ziplock bags, or air-tight containers for anything tender like leafy greens. Wrap greens in a couple of damp (wrung-out) paper towels) and store in the bags. This helps to prevent wilting. Keep anything you’ve cut into (like onions or lemons) wrapped tightly. These fruit and veggie savers are a cute, sustainable way to keep opened produce fresh.
When purchasing avocados, buy one ripe one for immediate use and one (or more) hard ones and keep them on your counter. As soon as they ripen, refrigerate them until you’re ready to use them.
Don’t overlook frozen veggies. They are frozen at the peak of freshness, so they can be a great product, especially in the case of greens. You get a lot more for your money, since freezing breaks down the greens a bit, so a 16-ounce bag of organic frozen kale or spinach is actually several bunches of the fresh stuff! I use frozen organic kale and spinach in my smoothies every day, and I greatly prefer it to the fresh kind since you can get so much more in there. I’ve been trying to think of smoothies as the way I’m getting some good veggie nutrition during this time, since frozen fruits and vegetables keep for a long time, I can play around with flavors, and I know that a big green smoothie will be the equivalent of the amount of salad I would normally eat with a meal. Frozen greens are also great sauteed with garlic and lemon in olive oil or butter and tossed with pasta or rice, or served with an egg. Other great frozen items are cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, and peas. This pea soup, made with frozen peas, is very spring-y, delicious and so cheap.
The main thing I keep thinking about every time I head to the kitchen to make a meal for my family (it feels like I’m constantly doing this, honestly), is whether I can do a little more with a little less.
I ask myself if there’s a simpler way to make what I want to serve, and I scour the backs of my cupboards and fridge to see if there’s some forgotten item that needs to be used up before I turn to what’s right in front of me. I ask myself what we really need for the meal to be nutritious and for us to all feel satisfied, and more often than not, I find that we don’t really require as much as I might normally put on the table. It’s a lesson I plan to take with me when all of this is over. We’re so accustomed to having access to everything we like all the time, but with a little careful planning, some basic techniques, and creativity, it’s often possible to find all you need within what you already have.