Monday, January 24, 2011

How to Avoid Throwing Away Produce

SITUATION: One of the saddest wastes of money is when produce, bought with the best of intentions, goes bad before it can be eaten. This is a situation everybody has to deal with, but for those of us without families to feed, it seems to almost be a guarantee that a certain amount of fruits and vegetables will go from the fridge to the garbage. Of course, you could just stop eating vegetables and fruits altogether…But here are some other ways of tackling and maybe lessening this problem in your kitchen.

Apple muffins made with a fresh
apple nearing the end of its shelf
life-added bonus: these are
actually "vegan friendly," since
I didn't want to spend money
on eggs!
    ·         Buy produce that can be cooked.  When your celery starts to go limp because you didn’t eat as many celery sticks as you had hoped this week, you can still slice it up and throw it into some fried rice. That fried rice will keep for another three or four days, so you’ve essentially doubled the life of your celery. Other great (cookable and life-extending) vegetables are: carrots, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, and squash. Fruits can be cooked too – apples and pears can be made into muffins or pies; bananas can be used for banana bread or as an egg replacer in baked goods; berries can be used for many types of baked desserts. Think through your choices, either when making your grocery list, or before you check out at the store, by asking yourself: what else can I make with this fruit/vegetable?

·         Learn how to properly store each of the fruits and vegetables you buy. This sounds obvious, but a lot of us don’t know the ideal way to store mushrooms (in a paper bag in the refrigerator but not in the “crisper”), or avocados (not in the fridge unless you have bought an avocado with a “fresh to eat tonight” sticker on it and you’re trying to get an extra day or two out of it.) A quick Internet search can help you out in this department, or you can talk to your grocer/look for signs in the produce department.

Avoid a fate like this for your
lettuce by eating salads
early in the week.
·         Organize your meals around the expected life span of your fresh produce. Look at all your produce, and decide what will probably go bad first, what might last a few days, and what could probably have four or more days before it goes bad. Then organize your meals in that order. Mushrooms, lettuces, and sprouts don’t tend to last long at all, so planning to eat salads right after a shopping trip isn’t a bad idea. Also, any produce you got “on special” – which often means that it’s about to go bad – needs to be eaten relatively quickly. Plan to eat things like potatoes, carrots, and apples later in the week.

·         Shortcut where you can. Yeah, yeah, fresh produce is always the healthiest way to go, but if it’s just going to wind up in the trash, it’s not worth it! Dried/canned/frozen produce is often the best choice when it comes to avoiding unnecessary food waste and saving a few bucks. Also, you’re much more likely to find coupons for packaged produce than for fresh produce. For instance, my “stock” items include: canned green beans, corn, tomatoes, pinto beans, and black beans, canned peaches or pears, dried fruit - like cherries or raisins, pre-cut garlic in a jar, and pre-bottled lemon or lime juice. Altogether, with the help of sales and coupons, this could cost as little as $6 or $7, and some, like the dried fruit and garlic, will last me two weeks or more.

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