As a vegetarian, I eat a lot of fruits and veggies. I can peel, chop and then eat a whole pineapple for dinner. I love every fruit—excepting red delicious apples. They look like molars, and simply taste icky. Oh, and I absolutely detest bell peppers. Can’t stand the smell of them. And I don’t understand how people eat raw celery. Blech. I get annoyed when I find it in macaroni salad. Seriously, why??
So, my grocery lists tend to include a variety of fresh produce. I am always looking for ways to extend its life and usefulness, though I do occasionally end up sharing an apple or two with the squirrels.
1. Planning is key. If you know what you need for the meals you’ll be making, then you won’t overbuy or buy stuff you won’t use.
2. Don’t buy prepared vegetables. First, it’s going to cost you more. Second, once produce is washed and peeled, its nutritional value starts to diminish. Once it’s peeled and cut, it’s going to spoil faster than if you wait until you’re ready to use it. So, invest in a salad spinner and start buying heads of lettuce instead of bags.
3. Buy fresh, local produce when possible. Obviously, stuff that’s spent less time in transport and storage is going to have more life left in it when you bring it home. So, head to your farmer’s market or buy into a local CSA.
4. When you can’t buy fresh, local produce, steer toward buying what’s in season. Again, it’s going to be cheaper and of better quality.
5. Make sure your hands and storage items are clean. If you reach into a bag of spinach with bacteria on your hands, you’re going to leave some behind. Clean hands will avoid sharing the ick of the outside world with your produce.
6. Placement. Most refrigerators have areas that are colder than other areas. Coldest tends to be back of the bottom shelf. The door is going to be warmest. So, for example, you might want avoid putting your lettuce in the coldest spots if they might dip too close to freezing.
7. Separate fruits and veggies in the fridge.
8. Utilize the crisper drawer(s) in your refrigerator. Know which produce needs more/less humidity and adjust accordingly.
9. Wash before you cut. Even though you might not be eating, say, the watermelon rind, if you slice your knife through God-knows-what on the rind and into the yummy melon-y part, well your watermelon slices may not last as long. Some sources recommend washing produce in a sparkling clean kitchen sink full of water to which 2 oz. of hydrogen peroxide has been added.
Specific tips (some of these are gathered from the internet, so I can’t vouch for all of them. But worth a try.)
1. Don’t wash, hull or slice strawberries until you intend to use them.
2. Wrap celery in aluminum foil.
3. If your romaine or leaf lettuce starts to wilt, cut a small piece of the bottom end off and put the rest of it in water in the fridge (kind of like a bouquet of flowers). It will perk right back up. Same goes for celery.
4. Once lettuce leaves are washed and spun, wrap them loosely in slightly damp paper towels and put in a zippered plastic bag. Remove as much air as possible.
5. Uncut tomatoes should NOT be refrigerated. And tomatoes that are large enough (so not cherries or grapes) should be stored top down so that the weight is born as it would be naturally.
6. Potatoes and onions should be put in separate paper bags with holes in the bags. They should NOT be stored in plastic bags. They should be stored in a cool, dry place. Some people suggest that putting an apple in with the taters will keep them from sprouting.
7. Potatoes and onions should not be stored together because they will then produce gases that will spoil both.
8. Store mushrooms in a paper bag in the fridge.
9. Wash & cut off the ends of asparagus. Store it in a container with the stalks standing upright with a little water on the bottom. Loosely cover the container with a plastic bag.
10. Store most of the apples in the fridge (they will last a few days on the counter.) Apples should not be stored mixed in with other fruits because they tend to make them spoil faster.
11. Oranges are similar to apples—a few out is fine, but the rest in the refrigerator.
12. Grapes unwashed in a plastic bag or their plastic clamshell container, in a cool zone; pick out any spoiled grapes, since one bad one can spoil the bunch.
13. Carrots—Remove all but about 2 inches of the green stubble to prevent the carrot from rotting. Allow the carrot outer skin to dry in sun for a day or so. Tightly seal unwashed carrots in a plastic bag in the coolest part refrigerator.
14. Leave the stems on winter squash. Try not to store squashes on top of each other. Do not store them on the ground or in bags. They should not be refrigerated.
Summer squash should be stored in a plastic bag in the crisper.
15. Beets—Cut off the tops two inches above the root, and refrigerate beets in plastic bags.
16. Store pineapple whole, in a perforated plastic bag, in the refrigerator. Once trimmed and cut, it should be stored covered in juice in an airtight container in the fridge.
17. When you bring home a carton of berries, open and gently dump them into a bowl or onto a plate. Pick out any that are going bad. Then return the rest, unwashed, to the store’s container.
18. If you have fresh garden, farmer’s market or CSA broccoli, plunge it into warm—not hot or cold—water with a little white vinegar added to flush out any bugs. Never soak the shoots more than 15 minutes. Store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
19. Keep cauliflower loosely wrapped in plastic in the fridge.
20. Store green bell peppers for short-term use by refrigerating them in the produce drawer of your refrigerator. To ensure good air flow, remove peppers from any plastic bag or container they were purchased in.
21. Storing bananas on a banana hanger or hook is the best way to preserve the overall quality of a ripe banana as it avoids "resting bruises."
22. Ripe stone fruit should be refrigerated, but will do okay on a bowl on the counter for a few days. They should not be stored in plastic bags.