Ever since I started sharing my monthly grocery shopping hauls, especially now that we’re trying to eat healthier (more real food, less processed stuff), I have received so many questions about how we are able to eat all of our produce before it goes bad.
We try to do pretty much the whole month’s shopping at once, though we may make a small trip or two later in the month for bread, milk, produce, something random, or a great deal.
So how do we buy so much produce without wasting it?
Honestly, I think we just plain eat more than most people. Our four older kids (ages 3, 6, 8, and 10) are all tall and thin (as is typical in our family, the baby is chunky!), but they have lots of energy and burn calories like it’s their job.
My husband is super tall and has an incredible capacity and high metabolism (though not as high as it used to be).
And me, well, I had a baby last fall and it still shows (I’m working on that). Our eight-month-old is a voracious nurser, so I’m kind of eating for both of us, though he’s starting to eat some table food like banana, sweet potato, applesauce, and avocado.
Aside from us just eating a lot, there are some conscious things I do to help us buy a lot of produce and not let it go bad.
I’ve summed it up with some unwritten rules that we follow. If you’d rather watch me tell you all about them, here’s a video!
1. Eat Fresh First
As I’m planning what we’ll be having for meals, I focus on what’s fresh first, instead of ingredients that are in my pantry or freezer.
For example, at the beginning of the month when I have fresh tomatoes, I won’t use any canned or bottled tomato products. Later in the month when the fresh tomatoes are gone, I’ll make homemade tomato sauce out of tomato puree that I canned in the past.
For sides at dinner for the first three weeks or so of the month we will have salad. When all of our salad greens are gone we will eat frozen veggies, like peas and broccoli, for side dishes at dinner.
2. Start with What Will Go Bad First
Some fruits and veggies are more robust than others. Eat the more sensitive ones first and save the sturdier ones for later.
For example, in last month’s grocery haul I bought lettuce (baby spring mix), spinach (organic baby spinach), green cabbage, and red cabbage.
Lettuce gets wilty faster than lettuce, so we eat the lettuce mix first (sometimes with spinach mixed in) and then we eat straight spinach in our salads.
In my experience, the cabbage can last two months without much, if any, change in the quality. I’m new at buying red cabbage, but it appears even more hearty and robust than the green cabbage! I’m not planning to use the cabbage until the end of the month when my other fresh greens are gone.
3. Default Snack
When I share pictures of my grocery hauls on Instagram or Facebook, I always get asked about how we go through so many bananas before they go bad.
Honestly, we never have a problem going through lots of bananas. One of the reasons is that fruit and veggies are the default snack for my kids. When the kids whine that they are hungry and ask for a snack, I point them toward the bananas, apples, or mandarins.
This didn’t come naturally, but through training. 🙂 If you want your kids to eat more fruits and veggies, don’t have other snacks accessible. If they’re hungry enough, they’ll start eating the fruits and veggies you have readily available. And then they’ll start to like them.
Just for the record, this is coming from the girl (that’s me!) who was in her twenties before she learned to like salad and still can’t handle the texture of raw carrots.
If all the non-babies in my family ate a banana a day for a snack or with breakfast, that’s 42 bananas in a week. And often they’ll eat more than one (especially if they’re my husband)!
4. Prep Ahead
The more convenient you make your produce, the more you will eat it and use it in your meals. It’s so much easier to use fresh fruits and vegetables when they are prepped ahead of time.
I have a whole post (and even a video) about how I prepare and freeze a vegetable mix (carrots, celery, onions, and garlic) that I use in a lot of the soups that I make. Cooking soup for dinner is suddenly quick and easy when all of the ingredients are already cut and frozen.
I keep a freezer bag of diced peppers and onions in my freezer to use in my breakfast eggs.
Cut up veggies for snacks. Carrot and celery sticks can be stored in a container of water so they don’t dry out and get limp.
For kids (or grown-ups) who are intimidated by eating whole fruit, a fruit salad is an easy way to have fruit ready to eat. As long as there is something acidic in it (oranges, pineapple, etc) you don’t have to worry about apples browning.
5. Store it right
How you store your produce makes a huge difference in how long it lasts. Besides bananas, potatoes, onions, and some squashes, I try to keep as much of our produce in the fridge as possible. We do have a second fridge (that we got for free when a friend was giving it away), which makes this possible.
Apples stay nice for months in the fridge! Oranges last a long time in the fridge too!
In fact, in my monthly shopping in April, I bought four 5-lb boxes of Cutie clementines for less than $1/lb because they were near the end of their prime. We picked out a dozen cuties that were soft and then put the rest of them in the fridge. I planned to use them fast in lunches and for snacks because I expected them to go bad quickly. They stayed good all through April and into the first week in May when they finally ran out. I had taken one of the boxes out of the fridge and put it on the counter for convenience and those Cuties started to get soft, but the ones in the fridge were perfect!
Take fruit out of bags when possible, especially banana and tomatoes. I like to store my tomatoes in leftover Cutie boxes so that they can stack nicely in the fridge.
Keep bananas away from apples and other ripening fruit. Hang if possible to prevent bruising. They shouldn’t be kept in the fridge, but the cooler your house is, the longer they will last. Ours last much longer in our house in the winter when it’s cool inside than in the summer when it gets hot.
6. Have a Plan B
If eating fresh doesn’t work out, have another plan. There are lots of other ways to eat fruits and veggies besides fresh. Here are some favorite Plan Bs for the produce we buy often:
Bananas– If I have bananas that are going brown and soft I peel them, break them into a few pieces, and stick them in a freezer bag. They are excellent for smoothies! If I have time, I make banana bread right away, but most often I freeze the bananas and make them into bread later. If you are pressed for time, you can just put them in the freezer in their peel and peel them later.
Spinach/Kale– If I notice that the spinach is starting to go I transfer it into a freezer bag and freeze it for smoothies. You can put a handful or two of frozen spinach into your smoothie and you won’t even notice it. Your kids will never know!
Strawberries– Wash and hull (cut off green part) strawberries before freezing them. Frozen strawberries are perfect for smoothies or pies. I slice and freeze strawberries too so I can easily make strawberry topping for ice cream or waffles.
Citrus– Cut and freeze lemons and limes to easily use their juice (or zest) in recipes. You can also use them in smoothies (even with the peel!). Alternatively, you can peel your citrus for use in smoothies.
Avocado– Avocados can be frozen in halves, chunks, or puree. I use it in smoothies or as guacamole.
Tomatoes– Even tomatoes can be frozen if you’re going to use them in puree or sauce. I do this with our garden tomatoes so that I can do one big canning session to make all of my tomato puree.
Apples– Yep, you can freeze apples too! When my kids don’t finish the apple slices in their lunch and they are looking brown and less than delicious, I stick them in the freezer and throw them in our next smoothie!
Grapes– Frozen grapes make a fun icy treat. They can also go in– you guessed it– smoothies.
The key here is that in most cases it’s best to take action on plan B before your produce goes bad. This is just a matter of being aware and keeping a good lookout. Every day as you open your refrigerator, take a look at the state of your produce and see if there’s anything that needs to move to plan B.
Sometimes life happens and produce goes bad [gasp!]
It happens to everyone. I promise it does.
Your compost pile (or chickens) won’t mind that you’re not perfect.
Just move on and do better next time. If you bought a fruit or veggie without a plan to use it, make a plan before you buy it next time.
Before you know it this eating-healthy-on-a-budget thing will be second nature.
You’ve got this!
How about you?
- What fruit or veggie goes bad on you most often?
- What are your best tips for not letting produce go to waste?