Follow this simple produce guide for what to buy, how to store, and when to use fresh fruits and vegetables to make the most of your grocery budget and reduce food waste.
Cartons of eggs and mega rolls of toilet paper may be in short supply these days, but the produce section of the supermarket, at least in my neck of the woods, is as vibrant as ever. That’s in part because everyone’s stocking up on canned and frozen goods instead.
While it’s wise to have non-perishables on hand, you might be surprised to know that a wide variety of fruits and vegetables are built to last, too. When stored properly, your fresh produce favorites can keep for months. This is all especially worth noting, since layoffs and income losses have us all looking for ways to pinch pennies. It’s important now more than ever to make the most of everything you buy.
Here are some pointers to guide your way. Many of the fruits or vegetables listed in this article are linked and if clicked will take you to a page with recipes specifically using that fruit or vegetable. Hopefully, this will serve as resource for what to buy and how best to use it once you bring it home.
VARY THE VARIETY OF FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Make room in your shopping cart for more perishable produce, just be sure to use it first. Delicate lettuces, zucchini, asparagus, bananas, berries, and mushrooms spoil more quickly than hearty produce, so enjoy them in the near term. After that, dip into your stash of sturdier fruits and vegetables.
PRODUCE WITH A LONG SHELF LIFE
There’s no shortage of fruits and vegetables with a good, long shelf life. Most of the ones listed below do well for a few weeks, others for several months.
- Cruciferous vegetables, including Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage (any kind), and kohlrabi
- Heartier leafy greens, such as collards and kale
- Root vegetables, such as carrots, radishes, parsnips, turnips, jicama, beets, onions, and garlic
- Hearty winter squash, such as butternut, pumpkin, spaghetti, and acorn
- Potatoes and sweet potatoes
- Fennel and celery
- Apples and unripe pears
- Citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, mandarins, and grapefruit
HOW TO PROPERLY STORE FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Proper storage is essential for giving fruits and vegetables a long life.
- Keep lettuces and leafy greens nice and dry. Store in plastic bags with a paper towel in the refrigerator produce drawer.
- Stash most root vegetables in the produce drawer.
- Keep onions and garlic in a cool, dark spot of the kitchen (or in the cellar).
- Store potatoes, sweet potatoes, and winter squash in a cool, dark place.
- Store bananas at room temperature and away from other produce.
- For the longest shelf life, store apples, citrus fruits, and pears in the fridge. If space is limited, store them in a cool, dark place. Apples are best stored on their own.
- Transfer berries from their packaging to a roomy paper towel-lined container and keep in the produce drawer of the fridge. Wash just before eating.
Keep them separate
Many fruits and vegetables release ethylene gas, while others are sensitive to it. The gas causes fruits to ripen, and the more mature the fruit the more gas it typically releases. Some fruits and veggies are bigger culprits than others.
- Potatoes and onions: It’s best not to store onions and potatoes together. Gas released by the onions can hasten sprouting and spoilage in potatoes. Potatoes that have sprouted slightly are still OK to eat, but you need to cut out the actual sprout (the sprouts are considered toxic).
- Apples: Apples release a fair amount of ethylene gas, which can cause other fruits and vegetables to ripen more quickly. It’s best to store apples in their own crisper drawer in the fridge or in a cool space in your basement or cellar. Separating the apples will help other fruits and veggies last longer.
WHEN TO WASH FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Most fruits and vegetables can be washed and stored as soon as you return from the market, with the exception of berries. They’re tender and porous, so exposing them to water before you’re ready to eat them can hasten spoilage.
If you’re concerned about the safety of fresh produce, professor Marion Nestle, one of the country’s thought leaders on health and nutrition, reports no evidence of COVID19 transferred through produce. She says it’s safe to eat, with the recommendation to wash everything well (note that the USDA recommends not using soap when washing produce). If you have lingering doubts, peel it or cook it. Heat destroys viruses.
Above all, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before handling any food.
HOW TO USE UP FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
When fruits and vegetables look like they’re coming to the end of the road, find creative ways to use them. Turn spotted bananas into banana bread. Add shredded zucchini to fritters and sliced mushrooms to chili or toast. Toss limp, leafy greens into smoothies or scrambled eggs or add to any of these recipes. Slice apples and pears and cook them on the stove with a splash of water and maple syrup until tender. Mash into a tasty sauce.
FREEZE PRODUCE BEFORE IT GOES BAD
The freezer is your friend when it comes to preserving produce. Pretty much any fruit or vegetable you see in the frozen food section of the supermarket can be frozen at home, too. If you have produce about to go south, here’s what to do:
- Vegetables: To freeze vegetables, cook them first. Bring a generous pot of water to a boil and add your vegetable of choice, peeled if necessary, and cut into bite-size pieces. Boil or blanch until just barely tender, drain, and immediately immerse in a big bowl of ice water. Dry well and spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Freeze and then transfer to a freezer bag.
- Fruit: Fruit doesn’t need to be cooked before freezing. Just spread freshly washed berries and cut up mango, pineapple, peaches, and other tender fruits on a baking sheet. Freeze, then transfer to a freezer bag. To freeze bananas, peel and store them whole in a freezer bag.
Channel your inner homesteader
There are countless possibilities for preserving fruits and vegetables beyond the freezer. Here are recipes to get you started:
- Preserved lemons
- Preserved pears
- Apple butter
- Homemade fruit leather
- Pear ginger shrub
- Pickled beets
- Easy refrigerator pickles
- Pickled onions
- How to Make Jam in the Microwave
- Marinated roasted bell peppers
- Caramelized onions – These freeze beautifully! Make a batch, cool them and freeze them in a storage bag.
Follow me on Pinterest
Products We Love
This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners; your purchases via these links can benefit Simply Recipes. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.
Katie Morford is the Nutrition Editor for Simply Recipes. She is a writer, registered dietitian, and author of three cookbooks: PREP: The Essential College Cookbook, Rise & Shine: Better Breakfasts for Busy Mornings and Best Lunch Box Ever, which was nominated for an IACP award. Her work has been featured in Family Circle, Better Homes and Gardens, Health, Real Simple, Oprah, Parents, Self, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the New York Times, among others. Katie lives in San Francisco with her husband and three daughters.
More from Katie