Cooking with and eating fresh produce brings back fond memories of helping my mom in her garden when I was younger. Our time picking strawberries at a local U-pick farm is especially near and dear to my heart; perhaps because I didn’t have to pick out rocks from their garden! Regardless of the reason, I find myself gravitating toward recipes with fresh produce. I can’t help but appreciate the meal more, knowing exactly what those farmers had to do to get their produce to market.
There’s no better place to feel humbled by the amount of love and work that goes into growing your food than a farmer’s market. A couple months ago, I went to our local farmer’s market with my family to grab some produce for the coming week’s meals. I’ve bought produce from the market on multiple occasions, but that time I noticed how hard those farmers work. When one woman handed me my change after purchasing some carrots and purple potatoes, I saw her clean hands were adorned with semi-permanent dirt under her finger nails. I imagine she doesn’t get to take very many trips or attend very many family and social functions because she’s always doing something in her fields. I couldn’t help but smile wider when I told her thank you.
If you’ve read Part 1 and Part 2 of my Beginners Guide to Reducing Food Waste, then you already know food waste squanders our money and natural resources, and it’s awful for the environment. Reflecting upon my experience at our local farmer’s market only feeds my drive to do better with my household food waste. In addition to everything I just mentioned, I can’t keep letting these hardworking people down. I can’t keep wasting their time and money because of my bad habits! Since you’re reading this blog, I imagine you want to do better too.
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What is food waste?
Food loss happens before food reaches consumers. This can be caused by anything from over planting to improper storage. Food waste, on the other hand, happens when restaurants, retailers, and consumers throw away foods that are or were fit for consumption. Some of the reasons food is wasted at home include, but are not limited to, confusion with expiration dates, improper food storage, and impulse buys. It’s no surprise, then, that fruits and vegetables are the most commonly wasted food items. For more detailed information about reducing food waste, check out my Beginners Guide to Reducing Food Waste. Next, read up on my 40 Best Tips to Reduce Food Waste.
Why is produce commonly wasted at home?
Unfortunately, this doesn’t have a simple answer; the reason is going to be different for each household. Some reasons might be:
- prepackaged bulk fresh fruits & veggies
- poor or improper storage
- a change of plans that screw up the meal plan
- poor meal planning skills
- lack of value for food
- disorganization in food storage areas (i.e. fridge, freezer, and pantry)
- and more
If you’re anything like me, you read through that list thinking, “Check, check, & check!” It might have even reminded you of some current and past situations when you’ve wasted food. Some of my biggest current struggles with food waste include buying in bulk (I love a good deal!), changing plans, and disorganization. I always have the best intentions to use up all of those avocados and apples, but I always seem to fall short and they go to waste. Being a mom means I have to be flexible, so there are many times where my best laid plans for dinner get derailed.
Has anyone else been on the way to the freezer to pull out meat to thaw for dinner only to be called away for a potty training crisis or suddenly realized that it was eerily quiet in the living room. All the possibilities from paint-smeared walls to your sweet little one giving his baby brother a new haircut instantly flash through your mind as you race off to confront your fears. By the time those situations get handled, you’ve likely forgotten all about the frozen meat. For me, I’m usually starting to make dinner when I realize the meat is still in the freezer. Once again, I find myself changing meal plans at the last minute. The produce I planned to use up in this meal becomes a day older and a day closer to the compost pile.
While I feel guilty in the moment when I waste food, I take those experiences and learn from them. It’s as simple as asking myself a few pointed questions:
- What went wrong?
- Is there a common issue/pattern to my food waste?
- What would help reduce or prevent my food waste next time?
Using these questions to keep a food waste journal would be a great way to help you spot your patterns and brainstorm solutions. Yes, visual learners and external processors, I’m looking at you!
Best Kitchen Products to Overcome Wasting Fresh Produce
If you’re like I was, you need help using up and extending the life of your produce! Some of you might be great at not wasting your food, but you’re looking for ecofriendly products to extend and store your produce. Look no further! I’ve spent countless hours scouring the internet so you don’t have to! I hope you find and fall in love with some new kitchen products for fresh produce. I know I have!
Every refrigerator and freezer needs a thermometer! I don’t know about yours, but the display on the outside of my refrigerator just tells me what both parts of the appliance are set to, not what their true temperatures are. At some point, these appliances will go kaput. A thermometer is your first line of defense in order to act fast when this does happen. The best part about a movable thermometer, is that you can add it to your cooler for a picnic or tailgating and pop it back in the fridge when you’re done! Let’s be honest, ice cream soup and salmonella aren’t welcome at any occasion!
Not long after buying our first thermometer, I noticed my frozen foods were starting to sweat. I went into panic mode until I remembered I could switch the thermometer from the fridge to the freezer. After checking back a couple hours later, the temperature was back to 0°F. As it turns out, one of the drawers was off its track, keeping the door from sealing properly. This inexpensive tool saved me from paying a technician to tell me everything was in good working order. Boy, would I have felt silly! Now, every time I open the fridge, I check to make sure it is at the correct temperature. You had better believe I’m ordering two more of these for our freezer and deep freezer!
PRO TIPS: Keeping your thermometer away from the sides of the refrigerator/freezer helps it give a more accurate reading. Look for a thermometer that shows you the safe zone temperatures for a refrigerator and a freezer.
Refrigerator Bin Liners
In the last year I’ve become pickier about the products we buy and use in our home. I’m moving a bit faster than a sloth, but I’m slowly switching out our toxin-filled products for clean, natural ones. Recently, our kitchen products were on the chopping block! (Teehee! No, I’m not sorry. Yes, I enjoy being punny!) When I was hunting Amazon for fridge bin liners to aid in ease of cleaning and reducing food waste, I was saddened to see none were made from 100% natural materials.
Sometimes, in life, we have to make compromises. This was one of those compromises for me. Until someone invents an organic fridge bin liner (please help a mama out if you know of one), I will be using the washing machine-safe fabric liners I found.
My second choice, a foam liner, didn’t quite make the cut because it needs to be hand washed. By now, I know myself well enough to know that I’m more likely to clean products that are dishwasher and washing machine safe.
PRO TIPS: If you buy a product you’re less likely to keep clean, you will be less likely to reduce your food waste. Measure your refrigerator bins and shelves (if you want to line your whole fridge) before ordering liners. Oops! My bad! You can cut your liners to fit or just tuck them in with the extra fabric going up the side. I chose the path of less OCD-induced anxiety.
Potato Storage Bag
In college, I saw first hand how quickly things can go downhill when you store potatoes and onions together. Nowadays, I know better, so until we added more cabinets to our kitchen (why I didn’t prioritize having a pantry when we were house hunting, I don’t know) our onions and potatoes were stored on opposite sides in our corner cabinet’s lazy Susan. While the potatoes weren’t spoiling as fast (maybe 2-3 weeks), it still wasn’t an ideal situation.
After our new cabinets were installed, the potatoes found a new home across the kitchen. I noticed it was taking longer for our potatoes to get eyes, but they were still going soft quicker than I thought they should. On top of that, they weren’t stacking well and liked to roll around every time I pulled their shelf out. This hessian potato storage bag has been a potato lifesaver! Even when the potatoes did start to grow eyes, they were still firm. Some of the potatoes from my father-in-law’s garden were eye-free for 3 months, but most are still going strong at 4 months! The cute design is just a perk!
As I was pulling up all the product pages for this post, I noticed this bag was out of stock. Fortunately, that didn’t last long. If this does happen again, I have some alternative options for you.
- There is a smaller version of this bag that I plan to buy for our onions, but it can be used for potatoes. The hessian onion storage bag has the same inner lining to help keep out light and the same sturdy construction that keeps the bag upright. Yes, it does have the word onions printed on it, but it’s only on one side. If you don’t keep 5 lbs of potatoes on hand anyway, this would be a great option. Even if you do stock large quantities of potatoes, there’s no rule saying you can’t buy two or more storage bags.
- If you aren’t concerned about having a blackout lining, organic cotton storage bags might be more your speed. You can choose from a variety of sizes and quantities to best suit your needs. Since these are cotton, they are most definitely machine washable!
- For those of you looking for cute, yet functional, pantry organization, you can’t go wrong with vintage chicken wire baskets. I wish I had a pantry so I could justify buying a set! Sorta joking…sorta. Not only do you get to pick which sized set you want, you can customize the color of the washable liner to your decorating style. Win, win!
PRO TIPS: Store your potatoes, and onions for that matter, in a cool dark place. However, don’t store them near to one another. Onions give off ethylene gas, causing potatoes to sprout early. If your potatoes are homegrown, don’t wash your potatoes until you’re ready to use them. Check your potatoes every few weeks for signs of rotting. Catching a rotting potato early is vital to prolonging the shelf life of the rest of your potatoes.
Few things make me happier than finding multipurpose products. Silicone Food Huggers are just that! These little silicone beauties help you reduce your food waste, cut back on plastics (i.e. plastic wrap and bags), and save money! What’s the best part, you ask? They’re dishwasher safe!!! And all the mamas who hate handwash only dishes said, “AMEN!”
So far, I’ve primarily used these on cucumbers and bananas (currently trying out a pepper), and it delivered. Not only can you use them to seal and preserve your fresh produce, you can use them as lids for a variety of containers. I have a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce that was opened 4 months ago and I haven’t peeked inside since. You know, product testing and all. HA! Just before sitting down to type this review, I put on my big girl undies and mentally prepared myself for all the gagging that would ensue. Y’all, there’s not one single spot of mold in there! Bravo, Food Huggers! BRA-VO!
PRO TIP: Buy more than one set! I found myself constantly needing a Food Hugger size that was already in use.
I did my best to hold back my girlish squeals of excitement when I found this treasure! There are multiple options out there for alternatives to plastic wrap, but I chose Bee’s Wrap because of the materials they use and the character of their company. This versatile wrap can be used for everything from produce to cheese to wrapping your sandwich for lunch to covering a salad bowl for your church’s potluck. So far, I’ve used this on avocados, onions, biscuits, and cornbread. The moisture retention for the produce and bread was fantastic!
You just can’t beat a reusable, yet compostable, kitchen product for fresh produce made from organic cotton, beeswax, organic jojoba oil, and tree resin! The best part? It’s a naturally antibacterial food wrap. Take that food waste! Since this wrap is made with beeswax, it needs to be hand-washed in cold water only. Now, I know I love machine washable items, but I also know a good compromise when I see one. I figured if I only make an occasional exception to my machine washable rule of thumb, I can manage to keep up with those special items. So far, so good!
Pro Tips: You will want to buy multiple sets and sizes of Bee’s Wrap! I’m planning to add a little more to our collection each month. Try to be quick while washing your Bee’s Wrap products. If you’re like me and take too long, your warm hands will heat up the beeswax mixture and start to move it around on the cotton. Oops! Since this is a wrap unlike anything else you’ve probably tried, I don’t recommend trying it for the first time with something soft (I’m so sorry, little avocado!). Unless the awkward, clumsy gene skipped your generation, start out with something solid and sturdy like a bowl or watermelon.
Ethylene is a bad word among fresh produce. If you’ve never heard of it, there’s a good chance you’re storing your fresh produce wrong. No judgement here! At some point we’ve all been guilty of this. Just remember, when we know better, we can do better!
So what’s the big deal? Some produce, like apples and tomatoes, give off ethylene gas as they ripen. This gas, in turn, can speed up the ripening process for ethylene sensitive produce like lettuce and pears. If you’re storing some of these fresh fruits and veggies together in the fridge, have no fear! Clean+Green Fridge Boost is here! Not only is this absorbing the ethylene gas in my fridge, but I’ve noticed an improvement on the smell inside of my fridge.
This has been a huge win for my sad salad game. I swear, when I start cooking dinner, time speeds up & my energy drains twice as fast! By the time I’ve cooked everything, kept my hangry toddler from starting a riot, and tried to somewhat clean up the kitchen along the way, I rarely have the energy or time to make a salad. I always have the best intentions, but such is life. Clean+Green’s Fridge Boost has given this exhausted mama a little grace and a second chance with fresh produce! Our leftover nights will now feature fresh salads!
Pro Tips: Keep your Fridge Boost on the topmost shelf in your refrigerator. After 90 days, replace it with a new box. The box has a replacement date section on top of the box or you can put a reminder on your phone. Recycle the old box and add the minerals from the box to your garden or potting soil! How freaking cool is that!?
Since I wasn’t a very conscientious meal planner before starting this blog, I wasn’t sure what to do with the produce I knew would go bad before we would get around to eating it. As it turns out, two of my biggest helpers has been my food processor and blender! My mom gave me my Cuisinart food processor as a gift for Christmas 5 or 6 years ago and it’s still going strong. Once I figured out all of its safety feature quirks, I was hooked! I firmly believe this is an essential kitchen product for preserving fresh produce.
You’ll be able to quickly shred up produce like apples, carrots, peppers, and zucchini and toss them into the freezer. Muffins or stir-fry anyone? If you’re like me, you might prefer to make your own baby food. I always used my food processor to make bigger batches of baby food and I froze them in glass baby food jars. Baby food always mixes tons of flavors together, so this would be a perfect way to keep kale, spinach, mangoes, pears, sweet potatoes, corn, and the like from becoming your latest food waste victims.
Pro Tip: If you are unfamiliar with food processors, read the manual before you try it out. This would have saved me precious time and my sanity!
While you can use your blender to make baby food, or purees in general, it’s a bit irritating to fight the blades at the bottom for the last of your food mixture. I prefer to stick to using my blender for making smoothies. My current blender could use an upgrade (I really do think I’m going to burn out that cheap motor any day now), but I’ve always loved my mom’s Vitamix. She’s been using hers for 12+ years with no problems! Fingers crossed mine gives out soon so I can grab one for myself!
Green smoothies are an especially great way to use up small leftover portions of fresh produce. Maybe you get burnt out by the time you get to the last few oranges in the 5 pound bag. Or maybe your dinner recipes don’t call for an entire container of spinach or a whole bag of carrots. I’ve been using up my extra fruits & veggies in smoothies for years!
Pro Tip: Recipes are your friend! Unless you are well versed in the kitchen, piecing a smoothie together as you go and eyeballing the amount of your ingredients is a recipe for food waste disaster. Green Smoothie Joy by Cressida Elias is my go-to recipe book.
Large Ice Cube Tray
I just recently saw avocados on sale and made a large impulse buy. “GASP!” I know, I know. That’s a no-no, but I had a plan and a date with my food processor, dang-it! As soon as I saw them, I knew I wanted to puree them and freeze them into cubes. They’ll be perfect for smoothies and homemade guacamole!
I don’t use just any ice cube tray for freezing food, though. A 100% platinum silicone ice cube tray is the way to go! Unless you’ve been hiding out in a bunker for the last 10 years, you’ve heard about the dangers of synthetic chemicals like BPA and the consumers’ outcry for safer products. Platinum silicone is toxin free and meets all the European and U.S. safety standards. That makes it my top choice for silicone kitchen products and fresh produce.
Lurch, a German-based company, had the only large ice cube tray I could find on Amazon that advertised as using platinum silicone. With no reviews to read, I took a chance on it after looking into the company a bit. I can honestly say I am 110% happy with this dishwasher safe product! The design allows for stacking additional trays and each tray comes with a lid. Yes, a LID!!! Oh the things kids won’t fully appreciate until they have to start adulting.
Pro Tips: The tray I used (1.6″ x 1.6″) easily held 4 tablespoons of puree in each cube’s mold. Save your fingers and go fast to pop out your food cubes. The mold is strong and can take it. The alternative option is to find the closest, unsuspecting living being to warm up your icicles!
Food Storage Bags
Bags are another versatile product for storing fresh produce that has been around for decades, but a new dog’s in town. Zip Top’s platinum silicone bags are a fresh face on the market, and for good reason. The company’s reusable containers are both a safer and more eco-friendly replacement for plastic storage bags. Hands down, this is one of my favorite kitchen products for fresh produce.
Aaaand that’s about as calm as I can stand to stay about these bags. Cue me jumping up and down on the couch like Tom Cruise. FREAKING DISHWASHER SAFE, Y’ALL!!! Even on the bottom rack! I could cry tears of joy right now! Just kidding…sorta. I am a veteran of the guilt-ridden game of “I will wash and reuse this zip lock bag.” Every time I choose to play, I end up with a gross pile of unwashed bags that get thrown out anyway.
In the month that I’ve been using them, I’ve already saved over 30 bags from the landfill while storing and preserving my produce! So far, I’ve used it for freezing blueberries and veggies scraps (homemade veggie broth is calling my name), sending fresh fruits and veggies in my little one’s lunch box, and storing fresh fruit and extra pumpkin puree in the fridge. My only wish is that the company made a bag big enough to replace gallon sized plastic bags.
Pro Tips: No doubt, you’ll need multiple sets. Some red and orange colored foods, like pumpkin, can stain the containers. No worries, though! Baking soda and water will take it right out! Or so I’m told. Even after making oatmeal and pancakes twice, I’m still working my way through the bag. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes!
FAQ About Fresh Produce
Which fresh produce lasts the longest?
These fruits and veggies can stay fresh for a month or longer, so long as they are stored properly.
- Citrus fruits
- Pomegranates (whole)
- Winter squash
Which fresh produce should NOT be stored together?
How do you extend the shelf-life of leafy greens?
- STORE BOUGHT: After opening the bag or container, place a paper towel on top of the leaves to help absorb excess moisture.
- HOMEGROWN/LOCAL FARM: Only wash your leafy greens before using them, not before storing them.
Which fruits and vegetables are in season right now?
Many newer restaurants, especially those focused on farm-to-table ingredients, are starting to include seasonal dishes and sides on their menus. I don’t know about you, but I love the variety this adds to the menu each season! The popularity of seasonal dishes made me curious. I did some research and found 8 amazing benefits to buying seasonal produce!
The Last Thing You Need to Know About Kitchen Products for Fresh Produce
With a little planning and the right kitchen products for fresh produce, it is possible to keep your fruits and veggies fresher for longer. There are two key things to remember if you are to be successful:
- Buy multiple sets! This is true for Bee’s Wrap, Food Huggers, and Zip Top bags. You can stock up on one of these food saving products at a time or mix & match like I’ve done. No matter your strategy for building up your supply of kitchen products for fresh produce, go at a pace that is financially responsible for you. These reusable products are upfront investments.
- Be flexible & utilize your tools! Things are going to happen and your meal plan will need some tweaking. If you’re a rule follower like me, take a deep breath and devise a new plan. This might mean you pair a side dish from Thursday’s dinner with your current leftovers. It’s also possible that you’ll need to assess which fruits and veggies from your meal plan will need alternative storage. This is where a food processor, large ice cube trays, Bee’s Wrap, and Zip Top bags shine!