I’ll admit it. I used to waste a lot of produce. I’d have all kinds of good intentions and go nuts on produce at the grocery store, and then that week would get busy so the dinners I’d planned to make with that produce wouldn’t work out for that week, or our sucky fridge would hide the good stuff out of site and thus out of mind, or the produce CSA would bring things that I just couldn’t use right away. Or to be honest, sometimes I just let my fruit and veggie eyes get better than my family’s belly. Sadly, I’m not alone in this. In fact, it is estimated that most American households waste up to 25% of the food and beverages they buy! (For a truly shocking look at how much we waste check out this report)
As I’ve been making more homemade food and sneaking more fruits and veggies into my family’s diet, I have luckily came upon a few tricks to help keep that produce rather than throwing it away. Here are my top five:
Puree and Freeze
This one has been a life saver, both for the about to be thrown out produce and for the time to prepare meals down the road. I will spend a little bit of time with the food processor and puree veggies in batches if ziplock bags for sneaking into meals later. The key to this method in order to make the produce easy to use later on is to freeze it in a thin flat layer in your ziplock bag. This way after it’s frozen, you can just break off a chunk of it to use later if you don’t need to whole batch. If you do have to add water for pureeing, try to limit it as the more water you add, the harder it is to break the frozen puree apart. These are the ones I’ve found best – but I’m sure you can do this with most any vegetable that you have on hand.
Cauliflower: Steam (or microwave) the cauliflower until it’s tender, then puree and store. It can be added to macaroni and cheese, most ground meat based dishes, pasta sauce and a wide variety of dishes down the road.
Carrots, Zuchini, Peppers, Onions – wash and peel if necessary, then puree and freeze. I personally mix peppers and onions in one bag and zucchini and carrots in another. These can then be added to most dishes depending on whether or not you want the extra flavor of the peppers and onions.
Spinach, kale or other greens – Puree washed greens and freeze. You may have to add a little water. This can be added to cooked dishes or my favorite use, smoothies. Break off a chunk of your pureed frozen spinach and add with your fruits, yogurt and other smoothie ingredients. Your kids get some veggies and don’t even realize it!
Bananas – If your bananas are going bad and you don’t have the time to mix up a batch of banana bread, you can cut them up and freeze them. The cut up banana pieces can then be used later for baked goods or smoothies.
Chop and Freeze
This is a good way to save vegetables and some fruits for use later when you don’t need that fresh texture. Simply chop or slice your produce and freeze it in ziplock bags. I’ve had good luck doing this with onions, celery and peppers. The onions and the celery lose their crispness, but if you used them in something cooked you won’t notice. This also helps to save time later on when you are cooking a pot of soup or other dish and don’t have to chop your veggies.
Sautee or Blanche and Freeze
Some foods don’t freeze so well raw and can use a little bit of cooking prior to freezing. Mushrooms, for example get very mushy and gross when frozen raw. However, if you saute them quickly in some olive oil, the sauteed mushrooms freeze very well and then can be added back in to dishes like pasta, stroganoff or stir fries later when you need them. Cabbage is one you could freeze raw, but I’ve had better luck blanching it. Drop your cut cabbage into boiling water for a minute or so, then put immediately into ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and freeze. The frozen cabbage is great for use in cooked dishes later (stir fry, soup, etc.)
Juicing is notorious for how much produce it takes to make a little glass of juice. That said, it can be a good way to use up some produce that you won’t otherwise have time to cook. Spinach, kale and other greens, most fruits, cucumbers and many other varieties of produce can go into a yummy juice. If you make a lot of juice, you can also freeze this for use later.
You’d be surprised how many different vegetables you can put into a batch of vegetable soup. If you’ve got leftover veggies, consider chopping and cooking them in a yummy broth, then freeze the resulting soup for use as an easy lunch or first course later.
How do you keep from wasting your produce?