Fresh foods are one of the most important expenses in our daily lives to ensure health; specifically- perishable plant foods. Trying to maintain a healthy meal plan CAN lead to over-shopping, in a sense that you might not finish all fresh foods before they begin to lose their allure, or start to rot. Throwing away food can be frustrating, because it's essentially throwing away money! Follow this simple guide to get the most out of your produce.
Correct storage is key: Ethylene gas awareness
To prevent early loss of fresh foods be sure to store them correctly. Some veggies and fruits should be stored at room temperature, however, once ripe- they may be stored in the refrigerator to preserve for a bit longer without further ripening. It is key, though, to store vegetables separate from fruits.
Fruits emit ethylene gas- which will speed up the ripening and wilting process of your other fruits and vegetables. If available, the humidity control knobs on refrigerator drawers can be very helpful. Fruits should be stored in low humidity drawers with ethylene gas absorbers. Ethylene gas absorbers can be purchased for about $5 a piece and can help maintain freshness for several months of use. In a high humidity drawer goes the leafy greens, protected from the ethylene gas while staying crisp under high moisture conditions.
Other vegetables can be stored on the top shelf of the fridge. Slice up carrots, peppers, celery and cucumbers and store them submerged in water for a quick, accessible healthy snack. Some people keep veggies in the drawer with fruits but this can cause premature rotting.
Two GO-TO's: Freeze or Juice!
Fruits that are not desirable to eat fresh anymore go straight to the freezer for future smoothies, oatmeals, desserts (coming soon: Nice Cream), pancakes or baked goods. Another great option is to juice these fruits and use the juice as a sweetener for iced teas, pancakes, muffins, etc.!
Wilted greens can be very unappetizing when you are looking for that signature crunch. Carrots, cucumbers and celery lose moisture and crispness over time as well. To redeem the nutrients from these veggies without waste, blend them into a vegetable packed green smoothie. Using tomatoes as your base, you can get a great home made V8 style smoothie.
Not a fan of veggie drinks? Use your veggie smoothies as a base for your next soup or chili for a low sodium, tomato broth! You can also freeze a smoothie mixture OR juiced vegetables into ice cube trays to add a dose of antioxidants to your next batch of smoothies.
Be warned; simply freezing fruits and vegetables causes the water inside the plant to expand & the cell walls break, making the thawed product more soft and less crunchy and fibrous.
Blend Citrus Friuts
Cut off the skins of citrus fruits: lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits; and blend the whole fruit. Blending the fruits whole leaves the fiber of the fruit to be added to dishes as well as the juices- leading to a more healthy, plant based finished product. Freeze blended citrus into ice cube trays if there isn't any use for them within a week (blending can lead to a slightly bitter juice, so try it with a small portion first.) Juicing citrus is a great alternative if you dislike the fiber aspect of blended citrus.
Beans & Rice Make Excellent Burgers
Bulk dry beans save money, but two people can barely finish 1/3 of a cooked bag in one week. My favorite beans to make are black beans and pinto. About two cups of dry beans once cooked will create somewhere around 2 dozen bean patties once prepared. The best thing about bean patties is the possibilities (Recipe: Mild Southwestern Style Pinto Patties)! Make them as mild or as spicy as desired; go extravagant or keep it simple. A food processor is the best tool for this meal-prep.
Setting aside some time to prepare and freeze perishable items along with storing them correctly can save hundreds of dollars in the long run. These simple but often overlooked life-hacks should help keep you from emptying your pantry-and your wallet- too fast!