Meeting that elusive 5-a-day would be easy - if only we knew how to make our fruit and veg last longer!
The majority of us now do weekly food shops - we go with our husband, kids, wife - or whoever is willing to accompany us, really - and attempt to stock up the fridge for an entire 7 days. Weekly food shops do make life much easier, saving on inconvenient trips to the shops after work, however, they're not all rainbows and sunshine.
Often, the weight of the week ahead on our shoulders, we get carried away and come home with much more than we need. Tomatoes, kale, cherries, carrots, aubergines...before you know if you've bought enough fruit and veg to fill greengrocers, and so begins the race against time to use it up before it all goes off.
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Reduce food waste by working with what you have
One of the main reasons the need to make our food 'last longer' even exists, is because we buy too much to begin with. Instead of finishing off our leftovers - that half squash, lone carrot and handful of green beans - we rush to the store to 'restock'.
If you really want to make your produce last longer, use up what you have first. This often means being inventive, substituting ingredients in recipes and generally having a little 'fun' with your cooking, but hey, isn't that what it's all about?
What is local produce & why is it the best option?
When the time arrives that you do need to stock up, consider where you're buying from. Yes, the supermarket is the most convenient option, but is it the most ethical? Are you getting the best value for your money?
Supermarket shelves are, in general, stocked with lower quality fresh produce than that of a local farm shop. This is for two main reasons:
- The produce is often heavily treated with pesticides, which have undetermined effects on our health.
- The produce you see on the shelves often comes from abroad. It may have been harvested weeks ago before appearing in the supermarket, losing some of its shelf life and nutrition during this time.
Go to your local greengrocers, and be greeted with a rainbow of fruit and vegetable that's come straight from the farm. It will be organic, last longer and you'll be supporting the local community in the process - a clear winner.
The benefits of making a shopping list
Why do we enter the shop perfectly calm, the simple task of food for two to buy, and leave with a trolly full with enough food for 6 family members during a snow storm.
It's from lack of planning. Without a list of food to buy or even some conscience of how many meals need preparing over the next seven days, anything and everything starts to look appealing. We become a bit of a Madeliene Shaw and start to throw all kinds of wacky ingredients into our trolleys, disregarding the fact that post-work we won't want anything but sofa; tea; food; bed, in that order.
From now on, don't try and tackle the weekly shop until you've got a list. The list can be as simple as the number of times you will need to eat at home or take things from home to eat elsewhere over the next week.
Even this simple task will ensure you don't get over-ambitious with your trolley filling. If you're only around for 4 breakfasts that week and look down to find a bag of nutty muesli, coco pops and bran flakes having miraculously made their way into your trolley, you'll realise this is a problem - you'll be forced to choose. Plans make us choose - wisely, in general.
If you want to make a more extensive food list that will help you save money and waste less on your weekly shop, check out my guide to meal prep.
Now we've covered the problem of over-buying, let's look at making the fruit and veg we do buy last longer.
1. Store fruit & vegetables as soon as possible
Driving back from the supermarket on a lovely Summer's day may tempt you to stop off at the pub - think of your fruit and veg! Fresh produce will not keep well left in the back of your car, especially if the sun is beaming down upon it.
Heading straight home after a supermarket shop to unload your bags is paramount in making your fruit and veg last longer. If this really isn't possible, pack cool bags packed with ice packs into your boot before you leave. Park in shaded areas, and store the bags out of direct sunlight to keep your shopping fresh.
2. Keep vegetables fresher for longer by removing their stalks
The leafy stalks on your beetroot may look awfully farmer's market chic, but they won't do beetroot bulbs any favours. Stalks draw up any moisture from the roots of your vegetables, leaving them dry, dehydrated, and wrinkled.
To avoid this, cut any stalks off of your veg before storing them. This will help make your vegetables last longer.
3. Avoid storing food in certain areas of the fridge
Depending on how well your fridge functions, you may find some areas are colder than others. It's not uncommon to occasionally find ice inside, especially if the temperature is too low.
Some vegetables, such as salad leaves will turn bad in such areas, as they will absorb the moisture and go soggy - not exactly ideal ingredients for the crisp Summer salad you had in mind!
Pay attention to where you store your fruit and veg if you want to prolong its shelf life.
4. Use the most perishable foods first to prevent food waste
Long day at work and all you fancy is some quick courgetti spaghetti and pre-made meatballs. You walk into the kitchen, mouth watering, and see that dreaded butternut squash on the counter- you know, the one you were meant to make some sensational, saffron, steak and cinnamon stew with?
The butternut squash is looking a bit worse for wear - it really needs using today. This is where you compromise. There's no need to go whole-hog and make the stew, but swap your courgetti for butternut squash spaghetti, instead. It may take a little longer to peel, but you'll have used up a great squash that would otherwise have rotted. Preventing food waste sounds like a 'good deed for the day' to me.
6. How to keep cut avocado & apples from going brown
Avocado on toast doesn't look so great when it's brown in colour. A simple trick to prevent this from happening is adding some acidity, in the form of lemon juice.
Spritzing a bit of juice over the exposed fruit surfaces will help it keep fresher (and greener) for longer.
7. Revive salad leaves with this food hack
Salads are bad enough, but soggy salads? Gross.
If you're faced with a bag of limp-looking greens, you can revive them with a quick, 'cold bath.' Cut off any really brown or soggy leaves, fill your clean sink or a large container with cold water, and throw the salad in. Give it a gentle stir and leave to sit for at least twenty minutes.
Dry the leaves with some paper towel, and they'll be fresh and good to eat in time for lunch - no excuse to opt for that burger, then!
5. Why you need to keep your fridge clean
A bit of carrot dryness is bearable, but when fluff appears, there's no salvaging them. In order to stop fruit and vegetables from going mouldy, make sure your fridge is clean.
There's no need to completely disinfect every day, but once a month, when it's more-or-less empty before your weekly shop, wipe it down with hot, soapy water. In the meantime, wipe up spills and splashes. This will prevent the transferring of bacteria from fridge shelves to food, so there'll be less chance of mould growth.
9. Throw rotten items away immediately to prevent bacteria transfer
Just as a dirty fridge will lead to bacteria transfer to your fruit and veg, mouldy food will do the same.
Don't ignore the stench flooding from your fridge on every open - to make fruit and veg last longer, remove any food that goes bad immediately. Fail to do so, and bacteria will spread to your fresh produce.
10. Separate certain fruit & vegetables to prevent them from spoiling
The trick to prolonging the life of fruit and vegetables is knowing which ones to separate.
When certain foods ripen, they give off a gas called ethylene. Ethylene gas, when in contact with other fruit and veg, causes it to over ripen, turning it soft and spotty.
This is easily prevented, it's a simple matter of separating the ones that give of ethylene, such as bananas, mangoes and tomatoes, from those that are ethylene-sensitive, such as apples, broccoli and green beans. For a full list of Ethylene and non-ethylene-producing foods, take a look at Real Simple's list.
8. Make bananas last longer by wrapping ends in cling film
I'm a speckled-brown banana lover myself, but I know many people prefer them bright yellow. To keep them this way, a great food hack is to tightly wrap the ends (the brown bit where the bananas join) in cling film. This will make them last much longer.
Alternatively, if you're like me and actually want to speed up the banana ripening process, place them in a brown bag.
Two easy food hacks to get your bananas just as you like them!
11. Store onions in pantyhose
Onions are one of the easiest vegetables to keep fresh, providing you do it right! Store onions in pantyhose, and you'll be able to use them for up to six months.
Grab a pair of strong, clean or new tights and gently drop your onion down to the foot end. Tie a knot above it, then add another onion, knot, and so on. Tie your onion chain somewhere dry and dark.
Using this method allows the onions to breathe, prolonging their shelf life. Best of all, they're really easy to access - just cut underneath the knot when you want to release one.
12. Make mushrooms last longer by storing them in brown bags
Some vegetables like a humid environment, whereas mushrooms fair better where it's dry. Store them in a brown paper bag in your fridge, and the paper will absorb any excess water, preventing it from reaching your mushrooms.
This will help keep your mushrooms flast longer.
14. Store salad leaves in a container with a paper towel
Salad leaves are one of the most difficult things to keep fresh. Although the packets claim they'll keep for a week, once open it's a different story.
To make your open salad bag last as long as possible, wash, dry and store alongside a paper towel in an airtight container. Salad leaves don't take well to humid air. By placing a paper towel in with them, it will absorb all that excess moisture, leaving salad crisp and dry.
13. Make cut vegetables last longer by storing them in water
If you're only cooking for one, you'll use half vegetables all the time - don't let the other half go to waste.
Cut root vegetables such as carrots and parsnips can be difficult to keep fresh, but it's not impossible. They will quickly start to go dry and lose flavour if you don't store them properly.
Keep cut pieces submerged in fresh water in your fridge to prevent this from happening. The water will ensure they don't dry out, and they'll be fresh for use next time you cook.
15. Where to store fruit & veg to make them last longer
Inconveniently, each fruit and vegetable reacts uniquely to different climates, so it's important to get to know what they like best if you want to prolong their shelf life.
Some vegetables, such as potatoes and squash, fair best when kept on the countertop or at room temperature, while others, such as berries, may spoil if left here overnight.
For a comprehensive list of what fresh produce to store where, head over to the Mint Life site.
16. Wrap celery in aluminium foil to prolong its life
Celery - the one food that takes more calories to eat than it contains. It also seems to brown as soon as you get it home.
The trick to tasty, crunchy, fresh tasting celery it to wrap the individual stick in aluminium foil. This food hack has a record of prolonging the life for up to 2 weeks - impressive stuff!
17. Store potatoes with apples to prevent them from sprouting
Turns out 'an apple a day' isn't just beneficial for our health, but our potato's shelf life too.
The ethylene gas that apples give off is thought to prevent your potatoes from sprouting and help keep them fresh for longer. This isn't just any old questionable food hack either, it's actually been proven.
During a test, apples stored alongside potatoes remained firm and sprout-free for an impressive eight weeks.
18. Make berries last longer by rinsing them with vinegar
Would you like some vinegar with those berries, madam? Before you answer, it may interest you to know that vinegar can extend the life of your strawberry salad.
By washing raspberries, strawberries and other berries in 1 cup vinegar and 3 cups water before storing, they'll stay fresher for longer.
The acidic taste won't linger - promise!
Start putting some of these food hacks into practise, & you'll be amazed how long your fruit & vegetables last.