We're all guilty of wasting food. Whether it's from buying too many vegetables at the farmers market or forgetting about leftovers, food sometimes ends up in the compost bin instead of our bellies. It's always disheartening to find that delicious fruit or vegetable in the back of the crisper wearing a fuzzy winter coat of mold. But, never fear, use our 15 tips to rescue food that's on the edge of expiring and drastically reduce your food waste.
How to Avoid Food Waste
According to the United Nations Environment Program, a full third of food goes uneaten worldwide. So before we explain how to preserve specific foods, let's talk about what you can do to avoid food waste in general. Simply, a more organized refrigerator and meal system encourages less waste because you always know what's in there.
1. Create a food to eat list. The best thing I've done to avoid food waste this year is to create a "food to eat" list on a dry-erase board in my kitchen. Each week I write a list of the fruits, vegetables and leftovers that need to be eaten before I go grocery shopping again. When we eat that food, we wipe it off the list. It's made a huge difference and I feel good each time I wipe a fruit or veggie off the list. If you don't have a dry-erase board, a chalkboard or a notepad on or near the refrigerator will work great, too. Try not to let yourself buy any new fresh fruits and vegetables until the list is nearly empty.
2. Plan for what you love, not what you think you should eat. I often plan out an entire week of exiting foods that we want to try or think we should eat. Then, after a massive grocery store trip, we end up only eating two or three of the dinners we planned. That can lead to a lot of food waste. So, only commit to major grocery shopping trips for recipes you know or strongly believe you'll love. If you've failed regularly at meal planning, try planning just two or three dinners rather than a full week's dinners. That way, you can be flexible the rest of the week and have less risk of food waste.
How to Preserve Produce on the Edge
3. Tomatoes: They'll start to get soft and mealy when they're near rotting time. Remove the stem immediately, and core and dice. Add a bit of salt and pop them in the refrigerator to add several days to their lifespan. And, of course, write “diced tomatoes” on your foods to eat list. If you have a lot of tomatoes about to go bad, consider making ketchup or pasta sauce and canning it to preserve your tomatoes much longer. Or try one of our other uses for your garden tomatoes.
4. Peppers: Peppers freeze really well, especially if they're roasted. Roast your peppers in the oven or over a stove burner. Let them cool before packing into airtight containers and placing in the freezer. Defrost and use to punch up pasta sauce, spice up soups or enhance stir fries.
5. Onions: You can caramelize a full bag of onions in the slow cooker if you're pressed for time, or simply caramelize them on the stove top with butter or olive oil. Then seal onions in pint or half-pint jars, or pack them into an airtight container and freeze. I like to freeze mine first in a silicone muffin tin first and then store the pucks in a freezer bag. Caramelized onions are perfect for adding to soups, stews and even sandwiches.
6. Mushrooms: Mushrooms can be prepped for storage in much the same way as onions. Slice and saute in your favorite healthy fat and pack into appropriate portions. I like to freeze mushrooms in ice cube trays and then pop them out into a freezer bag. The ice cube servings, about one ounce each, are great for single servings of pasta or as a burger topping.
7. Fresh Herbs: I'm always buying cilantro or basil for a recipe, using just a little bit and then forgetting about the rest of it until it rots. So frustrating! Now, instead of creating food waste, I preserve them for later by freezing or dehydrating. To freeze: chop your herbs and lay them out flat in a freezer bag. Let the herbs freeze completely while remaining flat, as it will keep the them separated instead of a giant block. Then just snap off an appropriate chunk of herbs to use in your favorite recipes. To dehydrate, use a dehydrator or oven dehydrating method to remove the moisture. Then break them up or chop them to store in an airtight pantry container.
8. Greens: Another method I use for basil, spinach or really any leafy green is making a quick pesto. Use your food processor to combine greens, olive oil and walnuts or pine nuts. Blend it all up until smooth and season to taste. Freeze your pesto in an ice cube tray. Once frozen, pop the cubes out and store them in a freezer bag. When it's time to eat spaghetti with the kids, I pop a couple of cubes out to top my pasta with delicious pesto sauce while the kids eat cheesy sauce or marinara.
9. Bread: If it's moldy bread, obviously you should compost it. But if it's just stale, you have a ton of preservation options. Cube it and freeze it to use in stuffing. Cube it, add some fat and seasonings and toast it in the oven as croutons. Dry it out all the way and food process it to use as bread crumbs. You can also make delicious overnight French toast out of slightly stale bread.
10. Apples: If your apples (or pears, or a combination of both) are about to turn, make applesauce! Freeze the applesauce into pucks in a silicone muffin tin. Then pop them out and refreeze them in a bag and you have single servings of applesauce. You can even pack a frozen puck in lunchbox (in a sealed container of course) and it should thaw enough to eat by lunchtime.
Crisper Clean-Out Recipes
If you have a ton of leftover veggies, especially if it's a lot of varied veggies in small portions, use them all to make these easy recipes. Leftover fruit can be used in salads or desserts.
11. Quesadillas: Cheese, plus tortilla, plus whatever sauteed vegetables you like equals delicious quesadillas. And you can make them in minutes!
12. Stir Fries: Who cares what the recipe calls for? Just toss in whatever you like (and especially whatever is about to go bad) and enjoy over rice! Don't forget to check your foods to eat list each time you make a stir fry.
13. Fried Rice: The same goes for fried rice as with quesadillas. Small amounts of various veggies are the perfect add in for the best crisper clean out vessel ever—fried rice.
14. Frittatas: Love eggs in the morning but want to change it up from the usual sunny side up or scrambled? Try a frittata with all those crisper foods. (Use our Tomato-Feta Frittata recipe as a guide!)
15. Fruit Salad or Fruit Crisp: Have a bunch of fruits about to turn? Dice them up, mix in a bit of honey and lime juice and toss it in a bowl, you'll create a fantastic fruit salad and save all that fruit from the compost bin. Or, if you prefer your fruit warm, add a crumble topping and bake your fruit mix in the oven for an impromptu fruit crisp. Yum! To preserve fruits over a longer term, try homemade jelly or canned preserves.
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