10 Tricks to Save Money and Waste Less of Your Fresh Fruits and Veggies

 by Lisa Chiu

You return from the grocery store with bags full of fresh fruit and vegetables and you pat yourself on the back for a job well done. The good intentions are there but then reality sets in.


You return from the grocery store with bags full of fresh fruit and vegetables and you pat yourself on the back for a job well done. The good intentions are there but then reality sets in. A few days later your lettuce has gone limp and your carrots are coming up soft and you find yourself tossing your best intentions in the trash. Read on to learn 10 tricks that will help you get the most nutritional bang from your produce while avoiding waste. Plus, they'll help you save some of that hard earned cash.

1. Consider Frozen Produce

Contrary to popular belief, fresh produce may not always be the most nutritious. Some of the best produce can be found in the frozen food aisle, says Deborah Madison, author of "Vegetable Literacy." "Field peas are a great example of a vegetable that is more nutritious frozen," says Madison. A 2007 study at University of California, Davis, compared the nutritional value of fresh and frozen vegetables and found that frozen green peas lost 10 percent of their vitamin C in 12 months, while fresh peas lost 60 percent after 7 days in the refrigerator. Green beans, carrots and spinach also retained more nutritional value when frozen. And no need to thaw before cooking -- research shows thawing frozen vegetables may reduce their nutritional offerings.

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2. Know What to Refrigerate

You want your fruit to ripen, but not so fast it loses too much nutritional value. Some produce, such as citrus fruits, berries and lettuce, will ripen too quickly without refrigeration, says vegetarian chef Amy Chaplin. But other produce, such as tomatoes and potatoes, are fine to ripen at room temperature, adds Deborah Madison, author of "Vegetable Literacy." And you can skip the refrigerator for onions, winter squash and garlic, because keeping them in a cool dry spot can help make them last longer.

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3. Use the Crisper Drawer (And Its Humidity Settings)

Nearly every standard refrigerator comes with crisper drawers, which keep produce cooler than the rest of the refrigerator and protect them from the warm air that comes in when you open the door. "Some people put drinks and cheese in them, but the crisper really is the best place to keep your fruits and vegetables," says vegetarian chef Amy Chaplin. If your crisper has a humidity setting, experiment with it. Fruits and vegetables emit a gas call ethylene (a ripening agent), so the trick to make your produce last longer is to make sure you store together the ones that emit similar levels of ethylene. Here's a quick guide. Set the humidity setting in your crisper drawer to high for these non-ethylene gas emitters: leafy Greens, spinach, arugula, basil, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower and carrots. Set the humidity setting in your crisper drawer to medium for these medium ethylene gas emitters: melons, lemons, limes and oranges. Set the humidity setting in your crisper drawer to low for these high ethylene gas emitters: apples, grapes, mushrooms, peppers, squash, avocados and pears.

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4. Only Wash What You Need

The best way to prevent spoilage is to wash your produce only as you eat it, says vegetarian chef Amy Chaplin. Keep your blueberries in their containers, and just wash the berries you eat each day. Since this may be hard for people who prefer to plan ahead, Deborah Madison, author of "Vegetable Literacy" urges people to dry their produce as much as possible after washing to cut down on humidity. Chaplin suggests washing leafy greens, running them in a salad spinner and then storing them in cotton bags or towels to keep them dry and aerated. The cloth absorbs moisture and keeps the vegetables fresh longer.

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5. Keep the Stems and Tops

The leafy green stems or tops to vegetables such as beets, radishes, turnips, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower usually end up in the compost pile or trash can, but they're actually delicious and nutritious to eat, says Deborah Madison, author of "Vegetable Literacy." Don't lose out on the vitamins and minerals in the leaves and stems, she advises. Simply cut the raw greens into thin slivers and add them to salads or slice and sauté them for a side dish. You can even add them along with the root vegetables to the soup pot to enhance your favorite stock.

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6. Eat the Skin

Vegetable skins, often discarded, are packed with nutrients and fiber. Deborah Madison, author of "Vegetable Literacy," likes to keep the skins on her carrots, celery roots and potatoes. To get the most out of a vegetable, she suggests, "Don't peel them, just give them a good scrubbing." Vegetarian chef Amy Chaplin likes to wash her produce with a vegetable brush made from coconut fibers. Instead of peeling the skin off cucumbers, she suggests running a fork up and down to tenderize the skin. Madison also likes keeping the skins on winter squash when making soup. When keeping the skins on, it's best to choose organic produce to avoid chemicals that may be present on the skin of conventional produce.

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7. Buy Local, or Grow It Yourself

It may be a challenge at first, but one of the best ways to get the most nutrition from produce is to grow it yourself or buy from local growers, says Deborah Madison, author of "Vegetable Literacy." Many mass-market farmers pick produce long before it ripens to avoid spoilage, so these fruits and vegetables aren't reaching their maximum nutritional potential, she adds. The easiest starter garden is an herb garden, as herbs require little space and sprout quickly. "Anything that comes immediately from a garden and hasn't been sitting around will have more energy and is more nourishing," says Madison.

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8. Eat Produce Along with Fat

Some produce such as tomatoes, carrots, pumpkins, mangoes and dark green leafy vegetables are rich in fat-soluble nutrients that the human body can best absorb with some fatty acid. In a 2004 study at Iowa State University, researchers found that people who ate salads with dressing absorbed more antioxidants than those who ate salad without any dressing. So the next time you toss a salad or roast carrots, add a splash of olive oil. Your body, including your taste buds, will thank you.

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9. Pickle Your Produce

Homemade pickled and fermented vegetables are both delicious and good for you, says vegetarian chef Amy Chaplin. When you pickle vegetables in salt, a natural fermentation occurs that "cooks" the food, creating enzymes and probiotics that help your digestive and immune systems. "When you make pickled vegetables, it's a way to extend their life," Chaplin says. "Fermentation is what we did before refrigeration." Try fermenting cabbage for sauerkraut or kimchi, soybeans for miso, or grated turnips, carrots, radishes or onions, Chaplin suggests.

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10. Eat It Soon, or Freeze It

While it's convenient — and cheaper — to buy produce in bulk, you may not be able to use it all while it's fresh. Think like a chef and only buy fruits and vegetables that you will use right away, says vegetarian chef Amy Chaplin. If you can't eat food right away, freeze it. Deborah Madison, author of "Vegetable Literacy," will cook applesauce or stewed tomatoes, pour them into containers and store them in the freezer. They stack easily and are handy for later use, she says.

How Do You Get the Most Out of Your Produce?

Do you have a favorite way to save money and get the most nutritional value from your fruits and vegetables? We want to hear from you. Leave a comment below to share how you are getting the most nutrition from your produce. Also, let us know if you have special recipes that help you to make the most of your fruits and veggies.

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