5 Delicious Ways to Extend the Life of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Until Your Next Trip to the Grocery Store
Keeping your kitchen stocked is a top priority right now, and it’s not just canned produce and shelf-stable ingredients that we need to get through this crisis. Now more than ever, it’s important to boost your intake of fruits and vegetables to keep your immune system strong. With the freezer sections of most grocery stores dwindling, it’s wise to make the most of the fresh produce supply as well. How do you extend the life of fresh produce to make the most of your purchases? Jennifer Tyler Lee, author of Half the Sugar, All the Love: 100 Easy, Low-Sugar Recipes for Every Meal of the Day, is an expert when it comes to leveraging the power of fruits and vegetables to make the most of their nutritional power and your budget.
Stock Up and Store Smart
There is a misconception that fresh produce isn’t safe to eat during the coronavirus outbreak. The FDA and the CDC have both issued statements reiterating that it’s safe to eat fresh produce so long as you’re taking the necessary food safety precautions to clean and store it and following these rules for grocery shopping safely during the pandemic.
That being said, there are a few simple tricks to storing fresh fruits and vegetables to maximize their shelf life, including keeping produce that releases ethylene gas separated (find them here). In general, storing fresh produce in your fridge, or a cold cellar, will slow how quickly it ripens and allow you to extend its life. “Pears, berries, and dates are some of my favorite fresh fruits to have on hand both for snacking on and cooking with,” says Tyler Lee. “Just remember to save washing berries until you’re ready to eat them, otherwise they’ll spoil faster."
Freeze at Its Peak
When produce hits peak ripeness and you know you won't be able to use it all up before it starts to turn, it’s time to freeze a few batches. This strategy is particularly helpful with ingredients that are at the end of their season, like pears. “Bartlett pears are one of the ingredients I love to use to enhance flavor and sweetness with less added sugar. They’re naturally sweet and a great source of fiber. With their season coming to an end, I’ve prepared and stored a few batches for use over the next few months,” says Tyler Lee. To do so properly, give your pears (or apples) a thorough wash, slice the fruit, toss the slices in lemon juice to prevent browning, then arranging the pear slices on a parchment-lined baking sheet before placing it in the freezer. “That way the fruit won’t stick to itself and form a large clump,” says Tyler Lee. Berries, like strawberries, can simply be washed, trimmed, and frozen on a baking sheet using the same method. “For bananas, be sure to remove the peel then break the fruit into large chunks before freezing,” advises Tyler Lee. Dates can be stored in your freezer too. Check out our guide for how long you can store (almost) anything in your freezer for everything you need to know about freezing food properly.
Transforming fresh fruit into sauces, compotes, and jams is another delicious way to use at-its-peak (or even overripe) produce. Tyler Lee's strategy is to simmer down 12 ounces of fresh berries, like raspberries, with 2 tablespoons of maple syrup to make a simple fruit compote. “It’s a great way to use up ripe berries and the sauces can easily be stored in your freezer.” This works for quick-cook jams, too, like this Two-Ingredient Strawberry Jam. “Because it’s a low-sugar jam, it won’t keep as long in your fridge, but it can be stored in the freezer in small batches,” advises Tyler Lee.
Blend it Up
Smoothies, frozen fruit pops, soups, and salad dressings are good examples of more easy ways to use up ripe fruits and vegetables and save yourself some cooking time in the weeks ahead. Making these simple recipes at home can also boost your budget, as packaged versions of the same foods can cost considerably more. “The blender is one of the best tools in your kitchen for creating simple, delicious, budget-friendly recipes that rely on fiber-rich fruits and vegetables to amp up the flavor,” says Tyler Lee. Ripe strawberries can be transformed into a quick and easy vitamin-C-packed dessert, like Strawberry Cream Ice Pops, that can be stored in your freezer for grab-n-go snacking. Shredded carrots can be used to add sweetness and velvety texture to Tomato Basil Soup, without the need for cream or added sugar. That soup can be stored in the freezer, too, for meals throughout the month.
During times like these, it’s normal to crave comfort foods, and fiber-rich fruits and vegetables are a delicious way to sweeten baked goods naturally—without added sugar. Try baking Super Moist Banana Bread with overripe bananas and Medjool dates, or Double Chocolate Brownies sweetened with sweet potato. “I always keep a batch of those fudgy brownies in my freezer so I have them at the ready when chocolate cravings come calling,” says Tyler Lee.