The average American family wastes $1,200 in food each year, according to Timothy Jones, an anthropologist at the University of Arizona who has been studying food waste for years. That’s a staggering number both in terms of financial and energy waste. But we can do a lot at home to reduce the amount of food that ends up in our trash cans and compost bins. Weekly meal planning, wise reuse of leftovers and conscientious shopping can all help us consume more of what we buy and grow. As food editor for Natural Home & Garden, I am always searching for new ways to save and preserve food. Whenever possible, I prefer to pick or purchase just what I’ll need for a couple of days. Keeping fresh veggies in a beautiful wooden basket on the counter entices me to eat them. I love having a vase of fresh herbs on the countertop, and few things make me happier than a terra cotta jar filled to the brim with fresh heads of garlic.
But sometimes—say, when you’ve just hit the jackpot at the farmer’s market or received a giant boxful of goodness from your community-supported agriculture (CSA) subscription—you’ve got no choice but to refrigerate food, or you’ll lose it. To this end, I’ve spent years trying out ways to keep foods fresh. I also knew our readers would have tons of innovative ideas I’d never heard of, so we asked you about it via our website and social media. After a huge response, we gathered up all the best tips to offer this collection of our favorite ideas, from my own kitchen and yours!
1. Buy locally. Local produce lasts much longer than supermarket fare, which has already traveled long distances before it gets to your kitchen.
2. Keeping in mind the specific ways you like to eat it, clean and prep fresh food as soon as you get it into the kitchen, making it much less likely you’ll let it spoil.
3. Wash berries in water with just a bit of vinegar (a life-extension tip gleaned from the fabulous publication Cook’s Illustrated) before popping them into the fridge.
4. Rinse lettuce and other greens immediately in cold water and spin them dry before refrigerating them in the spinner or a breathable cloth bag.
5. To keep fresh celery, carrots and radishes around at all times, chop them and store them in water in the fridge, which keeps them crisp for a surprisingly long time.
6. Keep apples out in plain sight, which helps them get eaten sooner. If they get too soft, just cook them!
7. Store sliced hot peppers and cucumbers in a jar of vinegar in the fridge for several weeks.
8. Rub butter on the cut parts of hard cheeses to prevent them from drying out.
9. Roast slices or chunks of about-to-go-bad beets and tomatoes, then store them in olive oil in the fridge, where they’ll keep for about a week.
10. Turn excess basil and parsley into pesto and gremolata, a zingy condiment featuring lemon zest and garlic.
11. After trimming the ends, store kale, collards and Swiss chard in the fridge in a glass of water with a loose bag over the top.
12. If salad greens begin to wilt, soak them in ice water to crisp them up before fixing a salad. This trick also works wonders on peppers.
13. Rub whole summer and winter squash with vegetable oil and store them in the pantry, where they’ll last for several months.
14. Help keep air out of sour cream and cottage cheese tubs by storing them upside down in the fridge.
15. At the end of the season, pull up whole tomato plants from the garden and hang them upside down in the basement so you can pick fresh tomatoes long after the season has ended.
16. Store dried sage in a jar of salt to keep it crisp.
17. Cure fresh onions by hanging them in a cool, dark place in a pantyhose “bag,” which dries the outer layer before the onions go into storage.
18. When buying produce that contains lots of water, buy smaller pieces, which generally have more flavor and last longer.
19. Keeps apples away from other foods. Apples give off ethylene gas, which can cause foods to spoil.
20. Triple the life of scallions by storing them in a jar of water on the counter. The green onions will keep growing as you snip the tips for fresh eating.
21. Plan meals in order of what needs to be used up first.
22. Grow your own food! If you can’t eat it all yourself, pass it along to friends, family or your local food bank.
23. Asparagus will last longer if its thick ends sit in cold water.
If you've got great ideas for keeping food fresh and tasty, add them to our growing list on our Preserve Fresh Food page.
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