How I Reduce (and even eliminate) Wasted Produce

posted by Andrea | 07/7/2016
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wasted-produce

Our garden is growing so quickly, local orchards and berry patches are selling their delicious fruits, and local produce is always on sale at the grocery store.

These are all fabulous signs that summer is in full swing — but this also means I will soon have boatloads of fruits and veggies to attend to before they go bad!

Since I absolutely HATE wasting food (especially food I grew or picked myself) I have a pretty good system for utilizing the extra fruits and veggies in a way that doesn’t require us to eat squash for every meal from August – October 🙂

Here are some of my ideas — I’d love if you chimed in with your ideas too! 

Apples:

Apples have a pretty long fridge life, but when we buy up a bunch from our local orchard, I use a couple bushels to can applesauce or apple butter.

I also use my Apple Slicer-Peeler-Corer to peel and thinly slice apples that are getting just a bit old — and then I put them in bags in the freezer. I use them for apple bread, apple cake, smoothies, etc.

Bananas:

We go through 3-5 bananas a day in our house — so it’s rare that any bananas make it to the “over-ripe” department… but if they do, I simply peel them and freeze them in groups of 4 because that’s what I need for my Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins and Frosted Banana Bars.

Also, did you know that you can extend the shelf-life of your bananas by wrapping the stems in plastic wrap??

Berries:

My kids LOOOOOVE berries, and although they can be ridiculously expensive when they aren’t in season, I’ve decided that it’s worth the small splurge now since I’m happy to give them fruit if they want to eat it.

Since I don’t want to waste any of the expensive berries, I usually wash and slice up a quart of berries at a time so they are always ready for a quick snack or “side dish”. When those are almost gone, I wash and slice up more.

And this time of year, when we can pick fresh Michigan berries at various u-pick fields in our area, we often end up with more berries than we can eat before they go bad.

I often put a bunch of blueberries straight into the freezer since my kids love eating frozen blueberries for a snack! And if you make your own jam, you should definitely read this Time-Saving, Sanity-Saving Jam-Making tip that will allow you to keep your berries perfectly fresh until you have more time to make jam!

Whenever we have any type of berry that is getting somewhat mushy or over-ripe, I immediately wash and slice them, and then put them in freezer bags. They are ready to go (and easy to grab) for blueberry pancakesblueberry muffinsstrawberry piestrawberry shortcake, and smoothies all year long!

Other Fruits:

I realize this is a very broad category — but I can’t let this post run on for days 🙂 Here are a few ideas to eliminate more wasted produce (and wasted money).

Rhubarb – I chop it up and freeze it in 2-cup containers to use in breads, muffins, and pies.

Cherries – if we can’t eat them all, I pit them, halve them, and toss them in the freezer for yogurt, ice cream, or muffins

Melons – I don’t have a great tip for this, except to eat it really fast!

Oranges – juice them!

Lemons and limes – juice them and freeze the juice in ice-cube trays for later. You could also zest them and freeze the zest for later as well (I do a lot of baking with lemons and always need lemon zest!) And of course, you could always clean your bathroom with extra lemons!

Grapes – my kids like frozen grapes so I toss them in the freezer if they are starting to get soft

Peaches, pears, and apricots – I can them, so they never have a chance to go bad. However, you could also freeze them for smoothies.

Mangos – we don’t buy a lot of mangos or kiwi, but they do work well in smoothies – so just cut them up and toss them in the freezer

Pineapple – use it to make Hawaiian pizza (or cut it up and freeze it for pizza later in the month.

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Broccoli and Cauliflower

Our kids LOVE broccoli and cauliflower and I frequently make brocoslaw and this yummy broccoli bacon salad — so broccoli and cauliflower rarely goes bad in our house.

However, if I have a bunch of it left over, I’ll chop it up for the freezer and use it later for cheese broccoli soup or chicken broccoli rice casserole (both of which work fine with frozen broccoli)

You could also roast up a bunch of broccoli and cauliflower for the freezer.

Lettuce and Spinach:

I don’t like cooked spinach, but I do LOVE freezing it to use in pasta dishes or egg casseroles. Just make sure you wash it and chop it up before you freeze as it will be really soggy when you defrost it.

When it comes to lettuce, I honestly don’t know of any way to use it once it starts to go bad. There really isn’t any way to revive it, and you can’t freeze it like you can spinach (at least not in my opinion).

My only tip here would be to keep it fresh as long as you can — I do that by wrapping it in paper towels and keeping it in a sealed container (read more in this post).

Peppers, Onions, Carrots, and Celery:

These veggies all have a pretty long shelf life, but if you notice they are getting a bit soft, just chop them up and toss them in the freezer.

I use frozen peppers, onion, and carrots for vegetable stir-fry, and use all of these veggies in soups year round.

Potatoes:

I don’t normally freeze potatoes in soups because I haven’t had the best luck with that. However, I DO chop and shred my own potatoes and freeze them for my yummy cheesy hashbrown potatoesfried potatoes, and potato wedges.

I don’t do this very often because potatoes have such a long shelf life, but there have been a few occasions when I’ve salvaged the last of my potatoes by tossing them in the freezer!

Here are a bunch of my favorite potato recipes if you need to use up more potatoes.

Zucchini and Squash:

I’ve been freezing zucchini and squash for many years. I shred it all in my food processor and freeze it in 2-cup portions for breads, cakes, muffins, and my delicious “apple-less apple crisp”!

I grew a BUNCH of summer squash in our garden last year and roasted it all in the oven for about an hour, scooped out the insides, and put it into quart-size freezer bags. I used it for soups, stews, breads, desserts, and more!

Other vegetables:

There are SO many more vegetables I could list, but in my opinion, most veggies can simply be washed, cut up, and frozen — so if you have extras, go that route first.

Otherwise, I’m sure your neighbors wouldn’t mind some extra veggies!

These are just a few of the MANY ways I try to reduce the amount of wasted produce we throw out.

What are your best tips to salvage produce?

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37 comments

  1. Trisha G

    08/06/2016

    Haven’t read through the comments to see if someone already said this, but with lettuce, you can cut a bit of the stump off and place it in a bowl of water in the fridge. That will revive it, then you can wash it and wrap it in paper towels like you said.

    [Reply]

  2. Mandy

    08/05/2016

    This post is super helpful!! I started freezing my past prime apples and berries. The other day I made a “pancake casserole” in the crockpot and I added some frozen apples. It was so good!! It feels good not to waste food! Thanks so much for the idea!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yay for less wasted food!!

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  3. Mary

    07/10/2016

    Great tips. I would love to start freezing fruits and veggies but how long can you keep them frozen is what I am wondering. If anyone can let me know I would appreciate it.

    Thanks

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    they’ll keep for a LONG time in the freezer (over a year if you have a deep freezer). In general, I feel like freezer-burned veggies are more edible than freezer-burned meat 🙂

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  4. Michelle

    07/09/2016

    I agree, once lettuce turns brownish and slimy, it’s done. But if it’s just slightly tired looking I put it in an ice water bath with a little vinegar. In a few minutes it’s perfect again.

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    Andrea Reply:

    good to know michelle! I’ll have to try this next time!

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  5. Jane

    07/08/2016

    Great reminder! Sometimes the days just get by me and I find myself tossing way too much fresh produce. My general guideline is if I can buy it in the store frozen (or canned) I can freeze it (or can it).

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  6. Katie

    07/07/2016

    For watermelon (or melons) we love to blend it (in the blender or food processor) and then pour it into Popsicle molds. Our kids love them, and we can serve it guilt free!

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    Andrea Reply:

    good idea. We make juice pops, but I never thought about putting pureed fruit into the molds.

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    Joy Reply:

    I freeze watermelon chunks (ice cube size) and use it in smoothies.

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  7. Deb

    07/07/2016

    I mash up the amount of bananas I need for a recipe with a little bit of lemon juice and then store in a quart sized ziploc that I freeze flat and stack.

    For lemons and limes, I LOVE them in my water, so I buy a pack at Costco or Sam’s and slice them, then freeze in a gallon sized Ziploc and have a lemon or lime ice cube ready for my water anytime. Shake the bag a few times while freezing to keep from having ONE GIANT HUNK of frozen lemons (this is purely hypothetical!) Limes especially turn brown quickly once sliced, so I really like it for them.

    I always enjoy your practical tips!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    thanks for this tip Deb! I should freeze sliced lemons and limes — I never really thought of that. I often freeze the peels in ice cube trays to clean the garbage disposal, but I didn’t think of it for water!

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  8. Susana

    07/07/2016

    Just wanted to say I freeze soups with potatoes all the time! All you have to do is to bring the whole batch of soup into a boiling temperature (either in the stove or in the microwave) to go back to the original consistency. So I just freeze individual batches of soup and warm them up really well. Hope this helps!

    Btw I love all your tips! 🙂

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  9. Mikki

    07/07/2016

    Dehydrate- If things start to go south, I dehydrate it. I can then keep it in sealed containers or freeze it for even longer (and it takes up WAY less space 🙂
    Compost/donate – my sister has a farm and raises pigs (and other things) so I keep a bag in my freezer drawer that scraps or anything I couldn’t save (lettuce) go into and she comes by once a week to deliver fresh eggs and pick up “piggie pops”. Bonus, we get yummy pork when they process one.
    We have also composted.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    oh yeah, I should have mentioned composting — that’s such a great way to deal with almost any produce that’s no longer edible!

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  10. mara

    07/07/2016

    Awesome!! Thank you!

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  11. Bonnie'sMama

    07/07/2016

    If you have a good dehydrator, you can dehydrate all kinds of greens, probably including lettuce. We dehydrated lots of spinach last summer, ground it in the blender, and have our own very inexpensive green powder, which can be mixed in smoothies, soup, casseroles, etc. It’s an easy way for picky eaters to eat lots of greens.

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    Andrea Reply:

    wow — this is an awesome idea! We don’t have a dehydrator but Dave’s mom does and said I could borrow it whenever.

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  12. Melanie G

    07/07/2016

    This is a great post full of great tips – thank you!

    I’ve also experimented with using a peeler to peel strips of citrus zest (all kinds) and then let them dry on a plate in the kitchen. When they’re dry, pop them in a jar in the cabinet. They’re great to toss into a cup of hot tea or in mulled cider or wine, or steep to add flavor to soup or sauces (particularly great in the crock pot!) or even baked goods (remove the strip from the liquid before baking).

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  13. Tracy

    07/07/2016

    I also cube and freeze melon for smoothies. I especially like frozen figs that are picked from the trees and I throw one or two straight into smoothies as well and blend in blender. When I buy a bag of spinach we eat what we can in the salads or sandwiches and i throw the rest of the bag in the freezer and use it up in different meals. I bought one of the “Apple contraptions” after you highlighted it a while back and I’ve loved it ever since! Making tomatoe sauce? Throw in all sorts of veggies! Blend it up if you prefer! Great way to use a variety of veggies up before they go bad!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    well we’ve definitely never had figs in our smoothies! I don’t think I’ve ever eatten or boughten a fig either 🙂
    Also, glad you are getting good use out of the apple slicer peeler core — we LOVE ours and use it regularly!

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  14. Tracey

    07/07/2016

    This came at the PERFECT time, Andrea, thank you!!!!

    I can’t stand the waste, but nevertheless, it happens when I buy or grow thinking my family will eat it up and then we don’t. I have some strategies, but these will be so helpful, too!

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  15. Linda M

    07/07/2016

    I have had good luck cubing melon of any type, covering with a simple light syrup and freezing. The trick is to still have it just a tad frosty when serving. I usually put this in a winter fruit salad and it is very refreshing.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Yum! The simple syrup method sounds super delicious!

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  16. Leigh Ann

    07/07/2016

    As for melons, I have diced watermelon and cantaloupe and frozen with other friuits to use in smoothies. I will put an assortment of fruit in each bag with enough to make two servings of smoothies.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    this is a good idea! I guess, since the rest of my family doesn’t like melons, I’ve never thought to put them in smoothies either. I’ll have to give it a try.

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    Diana Reply:

    yes, watermelon gives smoothies a really good slushy texture 🙂 great ideas in this post–thanks!

    [Reply]

    Leigh Ann still Reply:

    What’s interesting is I REALLY don’t like cantaloupe but hidden in a smoothie, it’s delicious! 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yeah, Dave doesn’t like cantaloupe or watermelon at all. Our kids are slowly coming around to eating them 🙂

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  17. Chris

    07/07/2016

    Frozen lemon, lime, and orange peels are great for cleaning and deodorizing your garbage disposal.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes, I even have a “recipe” for this on my blog. Not sure why I didn’t link to it in the blog post! http://andreadekker.com/diy-garbage-disposal-tabs/

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  18. Cynthia

    07/07/2016

    Bananas freeze very well in the peel. Bonus when u are ready to make a recipe, let them thaw in a bowl and squeeze them out into your recipe. No mashing required. If u want to corral them in the freezer, toss them in a plastic Baggie or container.

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  19. Rhianna

    07/07/2016

    Love these tips, Andrea! Thank you so much! Right now there is so much great produce to be had that we can’t get through it fast enough.

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  20. Ann

    07/07/2016

    Home grown veggies are WELCOMED by those elderly who are no longer able to grow & care for a home Garden! Thanks, Andrea! Love your blog- my favorite!

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    Liane Reply:

    We pretty much gave up our veggie garden because of tall trees surrounding our yard. I had a lot of visitors on 4 legs who helped themselves to what managed to grow in the shade. So back to the farmers markets I went and made a aha moment discovery. Those bags of bagged lettuce cost a lot! But when you buy leaf lettuce as a bunch and wrap it in a damp paper towel, it lasts so much longer. Now I only buy bagged stuff for camping where water is a precious commodity and the bag makes transport easy.

    Another thing to stretch produce dollars is something you are doing – buy local. Here in California nearly all the produce comes from Mexico. I really hate pouring money into foreign countries. I want to support hardworking American farmers, not multinational globalist agribusiness. So I buy local, what is seasonal in my area and try to go to the farmers markets for most of it. It actually saves in two ways. Local grown is fresher. Longer shelf life since it did not arrive on a boat. The list of foods we just won’t eat include apples from down under, bananas from wherever bananas come from, asparagus from Peru and avocado from Mexico, tomatoes from Canada. Transportation costs have to impact prices. That means when local tomatoes are available from local farmers and I can get them by the flat I can them like crazy. Wish I could do that with avocados and asparagus also.

    I find that broccoli crowns without the stem are actually the best price point. The stuff in bags cut up already always has brown icky areas. Only thing I buy in bags is spinach. And try to use it rapidly since those slimy leaves may be breaking down due to bacterial action. Ecoli and salmonella is found in spinach so much that people on chemo are told to not eat it!

    Great tips! I find it so ironic that I live right on the edge of the huge California Central Valley that used be be the biggest producer of fresh produce only to be taken over by soy and cotton to make industrial oils. So rejoice in your local produce!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Ann — too bad you’re not our neighbor 🙂

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