Featured guest post by: Erin Ysunza a certified Culinary Nutrition Expert and owner of Family Recipe, LLC, an Oregon-based business dedicated to making meal planning and nutrient-rich cooking accessible to the whole family.
Extending the Life of Produce and Your Kitchen
Today, I want to share with you some creative and delicious ways to extend the life of your produce. These three simple tips will help reduce food waste while extending your family budget!
With all the talk of global warming and growing pollution rates today, many of us are feeling called to improve the health of our planet. It’s a daunting task, but good news: we can make a sizable impact just by adjusting a few habits in our own kitchens!
How often do you set out to clean your fridge and end up throwing most of its contents in the trash because it’s spoiled? This is an issue we’re constantly working to improve in our home, and while we still have room for improvement, we’ve been able to salvage a lot of “past-its-prime” produce with these simple and delicious tricks!
How Extending the Life of Produce Helps Our Environment
In 2018, Science Magazine published an article by Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek about the global effects of food production.
According to this analysis on global food systems, 24% of greenhouse gas emissions results from food production, while 6% of that attributes to food loss & waste by retailers and consumers. Simply put, that’s food grown or produced that NEVER MAKES IT TO THE TABLE.
Many factors lead to the retailer and consumer food waste. A few primary causes of waste are:
- Retailers only buy produce that looks a certain way because that’s what consumers buy.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s 2012 report titled “Wasted: How America is Losing Up to 40 percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill,” 2-5 percent of all food products are wasted from entire shipments being rejected by buyers due to cosmetic imperfections, surplus, or other issues.
That means the food is grown, delivered to its destination, then deemed unwanted or unnecessary. The report goes on to explain that of the food that does make it to store shelves, about 10 percent (43 BILLION pounds) goes unsold. Yikes!
- Arbitrary “use-by”/ “best-by” dates that result in early disposal of never-opened products.
Currently, in the United States, there are no federal laws regulating dates on food labels (use-by, sell-by, expiration, etc.).
The short film “EXPIRED? Food Waste in America” produced by Harvard Food Law Policy Clinic, highlights arbitrary “sell-by” dates required on milk in the state of Montana. According to the film, the state requires all milk products to be sold or donated within 12 days of pasteurization, even though lab testing shows that milk can last much longer before spoiling (about 21 days), and once it’s spoiled, while it might smell and taste unpleasant, is unlikely to make anyone sick. Laws like this result in tons of perfectly consumable food products being thrown in the trash or in this case poured down the drain.
Like many consumers, you may not realize the terms used with the dates on food mean different things and do not necessarily indicate a product is “bad” after that date.
Let’s define those:
- “Sell-by” dates mark the point of guaranteed texture and flavor. Products likely last longer but may not taste as fresh.
- “Use-by” dates mark the point of guaranteed freshness. Again, food does not automatically spoil on that date, but the manufacturer/ seller can no longer say without a doubt that the item is fresh.
So how can you tell if food is spoiled? Use your senses! If everything looks, smells, and tastes normal, it’s A-OK. If you see mold and/ or curdling or smell something fishy, rotten, or unusually sour, it’s safe to say the food has spoiled.
- Over-Buying (from consumers, retailers, & restaurants) than not using the food prior to spoiling.
You may have experienced visiting a smaller restaurant and skimming the menu only to find some dishes marked as “sold out.” This seems frustrating at the moment but is ultimately a good thing because it means the restaurant is avoiding food waste!
Ingredients are purchased based on supply & demand, which means food sellers must make their best guesses based on previous sales. If demands or conditions change (such as a global pandemic that no longer allows for restaurant dining), sellers are left with an abundance of food that can’t be sold and may spoil before it’s able to be donated.
Similarly, when we leave our shopping lists at home and buy based on what “sounds good” at the moment or get a little too ambitious, planning recipes we don’t actually have the time or will to make, food sits in our fridges until it’s no longer usable.
Extend the Life of Your Produce-FREEZE IT!
This tip is best for over-purchased/ picked produce that is still fresh. It’s important to note that thawed produce releases some of its water content. Thawed fruits and veggies won’t have the same crisp texture as before freezing, BUT that’s not a problem if you’re blending or cooking it!
- Wash and dry produce.
- Seed and cut into bite-size pieces if necessary, leaving smaller items like berries whole.
- Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
- Arrange the chopped produce on the pan, spaced out in a single layer. This makes it easier to grab smaller portions from the freezer, so it won’t freeze into one big clump!
- Place the pan in the freezer until the produce freezes. Then seal in an airtight bag or container with all extra air removed. We prefer to vacuum seal, but a tightly sealed reusable freezer bag works, too.
Get Creative with Those Bits and Pieces
PUREE IT! Fruit and vegetable purees are helpful to have on hand for smoothies, soups, and even sauces! Pureed produce is an excellent method of using up bits & pieces that end up collecting in the fridge or being thrown away.
It’s easy to over-buy yummy things like squash, root veggies, or apples. When I get over-ambitious in the produce aisle, this technique is most helpful. I have a habit of letting these things sit on my counter until they’re a little wrinkly and less than crisp. So, while they wouldn’t be ideal for serving fresh, they’re still perfectly fine to cook and blend up.
How-To Puree Fruits and Vegetables
- Wash produce and remove any tough peels (such as squash).
- Soften your produce by steaming or roasting, depending on the desired flavor. I like to steam veggies I plan to use in smoothies because it softens the fruit/ veggies without adding flavor. I roast veggies I plan to use for sauces or soups to intensify the flavor and usually mix in ghee, herbs, salt, pepper, etc. If you’re pureeing fruits that are already soft or leafy greens/ herbs, you can skip this step.
- Blend the fruit or veggies, plus 1-2 TBSP of water (possibly more to get the food moving in the blender) until completely smooth. Freeze in ice cube trays or other air-tight, portioned containers. I like to freeze smoothie-bound items in ice cube trays but measure other purees into 1/2 – 1-cup portions as I usually use a larger quantity. You can purchase mason jars with plastic lids for this!
A Delicious Recipe to Eat “Root-to-Leaf”
Here’s a fun way to eat “root-to-leaf,” try this pesto recipe with your next batch of carrot or beet greens! Our family loves it on homemade pizza or as a fresh marinade for fish, chicken, and flank steak.
JAM IT! Fruit that’s wrinkly/ mushy but not spoiled is perfect for mashing into jam or compote! We love turning our bits of ripe berries into “berry syrup” for pancakes and waffles. It’s sweet like syrup, minus the heavy concentration of sugar. We also enjoy making this quick chia jam like this one!
How-To Make a Fruity Compote
1-cup ripe fruit (berries or stone fruit like peaches, plums, cherries, etc.)
2-tsp pure maple syrup OR coconut sugar (adjust to taste)
- Wash and roughly chop fruit.
- Place fruit & water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook for about 5 minutes until fruit releases its juices.
- Mash softened fruit with a fork or potato masher. Stir in the juice of half a lemon and maple syrup or coconut sugar to sweeten.
- Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer and allow to cook down until the sauce thickens (about 5 minutes, though it may take longer if your fruit is extra juicy). Continue cooking until reduced to desired consistency.
- If you like, press the compote through a fine-mesh sieve to break up any chunks of fruit and remove seeds before serving. Spoon warm mixture over pancakes, waffles, crepes, or stir into yogurt.
What Creative and Delicious Ways have you Found in Your Kitchen?
There’s an entire world of possibilities waiting in your kitchen! It just takes a little creativity and understanding of basic kitchen skills.
Do any of these ideas leave you feeling inspired? What creative ways have YOU discovered to extend the life of food purchased?
Share in the comments!
Erin Ysunza is a certified Culinary Nutrition Expert.
She is the owner of Family Recipe, LLC, an Oregon-based business dedicated to making meal planning and nutrient-rich cooking accessible to the whole family.
Erin lives in Oregon with her husband and two young kids, ages six and three. Together, they love gardening, cooking, trying new flavors, and creating in the kitchen.
Erin is passionate about the bonds created by food both at home and within communities and loves teaching people- especially families-how they can use food to learn, eat, & grow together!
Want to learn more fun and easy ways to eat and grow together as a family?
Check out Erin’s online cooking classes