Learn from Jamie’s experiments on how to buy, store, and cook food so you can minimize the number of trips to the grocery store.
This is a guest post from my friend Jamie Whitacre where she shares her favorite tips on how to extend the life of supermarket produce and how to minimize your tips to the grocery store. Enjoy!
Over the last six to eight months, I’ve (Jamie) been experimenting with supermarket produce to make it last longer and to minimize trips to the grocery store. Here’s a guide to how I store my produce and the order I eat it in to keep shopping trips down to roughly once a month.
Results will vary depending on where you shop, how warm you keep your home, and what kind and size refrigerator you have. I primarily shop at Safeway and Costco because Safeway is close to my home and Costco offers bulk organic options at lower prices. I often buy more quantities of the longer-lasting foods to increase the variety and nutrition in my meals throughout the month.
Experimenting with refrigeration, natural light, air, and proximity can help optimize, control, and extend the life of produce. Some produce stores better in plastic, other produce fares better when exposed to air (and sunlight). Be cautious of overstuffing your fridge or storing sensitive produce like leafy greens and fruits near the cold vents. Also, exercise basic food safety principles. Don’t eat anything slimy, moldy, blackened, smelly, or seemingly unsafe. Trust your eyes, nose, and gut. When storing produce in water, change the water every day or so to keep the water fresh and clear. Change the water when it starts to look cloudy.
Here are different foods and how long they last with tips on storage, preparation, and cooking.
Fresh produce that lasts several days
- Boxed/bagged lettuce
Tips for produce with a short shelf life
- Kale and chard take up space in the refrigerator, cook down to nothing, and don’t last very long. Save fridge space by trimming kale and chard stems and placing the bunches in a glass or clean flower vase with a few inches of water. This should keep the leaves fresh for one or two days while queued up for cooking and eating.
- The fresher the lettuce, the longer it lasts. Before purchasing, check lettuce boxes and bags for any visible browning or slimy pieces and choose another box or bag if you see any little nasties. Heads of lettuce from the supermarket will last longer, and lettuce straight from a garden, farm, or farmer’s market will last even longer. Wilted heads of lettuce will often perk up when left in a shallow container of water overnight – just cut a thin slice off the base to open up the vascular system.
Produce that lasts a week
- Large tomatoes
Tips for produce that lasts a week
- Berries, cilantro, cucumbers, and spinach should be refrigerated.
- Bananas, tomatoes, melons can hang out on your counter.
- Bananas emit ethylene and will ripen nearby fruits and vegetables. Keep them separate from other produce unless you want to speed up the ripening of the other produce. Once ripened, bananas will last a few days longer when kept in the lower part of your fridge away from the cooling vents. The outer peel may continue to ripen but the inner fruit should stay fresh.
- My cilantro usually lasts longer when I store it in a zip-lock bag versus the plastic produce bags from the grocery store.
Produce that lasts a week and a half
- Grape tomatoes
Tips for produce that lasts a week and a half
- Boxed arugula lasts a few days longer in the fridge than regular boxed lettuce. I usually buy one box of regular lettuce and one box of arugula and eat the lettuce first. Adding grapefruit, avocado, and lemon vinaigrette to arugula smooths out arugula’s bite.
- Celery can lose its green-ness after sitting in the refrigerator. To green it up, slice a wee bit off the base of the celery bunch to open up the vascular system and stick the whole thing in 3-4 inches of water and place in a sunny window for a day or two.
Produce that lasts two weeks
- Avocado (when refrigerated)
- Green onions/scallions (what’s the difference?)
- Peppers (bell, jalapeno, etc.)
- Radishes (without tops)
Tips for produce that lasts two weeks
- Avocado, grapes, jicama, parsley, peppers, radishes, and zucchini should all be kept in the fridge
- Green onions/scallions, kiwi, mango, and pineapple can sit on the counter to ripen.
- I buy slightly green and slightly hard avocados and store them in the refrigerator. To ripen, I take out the avocados I plan to eat one or two days before eating. Alternatively, some people ripen avocados on the counter then move them to the fridge to slow the ripening process. I find I have less control over the ripening process when I do this.
- Store green onions/scallions in a glass in a few inches of fresh water – enough to cover the white part – and place in a sunny window. The green parts will continue to grow and send out new shoots. The shoots grow from the tips so wait for them to get long before snipping off and using. Change the water every few days. Throw them out in your compost if they start to get super slimy.
- Buy hard, green mangoes and let them sit on the counter to ripen. Check regularly. Once the red and orange coloring starts to come through and they are soft when you gently squeeze them, they’re ready to eat. Refrigerate mangoes to extend their storage life even longer. The yellow, seasonal Champagne/Ataulfo mangoes ripen much more quickly and should be eaten in a few days.
- Pineapples are ready to eat when the inner leaves coming out of the top can be pulled out easily.
- Radishes can be stored longer without their green tops which turn to mush after about a week. There are recipes online for making pesto from radish-greens if you’re feeling adventurous.
Produce that lasts three weeks
- Brussels sprouts
- Red cabbage
Tips for produce that lasts three weeks
- All of these items should be stored in the refrigerator to make them last.
- A delicious way to enjoy red cabbage: cut cabbage into slices and drizzle with olive oil, lemon, and top with fresh minced garlic. Bake at 375 degrees until crispy around the edges.
- If you choose to purchase the large 3 lb. bag of cut broccoli from Costco, look through the packaging to make sure the cut ends are green and not rimmed with brown or black. The greener and fresher-looking the cut ends, the longer the bag will last.
- I keep half of my citrus on the counter and the other half in the refrigerator.
Produce that lasts a month or longer
- Squash (spaghetti, butternut, etc.)
- Sweet potatoes
Tips for produce that lasts a month or longer
- Fresh apples, lemons, limes, ginger, and onions stored in the lower bins of a refrigerator will keep for several weeks, often more than a month. Store a few days’ worth at a time on the counter to save space in the refrigerator.
- It’s economical to buy bags of lemons at Costco. I use lemons to make salad dressing and as ingredient in many dishes.
- Buying live herbs – either potted or packaged with their roots– will provide a regenerative supply since these herbs will continue to grow when stored in a glass of clean water near a window.
- Spaghetti, butternut, and other thick-rind squash can be stored without refrigeration and (if you run out of kitchen counter space) make nice stay-at-home-themed décor placed artfully on a bookshelf or desk. Summer squash and zucchini have thinner rinds and should last about two weeks when refrigerated.
- Store garlic, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and non-refrigerated onions in a drawer or another dark place to prevent sprouting.
Anna’s NOTE: Thank you so much to Jamie for her amazing tips that will save us time and the challenge of going to the grocery store. If you have additional tips to add, please share them in the comments below.