By Allison Ford, Divine Caroline
Every Saturday morning, I go shopping at the San Francisco Ferry Building farmer’s market, and I always go home with a dizzying array of colorful peppers, perfect peaches, gorgeous greens, and a host of other things I can’t wait to cook over the course of the week. Sure enough though, by Wednesday afternoon, my kitchen is always covered with greenish, mushy lumps formerly known as my dinner. I toss the wilted, moldy masses in the compost bin and sigh, “Well, there’s another ten bucks down the drain.”
Cooking with fresh produce is satisfying, whether it’s from a farmer’s market or a neighborhood grocery store, but trying to use it all before it goes bad can drive a person crazy. It seems that so many things I buy end up going bad before I have a chance to use them, and that’s money right down the drain. Making everything last through the week doesn’t take superhuman feats of kale coddling; it just takes more commonsense shopping habits and more efficient storage techniques.
Veggies, Veggies Everywhere…But What to Do with Them?
One of the greatest temptations of the market is just to buy whatever looks tasty, but what’s a shopper to do when everything looks good? With every vendor offering samples and freebies to entice you to buy, it’s not hard to go home with a random assortment of vegetables without any plan or timeline for how to utilize them. One of the best things to do to minimize produce waste is to come up with a meal plan–and stick to it. Knowing what you’d like to cook keeps you on track to buy only the things you need, and not just the things that sound good now.
Once you have a rough idea of your meals, arrange them so that the most perishable items get used right away, and let sturdier veggies wait until the end of the week. Cook leafy greens, corn in the husk, and fresh herbs right away. Potatoes, carrots, celery, onions, leeks, garlic, broccoli, and bell peppers can last longer without going bad. Thin-skinned fruits like peaches, plums, or apricots often only last a few days, but fruits with a rind or husk like pomegranates, citrus fruits, and avocados are hardier. When buying meat, pay attention to how it’s packaged to determine how long it will keep. Any meat (especially seafood) that’s wrapped in plain paper from a deli counter or that arrives in a baggie should be used within a day or two. Vacuum-sealed products will last longer, usually up to a week.
Having a meal plan also helps you to know how ripe your produce needs to be throughout the week. Only buy ripe produce for meals you’ll cook within a day or two of shopping. For subsequent meals, buy vegetables that are still slightly green or a bit firm. For example, don’t buy perfectly ripe avocados on Monday if you’re planning to make guacamole on Saturday. Buy under-ripe ones and allow them to mature at home. Although it’s tempting to buy only the most perfectly ripe fruits and vegetables, buying items that haven’t reached their peak can minimize waste.
Next: Increase the longevity of your produce!