Here are a few things you can do to make the most of that cheap produce:
1. Can or freeze in bulk. You'll still be reaping the benefits of those cheap U-pick blueberries six months from now if you freeze the berries at their peak. We use home-frozen berries all winter long for parfaits, and they're much cheaper (and tastier) than what I can pick up in the frozen section at the grocery store.
2. Store it properly. Some berries should not be washed until you are ready to eat them. Celery will keep longer in the fridge if you wrap it in foil. Wrapping the stem of a bunch of bananas with plastic wrap will help preserve that perfectly-yellow ripeness for 3-5 days longer than normal. Tips and tricks such as these help extend the fresh-life (yup, I made up that word) of your produce, which will reduce the number of times you empty the contents of your vegetable drawer into the trash! I love using Tupperware FridgeSmart Containers to store my produce, but there are plenty of other great ways to keep your produce fresh. Check out this cool website for tons of easy-to-find information on how to store your fruits and veggies (and lots of other food too!).
3. Store produce in clear containers and bags. You'll easily be able to see what you have and what needs to be used up or eaten soon. Produce stored in the plastic shopping bag from the store is likely to get buried in the bottom of the fruit drawer.
4. Utilize your freezer. OK, this is kind of like #1, but different. You don't have to buy massive quantities of produce in order to freeze it. Any time you notice that you might not be able to use a fruit or veggie before it goes bad, just chop it up and freeze it. Make sure to clearly label the bag or container! (Frozen fruit can be added to smoothies and muffins, and most frozen vegetables can be thawed and cooked as a side dish.)
Our CSA is supplying us with more than enough vegetables right now, so as soon as we get our box, I look through it to see what we'll use in the next few days. If there are more vegetables than there are days to eat them in, I freeze some of them right away. I'm not freezing 10 pounds of carrots at a time, but instead, I chop and freeze a head of broccoli, slice and freeze 3 cups of carrots, and cook, puree, and freeze 4 cups of squash. Slowly but surely, I'm filling the freezer with produce that we'll enjoy all winter long.
5. Eat it in order. My kids get at least one kind of fruit in their lunch every day. If I come home from the store with green bananas, slightly underripe bananas, apples, grapes, peaches, and raspberries, I'll pack their lunches like this: Day 1 = raspberries. Day 2 = peaches (unless they're not ripe yet). Day 3 = bananas. Day 4 = grapes. Day 5 = apples or more bananas. Being intentional about what you eat when will help reduce waste.
6. Process it right away...if it will encourage you to eat it! I know, I know...this kind of conflicts with what I said in #2. But are you more likely to make yourself a salad if you see this in your fridge.....
I know myself...and I automatically default to "less work". So if I'm staring at a head of romaine, I'll probably just grab a sandwich instead. And I might repeat that the next few days, until that head of romaine turns wilty and nasty. And then it really won't be appealing. However, making a salad won't seem like so much work if I have fresh, crisp, clean, torn-up lettuce waiting for me. There's no point in buying cheap produce if doesn't get eaten!
I also break every rule in the "storage guidelines" book and do this with my fruit:
I don't recommend storing cut fruit long-term, but if I know we'll be consuming it in the next 2-3 days, I wash, hull, halve, and do whatever else I can to make the fruit lunch-ready. Again, I default to "less work". This means that when I'm making lunches and staring at a whole pineapple and a bunch of bananas, I'll probably dump the bananas in the lunch bags...even though I know that we should use the pineapple first!
Notice how many of these tips have to do with not letting your produce go to waste? Use it (either eat it or freeze it) before it goes bad, and you'll save money in the kitchen!
What are your suggestions for making the most of your produce? Do you already utilize any of the ideas listed above?
Looking for more money-saving ideas? Check out the other articles in this series, Saving Money in the Kitchen, and come back each day this month for more ideas!