Simple and Eco-Friendly Solutions to Keeping Produce Fresh

Long live your lettuce.

Are wilted lettuce and slimy mushrooms spoiling your quest to eat healthier? Keeping fruits and vegetables fresh can be simple, inexpensive, and eco-friendly.

January is popular for beginning a healthy eating New Year’s resolution or recommitting to eating healthier. For many people, this means eating more fresh fruits and vegetables.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are beautiful, colorful, delicious, packed with nutrients, and perishable. It is as if each spinach leaf, potato, or apple contains an invisible hourglass counting down its freshness. If the sand runs out of the hourglass before you make the spinach into a salad, bake the potato, or bite into the apple it will spoil and you will not want to eat it. That previously lovely but now yucky produce item will end up in your trash, garbage disposal, or compost pail—along with your money.

Unlike a jar of marinara sauce that you can take out of your grocery shopping bag, put on a shelf in your pantry, and forget about until you want to make spaghetti, your fresh fruits and vegetables need a little bit of care when you get home from the market. The few minutes you spend preparing your produce for storage will be worth it. After all, you get zero health benefit from Swiss chard unless you eat it.

Composting changed the way I view fresh produce. The act of putting brown lettuce leaves or a moldering orange in the compost pail was somehow different than throwing it in the trash or garbage disposal. I recognized that I was treating fruits and vegetables that cost money and had been edible as if they were expendable and not valuable contributors to my health and my family’s.

This realization was disturbing.

I decided to find out what I could learn about keeping our fresh produce fresh long enough for us to eat it.

Some of the advice I read made sense but did not seem that practical. The suggestion to shop for fresh produce every couple of days makes sense, but if your schedule is jammed packed, you might not have time to do that. Another idea was to buy only the fruits and vegetables that you know you and your family will eat in a certain amount of time. That is good advice if you have a crystal ball that will show you exactly what you and your family will eat this week.

The point is that you have to adopt practices that fit in your life.

During my research, I was pleased to discover that extending the life of fresh fruits and vegetables does not need to be complex, expensive, or require a lot of throwaway material.

If you are tired of fresh fruits and vegetables ending up in your trash instead of your stomach, you might find one or more of the following suggestions useful or perhaps one of them will spark an idea of your own.

Buy Naked Fruits and Vegetables

Buying whole fruits and vegetables without packaging has several benefits. First, your fruits and vegetables will stay fresh longer than their pre-prepped and packaged counterparts will. Second, peeling a carrot and slicing up mushrooms yourself gives you a closer connection to the food you are putting in your body and a sense of accomplishment. Lastly, whole fruits and vegetables come in their own edible or compostable skin, which reduces packaging waste.

Mesh Produce Bags from 3B Bags
Mesh Produce Bags from 3B Bags

An environmentally friendly way to shop for produce is to bring your own reusable produce bags. Several years ago, I spotted mesh grocery bags in the produce section of our grocery market so I bought a set of three (for around $5.00) to try them out.

It was easy to bring them to the store in one of my reusable shopping bags and the cashiers at the checkout counter could easily see what the bags contained so I bought several more sets. These mesh bags are sturdy, inexpensive, and washable.

Although, I have substantially reduced my use of throwaway plastic bags I do still use them. For instance, I will put a wet head of lettuce in a plastic bag to keep the rest of my groceries dry and then I keep reusing the bag (rinsing it out it out and drying it if needed) until it gets a hole or falls apart.

Containers are Not All Created Equal

After conducting research on produce storage containers for the refrigerator, I decided to try the lettuce keeper container made by Progressive International. I was amazed at how well it worked. Almost everything we tried putting in it would stay fresh for well over a week and sometimes two or more including lettuce, spinach, carrots, bell peppers, green beans, zucchini, and herbs.

Refrigerator Produce Storage Container Filled with Peppers and Broccoli - Progressive International
Refrigerator Produce Storage Container Filled with Peppers and Broccoli – Progressive International

Over the course of a couple of months, I bought five more of these containers and we put almost all our refrigerated produce in them. My total financial outlay was less than $75.

The containers are large enough to fit a head of romaine lettuce, slightly trimmed leeks, or several bell peppers. Each container has a removable plastic divider that you can insert for separating items if you choose, like radishes on one side and blueberries on the other. Mushrooms will stay fresh with the bottom lid left off and a paper towel lining the bottom. If you only use part of a cucumber, you can put the other part back in with the whole ones (without any wrapping) and it will stay fresh for days.

This container does not work for cut tomatoes, onions, or avocados so I store them in small glass containers or in plastic wrap (ugh).

I do not recommend putting these containers in the dishwasher. I tried it and the top lid came out a little warped. I contacted the company’s customer service department and they sent me a new lid free.

Now, I just rinse the containers and occasionally wash them with soapy water when I am hand washing something else.

Location, Location, Location

Like in real estate, the location you place your fresh produce contributes to whether you will eat it or not while it is still fresh. In this case, I mean giving your produce visibility. Humans are creatures of habit and sometimes we forget that we can adjust things like our smart television settings, office chair height, or refrigerator shelf arrangement.

Most refrigerators have a “crisper” drawer, which supposedly helps you keep your produce fresh but you usually have to bend over to reach it and you have to open it to find out what it contains. This creates an out of sight out of mind problem.

I rearranged the shelves in our refrigerator so that our produce containers can be stacked in the middle where we can see them and see what is in them. Now, our fresh fruit and vegetables greet us when we open our refrigerator door. We use the crisper drawer for other refrigerated items or an occasional extra long or large vegetable that will not fit in our produce containers.

Fresh Ripe Organic Strawberries from the Farmers Market
Fresh Ripe Organic Strawberries from the Farmers Market

My family enjoys eating most fruits at room temperature so we store them on the kitchen counter corralled on plates to prevent them from rolling around the counter or onto the floor. I think fruits last longer when stored in a single layer rather than artfully arranged in a bowl.

Whenever a family member or I walk into the kitchen, we see our fresh fruit beckoning us to eat it. We do try to focus on eating the most perishable fruits first, like strawberries. Any kind of plate, pan, or tray with an edge will work.

Potatoes, onions, and garlic like to hang out in dark dry places like your pantry or a cupboard. As far as storage containers, open cardboard boxes or plastic tubs that you have on hand will work. Instead of relegating these healthy and perishable items to the bottom of the pantry, consider giving them a prime location at or near eye level and put snacks and cereal on the lower shelves.

Making a relatively small investment in reusable produce containers and rethinking some old storage habits has really paid off. Our fresh fruits and vegetables are staying fresh longer and most of the time we eat them, which saves money. Besides eating healthier, we use less disposable packaging, which is good for the environment.

You can get going on your commitment to eating healthier by grabbing your reusable shopping bags and heading out to the grocery market to select some fresh naked fruits and vegetables, buying a produce storage container to try, and clearing a space on your kitchen counter for a plate of fruit.

Reader Note: When I mention a specific product in a post, it is because I think you and other readers may find the information useful. I do not accept product review solicitations and I do not receive compensation of any kind for mentioning a product in a post.

Featured Image at Top: Homemade Fresh Salad with Spinach, Walnuts, and Apples in a Wooden Bowl – Photo Credit iStock/bhofack2

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Green Twist on 10 Healthy Eating New Year’s Resolutions

A healthy lifestyle requires a healthy Earth.

If you are contemplating a 2018 New Year’s resolution to eat healthier, consider doing it in an environmentally friendly way that helps Earth be healthier, too.

The top New Year’s resolutions usually fall into three categories: health, money, or time. In the health category, popular resolutions include losing weight, exercising more, and living a healthier lifestyle. I believe healthy eating is the foundation for those three goals. First, no matter what advertisers tell you, you will not lose weight unless you eat healthy, too. Second, eating healthy will give you the energy you need to exercise and lastly, a healthy lifestyle includes healthy eating.

In this post, you can explore ten potential healthy eating New Year’s resolutions that are also good for the planet.

10 Planet Friendly Healthy Eating New Year’s Resolutions

These New Year’s resolution suggestions are about actions not specific food and beverage recommendations. Some may seem weird to you, but I hope you will find a least one that makes you think, “Yes, I can and want to do that.”

Abstain from Aluminum

No substance that you need for healthy eating comes in an aluminum can.

Aluminum is a valuable material that has an enormous environmental footprint. You can read about the process of making aluminum and the environmental issues associated with it in the post, Aluminum Beverage Cans – Environmental Impact. It is incredibly wasteful to use aluminum to make a can that you open, drink the contents, and then get rid of, even if you recycle the can, which most people do not do.

New Year’s Resolution: Stop buying anything that comes in aluminum cans, forever.

Composting Can Change Your Choices

You can make good use of the peels and rinds from all the fresh fruits and vegetables you will be consuming as part of your quest to eat healthier.

Instead of tossing produce scraps in your trash or grinding them up in your garbage disposal, consider composting them to create a nutritious treat for the soil in your yard or your neighbor’s.

The act of putting a spoiled potato or banana in your compost pail could change the way you shop for produce and reduce food waste in your household.

If you think composting is something other people should do, read the post, Composting Made Easy – Tips from an Unlikely Composter (that is I) and then see if you are willing to try it.

New Year’s Resolution: Set up a composting bin in your yard or on your patio and put all your fruit and vegetable scraps in it.

Do-it-Yourself Dining

Preparing and Cooking a Meal to Eat at HomeTake control of what goes into and stays out of your food by preparing your own meals.

You select the recipes, choose the ingredients, read the package/jar labels, season to your taste, and decide on your own portion sizes. Plus, chances are you do not have unpronounceable additives in your pantry that may improve the shelf life of processed foods but do nothing for your health.

When you dine at home or take your lunch to school or work, you can choose foods with less packaging, eat on reusable tableware, and reduce food waste.

New Year’s Resolution: Make at least one meal a week yourself. If one meal a week is too easy, then up the difficulty of your resolution. For instance, if you usually eat lunch out during the workweek; bring your own lunch at least three days a week.

Find it at the Farmer’s Market

Imagine buying a head of lettuce or a peach picked at the peak of ripeness and deliciousness the day before you buy it. Fresh fruits and vegetables are the star attractions at the over 8,600 farmers markets in the United States, which makes it easy for you to choose healthy food.

When you buy food directly from the people who grow and produce it, you are saving energy, water, fuel, waste, and supporting farmers in your own community. If you are worried that shopping at the farmers market might be too expensive or time-consuming, read the post 5 Reasons to Shop at the Farmers Market and then decide if you want to give it a whirl.

New Year’s Resolution: At least once a month, shop at a farmers market near where you live or work. Depending on the climate, farmers markets may operate year round or only in warmer months.

Healthy Hydration Habit

You probably already know that drinking water is important to your health. Keeping water within your reach at all times, in a glass or reusable bottle, makes staying hydrated easier and almost automatic.

In most areas in the United States, tap water is inexpensive and safe to drink. If you do not like the “taste” of your tap water, use a filtering pitcher or install an osmosis system. Before you dash out to the store to stock up on cases of bottled water, please consider its environmental and social implications.

New Year’s Resolution: Stay hydrated without buying water in a disposable container (a recyclable container is still disposable).

Look for Local

The next time you are shopping for groceries, make a point of looking for and buying produce grown locally.

Grocery Market Locally Grown Produce SectionThis makes it easy for you to select fruits and vegetables that are in season, freshly picked and did not travel on an airplane in route to your market. Local meat, eggs, dairy, bread, and processed foods (like spaghetti sauce) are also good choices.

If you cannot find locally sourced produce at your regular grocery store, try shopping at a co-op, natural food store, or family-owned market.

New Year’s Resolution: Once a month, buy only fruits and vegetables that were grown locally or switch from a national brand of a packaged food to a locally or regionally made product.

Make Some Meals Meatless

I think most people know that eating vegetables, beans, fruits, nuts, and whole grains are part of a healthy eating plan, yet Americans do not seem to eat enough of these foods. One simple (but not necessarily easy) way to eat more plants is to devote less space on your plate to meat or to push it completely off the plate. This does not mean you have to start eating tofu or kale, unless you want to, which I do not.

Nowadays, most Americans are far removed from where our food comes from so you may not realize that eating meat has a ginormous and far-reaching environmental impact. Out of the ten suggested resolutions in this post, eating less meat is probably the best thing you can do for your own health and Earth’s.

New Year’s Resolution: At least once a week, for one meal, fill your plate with plants and no meat.

Opt for Organic

For most of human history, farmers grew food organically meaning without pesticides, genetically modified organisms, or sewage sludge and they did not need to wear hazmat suits at work.

Nowadays, thanks to organic food fans demanding and buying organic food for several decades, it is now widely available and reasonably affordable. Farmers markets, co-ops, and CSA shares are good sources of organic food and even national grocery market chains and big box stores are stocking at least some organic food, especially produce.

New Year’s Resolution: Switch to buying the organic version of one type of fruit, vegetable or other food product each month of the year.

Sign Up for a CSA Share

Envision yourself picking up or having delivered to you a box of freshly picked seasonal produce each week during the growing season where you live.

Fresh winter produce from weekly CSA share.If this appeals to you, then consider signing up for a CSA (community supported agriculture) share from a local farm in your area. Some CSAs will include fish, dairy, meat, or other local food products.

New Year’s Resolution: Locate a local farm that has a CSA program and then sign up for one year.

Ugly is Undervalued

American farmers do not even harvest over 10 million tons of food a year because it does not meet USDA voluntary standards for size, shape, and color, which wastes all the energy, water, and people power that went into growing it.

The fledgling ugly food movement is trying to change our perception of what constitutes edible food. This could lead to more food being harvested and made available to feed more people.

New Year’s Resolution: Join the ugly food movement. At least once a month, make a point of seeking out and buying weird and ugly looking produce like three-legged carrots or weirdly shaped apples.

I hope this post gave you some ideas about how you can put a green twist on your healthy eating New Year’s resolution for 2018. You can learn how to make a specific and measurable resolution and get tips on healthy eating by reading the posts New Year’s Resolution – Make it SMARTER and The Secret to Making Healthy Eating Easy.

What is my New Year’s resolution for this year? I am pondering a resolution involving sugar, something along the lines of learning about the environmental impact of the sugar industry or trying to figure out what constitutes a reasonable daily amount of sugar and then eating only that amount. Clearly, this is too broad and undefined for a New Year’s resolution so perhaps I need to reread the SMARTER post myself.

Happy New Year!

Featured Image at Top: Healthy Eating Vegetable Stir-Fry Dish – Photo Credit iStock/Mizina

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