Picking Produce

by the Dinner Diva, Leanne Ely

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A lot of the questions I get asked frequently have to do with fresh produce. Not just how to buy it, but also how to store it and maximize the life of it. When you're trying to be mindful of your money and making sure everything gets used up, this is an important question. We've all been guilty of opening the produce drawer of our fridges to find a green slimy thing in a plastic bag that used to be a head of lettuce.

To battle the slime fest in your fridge, you need to know what to buy that you can store for a longer period of time, what to buy sparingly and what to look for.

The first thing you need to know is what to look for when purchasing produce. Obviously, the more unblemished and the fresher your produce, the longer it will last. Wilting, discolorations, spots and a dried-out end will signal to you that that particular produce selection is well past its prime and won't last long. You want heavy melons, hard apples and fresh smelling green vegetables. If it smells fresh, it is. If it doesn't, steer clear.

Marked down produce, unless used right away, is usually not a good purchase. The exception being overly ripe bananas. I buy them whenever I can, peel them, freeze them and use them for smoothies, but you can use them for banana bread and other things, too.

Potatoes, onions and garlic can all be stored for about a month. They need to be stored in a cool place (not the fridge), and not together (when stored together, they produce gasses that spoil both). I have two bins in my pantry, one for onions and one for potatoes, that keep my produce friends cool and comfortable and keeps them from sprouting, too.

In the refrigerated section, carrots and celery will last a good two weeks. Take the tops off of carrots to extend their life otherwise the end, the plant part of the carrot, will continue to grow and sap the root part, the part you eat, causing the carrot to wither and dry out. While different fruits like oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, apples and some grapes all can be stored safely for two weeks, maybe even three weeks. Again, the trick is bringing home very fresh produce.

Broccoli and cauliflower will easily last the week in your fridge. The stuff that is tricky is the fresh greens, especially lettuces and spinach. These need to be used up within the week. The way to keep them from going bad is to plan on having the more perishable veggies for dinner as soon as you can after you purchase them. So you'll have a lovely big green salad for dinner the day after you've grocery shopped and a nice spinach salad a day later. By the time the end of the week comes 'round, you'll be down to carrots or scrounging the freezer for frozen green beans. That's okay. You haven't wasted a thing; you should be proud!

To maximize the life of your produce, make sure they are kept in the produce drawers of the refrigerator (there is better humidity in there than the rest of your fridge), get the air out of the bags they're in as best you can, and check the temperature of your drawers. They should be right at about 40 degrees.

And remember, don't refrigerate tomatoes. They will continue to ripen if they're left out and will taste better. Hard squashes such as butternut and acorn squash and sweet potatoes also don't need refrigeration, but will fair well in the pantry with your onions and potatoes.

Fresh produce can be both a healthy choice and a budget saver when bought in season (seasonal produce is cheaper) and in the right quantities. Just remember that a bargain isn't a bargain if it rots in your fridge!

Leanne Ely is a New York Times best selling author of Body Clutter and the popular Saving Dinner cookbook series. According to Woman's Day Magazine, she is the expert on family cooking.

Leanne's syndicated newspaper column, The Dinner Diva can be found in 250 newspapers nationwide and in Canada. Her vast broadcast experience includes media satellite tours, QVC several times as well as guesting on several national television shows, including HGTV's Simple Solutions, ABC Family's Living the Life, Ivanhoe's Smart Woman, Small Talk for Parents and Talk of the Town. She has guest chef-ed on the cooking show, Carolina Cooks and has taught cooking classes all over the country for Bloomingdale's.

In addition, she is a seasoned radio personality. Leanne's own radio show, Heart of A Woman aired during drive time in two major California markets, Los Angeles and San Diego. Her current show, The Dinner Diva is one of the top Blog Talk Radio shows on the Internet.

On the Internet, she pens the Food for Thought column for the immensely popular, FlyLady.net, with over half a million readers weekly. She has been featured in Woman's Day magazine, the Chicago Tribune, St. Petersburg Times, Orange County Register - to name a few. Additionally, she is a sought after speaker and has spoken all over the country, with keynote addresses to corporate and non-profit entities. SavingDinner.com. Visit Leanne Ely on Google+.

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