Wilted Lettuce and Fuzzy Grapes: Tips to Save Your Produce From the Trash

Why, oh why do we purchase lush, vibrant, nutrient-packed produce, only to bring it home and banish it to a slow and painful death in the refrigerator crisper? We find the prettiest, healthiest fruits and veggies in the store--bursting with color and flavor--and then we welcome them into our home by stuffing them into a drawer with no light, little air, and only rot for company. We forget about it until garbage night rolls around and we're forced to sort through the stinking, browning, oozing remains; tossing all of the previously beautiful produce into the trash.

Maybe you're like me, heartbroken over the gloriously planned meals gone to waste, or maybe you're like my husband, frustrated by the money spent and tossed right into the garbage. Either way, here are some tips to save your produce and your pennies:

1. Quit buying so many fruits and veggies!

Didn't see that suggestion coming, did you? Obviously I'm a huge advocate of eating fresh produce, and it's great when you go to the grocery store full of good intentions and load up your cart with healthy foods, but if it doesn't get eaten, it was all for naught. Rather than being wasteful and risk having the mindset, "We didn't eat it last time, why should I buy more?" on your next shopping spree, plan to pace yourself. Don't buy all of the stuff you should eat, buy the produce your family will realistically eat. Personally, I never buy plums and peaches on the same shopping trip; there will be far too many casualties.

2. Test the law of supply and demand.

Despite all of my best attempts at mothering, my children still bicker over food. When I don't want to hear them argue, I'll put a fair amount on each plate, but I'm not above using their greediness to my advantage. I'll chop up half a bell pepper and tell them that's all there is, get it before it's gone; the pieces usually disappear before I have a chance to offer some hummus. I like to put out a plate of chopped up broccoli and watch them fight over who can eat the biggest piece, the only rule being if you take it, you eat it. When I have one lone mango remaining, I announce I'm cutting up the last one and listen to them come running for it. Limit the supply and it will increase the demand.

3. Assign a Food Manager.

Give someone in your household the task of going through the produce drawers every few days. Ideally it's not the person who does the shopping (because they already know it's in there and have grand plans to use it!) and bonus if it's a frugal person. Kids would make great managers, as they'd love the opportunity to nag their parents a bit! The food manager's job is to check inventory and remind the household chef to use it, this is not to round up the weekly donation for the garbage collector.

4. Honor their sacrifice.

Okay, so it sounds a little hokey, but maybe we should put more honor and value on our produce. It was part of a living thing and ideally a bunch farmers put a lot of effort and care into growing and harvesting all the fruits and vegetables we find in our markets. Try to appreciate the abundance of vitamins and minerals that produce offers; it's certainly more miraculous than a bottle of supplements.

5. Go on a rescue mission.

Try to salvage whatever you can, however you can. The food manager will play an important part in this, as the fruits and veggies most in need of rescuing must be identified. Some produce that can't be eaten right away can be frozen. An abundance of vegetables can be thrown together to make a stir-fry or a salad. Fruit can also be mixed together in a salad, it can be served as dessert, or you can experiment with ways to incorporate it into a meal (think mango salsa or peach chicken). Be creative and be bold in your rescue mission; above all else, save the celery!

Share some ways you save produce and pennies in the comments below.