Monday, April 22, 2013

Produce Storage (And My Recent Refrigerator Storage Epiphany)

I follow a great number of blogs.  The advice on organizing one's refrigerator and the produce storage tips that I read about recently on Barefeet in the Kitchen has changed my life - seriously!  Mary truly inspired me to rethink, revamp and reinvent how I handle produce once I get it home from the grocery store ... and how I set up everything in my fridge.  (Thank you, Mary ... these tips have been so incredibly useful!)

The first sentence of Mary's post reveals that she doesn't use her refrigerator's crisper drawers for produce.  I was like, huh?  As I read on, it made total sense.  I totally had a "light bulb" moment!  I know I am guilty of cramming a ton of plastic produce bags full of fresh fruits and veggies down into those crisper drawers only to forget about what I bought and what's really in there later in the week.  I end up throwing so much away sometimes ... and I feel terrible that I let it rot and go to waste.  And, often when we're experiencing a busy weeknight and I'm in a hurry to whip up something quick for dinner, I would like to use the produce that is in there.  But, I find myself moving on to something else because I don't have time to mess with cleaning, trimming and chopping fruits and veggies.  (Or, let's face it ... we all get a little lazy sometimes.)

Mary's answer?  Prep everything when you bring it home from the store (or within say, a day) and store your produce in the best possible way using large plastic containers.  Doing so will accomplish several wonderful things:
  • Allow fruits and vegetables to last as long as possible (no more waste)
  • Allow for fresh ingredients to be ready to grab when needed during cooking
  • Allow for family members to quickly take a healthy snack that's ready when they are (I know that I'm more motivated to eat healthy when produce is ready for me to grab)
  • Allow an easy way for you to know what you have on hand (again, less waste)
Mary uses clear containers.  I used some that I had just purchased on clearance since I didn't want to make another trip to the store for clear ones once I had decided to try this.  But, I will be changing over to see-through ones soon.  It makes more sense.  Also, Mary labels her containers so she knows what is in each one.

I have some produce items that I would never wash and cut up this far in advance.  Things like, apples and citrus come to mind.  Also,  I do not store onions, potatoes, garlic or tomatoes in the fridge, so those items wouldn't be included.

Note that paper towels, napkins or dry washcloths should line the containers.  This will help absorb moisture.  Mary suggest that if you find on any given day that the paper towel becomes too damp, you should just swap it out with a new one.

Here are some examples of what I "stored up" for the week recently following Mary's method ...

Here are some tips on what works and what doesn't:
  • Do not wash any berries prior to storing.  Wash at time of use.
  • Try to have items that you do wash prior to storing mostly dry to ensure that they don't soak the paper towel immediately.
  • Leafy greens can be washed either prior to storage or at time of use.  Again, you need them dry prior to storing if you choose to do so in advance.
  • Unless you know you'll be using cucumbers within 24 hours, don't cut them until time of use.
  • Mary's tip for celery is to wrap it tightly in foil and store it that way.  Just break off a stalk or two as needed and wash it when ready to use.  I do this regularly and find it makes my celery last, at least, twice as long as normal.  (You don't store the foil-wrapped celery in a plastic container.)
  • I wouldn't put strong-smelling items in with other milder items (for example, cut ginger in with berries).
  • Some other produce items that work well using this storage method are grapes, fresh green beans, green onions, sugar snap peas, baby carrots, peeled carrots, other berries, fresh Brussels sprouts and cut bell peppers.  Celery sticks can be washed and stored if you plan to eat them in a day or two.  (We found that the ends dried out if washed, cut and stored any longer than that.)
  • If you store mushrooms, do not wash them first.  Spread them out in an even layer on paper towel and wash when ready to use.

And, now do you want to hear about my "refrigerator storage epiphany?"

I followed Mary's advice of storing my produce in containers on the main shelves of my fridge while moving a lot of the stuff that was on those shelves into the crisper drawers.  The drawers now hold my cheeses, deli meats, bacon, leftovers and such.  When the door to my fridge is opened, we're greeted with containers full of fresh, healthy produce that's ready for us to gobble up.  And, in the spirit of my household trying to eat and purchase more-healthful grab-and-go foods recently (we've ditched the snack cakes, chips and store-bought "crap" for the most part), I filled in the rest of our eye-level fridge shelves with our yogurt, string cheese, all-natural applesauce cups, raw nuts and other "good stuff."

On the first night of our "refrigerator transformation," my five-year old and ten-year old grabbed several of the containers while we were hanging out watching t.v.  They munched on cauliflower florets, fresh strawberries and watermelon.

In just the past week or so of following this method, my kitchen life has been much easier and enjoyable.  I am able to grab everything I need to throw together a salad for myself for lunch.  When I'm cooking, most of my items are right there - prepped and ready to go.  And, I find myself looking for ways to use all of my produce since it's staring me in the face each time I open up the fridge.  It has been such a positive change for the Joyously Domestic household.

I am one joyous (and organized) momma!

UPDATE 2/17/14:  I have found that poking a few holes in the lids of the containers works helps with ventilation so that too much moisture does not build up on the produce.

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  1. Very good ideas here! Thanks for sharing! I really need to try the celery-in-foil thing, I've heard about it everywhere!

    1. Hi, Lori! The celery thing really has worked for me. I just shared your pizza on my blog's FB page ... it looks so delicious! :)

  2. Celery last even longer if you slice off the end and store in water. Keeps it super crisp.
    I had forgotten about a bunch and it had begun wilting pretty badly. Almost threw it out.....then decided to try putting it in water. It looks and tastes just as fresh as the day i bought it.