With some creative takes on recipes and food storage, you can extend the life of fresh fruits and veggies. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

As food prices rise, it’s little wonder many people are looking for ways to cut down on food waste—especially because fresh produce can often ripen quickly.

Everyone has done it: bought a bunch of produce at the grocery store with good intentions, only to fish the unused remains out of the crisper two weeks later.

Most people have the right idea, but they have difficulty using all the fruits and vegetables they buy.

Over a third of food produce is wasted, in fact, and the vast majority of this happens at the consumer level, according to one study.

This doesn’t mean people should stop buying fresh fruits and vegetables.

It just means they should be smarter about how they buy and use them. It’s good for the planet, their wallet and their health.

Here are some quick and easy tips to shop and cook more efficiently—and cut down on food waste.

Long-lasting produce

Some foods are just built to last in their natural state. Potatoes and carrots are at the top of that list. But if it’s long-term storage you’re after, canned and frozen items are smart choices, too.

  • Potatoes stay fresh for a few weeks at room temperature, and they maintain their freshness for a few months when stored in a dark, dry space at 50-60 degrees.
  • Carrots and celery last in the fridge for weeks or months. They’re great for snacks or in soups.
  • Canned or frozen vegetables can be stored for months or years. Consider buying low-sodium varieties.
  • Cabbage (red or green) can stay fresh for two weeks to two months, depending on whether you buy it whole.

Reinvent your leftovers

There’s no shortage of ideas for repurposing meals, especially if you’re adventurous with soups and creative mixes.

  • Mashed potatoes can be mixed into corn chowder, potato soup or squash soup for a low-fat thickener.
  • Brussels sprouts leftovers work great for a breakfast hash with onions and sweet potatoes.
  • Rice leftovers can be used as fried rice, or warmed in a pan with vegetables and a protein of your choice. This makes an easy burrito filling.

Use every part

Education is a big part of cutting down on food waste. When you learn what parts of your food you can reuse for other dishes, it opens up a whole new world of meal opportunities.

  • Collect onion skins and make them into a broth. This can also be done with garlic skins or vegetable stems.
  • Use greens from the tops of root vegetables such as carrots, radishes and turnips. Use leftover fresh herbs to make a salad.
  • Bake apple peels at a low heat—toss them with a sprinkle of cinnamon and lemon juice—and whip up some homemade fruit leather.
  • Save stale bread and heels for making homemade French toast, breadcrumbs and croutons.
  • Use browned bananas for banana bread or “nice” cream, an easy and healthy treat.

Multi-purpose foods

Kale, peppers and cauliflower are versatile and they often store well.

  • Kale can be used in a salad, made into low-calorie kale chips or added to soups such as minestrone. Try rolling it between your hands to decrease bitterness.
  • Bell peppers are a colorful ingredient suitable for stir-fry, fajitas, or even sliced up as a snack.
  • Cauliflower is versatile in curries and soups. Try making cauliflower mashed potatoes or use riced cauliflower in place of white rice. Riced cauliflower is lower-calorie and higher in fiber.


It might take a little extra effort to freeze some of your fresh foods, but it’s worth it in the end. Frozen foods last a long time and they maintain much of their freshness.

  • Freeze spinach, peppers or onions for later use in pasta, casseroles or soups.
  • Freeze berries and other fruit before they get moldy. These are ideal for smoothies, overnight oats or on ice cream.