We’ve all been there. You go out and buy a cart full of gorgeous and colourful fruit and veggies to stock your kitchen. Then, inevitably, time gets away from you and suddenly that produce is looking sad and limp. I’ve been there and I know how frustrating it can be. So today, I’ve got a bunch of ideas to help you use up your fruit and veggies that are on the verge of looking sad and inedible.
First things first. It’s important to know what is salvageable, and what is not. You don’t want to end up eating something that makes you sick.
Get rid of fruit and veggies that are:
Mouldy – If there’s visible mould, just toss it.
Slimy or Mushy – Just no. It cannot be saved.
Shrivelled – Too far gone, my friend.
Discoloured – Another clue that you’re too late.
You can salvage fruit and veggies that are:
Sprouting – Just cut off the sprouts and eyes from your potatoes, the rest is fine to eat.
Bruised – You can cut away the bruised or softened parts and use the rest.
Wilting – Sometimes you can bring wilting greens back by soaking them in ice water for 5–10 minutes.
Limp – Use veggies that are just starting to lose their firmness in soups, stews or cooked dishes.
Use It up Quick
Here are some ideas for using up lots of produce quickly if it’s all ripe at once.
A great way to use up a lot of produce at once it to make a stir fry. Chop it all up, and toss it into a non-stick pan with some seasonings, coconut aminos or your favourite sauce and serve over some rice, noodles or quinoa. Cooked dishes are more forgiving to veggies that have lost that firm snap.
If you’ve got a fridge full of produce that just won’t last, consider juicing it. This is a great way to use up a large volume of fruit and veggies in one go. Toss in those greens that are starting to wilt, that celery you forgot about and whatever else you can find. A junk juice like this might not taste amazing (depending on the combo), but I’d always rather put those nutrients in my body than in the trash.
Big Salad or Buddha Bowl
This is a great way to use up a lot of fruit and veggies if it’s all ripe at once or if you’re trying to clear the fridge for vacation or grocery day. Pull out everything you’ve got, chop it up and have a salad bar dinner. Don’t forget you can utilize roasted veggies this way too, or sauté any that are starting to get soft. Nothing wrong with cooked components in a salad.
Another great way to use a lot of produce at once is making some veggie wraps. Grab yourself a whole grain wrap, spread some hummus on it (this sundried tomato hummus is great in a wrap) and top with as many veggies as you please! You can also add some tempeh, baked tofu or beans to make it extra filling.
Use It or Lose It
Here are some ways to use up fruit and veggies that are verging on overripe.
Summer can be a time of abundance when it comes to the garden. Many of us love to go berry picking at local farms or grow our own veggies in backyard gardens. What do you do if you can’t get through it all before it starts to turn? Utilize your freezer! Package up the extras and freeze it before it goes bad. This is a great way to handle those extra-ripe bananas sitting on your counter as well. Frozen fruit and vegetables work really well in smoothies and cooked dishes.
Similar to juicing, making a smoothie is a great way to use up some fruit and veggies nearing the end of their life. In a smoothie, you won’t notice if the greens were a little limp or if the berries were a little bruised. Blend it up with some of your favourites and enjoy!
Pro tip: Include some frozen fruit or veggies to get a thicker and creamier smoothie.
If you’ve got veggies that won’t be pleasing in a raw dish anymore, roast them up! Roasting vegetables brings out some of the natural sweetness and leaves them tender and delicious. So, chop them up a bit, toss in your favourite seasonings and pop them in the oven at 425°F for a bit. You won’t notice that they weren’t super firm or crisp when you started.
Soups & Stews
Yep, another warm dish that is great at hiding less-than-fresh ingredients. Your veggies will soften when heated anyway, so use them up in a big pot of soup, stew or chilli. This helps to buy you some more time to consume your veggies before you have to toss them.
Pro tip: Soups and stews tend to freeze really well. Be sure to freeze any leftovers you won’t consume for a great emergency meal down the road.
Another great use for veggies on the verge is vegetable stock. Use up your onions, carrots, celery, fresh herbs and whatever else you like to include in your broth. Clean them, cut in large chunks and simmer in a pot full of water. Then pour through a sieve and you’ve got homemade vegetable broth. This is also a great way to use up vegetable scraps like carrot peels, onion skins, mushroom stems, and more.
If you’re looking to hide the less-than-fresh aspect of your fruit and vegetables, add them to baked goods. We all know baking is a great way to use up overripe bananas, but you can use just about anything in baked goods. You can shred up apples, pears, carrots, zucchini etc. and add to your favourite quick bread or muffin. Ripe berries and other fruits also work well here or baked into a pie. The sky is the limit. Get creative and see what you can dream up.
Fruit tends to get sweeter as it ripens. It’s usually the softened texture that keeps us from wanting to eat it when it gets very ripe. Use the additional sweetness to your advantage and turn those ripe fruits into delicious homemade jams. Using chia seeds is a nice shortcut to make a quick and easy jam if you aren’t up for the traditional method.
If you aren’t into jam, what about turning those ripe fruits into applesauce? You don’t have to stick to just apples here. Make any fruit combos that sound appealing. Apples or pears make a great base, then add other fruits for additional flavour. You can even add in some sneaky vegetables to up the nutrition factor a bit.
Pickling is a really simple process that involves packing food items in a jar with a brine solution. You can jazz it up with additional seasonings as well if you prefer. You can pickle just about anything. Consider things like cucumbers, carrots, beets, cabbage, green beans, onions, peppers and radishes. You can also pickle fruits like peaches, pears, apples, berries, citrus, pineapples, figs and even watermelon rind.
If you aren’t into applesauce, you can puree up your ripe fruits and dry them into homemade fruit roll-ups. You can do this using either a dehydrator or just your oven set to a low temperature. (Think low and slow). Just like applesauce, you can also include some veggies in this mix. That allows you to sneak some veggies into your picky kids.
Another blended preparation. When the warm weather hits, consider making your own popsicles for the kiddos. (Or, let’s be real here, adults like popsicles too). This is a great way to use up those ripe fruits and surprise your kids with a healthy treat.
Dressings & Sauces
Don’t put away your blender just yet. Use your ripe fruit and veggies to make dressings and sauces. Marinara sauce may be the first to come to mind, but you can also create some delicious salad dressings using fruit, vegetables and fresh herbs. Think carrot ginger, strawberry vinaigrette or lemon poppyseed. There are tons of flavour combos so use your imagination and experiment with what sounds good to you.
If all else fails…
If you missed the window and can’t use your produce in time, consider starting a compost pile. This allows you to get a second life from your fruits and veggies (and their peels/cores) by creating a nutrient-rich soil that you can use in your garden. Think of it as free fertilizer for your plants, whether you grow fruit, veggies, herbs or flowers.
The Bottom Line
Time gets away from us sometimes, and the best of intentions may be forgotten when your week goes sideways. Next time you’re faced with some forgotten items in your fridge, consider these ideas before tossing your fruit and veggies in the trash. Using these ideas can help you reduce waste and save some money on your grocery bill. Win-Win!
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Feature image credit: Photo by Simon Peel on Unsplash