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12 Tips to Make Those Commissary Veggies Last Longer

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fresh vegetables at a market
(Cohen Young/DVIDS)

Summer is a wonderful time for salads -- fruit salads, green salads, strawberry poppyseed salads, salads with grilled chicken on top.

But produce is finicky and often expensive. Going to the store daily, or even more than once a week, is annoying. And sometimes the commissary doesn't have what you're looking for so you want to stock up. But that's about as risky as buying avocados on a day other than when you are using them.

But we've done some work for you and found 12 tips to make the veggies you buy from the commissary last longer, saving you time, money and aggravation. And you can find something to do with those this summer -- like read a book or take a nap.

  1. Utilize your fridge. Learn what part of your fridge stays the coldest (you know, where the things come out frozen accidentally) and avoid putting herbs and leafy greens there.
  2. Spread things out. Don't cram as much as possible into your crisper drawers. Air flow prevents mold by giving moisture the chance to evaporate. Plus, nothing will be forgotten or lost if you can see it all. This also means separating some of your gassy produce. Things like apples, pears and potatoes produce ethylene, which may cause other things to ripen quickly. So keep the potatoes and onions separate.
  3. Have a plan. Meal plan -- at least your vegetables -- to make sure you use the things that have the shortest life first. Spinach, peppers, tomatoes should go first, with cabbage, potatoes and kale later in the week.
  4. Know what to refrigerate. It's true that not all produce needs to go in the fridge but, to get the most longevity out of some food, it needs to get out of the fruit bowl and into the cool air. Citrus and ginger -- along with ripe fruit -- should be in the fridge. Sending ripe fruit (even avocados) to the fridge will buy you a few days.
  5. Store things dry. Yup, make sure you are washing your produce carefully and probably before you store it so you don't have to guess whether it's been washed or not. But make sure it is dry before putting it away. Actually dry. Like lay it out for a bit, or spin it in the salad spinner and dry it.
  6. Protect your produce. Treat your herbs carefully by bundling them gently in a dry paper towel (or linen napkin) and then put them in a small plastic container or bag for storage. Learn which veggies should be kept in water, like scallions stored roots-down in room temp water or asparagus treated like a bouquet of flowers in the fridge. Changing the water every few days will increase their lifetime.
  7. Learn how to store veggies. If you aren't sure how to store your veggies, put it in a plastic bag or container -- but try to reuse them! You don't want all the moisture to evaporate, causing them to wilt. Yes, there is a fine line between too much moisture and not enough.
  8. Freeze them. Freezing things is a great solution for keeping ripe veggies longer. For fruit, peel and cut into pieces and flash freeze on a baking sheet with parchment paper and then transfer to a container. Chop and blanch veggies before freezing the same way. True story, 10 months ago, I bought 10 pounds of onions, diced them and froze them in ½-cup portions. I'm still using them.

For four more specific tips on veggies and herbs, check out this list:

  • Herbs. Chop, mix with olive oil and freeze in ice cube trays.
  • Strawberries. Soak them in a water and vinegar mix (3 parts water, 1 part vinegar) for up to 10 minutes, dry thoroughly and then store them in a container they can breathe in.
  • Avocado. Store a cut avocado with a slice of onion in the fridge to prevent it getting slimy.
  • Green onions. Chop them and store in a glass Mason jar or plastic water bottle in the fridge for up to three weeks or in the freezer for much longer.

Here's the bottom line: Buy what you need and be smart about storing it. For some, that means keeping a list of what you have and meal planning. For others, it means prepping everything the second you get home from the store. No matter where you fall on the meal-prep madness, prolonging the life of your veggies will make you happy.

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--Rebecca Alwine can be reached at rebecca.alwine@monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebecca_alwine.

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