When I was a wee girl, leaving unfinished food on your plate was (and still is) very much frowned upon, with many a mother or nanny telling their young charge off for it with a “Don’t waste food when so many children have nothing to eat.” Some parents would even take it a step further by reminding their kids that each grain of rice represents a bead of sweat on every farmer laboring in the sun-baked rice paddies.
Wasting food is pretty much a cardinal sin in the Philippines, and rightly so. You learn that early on when you grow up on these shores.
As an adult, though, preventing food waste isn’t just a moral responsibility. It’s also a money-saving necessity. Grocery bills comprise about half of the average household’s monthly expenses, and with inflation pushing local food prices higher, getting the most bang for your buck is more important than ever.
Fortunately, there are lots of ways to save money on food. The proper storage of fresh fruits and vegetables, for instance, makes them last longer and lessens the need for constant restocking. Here are just a few easy yet really effective hacks that can help you do just that:
1. Keep bananas away from other fruits and vegetables.
Bananas produce a lot of ethylene, which is a type of gas that speeds up the ripening process. This is great if you want to ripen your mangoes or avocadoes quickly, but unless you plan to consume or use them up soon, it’s best to keep bananas away from other produce since the faster ripening also leads to accelerated rotting.
In the same vein, if you want to keep your bananas fresh longer, winding a bit of plastic wrap around their stems can stave off over-ripening.
2. Don’t store cucumbers in the fridge.
Yep, cucumbers actually do better when stored on the counter at room temperature. A chilly environment can induce wateriness and pitting, bringing on decay a lot more quickly.
3. Keep ginger and spring onions in the freezer.
Dry the spring onions thoroughly by patting them with a paper towel and then store them in a plastic bottle before putting them away in the freezer.
Putting ginger root in the freezer not only makes it last longer, but also makes grating it so much easier. As a bonus, you can skip peeling off the skin since freezing makes it grate away really finely.
4. Store potatoes with apples.
Like bananas, apples also produce ethylene. Strangely enough, while this fruit-ripening gas might prematurely bring on produce decay, it also prevents potatoes from sprouting tiny shoots (and possibly rejoining their spud brethren in the fertile earth).
5. Leave corn cobs in their husks until the very last minute.
Removing the husks will make the corn lose its flavor, so keep them on until you’re ready to cook or eat the stuff.
Also, don’t wait too long to consume the corn as it tends to lose sweetness the longer it’s stored.
6. Put mushrooms in a paper bag rather than in a plastic bag.
Plastic bags trap moisture, which brings on mold and mildew.
Use paper bags to contain your mushrooms instead and then store them in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.
7. Use a salad spinner when rinsing your greens.
These inexpensive bowls get rid of a lot of excess moisture, thus preventing leafy vegetables from wilting prematurely.
8. Wash fresh berries with white vinegar prior to storage.
In a salad spinner or large bowl, mix together three cups of water with one cup of white vinegar. Immerse the berries for about a minute, swishing them about gently, and then drain the berries. Rinse them with cold, clean water until they no longer smell of vinegar and then pat them dry with paper towels prior to storage.
The acid in the vinegar kills mold spores in the berries, allowing them to last up to two weeks instead of just a few days. Be sure to pick out and discard moldy berries prior to rinsing, though, as these could infect the others even after the vinegar bath.
9. Wrap your fresh greens in a paper towel.
We’ve pretty much established that excess moisture is what really causes your fruits and veggies to go bad before their time, so absorbent paper towels are your best friend when it comes to increasing your salad greens’ shelf life.
After running through the salad spinner (see item no. 7 on this list), use paper towels to drain your fresh greens and then wrap them a in a couple of new sheets before chilling them in the fridge.
10. Freeze peeled or pre-cut produce that you don’t plan to use or consume soon.
Ideally, you should keep your fruits and vegetables whole for as long as possible by limiting the amount of chopped produce left over.
If that’s not possible, the freezer can be quite a lifesaver. You can freeze almost anything, but do note that some fruits and vegetables require a bit of prep. You’ll need to wash and dry them thoroughly, for starters. Blanching (i.e., boiling really rapidly and then dunking into an ice bath right after) vegetables also helps them retain their shape, color, and nutrients better in the freezer.
Keeping a household well-fed while balancing a budget is quite tricky, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Carrying out certain precautionary measures like the ones outlined above might feel a little weird at first, but both your wallet and the environment will thank you for them.