Want Food Fresh? Here’s What To Do
If you’re not planning your meals for the week, you’re more than likely planning to throw about one-third of the groceries you buy into the garbage.
That might sound harsh, but it’s a fact of home-kitchen life. We all make the mistake. Storing food properly can help, but planning out what you buy in advance makes huge differences in terms of food waste, food freshness and, in the end, better food choices.
“If you take a little extra time and plan your meals for the week, you can really focus on freshness,” said Avera Registered Dietitian Janine Albers, RD, LN. “It makes all the decisions easier – you know what’s on the menu, you purchase the ingredients you’ll need just for the week, and with proper storage in the long run you will save time and money.”
Making the Most of It
Albers said meat is one of those higher-priced foods that a plan can help you make the most of. Fresh poultry pieces and ground meats should be used within 1-2 days, and chops and roast within three to five days of purchase.
If the fresh meat is specially packaged in controlled-atmosphere packaging, you may have longer, but make sure to check the “use or freeze by date” on the package and plan to freeze it or use it. Most meats can last and still maintain quality just fine after six months in the freezer.
“Ground meats are more likely to have issues with freezing, and they should not be kept frozen longer than three to four months for the best quality, whereas chops can last a little longer without compromising quality,” she said. “Roasts can last up to a year in the freezer. But again, planning and making the time to sort through, and using up older items first in your freezer is always a good idea.”
If you haven’t done that chore in a while, don’t delay, she recommended, and if you have meats older than the guidelines, make plans to eat them soon or do away with them. Planning meals – along with regular inventories and shopping lists – can prevent the pain of throwing food away, Albers said.
Fresh Produce Guidelines
When it comes to veggies and fruit, use the lessons you learn while shopping, Albers suggested.
“Many fresh foods are displayed in the supermarket like you should store them at home – this should help give you the guidance you need to keep them as fresh as possible and with the best taste,” she said.
She said a good example is potatoes displayed at room temperature (not refrigerated) in a supermarket. If you refrigerate them, the starch turns to sugar giving them a sweeter taste, which is not what you want with a potato.
Veggies like peppers and tomatoes do well at room temperature, and those rules apply for fresh basil, too, even though you might find them in a cool setting. Albers suggests trimming the bottom stems of the basil and placing them in a glass of water with a plastic bag over it to get the best flavor of this tasty herb.
Albers again recommended planning; it’ll help you avoid losing the freshness of these sometimes-pricy flavor enhancers.
“Apples are a case where you need no refrigeration, if you plan to eat them within seven days. Mangoes and oranges are other fruits that do not need refrigeration,” she said. “Berries, on the other hand, are an example where you need to plan what you’re going to do with them. They can go south quickly, so make sure you put them into a recipe or wash them right before eating, and use within a day or two, so you can get your money’s worth out of them.”
Keep Foods Handy
Pre-rinsing grapes and having them in an easy-to-get container in the refrigerator, for example – means more folks will dig into them and finish them off before they spoil. Once you cut up fruit, though, the rules change.
“Anything you cut up should be kept refrigerated,” said Albers. “Some produce such as watermelon and tomatoes will maintain a better flavor if stored at room temperature until ready to cut up.”
Freeze nuts to avoid having those expensive, delicious and nutrition-packed foods go rancid. You can also consider your oils as a food to rethink. Albers said some will develop that off taste that nuts get from spending too much time in warm or room-temp areas.
“Oils will last longer if they are kept cool, and it’s one of those lesser-known storage tips,” she said. “Olive oil tends to turn hard in the refrigerator though, so it is best kept away from the stove and sunlight in a cupboard. My last tip would be to avoid storing vegetables and fruits in the same area, as some fruit will release a gas as they ripen and that gas can affect the vegetables by causing them to spoil before you use them.”