Going to the grocery store these days can feel a bit like starring in your own post-apocalyptic movie. With freezer aisles always near-empty, the struggle to feel prepared for long periods of time at home is real.
Though stocking up on frozen broccoli and other good-for-you fruits and veggies may be difficult right now, there’s good news: The produce aisle is still your friend in these uncertain times; you just have to know how to shop it.
The Benefits Of Buying Fresh Produce
“Since the initial [coronavirus] rush, it seems that many grocery store shelves are pretty bare, but the fresh produce is stocked, so take advantage of it,” says Emily Wunder, R.D., L.D.N., creator of Healthier Taste. Not only does the less-crowded produce section make it easier to practice social distancing, but the changing weather means more local, seasonal produce that you can use fresh or freeze to use later.
Another benefit of buying fresh foods: “They don’t contain added ingredients like sodium or sugar,” says dietitian Marina Chaparro, R.D.N., C.D.E., M.P.H., founder of Nutrichicos, Miami-based children’s nutrition practice. “Some frozen foods include salt and sugar to help stabilize the food.”
Plus, buying local, fresh produce has community and sustainability benefits, since it’s traveled a shorter distance and supports local farmers, Wunder says.
The trick to stocking up on fresh produce right now is to be strategic about it.
“I think a lot of people may shy away from fresh produce because there is a tighter timeline of using it,” says Colleen Christensen, R.D., dietitian and creator of No Food Rules.
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You can you eliminate this issue with a little meal planning (so you know exactly what to buy and are guaranteed to use it), but another smart approach is to buy types of produce with the longest shelf lives—and store them properly to maximize their lifespan.
The Types Of Produce That Last The Longest
Next time you’re in the produce aisle, consider these 15 fresh options.
1. Sweet Potatoes
This starchy vegetable will last up to five weeks on your counter.
“Once ready to use, scrub the outside and leave the skin on to get some extra fiber and vitamin A,” Wunder says. “Skin-on sweet potatoes are delicious when sliced into coins and baked with oil, pepper, and rosemary for about 40 minutes at 350 degrees.” (Flip ‘em halfway through.)
Chaparro loves making delicious potato pancakes and sweet potato fries—both of which are kid-friendly.
Keep them refrigerated and grapefruit will last for two to three weeks.
If you don’t love plain grapefruit, “drizzle them with honey, place them in the oven, and broil for three to five minutes,” Christensen says.
3. Brussels Sprouts
Keep Brussels sprouts in the fridge and they’ll last two weeks or longer.
Chaparro recommends halving your sprouts and roasting with olive oil and Parmesan or bacon and balsamic.
“When picking leafy greens, the heartier the leaf, the longer it will last,” Wunder says. “Keep kale refrigerated and dry and it can last for at least a week if not longer.”
Since kale can be quite rough, massage it with some oil and lemon to help soften it, or sauté it with garlic and oil, before chowing down.
Though you typically wouldn’t think to refrigerate bananas, doing so can keep them fresh for up to two weeks. “Use them to top peanut butter toast with a sprinkle of coconut flakes and honey,” Christensen says.
6. Fresh Spices
Store fresh spices (like rosemary, cilantro, and basil) with a damp cloth and they should keep for at least two weeks. “Nothing beats the flavor of fresh spices,” Chaparro says. “Add them to soups, sauces, or roasted veggies.”
7. Butternut Squash
When left in a cool, dark place, butternut squash can last for at least a month.
Ready to eat it? “Bake the squash whole to soften it, then remove the peel,” Wunder says. “From there, you can cut it into cubes and roast it with some oil and pepper.”
Or, try Wunder’s go-to squash dip recipe for a tasty snack. You can also use it to make “cheese” sauce for pasta, says Christensen.
“Whole, fresh carrots—not bagged but the carrots with the leaves and all—can be kept in the refrigerator for about a month,” Wunder says.
“Carrots are great raw dipped in hummus or Ranch dressing for a snack,” she says. Plus, you can combine the greens with garlic and oil in a food processor to make a pesto.
To make carrot “fries,” Christensen likes to pop carrot sticks in the air fryer at 370 degrees for 15 minutes.
Stored at room temperature and away from heat, unpeeled garlic can last over a month. (Just unpeel cloves as you are ready to use them.)
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“Garlic can be the base of so many delicious dishes, like roasted vegetables, sautéed greens, and marinated grilled chicken,” Wunder says. “The list goes on!”
Store these staples in a cool, dark place and they’ll last for about a month.
As with garlic, there are plenty of ways to use onions to jazz up dishes. Christensen likes to add diced onions to ground meats or meat alternatives for extra flavor.
When refrigerated, cauliflower will last for up to two weeks. “Roasted cauliflower is my go-to—and both my daughters love it,” Chaparro says. Try it with garlic, lemon, and rosemary, or with curry powder and olive oil.
While fresh apples can last weeks on the counter, they can last over a month in the fridge.
Wunder likes eating sliced apples with peanut butter as a snack or diced apples in oatmeal, yogurt, or pancakes at breakfast. Need to entertain the kiddos? Make apple “nachos” by topping a sliced apple with drizzled nut butter, chocolate chips, and coconut, suggests Christensen.
Pop beets in the fridge and they’ll keep for two months or longer. “I try to mix it up by buying orange and yellow beets,” Chaparro says.
Roast them with olive oil (to bring out the caramelization) or boil them. They’re also great in a salad with red onions, pecans and olive oil.
Keep spuds in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place and they’ll stick around for three to five weeks.
From there, you can bake, fry, or boil them; the options are endless. Christensen’s pick? “Shred potatoes and sauteé them in a pan with a little oil until crisp for easy homemade hash browns,” she says.
In the refrigerator, oranges can last for a month (sometimes longer).
“Oranges and other citrus are delicious as is, but you can also peel and dice them to make a citrus salsa to enjoy with tortilla chips or over fish,” Wunder says. Chaparro likes using oranges in salads with spinach and red onion.
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