Updated: Sep 18, 2020
Let’s be real - picking fresh produce can be a struggle. Everyone knows that eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is an essential part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle, but how many of us give up on buying fresh produce simply because we feel like we’re throwing our money away? According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American family wasted an estimated $1,600 worth of produce in 2020. If you’re like me, you probably don’t have an extra $1,600 to throw away. If you feel lost everytime you find yourself in the grocery store’s produce aisle, don’t lose hope yet! There are a few simple tricks you can learn to make sure that the produce you pick makes into your diet and not the trash can.
I’ve often heard fruit referred to as “nature’s candy,” and that’s absolutely true! However, if you don’t know how to pick perfectly ripe fruits, then you’ll miss out on all the delicious, healthy goodness. If you don’t mind getting up close and personal with your fruit, then a smell test is another great way to determine ripeness. This is especially true for apples, pineapples, and cantaloupes. You should be able to smell that distinct sweet aroma from any of these, primarily around the base of the stem. If you’re shopping for any berries packed in plastic containers, then a smell test won’t be an option. Instead, I recommend you pick the container up and check the berries on the bottom to make sure there aren’t any rotten ones hiding because you can bet that the rest will be rotten within a few days. Is there anything more annoying than bringing home a beautiful batch of strawberries that become a moldy mess in less than 48 hours? Not in my book!
Next up, let’s talk about veggies. Your mother always made you eat your greens, and now it’s time to learn how to pick them for yourself! I always start by examining the outside skin of the vegetable for any bruises or mushy looking areas. You can use a squeeze test on large tomatoes to best determine how ripe they are. A good tomato should feel heavy in your hand and slightly firm when squeezed. It’s also the only thing on our veggie list that can benefit from a smell test! Tomatoes should give off a sweet, earthy smell whenever they are ripe and ready to eat. Cucumbers, bell peppers, zucchini, and yellow squash should also have a relatively smooth surface. Unlike tomatoes and other fruits, you want these vegetables to be as firm as possible. If you feel any indents or soft areas, then it’s already past its prime, even if you don’t see any visible signs of bruising.
Potatoes are one of the most popular vegetables in the United States and for a good reason! They’re undeniably delicious, whether you’re baking, mashing, or frying them. To get the most out of root vegetables, always start by checking their firmness. Potatoes, yams, and onions should all feel firm and tough on the outside. It can seem challenging to check the skin on a potato since they are naturally bumpy, but there are a few important clues you can look for to make sure you’re picking the best one. If you notice that the skin on the base is cracked, that’s an indication that the potato is too dry. It’s also best to avoid potatoes that have started to sprout because they’re likely old.
Onions are a personal favorite of mine, and not just because they help clear out my sinuses. Dry onions come in many several varieties such as yellow, white, and red. Thankfully, the method for picking the ripest and most tear-inducing onions remains the same for all colors, and the secret is in the skin. You want to pick onions that are very dry with skin that appears thin and shiny. If you spy any areas that look wet or soggy, then that’s a good indication that it’s already going bad. Once you’ve picked out your perfect onions, make sure that you store them in a cool, dry, and dark place because direct sunlight and moisture can quickly shorten the shelf life of your onions. To make them last even longer, keep them away from potatoes! Believe it or not, those sneaky taters give off a gas that will cause your onions to rot.
If you’re channeling your inner Popeye and packing more spinach into your diet, then you’ll be happy to know that leafy greens are possibly the easiest to pick. It’s all about the leaves! Spinach, kale, and other types of lettuce should have leaves that are vibrant in color and plump looking texture. Avoid greens with leaves that look weak or wilted. If you’re picking out greens or a salad mix in a plastic bag, make sure you turn the bag over to check for slimy or soggy looking leaves that might be in the bottom.
Now that you’ve picked perfect fruits and vegetables, you can spice it up by adding some extras like fresh garlic and herbs. These can take your cooking to the next level and are surprisingly easy to pick. For garlic, look for bulbs with skin that is smooth and dry. Beware of any soft or brown areas on your garlic, and if possible, go for a bulb with a stem or “neck” that hasn’t been broken. When it comes to choosing fresh herbs like basil or cilantro, you can think of it, much like picking fresh flowers. The leaves should be bright and colorful without any withering or brown spots, and you should be able to smell their fragrant aroma easily.
The next time you’re hunting for fresh fruits and veggies, remember to put your senses to use by looking, squeezing, and sniffing your way through the grocery aisle and never waste your money on bad produce again.