How to Make Veggies Last Longer

Do you find yourself throwing away veggies because you can’t use them fast enough?

how to keep veggies fresh longer

The easiest way to keep produce fresh longer is to buy only what you need every few days. But that isn’t always feasible. So here are some other tips on keeping your weekly shopping bounty fresh longer!

Luckily, the MOMables meal plan already helps you make the most of the produce you buy by featuring the same food in more than one recipe each week, or using a whole bunch/package for a dinner idea with leftovers for lunch!

Other than product-specific tricks, you can try to integrate these general tips into your routine:

  1. If possible, shop for produce locally. Farms, farmers markets, CSA shares, etc. The less time they spend in storage and transit, the longer they’ll last for you—I’ve had farm-fresh cabbage last for months before!
  2. When at the store, instead of buying produce first, save it for last. That way, instead of your foods wilting and getting smooshed while you’re selecting the rest of your groceries, you’re taking them home as “fresh” as possible!
  3. When designing your meal plan, try to use the foods that spoil faster (like mushrooms, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and corn) first, and leave the sturdier ones (carrots, potatoes, cabbage, onions) for the end of the week! (Use up spinach and greens, peppers, zucchini and summer squash, and cucumbers somewhere in the middle).
  4. Since many fruits release ethylene gas, which can escalate ripening and spoiling of nearby vegetables, keep them segregated.
  5. In most cases, store your veggies in their original packaging. They’re stored and sold that way for a reason!
  6. Excess moisture can also accelerate decay, so wait to wash until you’re ready to eat, or dry thoroughly after washing before storage.
  7. Before storing any vegetable, remove all ties and rubber bands and trim any leafy ends (leave an inch or so to help keep the vegetable from drying out). And make sure any plastic bags have a few holes poked in them to let them “breathe.” Pack them loosely in the fridge, to allow some air flow.

Storage Tips for Lettuce, Spinach, Cabbage, and Greens:

For best results, trim a little off the bottom of the stem(s) and soak in water for an hour before storing in the fridge (crisper drawer is best). Greens and lettuces should be washed before storing, as long as you dry them thoroughly. If you get pre-washed greens, be sure to cull any rotting leaves before storing in the fridge.

  • Lettuce leaves should be separated and bathed in several changes of cold water (a bit of vinegar or lemon juice to add crispiness is optional) before spinning the leaves dry or air-drying on a towel. Then wrap and store the leaves in a perforated plastic bag in the crisper drawer. You can also layer them between paper towels before storing in the bag, which will help them last even longer!
  • Cabbage should be stored whole in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer.
  • Greens (collard, mustard, kale, chard, etc) can be prepped and stored like lettuce, or stored in a “bouquet” with an inch or so of water in a jar in the fridge. For the ones with thick stems (like kale) you can revive wilting greens by soaking them for an hour in water before drying and storing again.
  • Spinach should be rinsed and dried thoroughly before storing on top of a dry paper towel in a plastic bag or lidded (or plastic-wrap-covered) container in the fridge. Remove any yellowing or slimy leaves as you find them.

Storage Tips for Roots:

  • Potatoes, onions, shallots, and garlic should be stored out of the refrigerator in a cool, dark, dry place. The “root cellar” was created for a reason. But pantries and cupboards work pretty well too.
  • Vidalia onions, on the other hand, should be wrapped in paper towels and then foil or a plastic bag before being stored in the fridge.
  • Carrots, radishes, turnips, beets, etc. need to have their greens trimmed immediately (you can save the greens and use them like you would mustard or collard greens or kale!). Wait to peel them until ready to use, and store in the fridge (crisper drawer is best) in plastic bags.
  • Another option for carrots, if you have the space, is to store them in a covered container filled with water. They’ll last quite a long time this way.
  • Sweet potatoes should be stored in the pantry with potatoes and such, but used much sooner, within a week.

Storage Tips for Shoots:

  • Celery does best when the ribs are wrapped in damp paper towels and then foil or a plastic bag and stored in the crisper drawer. You can revive wilting celery by slicing a thin layer off the bottom and soaking in a glass or vase of water for about a day (in or out of the fridge).
  • Scallions and green garlic/scapes do best stored in a jar or vase with an inch or so of water. Cover the whole thing with a plastic bag and keep it in the fridge, and they should last about a week. Or wrap the bottoms in a moist paper towel and store in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer.
  • Leeks should be stored in the crisper drawer, preferably wrapped loosely in a plastic bag. Store them unwashed and untrimmed, and they should last 1 to 2 weeks.
  • Asparagus should be stored in the fridge (crisper drawer is best) either with a moist paper towel around the stems or stood up in a glass of cold water with a damp paper towel wrapped around the tops to keep them crisp. But use them fast; they’ll still only be good for a day or two.

Storage Tips for Savory Fruits:

  • Winter squash (the ones with the thicker hulls, like butternut squash and pumpkins) should be stored outside of the fridge, in a cool dark place. Cupboards and pantries work well, or even on the counter (in most climates) will do, short-term.
  • Tomatoes need to be kept at room temperature, and I’ve heard that they last longer when stored stem-side-down.
  • Eggplant should be used within a couple days of purchase and stored in a dark cool area (outside the fridge is best) or in the fridge in the warmer areas (front of upper shelves and door). Avoid sealing in a plastic bag.
  • Zucchini and summer squash should be stored in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer. Do not wash until ready to eat.
  • Cucumbers should actually be stored at room temperature, like tomatoes! They are sensitive to temperatures below 50F. If you must refrigerate them, or have a partial one left over, store them for a limit of 1 to 3 days, and try to keep them in the warmer parts of the fridge (front of upper shelves and door).
  • Peppers (bell and sweet) should be stored in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer. Green peppers will usually stay fresh longer than other colors.
  • Chile peppers should be used as soon as possible, but you can wrap them in a dry terry cloth towel inside a paper bag in a cool dark place (pantry or cupboard) or fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Storage Tips for Other Veggies:

  • Mushrooms vary. Wild mushrooms should be removed from their containers and stored in a paper bag on a shelf or the crisper drawer in the fridge. They might dry out a bit, but are still great for cooking. Commercial mushrooms should be kept sealed in their original containers and should last about a week. If you only use part of the package, wrap the container in plastic wrap, poke a few holes in it, and store it in the crisper drawer. You should either wait to clean them until ready to eat, or dry carefully after you individually clean them with a damp paper towel or a mushroom brush.
  • Corn should be placed in a wet paper bag or paper towel, wrapped in a plastic bag, and placed in the front area of the fridge and used within a day or so of purchase. If you can’t eat it right away, corn loses its sweetness and becomes starchy. So your best bet at that point is to slice off the kernels and freeze them and microwave steam or use in soups and salads.
  • Peas should be stored in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer or the front area of the fridge (rather than  the colder zones in the back of the fridge). Use within a couple of days.
  • Broccoli heads should be misted and wrapped loosely in damp paper towels before heading to the crisper drawer. Do not store in a sealed plastic bag, but a loose or perforated one is okay. Use within 2 to 3 days.
  • Cauliflower should be stored loosely wrapped in plastic in the crisper drawer and will last up to 2 weeks. You can also cut the cauliflower into florets and store them sealed for up to a week.
  • Green beans are best stored in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer and used within a few days. 
  • Brussels sprouts should be removed from the stalk (if you’re lucky enough to find them sold that way!) leaving the outer leaves alone, and store them in a bowl or un-lidded container in the fridge. The outer leaves will shrivel, but just remove them before cooking.

You can also freeze veggies, but that’s a post for another day! But here are some MOMables tips on freezing veggie puree!

If you do find limp or wilting veggies, they’re still good for soup and veggie stock!

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About Kendra Peterson

Kendra has two daughters on a gluten free, dairy free, and dye free diets. She cooks meals that don't come from a can, boxed or with unidentifiable ingredients. She makes miracles with the random veggies she gets from her CSA box and can be seen pulled over at the park or library feeding her kids food packed in lunch boxes. You can also find her making fun waste-free lunches on her blog, Biting the Hand That Feeds You.