What do use-by dates and sell-by dates mean?
The dates you see on packages at the store don't actually refer to when a food will spoil. Manufacturers set these dates as a general guideline for when a food won’t be at its absolute peak. "Use by" refers to when a product should be used for the best quality and "sell by" tells the store the best time frame to display an item. Instead of automatically throwing away foods on or after this date, start checking for signs of spoilage: changes in smell, color, texture, and flavor.
How to keep foods fresh for longer
You can extend the freshness of what you buy just by how you store it in the fridge. Organize your fridge with raw meat on the bottom shelf, eggs and dairy on top, produce in crisper drawers, and condiments in the refrigerator door. This places more perishable foods where your fridge is coldest. Store fruit and veggies in plastic produce bags that are loosely closed (not airtight) and pat dry to keep excess moisture out. You also want to keep certain produce from drying out: Wrap the stem ends of greens, herbs, and asparagus in a damp paper towel before refrigerating.
How to use up less-than-fresh foods
Foods that pass their peak freshness window still have many delicious uses. Follow these tips and recipes to avoid food waste and save money.
For the veggie odds and ends you don’t want to toss...
Keep a resealable freezer bag in your freezer for veggie scraps you have left from the week’s meal prep, like kale and mushroom stems, squash ends, tomato cores, and carrot and onion peels. Simmer the scraps with water in your slow cooker for a rich vegetarian broth to use in soups and other dishes.
Slow Cooker Veggie Broth
For the greens that are looking a little sad...
While they might not star as a garnish or in a salad, there are many uses for these greens, as long as they’re not too far gone. Use any combo you have on hand in veggie-packed summer rolls, soups, stir-fries, a quiche or frittata filling, or a pesto.
Vegetarian Summer Rolls
Spaghetti with Kale Pesto
For the fruit that’s seen better days...
Use overripe or slightly bruised berries, apples, and stone fruit to bake into a crumble or make jam. Ripe bananas forgotten on your counter? Besides banana bread, try them in hearty breakfast bars or sauté with butter and brown sugar for a pancake topper. You can also freeze fruit for blending in smoothies.
Banana-Oatmeal Breakfast Bars
Mixed Fruit Crumble
For the leftover cheese ends in your fridge drawer...
Those random pieces of cheese that accumulate in your fridge aren't destined for the trash. Instead, pulse in a food processor with butter and herbs for a tasty cheese spread, or add to mac and cheese.
Herbed Cheese Spread
Giving these foods a second life will get you the most meals for what you spend at the store and reduce your food waste in the process. It’s a win for you, your wallet, and the planet.
More ways to save money
In addition to using up what you buy, try these tips:
- Take inventory: As you make your meal plan and shopping list, start with what you already have in your fridge, freezer, and pantry.
- Shop smaller sizes: If you won’t use up a gallon of milk before you shop again, switch to a quart. Instead of buying a large onion and using half, choose a smaller one to avoid leftovers.
- Have a plan for “buy one, get one” deals and value packs: The deal is only worth it if you use up what you buy. Make sure there’s room in your pantry and freezer, or plan meals around the bonus servings.