After stocking up on all your fridge staples at the grocery store, you’ll want to be sure you eat everything before it goes bad. But what to reach for first? The good news is there are some general guidelines you can follow to ensure you’re making the most of your fresh food by using it before you have to toss it.
While it can be tempting to ignore what’s in the fridge and prepare something from your freezer or pantry instead, put those items on hold. “The food in your pantry and freezer have a long shelf life, but much of the food you store in your fridge doesn’t,” says Amy Gorin, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist in the New York City area. “To avoid food waste, it’s best to use up those shorter-shelf-life foods first. You can of course combine them with pantry and freezer items—for instance, a lupini bean salad made with fresh spinach, jarred beans, and bagged pistachios.”
The order to use fresh food
If you’re trying to use your fresh foods in the right order, there are a handful of options that should be focused on first. According to Gorin, fresh meat and poultry, as well as prepared foods (such as salads and casseroles), will last the least amount of time. Gorin recommends focusing on eating things that don’t freeze well within three to four days (egg salad) then freezing what you can (casserole or soup).
When it coms to fresh meat, it only lasts in the fridge for a couple days. If you can’t get to it in time, you can put it in the freezer. “For fresh meat, ground meat can stay in the fridge one to two days and can be frozen for a few months,” says Gorin. “Fresh poultry has the same fridge shelf life and can be frozen for nine months to a year.”
Next comes fresh produce, which varies a lot in terms of how long it will last. “While an apple may last several weeks in the fridge, a cucumber or lettuce may last about a week,” she says. Use those items that go bad quickly first so you can save the longer-lasting produce for later. When you get groceries, you also focus on adding more of those sturdy fruits and veggies to your list, like potatoes, oranges, onions, and lemons.
The last thing to focus on is the food that needs to be used up within a certain amount of time after it has been opened. “Dairy milk, for example, will last between five and 10 days after it’s opened, depending on the type of milk. Whole milk has a shorter shelf life, for example,” says Gorin. (Pro tip: This is a great time to buy non-dairy milk as it tends to last longer than any of the dairy options.)
RD-approved tips to use fresh food in a timely manner
1. If you have a lot of eggs…
When Gorin has a lot of eggs that are close to their expiration date, she uses them in a gluten-free egg casserole. “You can add smoked salmon to this, too, as well as veggies like tomatoes,” she says. “I like to eat this fresh for a day or two, then freeze individual portions.”
Here’s what an RD has to say about eggs:
2. If you have hummus to use up…
You can’t let your precious hummus go to waste. To use it up in time, Gorin recommends swapping out long-lasting nut butters and smearing it on top of a piece of toast. “I’ll typically top it with an egg, as well as the veggies I have on hand,” she says. “Radishes are so good on top.”
3. If your veggies are about to go bad…
Are your fresh veggies about to go bad? Roast them up in the oven. “They make a great side to pretty much any protein,” Gorin says. “I’ll also mix them into a variety of dishes, such as rice bowls, or even cut them up and add them to pasta or mac and cheese.”
Did you know you can freeze your avocados? Here’s how to keep them ripe for months. Then check out this 3-second, bouquet-inspired hack that keeps your veggies fresh longer in the fridge.
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