With the week's dinners, school lunches and inevitable snack cravings, it's easy to leave the grocery store with an overflowing shopping cart. Considering that 40% of the land-grown food in the U.S. doesn't get eaten, chances are some of your purchases will spoil and end up in the trash-along with the money you paid for them. A better idea: Buy berries, bananas and other fare with notoriously short shelf lives sparingly, and stock up on food that can stick around to please your family's unpredictable palates. Read on to find out which produce items stand the test of time. Photo by Getty Images.
The hearty star of cole slaw and savory salads has another talent-it can last up to two weeks or longer, says Lindsay Malone, RD, of the Cleveland Clinic. The leafy green's life span is credited to its low production of ethylene, a chemical that causes ripening, and its many layers, she explains. To keep cabbage fresh that long, JJ Virgin, author of The Virgin Diet, recommends storing it in a perforated plastic bag in your fridge's crisper drawer. One more tip: Cut and wash the vegetable only when you're ready to chow down.
Flavoring everything from steak dishes to pasta entrees, this versatile veggie can last four weeks or longer, according to Sarah-Jane Bedwell, RD, author of Schedule Me Skinny and a consultant for Walmart. Onions have a slow respiration rate, meaning they lose water less quickly than other produce. And that keeps them fresh longer, explains Malone. You might get even more time from fuller-flavored onions, like the yellow kind, adds Virgin; the compounds that give them that stronger taste also act as natural preservatives. Whichever ones you buy, store them in a mesh bag in a dark, well-ventilated area of about 40 to 45°F, like the pantry.
3. White Potatoes
Bake 'em, mash 'em or fry 'em: You have two to three months to try out lots of recipes with a sack of spuds. That's because, like onions, they have a slow respiration rate. Just keep them in a dry, dark section of the fridge, recommends Jessica Cox, RD, culinary nutritionist at eMeals, and cut off any sprouts or dots before preparing. Sweet potatoes are a different story, warns Malone. They won't last as long since their sugar content speeds up oxidation, leading them to spoil. Even with white potatoes, store them away from onions; their gases can cause both to rot more quickly.
There's a reason carrots are Bugs Bunny's treat of choice. Because of a low respiration rate, the nutrient-packed food can offer two to three weeks of freshness if stored uncut and unwashed in your fridge's crisper drawer, according to Cox. Bedwell also suggests removing the green tops, since they'll steal nutrients and moisture from the carrots, which speeds up spoiling.
Bought beets over a week ago, but only craving them now? No problem. Thick skin keeps them fresh in your refrigerator for up to two weeks, says Malone. Plus, they're less sensitive to ethylene, which means they can stay near other vegetables without spoiling so quickly. Maximize their shelf life with Cox's tips: First, cut off the green roots to slow down water loss. Then, store them in a plastic bag. Wash them only when you're ready to use them.
Related: Discover foods that keep you full longer.
Your favorite flavor-booster can last two to three months in a cool, dry area. Unlike some vegetables, whole garlic is best stored in the pantry in a mesh bag; it depends on airflow for freshness, says Christy Shatlock, RD, of BistroMD. Once you break the bulb, though, store the cloves in an airtight container in the fridge, and use them within a week to catch them before they spoil.
Even though most varieties are relatively long-lasting, go green: They last about two to three weeks-a week more than other kinds-because of their low-sugar content, says Malone. When you're picking your peppers, Bedwell suggests opting for heavier ones and skipping those that look shriveled. Once you're home, store them in a plastic bag in your refrigerator's crisper drawer.
If you've ever cut into the juicy fruit, you know what a process it can be. The plus side: That tough skin gives you about one to two weeks' worth of freshness when in the fridge, longer than most melons. Once it's cut, store it in an airtight plastic container in the fridge and eat it within two to three days, says Virgin. Stay away from the pre-cut packages sold in groceries, cautions Eric Stone, FreshDirect's Produce Manager. Their shelf life is much shorter since the skin's not there to keep water in.
9. Winter Squash
Even though it's grown in the summer, according to Cox, a cool, dry climate, like that of your pantry, can keep it fresh for three months-that's a whole season's worth of squash recipes to try! Hubbard squash actually has double the shelf life with six months, while acorn squash has the shortest with one-and-a-half to two months, adds Cox. Avoid storing it in the fridge because the humidity accelerates decay and zaps flavor. Once prepared, though, freeze leftovers for six months or longer.