It starts with great intentions, not to mention a generally pretty display at the market. You see all of the gleaming fresh produce, including greens and spinach, scallions, carrots, and peppers, and toss it all into your cart or basket. (If you live near a farmer’s market, the delights can be even more tempting!) Or maybe it’s the fresh berries coming to market in a few short months. Whatever it is, we sometimes end up with leftover produce in our fridge. Throwing it out is not only wasteful, it’s also depriving you of an opportunity to boost your veggie and fruit intake. So what’s a well-meaning, yet, practical person to do? We need to learn how to use our produce when it’s on its last legs before it has to go into the compost pile.
Here are 5 creative and delicious ways to use leftover produce
This is a pre-skill vs. a post, but a necessary one. If you make the produce accessible from the get-go, it’s more likely you’ll reach for it and eat it. Sometimes the task of chopping the carrot just seems too much! So take some time on Sunday and chop veggies for snacking and roasting. This will help disperse your veggies throughout the week.
For fruit (and some veggies), if you pre-portion the food you’ll know what you should refrigerate and maybe what you should freeze. Green smoothies are a great example. If your leftover produce is looking like it’s on its last couple of days, make a few of these smoothie packs and freeze flat.
- 1 cup spinach, Swiss chard or kale + ½-1 cup diced berries + ½ to 1 banana, diced
When it’s time to blend, mix the frozen bag with 1 cup water/non-dairy milk or juice + any additions you like, including cinnamon, chia seed, flax seed, protein powder, etc. You’ve used up nearly 2 cups of produce just for breakfast!
Saute & Puree
A great use for leftover produce is for a soup base. Take onions, garlic, greens, celery, scallions, etc. and saute them in a bit of olive oil. You can freeze this as a veggie base and add broth at a later time, or you can blend the veggie base with a little bit of salt and freeze it as a pureed soup. Mix this with broth, chicken, etc. and you are set for a warm and delicious meal. Don’t have the time to saute the veggies? Wash and chop them and throw them all into a “soup bag”. Stick the freezer bag full of soup ingredients into the freezer and when you’re wanting soup, pull it out and cook it up. Here’s a great recipe from Angela Liddon of Oh She Glows, that uses up 7 different veggies!
One of my favorite uses for old-looking arugula or kale is to make a pesto. You can keep a traditional base if you like (basil, pine nuts, parmesan), and just add the extra greens. Or you can swap it out and use different herbs, different nuts (I like almonds or sunflower seeds), and skip the cheese altogether. This recipe from Pinch of Yum uses kale and almonds in place of the pine nuts. The pesto is so easily customizable and extends your produce long past its typical shelf life. Freeze it in an ice cube tray, and then pop the cubes into a freezer bag. Two cubes usually will make a pretty delicious pasta sauce. Here’s another variation that makes use of spring veggies, including asparagus!
Bake it Up!
Most of us know to take browning bananas and make banana bread, but what about using some of your veggies in baked goods too? David Frenkiel and his wife Luise Vindahl, the writers behind the blog, Green Kitchen Stories, and the authors of several books including Green Kitchen at Home (Hardie Grant Books, 2017) know how to use their veggies. As vegetarians, they infuse their recipes not only with an abundance of produce, but also with the overall health picture in mind, keeping the recipes low in sugar and full of healthy fats and proteins. From their Baked Carrot Cake Oatmeal to their Turmeric and Blueberry Muffins, we’re in love with their innovative flavors. For your leftover veggies, try their Broccoli, Spinach and Apple Muffins—they are slightly sweet, savory, and loaded with vegetables!
Broccoli, Spinach and Apple Muffins Recipe
Recipe excerpted with permission from Green Kitchen At Home by David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl, published by Hardie Grant Books May 2017
Photograph credit: David Frenkiel
We created these muffins as a quick snack for our children. Broccoli is Elsa’s all-time favorite vegetable and muffins are one of her preferred treats. Here we add an apple for a touch of sweetness, as well as honey and Dijon mustard for a delicious flavor twist.
Makes 12 muffins
1/2 leek (approx. 85 g / 3 oz)
1/2 broccoli (approx. 150 g / 5 1/4 oz)
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme or oregano
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cooking apple, cored and cut into 1 cm (1/2 inch) cubes
1 large handful (30 g / 1 oz) spinach, roughly chopped
160 g (5 3/4 oz / 1 cup) buckwheat flour
100 g (3 1/4 oz / 1 cup) rolled oats
2 tbsp arrowroot (or potato starch)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
3 free-range eggs
160 ml (5 1/2 fl oz / 2/3 cup) plain unsweetened yogurt
120 ml (4 fl oz / 1/2 cup) extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp good-quality honey
1 tbsp whole grain Dijon mustard
2 tsp organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar
Preheat the oven to 200ºC (400ºF/Gas mark 6), grease a large 12-hole muffin tin or two smaller 6-hole ones and line with parchment paper or paper cup liners. Alternatively, use a silicone muffin tin.
Wash and finely chop the leek, trim and finely chop the broccoli stalk and roughly chop the florets. Heat the oil for the filling in a frying pan (skillet) on a medium heat. Add the leek and broccoli stalk and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the broccoli florets, along with the garlic, thyme and salt and pepper and sauté for a further 5 minutes. Lastly, add the apple along with the spinach and sauté until the other vegetables have softened, the apple is tender and the spinach has wilted. Stir occasionally, to prevent the vegetables and apple from burning. Remove from the heat and set aside while you prepare the dry ingredients.
Put all of the dry ingredients in a food processor and blend on a high speed until well combined and the oats resemble coarse flour. Transfer to a large bowl, make a well in the center and set aside while you prepare the wet ingredients.
Crack the eggs, add them to the food processor along with the rest of the wet ingredients and blend on a high speed until well combined. Pour the wet ingredients into the well of the dry ingredients and, using a spatula, start folding the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Add the broccoli, spinach and apple filling and gently fold until just combined, making sure not to over-mix as this will make the muffins tough.
Divide the batter evenly between the cups of the muffin tin, sprinkle with some pumpkin seeds and bake for about 20 minutes or until golden and a skewer inserted in the center of one of the muffins comes out clean. Turn the tin around halfway through the cooking time to ensure that the muffins bake evenly.
Remove the muffins from the oven and set aside to cool slightly in the tin before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely or devouring them while still warm.
They can keep for a few days if stored in an airtight container at room temperature. They also freeze well.
Tips: Try adding some crumbled feta on top along with the pumpkin seeds. For a vegan alternative, replace the dairy yogurt with a plant-based yogurt, and replace the eggs with 3 tbsp of chia seeds soaked for at least 30 minutes in 9 tbsp of filtered water.
With her love of health and writing, Melissa has written for such publications as Shape, Natural Solutions, Yoga Journal, Self and Pilates Style, and has created recipes and food-oriented stories for such publications as Delicious Living and Cooking Light.