fridge + pantry

How to store food without plastic? That was a question I struggled with a lot as I transitioned out of using disposable items. In fact, it was one of the last things I tackled in our home because it seemed so hard. Plastic wrap, zip top plastic bags, plastic produce bags- plastic was the thing I thought kept my food fresh and hygienic. I cycled through different methods of keeping things fresh without it and I’m happy to report that once you get used to some of the tricks, it’s very easy- not to mention less expensive since you reuse instead of buying, using, disposing, and buying again. Here’s the tools I use and how I use them to keep my fridge low waste and fresh.

favorite storage products list

  • thick cotton bags, like The Swag or Vejibag, for vegetables

  • glass canning jars for storing produce, leftovers, and other foods in both fridge and freezer

  • waxed cloth wraps to use in lieu of plastic wrap

fridge methods

i. store in water: asparagus, broccoli, parsley, cilantro all store perfectly this way. Simply trim the ends at least 1/2 inch to allow for a fresh cut so they can uptake the water- think of it like fresh flowers. Stand them up in a glass of water and place in the fridge. Parsley + cilantro stored this way should be kept in the fridge door where it’s less cold. Carrots, radishes, and celery also store well submerged in water.

ii. store wrapped in damp kitchen towels or thick cotton fridge bags: most produce does well like this, excepting mushrooms and berries. I use a very thick cotton bag called The Swag that keeps vegetables fresh just as long as plastic bags, if not longer. I've been using them 2 years now and I love them. Throw in the washer when they’re empty and hang dry. You can use kitchen towels to do the same thing- you just have to take care to wet them more- since they’re much thinner, the water evaporates quicker, drying out the vegetables within.

iii. store in a sealed container: cut up vegetables like broccoli/cauliflower florets, cubed squash, halved brussels sprouts, cut halves of things (lemons, onions, bell peppers), sugar snap/snow peas, woody herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, marjoram), unwashed, uncut strawberries all do great in a sealed jar or container. Delicate lettuces and baby greens like arugula, spinach, and mesclun I wash + store directly in the salad spinner.

iv. store wrapped in a waxed cloth wrap: cut sides of melons, cucumbers, cheeses if you eat them, pastry/pie doughs, and anywhere you would need plastic wrap- I use a waxed cloth wrap instead.

v. store loose, directly in the fridge drawer: I use this method for whole heads of cauliflower, cabbages, brussels sprouts on the stalk, and fennel, leeks, bell peppers, and really any type of produce I know I’ll eat that day or next. Of course, the obvious- fruits go in loose too, except berries. Raspberries, blackberries + blueberries get stored in a perforated ceramic bowl on a fridge shelf.

vi. cover with a plate: for leftover things in a bowl or pot that you might normally use plastic wrap to cover for the fridge, or dough rising, simply put a plate that fits appropriately over the top of the bowl.

tip: If you have produce that’s gone wilty, try soaking it, submerged in a large bowl ice water until is rehydrates and crisps back up. Celery, carrots, broccoli, radishes, lettuces, leafy greens all revive well this way.

freezer methods

i. store in a sealed container: I freeze soups, sauces, broths this way. The trick is to make sure, if you’re using glass, to use a wide-mouthed (straight sides) freezer safe jar (like a canning specific jar) and make sure the contents are throughly cooled to room or fridge temperature before freezing. Take care to leave a wide brim of space between contents and the lid to allow for the expansion that happens when liquids freeze. Up to 6 months.

ii. store in a paper or cloth bag: I store excess grains, nuts, or bread this way. Grains and nuts stay fresh up to a few months this way. Bread, I slice first, then wrap up tightly in a few layers of kitchen towels and store in the freezer, taking out pieces as needed and letting them defrost naturally or toasting them. Bread will stay fresh a few weeks like this.

iii. freeze in an ice cube tray or on a plate flat, then transfer to a sealed container: this method works great for freezing an excess of or overripe fruit to save for coming months or smoothies. Simply lay the fruit out on a plate or baking sheet or something flat in a single layer, then let it freeze solid. Remove it from the freezer and transfer the pieces to a jar or other sealed container. Freezing it like this prevents it from all sticking together in one clump. For things such as excess tomato paste, lemon juice, coconut milk- I freeze in an ice cube tray, then unmold and transfer to a sealed container for longer term storage. Excess fresh herbs can also be chopped up, placed in the ice cube wells, covered with olive oil, and frozen to preserve them.

actionable steps

This week:

  • the day your fridge is the emptiest (right before you shop), pull everything out and wipe down the entire fridge. Take notice of what you have on hand, what needs tp be eaten, and what you need to purchase. This will not only keep you aware of exactly what is (and isn’t) inside your fridge, it will also keep things clean and beautiful.

  • try at least one new method for storing food that you’d normally use plastic for. Maybe it’s just your herbs this week- whatever you feel comfortable with doing, try that.

  • make a plan to gather any materials that you’re missing that you need to store your produce properly.

a-z produce storage quick reference list

apples:  unwashed, loose in the fridge drawer.

artichokes:  straight into the veg drawer and use within a few days.

asparagus:  trim 1/4 inch off the bottom of the stems and place in a jar with an inch or so of water and place in the fridge.  Add water as needed.

avocados:  leave on the counter until ripe, then place in fridge to prolong life once they become soft.  store cut halves cut side down on a small plate with something heavy on top to keep it pushed down and "sealed".

bananas:  out on the counter and away from other produce.  I wipe them down with a 1/2 + 1/2 vinegar + water solution to discourage fruit flies.

beets:  remove the leaves and stems as they will continue to draw water and flavor from the beet if left on.  Save the leaves to sauté later, they are delicious.  Store all together or separately- usually I place the beets in a bowl and then place the leaves on top, then put the lid on.  If your beets are small enough to fit, you can store in a mason jar.  Or steam or pickle them before storing to use throughout the week.

bell pepper:  straight into the veg drawer, loose.  Leftover cut halves can be stored in a mason jar or other sealable container.

bread: store loose on the counter for use within a few days.  For longer term storage, slice and freeze in a cloth bag wrapped in a kitchen towel.  Stale bread makes perfect breadcrumbs- break into pieces and bake at 300F to dry more completely, then pulse in a food processor.  Store the crumbs in a jar in the fridge for a month.

broccoli: for whole stalks, trim the bottom ends 1/2 inch and stand in a glass of water like flowers, on the fridge shelf. Or cut up and store in mason jars.

brussels sprouts:  in a cloth bag in the veg drawer, or sometimes I trim and halve, then store in a jar or container for easy cooking in the week.  If you buy on a stalk, they can live in the fridge for a long time on a shelf or in the drawer, no wrapping necessary.

cabbage:  straight into the veggie drawer, if it’s a leftover half, wrap in a damp towel first.

carrots:  store in a damp swag bag, or submerged in water, in an extra large jar or bowl.

cauliflower:  cut it up and store in jars or a container with a lid; or, put it into the drawer whole or wrap with a damp kitchen towel.

celery:  store in a swag bag or wrapped in a damp towel, or trim off the bottom and store like carrots with water.

cherries:  on the counter is best, for longer storage keep in a ventilated mesh bag or colander in the fridge shelf.

chiles:  loose in the fridge in a ventilated bowl (like a colander).  Extras can be frozen or fermented into hot sauce.

cilantro:  trim stem ends 1/2 inch, remove any ties or rubber bands, store in a glass of water in the shelf on the fridge door.

citrus: if soft, store in fridge to reduce risk of molding.  If hard, leave on counter until soft.  Store cut lemon/lime halves cut side down on a plate.

cucumber:  unwashed, in the veg drawer or in a damp towel or swag bag.

eggplant:  if using in the next few days, the counter is fine.  otherwise, straight into the veg drawer.

fennel:  trim off the fronds and place either straight into the fridge drawer if you will use it in the next few days, or in a container or wrapped in a damp towel for longer storage.

garlic + onions:  keep on the counter, in a breathable basket.  fresh spring garlic goes in the fridge, loose. Half onions can be stored in a jar in the fridge.

fresh ginger + turmeric:  loose in the veg or fruit drawer of the fridge.

grapes:  unwashed, in a bowl on a fridge shelf.

green beans:  in a cloth bag or wrapped in a damp kitchen towel or swag bag in the vegetable drawer.

greens:  I store these in a large Pyrex bowl with a lid, in my salad spinner, or in a swag bag. You can freeze hearty greens for smoothies if you end up with too many.

green onions: in a damp swag bag or wrapped in a damp kitchen cloth in the vegetable drawer.

kiwi:  on the counter.

leeks:  trim the tough tops, reserve for making stock (keep in the freezer).  Then, either straight into the drawer or wrapped loosely with a damp kitchen towel.

melons:  on the counter until ripe, then move to fridge as needed.  Cut melons can be placed cut side down on a plate or covered with a wax wrap.

mushrooms: loose in a cloth bag on a fridge shelf.

parsley:  trim 1/2 inch off the stems, remove any twist ties or rubber bands, and place in water in a jar like you would flowers.  Store in the door of the fridge.

peaches, plums, nectarines:  on the counter.  to extend storage, refrigerate after ripe or cut and freeze/make jam with excess or overripe fruit.

peas:  keep well in a mason jar or other sealed container.

persimmons:  on the counter.

pineapple:  on the counter till ripe, then cut and store in jars in the fridge; or, twist off the stem and place upside down on a plate in the fridge.

pomegranates:  on the counter, or deseed and keep in a jar in the fridge for easy use.

potatoes + sweet potatoes:  store in a basket under the counter or in a dark, cool spot.  Away from onions.

radishes:  store in water in a mason jar for crispiest results.

strawberries:  store in a mason jar or other sealable container.  freeze bruised ones or make fresh chia jam.

squash (winter):  store in a cool, dark place (I store it under the counter).  Sometimes I peel and cube it and then store in a mason jar for easy cooking in the week.

tomatoes:  on the counter. roast excess or bruised ones and transfer to a mason jar, floating olive oil over the top and they will keep at least 2 weeks.

woody herbs (oregano, thyme, rosemary, tarragon, the like):  keep very well in a mason jar.

zucchini:  in a swag bag, wrapped in a damp cloth, or I leave them out on the counter if I'm using in the next day or two.  Sometimes I spiralize them and store in containers or jars for a quick meal with sauce.