There’s nothing worse than seeing a bunch of limp greens in your fridge after a busy week when you didn’t have time to cook.
You had good intentions. You actually went out and bought spinach. But instead of making beautiful leafy salads like you planned, it just sat in your fridge, forgotten. RIP, spinach.
Just because your leaves go bad sometimes doesn’t mean you should stop buying them, though. One of the most common fears that stops people from grocery shopping is that they won’t use up the produce before it spoils.
I’ve been there. But when you get into the habit of incorporating the veggies you buy, it gets a lot easier. Eventually, you’ll nail how much produce you actually need for the week and never waste a shred of food.
It does take some trial and error, but today I’m going to tell you how to use greens (spinach, kale, arugula, etc) in just about everything.
Let’s just talk about kale for a quick second. My case for kale:
A lot of people are “over” kale. It’s a vegetable, guys. I’m not here to tell you the health benefits of kale or why it’s a superfood. But I’m going to tell you why I swear by it. Kale won’t go mushy on you after three days in your fridge like spinach does.
One time my supermarket was out of kale (I know, right?!) and I had to buy a box of spinach. Let me tell you, eating that entire box before it went bad was definitely more of a challenge than dealing with kale. Kale can keep in the fridge for up to one week. So it’s OK if you can’t use it every day.
Here are my four foolproof ways to incorporate more greens in your meals and make sure they’re never tossed in the trash. Make sure to comment and add your methods below if you have any!
Make your greens last longer in the first place with smart storage.
There are limitless recommended ways to store your greens and herbs, and whether they work for you can depend on how fresh your greens are, your fridge climate, and other variables — so these methods may or may not work for you, but they’re certainly worth trying!
For herbs, one of the most common ways to store them in the fridge is to put them in a cup of some kind (lots of people on Instagram use mason jars, but it doesn’t actually need to be aesthetically pleasing), and fill the cup/jar partly with fresh water. Some people will also put a plastic bag over this.
Another mason jar method I just discovered and plan on trying is this one: wash the herbs and lay them out to dry. Once dry, put them in a clean, airtight jar and close it. That’s it! Big if true, honestly.
The method that has worked best for me comes from this YouTube video, which is specific to cilantro because that’s what I needed to store at the time. It tends to wilt pretty fast! Using this method, my cilantro lasted two weeks, and I think it would work for most herbs. Basically, you wash the herb, pat it dry with a clean reusable cloth or paper towel, then wrap it in a new, dry reusable cloth or paper towel. Place that in a flexible airtight back, squeeze out all the air, and close it. I’m pretty sure this would work for any herb.
As I said, there are truly so many different methods, with endless slight variations. Experiment and see what works for you; you might lose a few herbs in the process, but you’ll ultimately learn to reduce food waste.
Greens like spinach, kale, and arugula are, thankfully, far less prone to wilting than their herbal counterparts. But the storage methods are pretty similar — you can wrap them in a damp paper towel and put that in an airtight bag. For me, putting the whole bunch in a SLIGHTLY damp — keyword slightly, as in not dripping wet — reusable cloth produce bag usually works great. But if you’ve tried that method and it hasn’t worked for you, this article tested three different methods, with some impressive results.
Add greens to your breakfast protein shake or smoothie.
This is a tried and true trick. Blending up some greens with your smoothie is a great way to sneak veggies into your breakfast and use up greens. I usually add a handful of chopped kale to my smoothies. They help thicken them up a bit, too.
Adding greens might make your smoothie look brownish and unappetizing, but unless you used a really enormous amount, it won’t really affect the taste. And not all food has to be Instagram-able, right? This article has some great green smoothie ideas.
Put protein on a bed of greens.
If you use kale and you’re worried about it being too hard and crunchy, add a drop of olive oil and massage your kale before laying your protein on top. Microwaving your lunch before eating it will also make the kale a little softer.
This method is similar compared to what most fast-casual spots like Dig Inn, Sweetgreen, and Chipotle do when they offer a base of greens or grains with your order.
Add it to your go-to quick meals.
When I come home from work and cook a quick dinner, I always add kale as an ingredient.
My go-to meals are:
But you can easily add greens to pasta and other dishes too.
Just sauté them!
A side of sautéed greens goes with almost every dish. And look at that spark of color they add! If you want to make them tastier, add a little bit of garlic, onion, salt, pepper, and a little lemon juice.
When all else fails, freeze ’em.
It’s Wednesday. You’re ridiculously busy, and you know you’re not going to have time to do anything with the half bunch of arugula or the untouched collard greens that have started wilting in your produce drawer. No worries, dude! If you have five minutes and a freezer, you have a solution.
First, wash and blanch the greens, and pat dry. Then put them in a Ziploc-style plastic bag or a Stasher bag, and make sure you squeeze out all the air before zipping it up. If you’re freezing herbs, there’s an even more convenient option: you can make frozen herb cubes, which can then be easily plopped onto a pan or into a sauce! Here’s a guide to freezing them in oil (the most common way to do it), and here’s a more comprehensive guide with three different methods.
There you have it! Frozen greens can be kept in the freezer pretty much indefinitely (although ideally you’d want to use them within a few months), and while I wouldn’t necessarily recommend just defrosting them and digging in — freezing will change the texture and make them limper — you can still apply most of the methods I’ve already mentioned. Personally, I think frozen greens and herbs work best in a soup, sauce, or curry situation.
A quick blanching lesson
Blanching greens is a good thing to know how to do, because it’s the first step in some recipes, and even if you’re free-styling it instead of using a recipe, it softens them and makes them easier to work with. Additionally, it’s common practice to blanch greens before freezing them.
It’s also ridiculously easy! Here’s what you do:
- Bring water to a boil.
- Throw in the greens and leave them in for just two or three minutes. When they’re soft and bright green, they’re ready.
- Put them in ice cold water to stop them from cooking any further.
That’s it! Congratulations, you now know how to blanch.
If you’re shopping for solutions …
There are indeed products designed for keeping herbs and greens fresh — here are some of the best options. Personally, I think the Vejibag is the best of the bunch.
- Vejibag, $19.99
- Eco Friendly Reusable Produce Bags, $16.94
- 12 oz Mason Jars 14.99
- Glass Herb Keeper, $15.73
- COLE & MASON Fresh Herb Keeper, $19.99
- Rubbermaid 1920521 FreshWorks Produce Saver Food Storage Containers, $16.99
- OXO Good Grips® Green Saver™, $17.99
- Stasher Bags, $23.98
Note: I originally had four ways to use up greens, but I took to Reddit and had people tell me their methods too! The 10 best responses are included below:
1. “Make sure you’re keeping greens properly to make them last.”
- Wrap in a clean dish towel (or paper towels)
- Store in an airtight container in the fridge, usually a freezer bag.
- Change out the towel when it gets soaked through, usually once per week.
Easily doubles or triples the shelf life of most leafy greens.
2. “The biggest thing is simply committing to eating a lot of salad during any given week (or whatever else you decided to cook with the greens purchased).”
Once you’ve made the decision to eat 4-6 salads as meals during a week, you’ve won half the battle already.
3. “Stir-fries and curries are fantastic for using (almost) any veggie up. I always make a bunch and store leftovers.”
4. “My go-to is to make an egg bake, sort of a healthier crustless quiche.”
You can use up a ton of greens in this & I make it to have for lunch throughout the week. 9x13″ pan, 8 or so eggs, 2 cups cottage cheese, little flour, & shredded cheese if you want. Wilt down a good portion of greens with whatever seasoning you like & saute any other veggies that need to be used up (green onion, tomatoes, mushroom, zucchini, whatever). Stir it all up & bake uncovered 350, 45min or so. Cheap, easy, healthy as you want to make it, and cleans the fridge out!
5. “Boil some broth and potatoes, half blend it, add greens. Soup.”
6. When my greens get close to going bad I put them in the blender with some orange juice and ginger-blend them up and put them in ice cube trays and freeze them.
Great for green smoothies on the go.
6. I like to make a warm pasta salad.
Cook pasta, drain, chuck in greens while pasta is still hot. They will wilt a bit. Add a pinch of salt and some extra light mayo, or other dressing of your choice. Maybe a few slivers of cheese too 😉
7. I buy giant bags of kale and spinach from Costco, separate them into serving-sized plastic bags, and freeze them for smoothies.
It’s convenient and lowers the temperature so you don’t have to add as much ice.
8. You can make pesto with pretty much any type of greens.
Throw them in a blender with whichever nuts you think will go well plus some olive oil, probably some lemon, garlic, parmesan cheese if you have it, etc etc you can play around. sesame oil would probably work great with certain greens, you can add other herbs, etc. This freezes perfectly as well.
9. Put them on a pizza! Surprisingly delicious.
10. Place in bowl.