6. Buy a few days before ripe. There’s no point in trying to buy fresh vegetables and fruits for your family if the bananas turn brown and the peaches mushy two days after you get them home. Buy fruit that’s still a day or two behind ripeness. It will still be hard to the touch; bananas will be green. Feel carefully for bruises on apples, check expiration dates on bagged produce, and stay away from potatoes or onions that have started to sprout. If the produce on the shelves looks a bit beyond its peak, don’t walk away; ask to speak to the produce manager. Chances are, there’s a fresh shipment in the back just waiting to be put out on store shelves. For a real taste treat, if you’re going to eat them within the next couple of days, pick up a bunch of vine-ripened tomatoes. There’s just no comparison.
7. Buy in season. Sure, it’s tempting to buy strawberries in December, and once in a while that’s fine. But fresh fruit and vegetables are best when purchased in season, meaning they’ve come from relatively close to home. They often cost less, are tastier, and have less risk of pathogens such as E. coli.
8. Buy organic whenever possible. Sure, it costs a few dollars more. But a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that organically grown fruits and vegetables contain higher levels of cancer-fighting antioxidants than conventionally produced foods. However, if organic is too pricey for you, don’t worry; organic or not, fruits and veggies are key to a healthy larder.
9. Buy frozen. Frozen fruits and vegetables are often flash frozen at the source, locking in nutrients in a way fresh or canned can’t compete with. Stock your freezer with bags of frozen vegetables and fruits. You can toss the veggies into soups and stews, microwave them for a side dish with dinners, or thaw them at room temperature and dip them into low-fat salad dressing for snacks. Use the fruits for desserts, smoothies, and as ice cream and yogurt toppings.
10. Stock up on canned tomato products. Here’s one major exception to the “fresher is better” rule. Studies find that tomato sauces and crushed and stewed tomatoes have higher amounts of the antioxidant lycopene than fresh, because they’re concentrated. Canned tomatoes are a godsend when it comes to quick dinners in the kitchen. Warm up a can with some crushed garlic for a chunky pasta sauce; pour a can over chicken breasts and simmer in the crock pot; add to stews and sauces for flavor and extra nutrients.
11. Stock up on canned beans. Although they may have a bit more sodium than we like, that’s easy enough to get rid of with a good rinse in the sink. Beans can be mixed with brown rice, added to soups and stews, pureed with onions and garlic into hummus for dipping, or served over pasta for a traditional pasta e fagioli. In fact, all the hype about pasta raising blood sugar really comes down to this: What are you putting on your pasta? The soluble fiber in beans lowers blood sugar and insulin, making the combination of pasta and beans a healthful — as well as delicious — dish.