10 Creative Ways to Use Up Produce That Go Beyond Salads

Curious how to use up fresh spinach before it goes bad? Have a big bunch of bananas that have seen better days? These go-to recipes and tips to use up vegetables and fruits before they're past their prime.

Whether we got a little overly ambitious with farmers market purchases, our garden is exploding with goodies all at once, or we simply got a little too excited in the produce section, we're often left searching for recipes to use up vegetables and fruit before the items go bad. But we're not always in the mood to undertake the efforts of pickling foods or canning foods. Enter: Our low-fuss guide on how to use up vegetables, fruits, and herbs of all kinds so you can enjoy more and waste less. With tips to use up vegetables, snacks loaded with several servings of fruit, and creative ways to extend the life of produce, these ideas will save you money and cut down on your food waste. Clearly, if your produce is too far gone (there's mold, your celery or asparagus is very limp and soggy, bell peppers are shriveled, etc.) these tips won't bring foods back to life, but if it's still pretty good and you just aren't going to get it eaten, give these a whirl.

Spiced Nuts and Zucchini Corn Bread
Blaine Moats

Bake Bread

Use up this produce: Zucchini, corn, bananas, apples, pumpkin

With quick breads or muffin recipes ideas galore, your options for how to use up fruit and vegetables are nearly endless. Shred squash and fold into Zucchini Bread batter, feature fresh kernels in Blue Cheese Corn Bread Muffins, or use mashed bananas, applesauce, or pumpkin to replace half of the butter in baked goods.

Add to Soups or Sauces

Use up this produce: Kale, spinach, chard, garlic, peppers, onions, carrots, celery, peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash

Boost the vitamin and fiber content of any soup, stew, or pasta sauce by wilting in sturdy leafy greens or starting the recipe with a fragrant mix of minced garlic, onions, peppers, carrots, and/or celery. We're wild about Ratatouille-Style Pasta Sauce and Mediterranean Kale and Cannellini Stew with Farro. Wondering how to use up leftover vegetables like mashed butternut squash? Stir in a scoop near the end of cooking time to thicken the texture.

Freeze Them

Use up this produce: Blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, bananas, mangoes, peaches, nectarines, peas, carrots, asparagus, green beans

Need more time to figure out exactly how to use up fruits and vegetables? Extend their life by freezing fresh produce when at its peak ripeness. Follow these Test Kitchen pointers for prep instructions (some require blanching or other special prep steps before going in the freezer), and they'll last for at least three months. When you're ready to use, thaw or incorporate into recipes as-is. This Banana Ice Cream with frozen fruit is one of our go-to healthy-ish desserts.

Pineapple-Spinach Smoothies with sliced banana
Brie Passano

Juice or Blend into Smoothies

Use up this produce: Lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit, apples, pineapple, mangoes, carrots, beets, celery

If you're in need of recipes to use up lots of vegetables or fruits, think drinks! Juices and smoothies work well with dozens of garden ingredients and are a nice way to coax picky eaters into eating their five a day. Check out these crazy-good vegetable smoothie recipes for brilliant ideas for how to use up fresh spinach, kale, and carrots (trust us!) and these easy and healthy juice recipes for fast fruit fixes.

Clean with Them

Use up this produce: Lemons, limes

Left with a few too many citrus fruits after making lemon meringue pie, or simply overflowing in gifts from your citrus tree? Discover 21 ways you can clean with lemons, limes, or otherwise all around the house. (The garbage disposal-refresh might just be our fave.)

Make a Loaded Frittata

Use up this produce: Tomatoes, mushrooms, kale, spinach, chard, peppers, onions, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes

The feeds-a-crowd egg dish is one of the ultimate recipes to use up vegetables. You don't need to start with fresh, either: a frittata recipe is a great way to use up leftover vegetables, too. Simply pick two or three that you like to combine in one dish normally, and sauté any that need a headstart, such as potatoes, peppers, onions, and other sturdy items. Crack some eggs, fold in your veggies, and pour into an oven-safe skillet to bake. Voila: Breakfast (or breakfast for dinner) is done.

Slow Cook a Sauce

Use up this produce: Apples, pears, tomatoes, spinach, carrots, celery, onion, garlic

Speaking of applesauce, it's one of our favorite answers for how to use up fruit when it feels like we have a whole bushel-full of extras. Our Chunky Applesauce can be converted into a pear sauce. This Make-It-Mine Slow Cooker Marinara is a brilliant recipe trick for how to use up fresh spinach, tomatoes, onion, garlic, and more all at once. And if you aren't in immediate need of a sauce, you can store for later.

Fold into a Savory Skillet Cake

Use up this produce: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, zucchini, beets, corn

Sweet or savory, latke-like cakes are great vehicles for little odds and ends. For mini meals to use up vegetables, shred or spiralize sweet potatoes, potatoes, squash, or beets to use as the base of these Spiralized Latkes. Or if corn is what you're trying to put to good use, give these Fresh Corn Griddle Cakes with Garden Relish a go (the recipe calls for 3½ cups of the late-summer vegetable!).

Basil Pesto
Andy Lyons

Make Pesto or Chimichurri

Use up this produce: Basil, cilantro, parsley, garlic, carrot tops, beet greens, watercress, arugula

One of our top recipes to use up lots of vegetables: Roast a whole sheet pan of root vegetables (such as sweet potatoes, carrots, and beets), then drizzle with a punchy sauce using the leafy greens, fresh herbs, and olive oil. Once you make a batch of Carrot-Top Pesto, Basil Pesto, or Chimichurri Sauce, you can use the extras for a delicious dipping sauce for bread, topping for any kind of protein, or dressing for sandwiches, salads, or pastas.

Sneak Them into Desserts

Use up this produce: Avocadoes, apples, carrots, zucchini, strawberries, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, rhubarb, corn

We've saved the best for last: our best recipes to use up vegetables and fruits are the sweet ones. You won't believe these brownies, cakes, and bars are hiding veggies, and fruit pies often call for 4+ cups of fresh fruit.

Take your pick of any or all of these ideas and recipes to use up vegetables and fruits and you'll be saving your budget and the earth all at once. And if you find that you do end up needing to forfeit some of your produce, make the most of it by building your own compost bin and creating a rich growing medium to enrich your garden.

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