Make the most of your summer produce

19/Jul/19 / 17:42

Northern Illinois Food Bank is dedicated to providing nutritious meals to all of our neighbors in need – and we know that fruits and vegetables are key to a healthy, balanced diet. That’s why nearly 23 percent of the food we distribute throughout our service area is produce.
During the summer, produce is in abundance, and our neighbors are better able to fill their fridges, pantries and plates with these healthy foods. However, produce items have a short shelf life and need to be used quickly after they are brought home.
From smart storage to creative cooking, here are some tips and tricks on how to make the most of your fruits and vegetables:

  • Storage is key. Some fresh fruits and vegetables will last longest when refrigerated, while others ripen best at room temperature. Dried or canned produce can have a long shelf life if stored in a cool, dry area. Check out this guide to see the best ways to store common produce items.

  • Repurpose what you are about to toss. Many produce items that have passed peak freshness can be used in other dishes. Are your tomatoes slightly soft? Dice them up to make a salsa. Are your bananas browning? Preheat the oven and bake some banana bread. There are plenty of creative ways to use produce that has passed its peak! Just make sure to never eat foods that show signs of spoilage, like molding or rotting.

  • Try a frozen snack. If you’re worried you won’t be able to eat all of your fruits and veggies before they go bad, fear not; some produce items are just as tasty frozen as they are fresh! Throw a bag of grapes in the freezer, and enjoy an icy snack on a hot summer day. Juice oranges, grapefruits or limes to make healthy popsicles. You can also freeze produce for future use – learn about the best ways to freeze vegetables here.

  • Use the same ingredient in different meals. Find two recipes that use the same product in totally different ways! This will help you use up your produce without getting tired of eating the same fruit or vegetable twice in a row. For example, use some of your zucchini to make a stir fry tonight, and use the rest to make zucchini noodles tomorrow. This double-recipe tactic will help use your produce creatively and prevent food waste!

  • Add produce to pre-made meals or ingredients. This is a quick, easy and healthy way to incorporate more produce into your diet and use up those fruits and vegetables. Add veggies to a can of soup, or chop up an onion to mix into your jar of pasta sauce. Simple additions go a long way in flavor and nutrition!

  • Give your leftovers a makeover. If you have leftovers sitting in your fridge but want to mix up what you’re eating, incorporating new ingredients will make last night’s dinner feel like a brand new meal! Take leftover veggie sides and turn them into a soup or vegetable lasagna. Make a chicken dinner into a veggie-filled casserole, or add a fruit puree for a sweet change. This is an innovative way to use your produce and spice up a meal!

  • Shop local. Farmers markets offer fresh, local produce grown right in your community. This will offer health benefits to you and economic benefits to your community – plus, supporting a local farmer will help make sure that their items stay available. Keeping local produce in your community for years to come is one of the best ways to lengthen the life of fruits and veggies! Find a farmers market near you here.

Making the most out of your fruits and vegetables is a great way to help reduce food waste and solve hunger at the same time! You can also help us keep produce on our neighbors’ plates by volunteering at the Food Bank, during peak produce season in the summer and year-round.

How You Can Help:


  • Volunteer at one of our Centers in Geneva, Rockford or Park City sorting and packing food
  • Donate to help us solve hunger in your community – every $1 donated helps provide $8 of groceries.



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(1)“June is National Dairy Month.” International Dairy Foods Association.

(2)“9 Milk Nutrition Facts You Need to Know.” America’s Milk Company.

(3)“National Dairy Month.” Midwest Dairy.

(4)“Dairy Fun Facts and Trivia.” University of Illinois Extension.