We all buy fresh fruit with the healthiest of intentions. But if you forget about those strawberries or overestimate how many bananas you'll actually eat in a week, your A for effort becomes food waste real fast.
But we're here to tell you: Step away from the garbage can! Fruit on the verge of spoiling can have many possible second lives that don't involve the trash.
"Overripe and bruised fruits may look bad, but they're perfectly fine to eat," says Bob Hannum, author of Juice & Smoothie Recipes That Heal. "If we can find a way to ignore unsightly bruises, we may just be able to impact the growing problem of throwing away too much food."
In fact, Linda Larsen, food journalist and author of 33 cookbooks, says ripe fruit does offer nutritional value. The first step: "Look for mold, which can produce toxins that can spread throughout the entire berry and make you sick," she says.
If your produce passes that test, turn to one of these easy uses for fruit on its last leg.
"Bananas don't last more than a few days at room temperature, even less if they're near apples," says Shereen Lehman, adjunct faculty member at the University of Bridgeport Human Nutrition Institute and co-author of Superfoods for Dummies and Clinical Anatomy for Dummies. So what do you do once they turn brown?
1. Make smoothies.
Hannum says the concentrated flavor of overly-ripe bananas actually makes them ideal for smoothies. Plus, dropping the bruised fruit in the blender eliminates the issue of eating a less-than-appetizing-looking brown banana.
Try his gluten- and dairy-free banana smoothie by blending these ingredients:
- 1 overripe banana, chopped
- ½ beet, chopped
- 2 cups coconut milk
- 2 ounces dairy-free protein powder
- dash of cinnamon and nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 ice cube
2. Bake banana bread.
A seriously reliable Plan B: Whipping up a loaf of banana bread. Katie Workman, a cook and author of The Mom 100 Cookbook and Dinner Solved!, raves about her banana bread recipe: "Overripe bananas dream of one day becoming this banana bread," she says. "I purposefully buy more bananas than I know will be eaten because the overripe ones will force me to make it, which makes me, my whole family, and whatever neighbors come wandering by happy."
3. Whip up 'nice cream.'
When your bananas are past their prime, peel them, cut into one-inch chunks, and pop them in the freezer (initially on a cookie sheet, then stored in a plastic container), Legman suggests.
When you're ready, make her "nice cream:" Remove the slices from the freezer and place them into a blender or food processor, along with one cup of almond milk and two tablespoons of almond butter. Purée until smooth and creamy. You can eat it immediately as a soft serve, or put the mixture in a covered container in the freezer, allowing it to harden for a future frozen treat.
4. Make a face mask.
Skip the full facial and turn to your bananas for an all-natural beauty mask. The moisture, potassium, and vitamins E and C make the fruit perfect for soothing and hydrating the skin. Bonus: Making your own mask is way cheaper than buying one at the drugstore. Try this simple banana, honey, and orange mask recipe, or another that celebrities swear by — either will leave your skin looking smooth and radiant.
5. Clean houseplants.
Take the inside of a banana peel and swipe it along dusty plant leaves. Sounds wacky, but you'll be left with a shiny plant and no more residue.
6. Polish leather shoes and silverware.
It works, we swear. Peel the banana and get rid of any stringy remains on the inner part of peel. Then, rub the inside of the peel on your leather or silver. Buff with a soft cloth or paper towel, and voilà — the shine will be restored.
"Strawberries are one of the most fragile fruits in our pantry," says Amy Roskelley, owner of meal plan service Super Healthy Kids. "They can look perfectly good one day, and by the next they look bruised and rotten."
7. Make popsicles.
8. Make icees.
Another way to cool off? Make a healthy, homemade icee. Purée the ripened strawberries with a dash of sugar, lemon, and salt in a blender until smooth. Then add basil, blend, and transfer the slush to a shallow container and cover. Freeze until it's firm and, when you're ready for your summer treat, scrape with a fork to break up the large chunks. Sip it up as it melts!
9. Make jam.
Making and canning your own jam is a great way to use overripe strawberries — and it's a whole lot healthier than the sugar-heavy store-bought variety. Try this honey-sweetened strawberry jam recipe to satisfy your sweet tooth without any additives.
10. Make more 'nice cream.'
Adults and kids alike will reap nutritional benefits from "nice cream" made with avocado, because the fruit is sodium- and cholesterol-free, low in calories, and loaded with vitamins and minerals. This avocado pistachio ice cream recipe is the perfect after-dinner indulgence.
11. Make pasta sauce.
Larsen recommends puréeing ripe avocados with garlic and lemon juice, then tossing with hot pasta. You can also add chopped tomatoes and a little cheese for extra flavor. Warning: Try this, and you may never want to eat tomato sauce again.
12. Make a deep conditioning treatment.
Suffering from dry hair? Whip up a homemade deep conditioning treatment with an overripe avocado (say what?!).
13. Make tasty ice cubes.
Before the lemon gets brown and mushy, squeeze the juice into ice cube trays to add a little flavor (and chill) to your drinks. For an even fancier touch, add a mint leaf, strawberry slice, or chunk of kiwi to the cube before freezing.
14. Freshen up the garbage disposal.
Does something in your kitchen smell foul? There's a good chance it's coming from your garbage disposal. Chop a whole lemon into small pieces and throw it down the unit to eliminate the stench.
15. Make potpourri.
Adding lemon rind to potpourri will perk any room right up. Take a handful of spices (such as cinnamon sticks, cloves, or nutmeg) and dried natural materials (such as seasonal flowers or pinecones). Then arrange them in a bowl along with the lemon rind. If you want even more of a boost, sprinkle with scented oils like orange or lemon.