When you have an organized fridge, you’re immediately set up for success – not just to eat healthily, but to save money, cook more, eat consciously and order less takeout. As nutritionists and private chefs, we have seen many fridges in our day; the good, the bad and the ugly. We’ve seen it all: mouldy containers, expired condiments, weeknight leftovers, wilting produce that’s turning all shades of brown, and shelves covered in sticky goo from a spill that was never cleaned up. Are you nodding your head? Can you relate? This was us, we admit that we were those people with messy (and sometimes gross!) fridges, and we’ve managed to come out the other side to share our tips on how to live your best organized fridge life.
1. Do a Weekly Fridge Clean Out
Just as you take your garbage out once a week, do the same with your refrigerator. Make every Thursday fridge clean-out day. This is probably the most important tip we can offer, and although it’s a simple one, it’s not necessarily easy because it takes effort (about 10 minutes worth). We know when items accumulate in the fridge, they’re usually shoved to the back, then forgotten to expire and rot. This is how fridges become gross and crowded, which will deter you from opening it and buying new produce items. Then you’ll end up ordering take out, and you know those leftovers will sit in your fridge… for too long. Do you see the cycle? Just clean your fridge!
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2. Store Food Properly to Make it Last
One of the most common problems we hear from our clients is, “our produce always goes bad before we get a chance to use it.” This is not only a waste of money, but also a waste of food and effort from everyone involved in the process (think: farmers, food brokers, shippers, grocery stores, etc). Instead, store food properly. Keep veggies and heartier fruits like apples in the crisper drawers. Herbs and asparagus need to be kept in glasses of water like a bouquet of flowers. Leafy greens and broccoli should be stored in bags to prevent them from wilting. Delicate fruit like berries should be placed on the shelf. Don’t wash produce before putting it in the fridge, this will spoil it faster.
3. Invest in a Whiteboard (it costs $1.50)
Keep a whiteboard on the outside of your fridge that lists what you’ll be eating for the week and which groceries you need to buy. You will be an organizational champion if you do this. You clearly outline your meals so you know what you need to prep and when. You also know which ingredients you need to stock up on. Simply take a picture of the board with your phone and use it as your grocery list. We also organize the board in columns of produce, pantry and other. This will make shopping efficient because your list will already be organized by grocery store aisles/sections.
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4. Become a Prep Master
Take a few hours to prep and chop your produce. This step is annoying, we know, but so worth it. We find it best to do at night. Throw on a great Food Network show to keep you occupied as you chop and slice away. Cooking can sometimes to be a challenging feat, especially when you’re tired and busy, but think about how much easier it is when produce is already prepped. You can throw together a quick stir-fry or roasted veggie dish when cauliflower is already in florets, cabbage is already sliced and potatoes are already cubed.
5. Buy Premade Food
While we bet you enjoy cooking, we also know you’re busy with a life and things to do, so crafting an elaborate meal isn’t always an option. We recommend buying a few items that are premade to keep in your fridge like a cooked chicken, a box of mixed greens that’s ready-to-eat or store-bought soups, stews and chilis. This way you won’t reach for foods that you don’t actually want, and you can put meals together in minutes. We recently bought a cooked chicken, spiralized butternut squash noodles and Thai soup, then threw all these items together in a pot and had a warming, delicious meal with minimal effort.
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6. Place Ready-to-Eat Food at Eye Level
When you’re desperate for a snack or even meal, the easiest thing to do is visit the pantry and grab something carb-o-licious. But, you don’t really want to do that, do you? Have you ever binged on your kids’ goldfish crackers before? No, me neither, never. Put everything that’s already prepared (leftovers, cut up carrots, hummus, soups, grapes, etc) on the middle shelf, or the shelves that are directly at eye level. Grocery stores do this to entice you to buy certain brands, so do the same with your fridge. Keep them in transparent containers so you can see what’s inside.
7. Be a Minimalist
Do you really need a fridge that’s bursting at the seams? We’ve found that crowded fridges are just filled with accumulated mess. We don’t mean your fridge shouldn’t be stocked, but when you can barely even see what’s inside, that means it’s too full, and usually not with good, edible food. Also, the air cannot circulate around properly. Be a minimalist when it comes to stocking your fridge. Think about how much you really eat, what you really need, and when you will actually use the ingredients you’re buying. To be honest, we often have a close-to-empty fridge with only essentials in it to ensure we eat what we buy and don’t let excess food go to waste.
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8. Store Raw Meat, Poultry and Seafood on the Bottom Shelf
This is a food safety measure that’s required by restaurants, and you should adopt it for your fridge at home. Store these items on the bottom shelf and put them in a container or on a tray. This ensures that if there is some spillage, it will not spoil any other items in the fridge. Imagine you kept your raw chicken on the top shelf and the juices accidentally drip down onto your berries, yogurt or lettuce. This cross contamination can make you really sick, so, keep these items low down. We also recommend pushing them to the back of the bottom shelf where the fridge tends to be the coldest.
9. Group Ingredients Based on Similarity
For instance, all of our fermented foods like sauerkraut, pickles, yogurt and miso are on the same shelf beside each other. All of our varieties of mustards and BBQ sauces are grouped together on the doors. So are our Asian style condiments like tamari, Thai curries, sesame oil and fish sauce and our nut/seed butters like peanut butter, almond butter and sunflower butter. This makes cooking more efficient so you don’t need to search the fridge to figure out where all the items are as you’re cooking. It also easily alerts you to when one of those items is running low or empty.
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10. Store Flours, Nuts & Seeds in the Fridge
Many people will store these items in cupboards or in the pantry, but they’re actually better off in the fridge. Flours, nuts and seeds all have oils that can become sensitive to heat and spoil quickly, so keep these items in bags or containers in the fridge. A crisper drawer or any of the shelves will do the trick. Beware: these items can pick up smells from other ingredients in the fridge, so ensure they’re stored away tightly in their bags/containers.