You open the refrigerator door and stare into it blankly. What looks good? If it’s crowded with boxes of leftovers, long-expired dairy products and mushy veggies in the bottom drawer, it can be hard to find something worth eating. Probably easier to reach for a bag of chips in the cupboard instead, you tell yourself. Time to adopt some good fridge organization practices.
Because if your fridge looks like it’s ready for a Hazmat team, you could be sabotaging your efforts to eat healthy even if good food is in there somewhere. But a few simple steps can get you organized, and back on track before pool party season is over.
If you want the CliffsNotes, success is all about making what’s healthy easiest to see and grab first, says Professional Organizer Maureen Guzman of Katy Home Organizer. She has tricks for overcoming our understandable human instinct to quickly close the door on a mess.
“Focus on a small area first, like a drawer or shelf. Set a timer for 5 minutes and see how much gets done. The anticipation often quickly transforms into momentum,” she says.
She recommends setting up zones in the refrigerator to make it fast and easy to get on track and to find stuff:
- Divide shelves into two or three categories from left to right, not front to back.
- Use clear shoe-sized plastic bins that are use the depth of the fridge to maximize space.
- Use “produce” and other drawers the way for whatever items make sense for you.
- Use inserts to subdivide large shallow drawers.
- Use doors for large drink containers and condiments to avoid cluttering the shelves.
"Zones helps you keep track of what’s available,” says Maureen. “You can then rotate groceries as new items are brought in and bring the older food to the front to be eaten first.” This helps cut back on food spoiling and going to waste.
It’s so common for produce to go in the drawers at the bottom of the fridge where it is easily forgotten. Put them higher where they can be seen.” Maureen says. “Store vegetables like celery, cilantro or green onions on a shelf vertically in a tall cup with a bit of water, like for a fresh cut flower. Cucumber, zucchini, tomatoes, lemons and other small fruits can be stored in clear plastic bins on a shelf.”
Putting fruits and veggies front and center can be key in eating healthier, says Vicki Ibaugh of Personalized Health Coaching. “Food arrangement is key to success when trying to eat healthy and lose weight. You want to place healthy foods right at eye level.”
Vicki also recommends cleaning and cutting up produce right when it comes in the house, then putting it in easy-to-see, portion-sized containers for grab and go. ”More than 40% of what we do every day is based on habit. When it’s right there and you don’t have to decide what to eat, then you are likely to make a healthy choice.”
She adds that any foods you want to avoid should be kept out of the house. But if they must be there for other family members, “store them hidden away! If you can’t see them, you are less likely to pick them!” She says some of her clients keep separate refrigerators or storage areas for that reason.
Both Maureen and Vicki recommend using clear plastic bins to store food in the fridge to see what you have. “You can straddle a wire shelf over them so you use more vertical space for stacking. Then they just pull out like a drawer,” says Maureen who also advises removing items from their packaging so they line up neatly. They can be labeled with expiration dates.
Most importantly, Maureen cautions, “don’t overstuff! Too many groceries in the fridge make it difficult to see what you have. If you can’t see it, you won’t eat it!”
She says once you find an arrangement that works for you and your family, stick with it. “Consistency makes meal time easier. You know where to find things and when you need more.” You might even eat healthier and lose some weight in the process!