Refrigerator Makeover

Written by Anika DeCoster, RD, CPT, CISSN – LifeTime WeightLoss

large_fridge_032512Spring is definitely in the air, and, for many of us, means spring cleaning! Soon we’ll have the itch to scrub, dust and organize our homes, but does your refrigerator also get that tender love and care?  This year, let the cleaning bug strike, but let’s make transforming your refrigerator top on the list.  Taking advantage of the seasonal motivation can be a great time to give a healthy transformation to the most utilized kitchen appliance.  And if you organize it right, it actually can help promote healthy eating habits as well as reduce food waste.  Read on below to find out how to set your refrigerator up for its healthiest and most usable potential!

Top and Middle Shelves

What you put on these shelves of your refrigerator is the most important thing to master when doing this transformation.  Because these shelves are right at our eye level, a quick hunger cue or craving that sends us to check what’s in the fridge typically leads to consuming the first thing in sight.  If that something is a less than healthy option, it can be a complete disaster.  Especially if you are in a pinch for time to decide what to eat, and need something quick and fast.

Because of our busy lifestyles and need for convenience, I suggest reserving the very top shelf for “on-the-go” foods.  Every Sunday, I work on resupplying this shelf by batch prepping and/or cooking multiple food items.  That way, whether I’m packing lunch/snacks for my workweek or just need a healthy snack at home, I’ve already done the work and know there will be plenty of options.

Most weeks, my very top shelf includes the following foods in their own designated containers:

  • A dozen hard-boiled eggs
  • A pound of cooked bacon (organic, pasture raised and nitrite/nitrate free)
  • Chunks of goat cheese or natural string cheese
  • Couple containers of hummus (homemade or natural choice from grocery store)
  • Cut-up vegetables (peppers, carrots, tomatoes, etc.)
  • Cut-up/whole fruit (berries, melon, etc.)

The middle shelves then can hold the inventory for creating the “on-the-go” top-shelf foods.   These foods are still in their normal state (not cooked or cut), and would then include the carton of eggs, milk choices. and uncut fruits and vegetables.  These foods should be the foundation of your meals, so think of these shelves having fast turnover and needing to be resupplied every week or two.   You should also be able to look at these shelves and get an idea of your upcoming meals for the remainder of the week as well as use this shelf as the supply for your top-shelf “on-the-go” foods.   A list of middle-shelf foods include:

  • Carton of eggs
  • Natural deli meat
  • Organic milk or milk alternative (coconut, almond, etc)
  • Uncut fruit (pineapple, watermelon, etc)
  • Uncut vegetables (whole peppers, head of lettuce, cucumbers, etc)

Bottom Drawers

Beware of the bottom drawers!  Foods that are stored in these drawers tend to get lost and go bad because of their location.  What’s even worse is that the foods that are most often stored in them and most often get lost are our fruits and vegetables.  Think about how many times you’ve opened those drawers and found wilted lettuce or molded berries. This then registers as a waste of your money, and you might even start purchasing less and less produce because it “always goes bad too fast.”  Sound familiar?  Break this habit now!

Now that we’ve moved the produce to the top and middle shelves, we can store other foods in these drawers.  I have two bottom drawers, so I like to reserve one of them for beverages (carbonated water) and the other for my thawed meat.  Because meat should be stored at the lowest point in the fridge (to prevent it from leaking on other foods), a bottom drawer is a perfect place.  Every morning I check what’s planned for dinner, and pull the appropriate meat from the freezer, and put in the drawer.  It has become a habit, so I don’t even think twice in the morning. I’ve already reminded myself “what” is for dinner and stick to it because I’ve already started the process that morning.

Other ideas for these drawers include storing things that have a longer shelf life (so it’s ok to lose them for awhile) such as natural nut butters or ground flaxseed.  Although I’d like to think no “unhealthy” foods are allowed in your refrigerator, a good tactic is to hide tempting foods in the drawers so you have to actively look for them.  These are the foods worth losing in regards to your health and weight, and should be foods you don’t eat on a regular basis, such as leftover birthday/holiday treats, breads and starches, or your adult beverages.  Resist using the drawers for their intended use and store the foods below instead:

  • Carbonated water, adult beverages
  • “Thawing” meat
  • Ground flaxseed and/or coffee
  • Dark chocolate
  • Other “less healthy” foods worth losing (leftover treats, breads, etc.)

Side Door

I call this door condiment row.  This should be the home for ingredients and foods that accent our main meals.  You don’t need to see these foods every time you open the fridge to know they are there. For example, if you plate up a nice salad (that you made from your fresh produce on the middle shelf) you then would naturally gravitate toward the side door to grab your dressing.

This is also another place good foods can get lost (out of sight and out of mind), so make sure you refrain from storing any fast turnover food here, such as eggs or even your milk beverages.  Because the door can easily become cluttered, fill up the door but not too full.  It’s important to see your inventory so you don’t buy anything you already have enough of.  Use the following list of foods to store in the door:

  • Natural peanut, almond or cashew butter
  • Organic butter or ghee
  • Salad dressings (olive oil based)
  • Organic ketchup (unsweetened)
  • Coffee creamer choice

If you master the above three locations of your refrigerator, you should find yourself eating better as well as losing less money to food waste.  Setting up your refrigerator this way will also emphasize the importance of menu planning or getting food preparation into your weekly routine.  Practice makes perfect and sooner or later, you’ll get in the groove and know how much to buy of everything.  Next up on deck, mastering your cupboards and food pantry!  Got a best refrigerator practice?  Share your top tip below or share a photo of your fridge on our LTWL Facebook page to help motivate and inspire others!

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.