By: Molly Hembree, MS, RD, LD
Did you know our home is where we eat most of our food? Especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, more of us are cooking at home more now than ever! According to a 2019 study by The Food Industry Association (FMI), we spend an average of $113.50 every single week on groceries for our household, spread among 1.6 weekly grocery shopping trips. A separate 2020 FMI study found that 91% of us feel we eat healthier at home than when we eat out. That accounts for a lot of food! Let’s talk about how to make the most of the food we bring into our home by organizing our refrigerator through the lens of a Registered Dietitian.
This is food service lingo for “First In, First Out,” the concept that the product you’ve had longest in your refrigerator should be staring at you in front while your most recent purchases should be placed in the back. This constant rotating method of using the foods that will expire or go bad first and putting off using the food most recently added can help us effortlessly establish a routine of minimizing food waste.
2. Slice & dice what you can
It’s normal human behavior to default to what’s easiest when we have decisions to make, and that includes food decisions. Be proactive for your future self and put in the time (preferably when you’re full after a meal!) to chop up some fruits and vegetables so you’re ready when hunger strikes.
3. Clear containers
In the Marie Kondo style of tidying up, knowing what you have on hand can make all the difference in pinpointing what you make and what you eat. Clear plastic or glass food containers show you plain and clear how many pieces of leftover veggie pizza, cups of chili, or spring rolls are still hanging out in the fridge so you don’t make something new without knowing what you already have.
4. Keep certain fruits apart
Did you know a ripening gas called ethylene is given off by some fruits? This explains why bananas turn brown in mere days (or hours!) after purchase. Other fruits like apples, avocados, cantaloupe, and peaches are also ethylene-producing and should be kept away from ethylene-sensitive items like cauliflower, lettuce, and sweet potatoes.
5. Breads go here, too
The refrigerator isn’t just for perishables anymore! Put your favorite whole-wheat burger buns, sliced flax bread, and cinnamon raisin bagels in the fridge as well, to promote a longer shelf-life for those wholesome grains. Some of our patients will mention they are frustrated they can’t get through a whole loaf of bread by the time it expires; this tip ensures all slices can be savored!
6. Give water a facelift
Instead of just water from the tap, take things up a notch with water that’s infused with fruit (or vegetables or herbs). The possibilities are endless! This drink idea will be especially inviting when you open the refrigerator door in search of a refreshing beverage. Try placing strawberries, mango, and basil in a pitcher of water and leaving in the refrigerator for a few hours. Or if you’re craving something bubbly, pour a chilled plain seltzer water into a glass filled with a few crushed pieces each of cucumber, raspberries, and mint leaves.
7. Pair up your favorites
Make the perfect snack a no-brainer by stashing goodies that you eat together next to one another in the fridge. Store hummus next to baby carrots, apples next to light caramel dip, and celery next to low-fat ranch dressing.
8. Get the smallest size you need
You’d like to add maraschino cherries to a homemade sundae? The 6-ounce jar should do the trick rather than the 16-ounce. Only need enough soymilk to get through the week? Check out the 32-ounce size rather than 64-ounce (half-gallon). This will not only cut down on food waste, but it’ll also lessen the temptation to “just go ahead and finish” what’s left in a larger container if you really don’t need it.