First of all, let’s get one thing straight: I have never been accused of being a neat freak! I was never one of those people who wanted everything in the just the right place.
Until I got serious about cooking from home using real ingredients.
Then, I wanted to find every way I could to shave time and frustration off of every step of the cooking process! And having a fridge where you know exactly where each thing is supposed to be means you never have to rummage through shelf after shelf, looking for the thing you need right now.
So here are a few of the tips I’ve picked up over the years that make my fridge a supportive tool in my kitchen, rather than a frustration or a time suck.
Group like with like.
You probably already do this by putting all the veggies in the veggie drawer, and the meat and/or cheese in another. (By the way, did you know that it’s most sanitary to store raw meat in the very bottom of your fridge, so that if it leaks, it won’t drip down onto anything else?)
But this can also save you time in searching for condiments. I put all of my American condiments in one door shelf, all the Asian sauces in another, and the Mexican in another. So when I’m looking for ketchup, mustard, and pickle relish, they’re always together and I know just where to look.
In the open shelves of the fridge, I group things together with bins.
Use bins. (They’re magical!)
Bold claim, I know, but just look what bins do for you:
- They ensure you’ll never lose stuff at the back of your fridge again.
- They keep sticky stuff from spilling on your fridge shelves.
- They make it easy to pull out everything you need for one purpose, without hunting all over.
Let me elaborate…
Don’t lose stuff in the back. I cannot recommend strongly enough that you get some bins that reach the full depth of your shelves, front to back. This allows you to pull out one bin and easily see what’s in the very back. Make them narrower than your shelves, so you can fit two or three side by side. This keeps them light enough that it’s easy to move them.
For my counter-depth fridge, cheap clear plastic shoeboxes work perfectly well. But when I had a full-size fridge, I invested in some of the more expensive hard plastic refrigerator bins, and they were worth every penny.
Keep stuff off your shelves, and cut down your cleaning time! Using bins means that if something spills, the bin contains it. Yes, you’ll have to wash the bin, but that’s SO much easier than emptying the entire shelf, pulling it out, and getting it back in so it fits in the slots just right.
Group things in kits. I have used bins to group my snacks together, to make healthy options more convenient: some cut-up dipper veggies like carrots and bell peppers, along with some hummus or homemade Ranch. I’ve also used them to corral everything I need for my breakfast except the eggs: chopped onion, diced cooked sweet potato, greens, cooked bacon or sausage, etc. So in either of those cases, if I’m having breakfast or having a snack, I just pull out the bin and I’m ready to go!
You could also do this for salads or sandwiches.
I keep some nuts in the fridge. I store these all in one bin together, too.
Make your list work for you, too.
This isn’t about storage, but it is about efficiency.
I’m sure you keep a grocery list somewhere, and maybe you already keep it on your fridge. (If not, try it; so handy!) I keep a dry-erase board on the side of my fridge, divided into columns for Kroger/Target, Whole Foods, and Other. My family knows if there’s something they want picked up at the store, if they tell me about it, I’ll just say, “Put it on the list!”
When it’s time to go shopping, sometimes I re-write the list on a piece of paper, organizing things into the order they are in the store, but if I’m rushing out the door in a hurry and have forgotten to write the list out, I take a photo of the list with my cell phone.
For thorough info about shopping for real food at the grocery store, check out The Real Food Grocery Guide.
Other miscellaneous tips
Here are a few more tips from commenters on Apartment Therapy:
“One thing I use that works very well is using a lazy Susan for jams, salsa, pickles etc.” — Dulcibella My note: look for one with a tall rim, so it’ll also contain spills.
“[Someone else mentioned that they used empty six-packs for storing condiments.] Speaking of organizing condiments in leftover six-pack containers… I really geek out and match the beer brand to the condiments. For instance, I’ll use a PBR box to corral ketchup, mustard, steak and barbeque sauce. For items like soy sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce, and siracha, I’ll use Tiger or Kirin. And Peroni boxes are great for jars of sundried tomatos, roasted peppers, balsamic vinegar, and pesto. It makes it easy to grab everything you need for whatever your cooking. Grilling out? Reach for the PBR box. Making stir fry, that’s the Tiger box. Cooking burritos? Grab the Coronas box.” — Shannanigans Jana’s note: If I drank beer, that is something I would totally do! Yeah, I’m geeky like that.
“A habit [I got] from my Mother is reusing glass jars instead of buying plastic. Prechopped garlic/ginger jars are a great size for mini leftovers. Before there was green, it was called frugal.” — JSSPHAN My note: Yay, upcycling!
“I recently figured out how to keep from freezing salad in my counter-depth fridge. I keep it in a compartment in the door. If I use the one that was designed for gallon jugs of milk, I can fit the Costco sized salad box in there and it stays cold without being so close to the cold air vents that it freezes.” — EngineerChic
“I have a neat trick for filling the refrigerator which also works for dishwashers. Look at the appliance product photos for the best place to put drinks, casseroles, cheese, veggies, meat, and shelf alignment. The manufacturer spends lots of time and money developing an efficient way for the appliance to work. Now everything stays well organized and seems to be in the right place, veggies not too close to the refrigeration, etc. The same can be done for filling your dishwasher [for best cleaning results].” — Funstraw
For several roomies sharing a fridge: “Give each roomie a different brightly-colored basket. Add a white basket for anything that is a free-for-all & ok to be shared. Of course, you must still depend on the *honor system* but I found the visual reminder meant less missing food less often. Good luck with that. (Hey, I once resorted to storing my breakfast yogurt in a small plastic toolbox & a tiny padlock. Sad but true).” — Discerning
“My mom had a good fridge organizing plan: if anything was on the bottom shelf of the fridge, we were not allowed to use it, she was planning meals with it or it was for company. Simple rule: bottom shelf = don’t even touch it.” — Therese Z
Here are some other fridge organizing resources:
Before and After: A Refrigerator Make-over at RealSimple.
Step-by-step Process to a Clean, Well-Organized Fridge at About Working Moms.
A really thorough cleaning and organizing walk-thru with lots of pics at One Good Thing by Jillee.