The more meal prep I did and leftovers I depended on for lunches and snacks, the more disorganized my refrigerator became. I sometimes had expired items or leftovers got pushed to the back of the fridge; only to be recovered a day or two too late. We ended up not only wasting a lot of food but I was concerned about food safety as well. As the primary “chef in house”, I could easily discern or remember when things were made. However, when a babysitter or my husband stepped in to cover a meal or snack, they weren’t so sure.
And, while the sniff test worked just fine on Chinese take out in my 20s, I wasn’t so comfortable with that being used as the litmus test for giving food to our toddler.
After a near-miss of feeding our little one some iffy-fish, I came up with a new system for reducing food waste and keeping food fresh.
Do A Weekly Detox
Most people do a big grocery run once a week. I’ve made it a point that before I put any groceries away, I do a quick scan of what’s already in the fridge. Toss anything that’s expired. Consolidate leftovers into smaller containers. Wipe off each shelf. If you have veggies that are on their last leg, consider adding them into a freezer bag for making stock. Or, any fruit that’s starting to be too mushy freeze and store for smoothies or sauces. This takes a little bit of time, but it will help you make sure that you are always aware of what’s getting old and also keep you abreast of things you’re running low on so you can add it to your next grocery list and prevent running out at an inopportune time.
Organize by Age
Steal this trick from grocery stores: Display the newest items (furthest expiration dates) in the back and oldest items (closest expiration dates in the front). This makes you more likely to grab and use whatever’s closest. Even lunch meat gets this treatment: oldest packs are stacked on top and the newest and unopened are on the bottom.
Label All Leftovers
I keep a sharpie and a roll of masking tape on top of the fridge. Whenever leftovers or meal prep items (like chopped fruit or tuna salad) are stored in the fridge, I use a piece of tape to make a label for the lid and write the item’s name, expiration date and any reheating instructions. This helps me, sitters, my spouse all be on the same page and clear about what items are, when they are no longer good to use and how to use them.
Make Food Zones
This one may take a bit of training or labeling inside the fridge, but is really worth it. Keep food consistently in the same spots. It not only helps you know when you’re getting low on things or help you find things quickly, but it prevents items from getting pushed to the back of the fridge or being stored at too warm or too cool of temperatures. One of our crispers is for vegetables, the other for fruit. Yogurt is always on the far left of the top shelf. Leftovers go on the far right. Eggs are tucked on the middle shelf and raw meats are on the bottom shelf (just in case anything drips out of them, it’s more sanitary and less messy to clean). Here’s a great image showing how to organize your fridge based on temperature of items and food safety.