When the weather gets warmer and the garden begins to produce like crazy, refrigerator organization becomes crucial. Organizing the refrigerator is one of those little projects that pays off big. It will save time when preparing meals, getting ready for work and school in the morning and putting away the day’s harvest or the groceries.
While our phones and sound systems have gotten smaller, American refrigerators, like our houses, have gotten bigger. Still, it’s easy to run out of space, even for those of us without teenagers at home.
Unlike houses (and storage units) which are sometimes bigger because of an unhealthy clutter habit, a larger refrigerator is a good thing — if it means you are eating more fresh, unprocessed foods. Maybe you’ll find that your pantry (dry and canned goods storage) is shrinking.
I’m not a big believer in buying a bunch of containers for the refrigerator, although they do look very nice and make stacking items much easier. If you love an all-glass look, you can transfer juices into carafes. Keep them on the shelf with the most vertical space.
Eggs absorb odors, so if you don’t go through your eggs rapidly, you might want to transfer them to an air-tight container, like those available at storables.com or Bed Bath & Beyond and Williams Sonoma stores.
Items in the center of the refrigerator stay coldest, and a fuller refrigerator doesn’t have to work as hard to maintain its temperature, so keep this in mind when putting away the groceries or leftovers. Milk, especially, should not be kept in the door.
Use the drawers properly. Produce should be stored in the produce bin drawers and cold cuts and cheeses should be kept in the meats drawer if you have one. These drawers are almost always labeled by the manufacturer.
A lot of Internet organizing sites and magazines will suggest labeling shelves and containers in the refrigerator, but I think this is overkill unless you have children you are trying to teach to put things away properly or help you unpack the groceries. I keep all the condiments on one shelf in a door. Since all the jars have manufacturers’ labels, it’s unnecessary for me to label the shelf. If you are making your own mayonnaise or jams and other things, then certainly you will want to label them and — muy importante — include the date. Making the labels all match will give you a clean look when you open the refrigerator.
A second refrigerator, usually in the garage, has become necessary for big families or homes with vegetable gardens and fruit trees. You’ve got to have a place to put the overflow. Not only does it help to keep the kitchen refrigerator tidy and manageable, it will save tons of time — all those trips to the store — and prevent the waste that happens when food, like fruit, spoils because it is left out too long.
It’s easy to find inexpensive refrigerators on Craigslist or in the classified ads of a newspaper. The second refrigerator doesn’t have to be the Cadillac that you might require in the kitchen; just a dependable, clean one will do, even if it’s avocado green or harvest gold. My husband bought a great chest freezer second hand for $150, and it’s still going strong 10 years later.
I recently came across an amazing idea. Apparently you can cut up everything you want to put in a salad, mix, and store it in big Mason jars (without dressing) and it will stay fresh for up to two weeks. If I could prepare salads for the week every Sunday, it would be a major time saver. Just add dressing, throw some fish on the grill and dinner is ready. Now that’s a summer tip I’m definitely going to try.