10 creative ways to get a handle on your fridge.
So, about those billions of dollars of wasted food. While there’s some good advice out there, far too many of us still end up with the same sad, limp things lurking at the back of the fridge, out of date and out of mind. It’s time to get a handle on food waste in the fridge. (You know that stalk of celery deserves it.)
1. PLASTER YOUR FOOD WITH DATE LABELS
Here’s an ideal scenario: you open your fridge, and in one glance you can see how fresh its contents are. What’s the easiest way to do this? Stick a label on: either a big one with the “Use By” date written large, or use color-coded sticky notes, one color for every day of the week. Then it’s a cinch to shuffle the soonest-gone food to the front. Hang your labels from a piece of string attached to the fridge door, and you’ll never forget to stick them on when you’re loading it up.
2. INVENTORY YOUR STOCK BEFORE YOU SHOP
Spending loads of money at the supermarket is easy if you can’t remember what food you have at home. It’s also a great way to buy things you don’t have time to eat. The solution to this quandary is the humble yet totally brilliant shopping list. If you’re the forgetful type, keep your shopping list in your bag instead of hanging it somewhere in your kitchen.
3. MEAL-PLANNING EMPTIES YOUR FRIDGE
Monday: I really have to use those onions up. So, dinner is Spanish omelet. Tuesday? That lemon sole has until Tuesday, I see from my date label. I wonder if there’s a good recipe somewhere? Wednesday: Sausages. If I leave them until Thursday, they’ll walk away themselves. How about a big casserole? Thursday: My balcony-grown veggies are picked and perfect, and I’d hate myself if they went mushy. Thursday is officially salad day. Friday: I’ve run out of stuff to use up. Success!
4. SHOP MORE OFTEN, BUY LESS
One of my favorite shopping challenges is working out when supermarkets mark up their special offers for food about to go out of date. Pick your moment and you can make a killing at the checkout. This kind of research goes hand in hand with another good habit – buying only what you need that day, or for the next 48 hours. The more you’re relying on just-bought food, the less likely it is to get lost at the back of the fridge.
5. USE YOUR FREEZER LIKE A PRO
Sometimes, the smart thing to do is cook too much food – if you have a freezer, that is. Grab your plastic containers, fill them with excess dinner, leave them to cool and then throw them in the freezer. The result is the healthy version of a TV dinner: something that requires little time to prepare (apart from the thawing), and is perfect for those evenings after bad days at work where the idea of cooking something feels like the last straw for your sanity.
6. UNDERSTAND YOUR FRIDGE’S TEMPERATURE ZONES
Fridges are anything but even-temperatured. Why is lettuce fine near the door but deep-frozen onto the back wall? Because there can be a 5-degree difference between regions of your fridge. Watch this video to learn more (including why it’s a bad idea to put your milk cartons in the fridge door).
7. LEARN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN “USE BY/SELL BY” AND “BEST BEFORE”
They’re far from interchangeable. And if you’re a resident of the UK, it’s a muddlesome issue. “Use By” is the one you’d be truly foolhardy to ignore – but “Best Before” is all to do with food quality. It’s the manufacturers protecting their standards, and in many cases it has little to do with how edible the food still is. It’s so confusing a situation that the British government is scrapping it, but if you see something similar in your neck of the woods – beware of becoming as muddled as we have.
8. CLEAN AND DE-ICE YOUR FRIDGE REGULARLY
My most disturbing memory of de-icing a fridge was from my student days, when I returned from a lecture to find the strangest guy on my floor attacking the fridge with a cleaver. He explained the ice made him angry, and we were all relieved when he moved out shortly afterward. Nevertheless, some days I see his point. Once that ice builds up, you can’t shift it easily. Yet you need to: it’s blocking air circulation and constricting your precious storage space. Immerse a paint-scraper in boiling water and gently chip away – or empty it of food and turn it off for 24 hours (with a plastic sheet under it). Anything but a cleaver. Please.
9. DIVIDE INTO PORTIONS WHEN YOU’RE HOME, OR BUY IN PORTIONS WHEN YOU SHOP
Shops with food bins that allow you to weigh out your own are a boon. Aside from the fun of it, it’s also practical for the option-conscious shopper. Want to get exactly two meals’ worth? Weigh it out exactly. But if you do decide to buy in bulk (say, if it’s more cost-effective to do so), weigh your ingredients after you unpack and see if there’s anything extra that can go in the freezer for when you truly need it.
10. LEARN SOME EMERGENCY “USE ‘EM UP QUICK” RECIPES
When all your waste-prevention plans have gone awry and your refrigerated food is on the verge of going off, you need a backup plan – a set of recipes that use up the widest range of on-the-turn ingredients in one go. We’re talking stews, soups, pot pie, casserole – in other words, things you can whip up in bulk and then keep cool or freeze for a lazy food day.