Streamline to save money, limit food waste, and eat healthier, according to author Kristen Hong.
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When you want a bite to eat, one of the first thoughts that can come to mind is likely "What do I have in the fridge?" Keeping your refrigerator stocked with favorite foods can really help hit the spot when hunger strikes at any given point in the day, but it's much more than that. Maintaianing organization within this essential home appliance, especially at the start of a New Year, can provide a sense of renewal and focus. Here, we talk to Kristen Hong, the creator of the Hello Nutritarian blog and author of Fridge Love: Organize Your Refrigerator for a Healthier, Happier Life―with 100 Recipes ($17.99, amazon.com), for advice on how to make this idea a reality in your home. In her new book, she shares her tips on how to eat healthier, save money, and limit waste—all by practicing "refrigerator love." Hong shares five ways to nail this through organization and food preparation so you can start your New Year off right.  

Select Your Refrigerator Function

Not all refrigerators will serve the same purpose. Hong explains that there are five different ways to categorize your appliance: fresh fridge, chopped fridge, no-cook fridge, or prepped fridge. To figure out which one is right for you, think about how each could fit your lifestyle. If you like to pack in produce, be able to spot any ingredient as soon as you open up your refrigerator, and cook on-demand instead of meal prepping, then she suggests the fresh fridge, which requires 15 to 30 minutes of time to organize each week. The chopped fridge will feature chopped produce for convenient snacking and easier meal prep, making you more of an on-demand home cook (it takes about one- to one-and-a-half hours each week for this option).

Not a fan of cooking in advance? Then consider the no-cook fridge, which doesn't require full-on meal prep. Hong says people can cook some parts of a meal beforehand, like homemade sauces, to help supplement cooking for the week. One-and-a-half to two hours each week, here. The prepped fridge's claim to fame is pretty straightforward: Take about two to three hours each week to make healthy meals anyone in the family can take on the go.

Clean Your Refrigerator

Even if there aren't noticeable spills or smells in your refrigerator, keeping a regular cleaning regimen in place is just as important as other parts of organization. Hong points to two essential practices. The first is deep cleaning, which includes wiping down all of the shelves and drawers with a water and dish soap mixture. Baking soda is another cleaning tool you can use as a bonus to get rid of odors (add about two tablespoons to the water and soap mixture). She recommends taking time to properly clean the refrigerator, either before getting a new round of groceries or if you are leaving your home for a long period of time, like if you are going on a vacation. The second practice is a weekly wipe down, which will take about 20 minutes, and includes spot cleaning, throwing out any old food, and looking quickly to see what else may be necessary for your next deep clean.

portrait of kristen hong with food jars
Credit: Courtesy of Kirsten Hong

Organize Your Food

Hong's first guiding principle when it comes to organizing your refrigerator is keeping the foods you want to eat in the front of the refrigerator. So, for example, if you want to eat more leafy greens, you should have them at eye level, so you know exactly where to get them at a moment's notice. Next, spread the wealth. Even though there are designated "crisper drawers" in most refrigerators, that gives you a limited amount of space to put your fruits and vegetables. Spread them out, so you can consume even more healthy foods without restricting yourself to the ones you keep in drawers. And lastly, when you are doing grocery shopping, buy just enough food to place in two rows on every shelf and in every drawer. This might seem counterproductive, but this will limit food waste and prompt you to buy foods aligned with your health goals. 

Use the Best Containers

Try glass food storage containers. While there are plenty of options on the market, Hong prefers glass based on four reasons: food appears to stay fresher, the containers are eco friendly, reheating is simpler, and glass containers don't alter the flavor of the food. She recommends using quart-size, wide-mouth mason jars to start, since there's enough room to store food, like soups or compotes. And don't pack food too tight in containers. Aim to fill them about halfway.

Prep Produce

The best way to prevent food waste is by factoring in conditions such as the climate where you live, the season, and the temperature you keep your home. If you have soft, fresh herbs, Hong suggests storing them in a glass jar filled halfway with water covered with a loose plastic bag. This way, the water will create humid-like conditions and the bag will help the leaves stay in their best condition in the refrigerator's natural state. Pro tip: If you don't have plastic bags handy, or just prefer another option, try food-safe silicone bags instead.

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