The refrigerator is meant to keep things cold, but it is one of the “hottest” spots in the home! This is where much of the food is stored that nourishes our families, and it is accessed multiple times a day. Knowing that, I always recommend that folks invest a small amount of time creating a few easy systems that aid in streamlining the meal planning and food preparing process. And I am not talking anything fancy, just really obtainable and sanity-saving ideas that save time with fewer trips to the grocery store and provide quicker meal making over the course of a busy week.
GE Appliances recently invited me to Louisville, KY, to help a family of five organize their new high-capacity fridge. Just like us, this family has three growing boys in a variety of activities, and needed a larger fridge and some organizational tips to simplify their food storage just in time for the hectic summer months.
Now, we have all seen those organized fridges that go viral because they are perfectly styled with rows of bins filled with flowers, colorful fruits and pretty cans of fizzy water. I could look at pictures of fridges like that all day long, and I always appreciate a good bin, but I do have to wonder, where is all of the food? The meals for a large family, the leftovers, the snacks, the breakfasts and lunches that last for the entire week? I really wanted to offer up some of my favorite usable and practical tips to help this family, and you, take control of the fridge.
When I arrived at the family’s home, I was welcomed with a new, large capacity fridge and a week’s worth of groceries straight from the grocery store.
I showed up with a few of my tried and true organizers and got right to work assessing what a typical week’s worth of groceries looks like for this family, and how I can best set up their fridge to accommodate both the food and their lifestyle. My number one goal was to put a fridge together that is easy to maintain, offers future versatility, and remains functional week after week.
The fantastic team at GE Appliances was there to see how it all went down, and they put together a quick video of my ten go-to, no fail refrigerator organizing tips. Check it out below!
Here is a quick recap of the video’s talking points:
Although I generally encourage folks to empty a space first, when it comes to the fridge, I actually recommend the opposite. Fill your fridge just as you would on a typical week, or maybe even shop and plan for those times when you have more food than usual (think extra kids visiting or a party or eating home every night of the week, etc…). This is really helpful in setting up your fridge to work for you week after week and to consistently accommodate your routine and lifestyle. This is also the best way to plan for any organizational bins and storage you may wish to add.
Whether you are organizing an entire room, a cabinet, or the fridge, I always recommend keeping like items with like, and sorting things into general categories. By placing items back in specific locations, you create a bit of muscle memory and can quickly find things time after time. Keeping the fridge categorized is also quite helpful before heading to the grocery store. Just open the fridge and do a quick visual scan to see what foods and condiments need replenishing.
In this specific fridge, I did condiments in the door (even divided out spreads, juices/beverages, toppings & dressings, and garnishes), salsas and sauces on the top shelf, kits on the next couple of shelves, main dishes and leftovers alongside milk & eggs in the large middle area, followed by veggies, fruits and deli items in the drawers below.
These days refrigerators help you easily store the majority of your items in specific temperature controlled areas. That said, it is good to know the ideals temps and locations for storing your food, to be sure to get the most out of that food. Take advantage of the specific drawers for keeping your veggies crispier, your fruits fresher and your deli meats and cheeses ready for lunch making.
Beyond that, I have read a few different articles that also recommend keeping your milk, dairy, and meats at the center of the fridge where it is coldest. The door is not recommended for eggs or milk because that is generally the warmest location and can cause early spoiling, but this location works great for juices and dressings. Also, there are a lot of fruits and veggies that actually do better stored outside of the fridge, and knowing which ones with help to free up even more space for the items intended to stay nice and cold inside.
I have been a long time kit maker and kit cheerleader! And for this fridge, I spent no more than ten minutes putting together five fuss-free kits.
Kit number one was a breakfast bin to hold yogurts and rolls. It can also be a place to store some berries, spreads, toppings, etc… whatever you relate to breakfast specific meals. Kits 2 – 4 were snack kits; one filled with finger veggies portioned into snack bags (snap peas, carrots, sliced peppers, celery, etc…), one filled with finger fruits portioned into snack bags (berries, melon, orange slices, etc…), and the last with some grab-no-go snack cups. Finally, a tray to hold deli meats and cheeses that can quickly transfer to the counter for sandwich making (I also like to add some other sandwich toppings to the tray such as sliced tomato, onion, and avocado).
Investing a few minutes after grocery shopping to put together these really quick solutions saves so much time for the entire crew over the course of a week.
You may have noticed, but the majority of the bins used throughout the fridge are clear! That’s because clear storage gives you that quick visual and reduces time spent looking through and for things. Before heading to the grocery store, just open the fridge and you can see which bins are running low without pulling everything out.
Another bonus for using bins for corralling the majority of the fridge contents is that they can be individually removed and cleaned at the sink, which is much quicker and easier than trying to scrub down the entire interior of your fridge when things spill and leak.
Not only do bins help to categorize your fridge contents, they also act as additional drawers!
To make the most of a fridge, it is best to adjust the shelves throughout, but that may limit your ease of accessing the items near the back. Extra long bins help to bring those foods to the front in one quick motion. I also recommend selecting bins that have handles or are lightweight for portability.
Why label? Because it keeps everyone on the same page and allows the entire family to quickly identify and locate where things are. Even if you put a variety of breakfast items into a clear bin, your little one may not know what everything in that particular bin has in common without the help of a simple label. Labeling also helps everyone put things back in the right “zones” and to keep general order.
As much as I love a good label, try not to over-label. The goal is to keep the fridge flexible yet simple from week to week, so general categories are best.
Just like deep bins, turntables are another really wonderful solution for preventing items from getting lost near the back. They are especially great for heavier jars or bulkier containers.
We have used a turntable in our fridge for quite some time now, and I absolutely love it. But this larger version with a lip really stole my heart and I will be upgrading immediately. It makes better use of an entire shelf and also reduces the risk of items falling off and breaking or spilling. So many wins.
I divide my utensil drawers, my junk drawer, my dresser drawer, so why wouldn’t I divide the drawers inside of the fridge?
Smaller open-top bins and baskets are a great way to prevent fruits and veggies from rolling around. They also work well for separating out the contents of the deli drawer.
Did you know that you can write on most glass and plastic storage containers with a chalk or dry erase marker, and then just erase it away when it is time for a change? I love this so much, it is so easy to label our food storage containers with the meal contents, prep instructions and the dates that they were prepared or purchased. (Be sure to test your marker/bin combo in an inconspicuous spot a few times just to be sure they are compatible.)
No more questioning if the food in the container is yesterday’s dinner leftovers or last week’s science project. #beenthere
So there you have it! I was so thrilled that GE Appliances asked me to help this family setup and organize their new fridge. As you may have noticed, this specific fridge had more space than I was even able to fill, which was a first for me with the many different refrigerators I have organized over the years (this particular model has almost an entire cubic foot more space than most refrigerators in this class). I am obsessed with how many main dishes, leftovers, and sides were stored throughout, and the flexibility there is for adding additional items for cookouts, birthday parties, entertaining, etc… But what tickled me most about this whole experience was watching the homeowner open her fridge and point out all of the details, and getting excited about the solutions I whipped up for their clan. There was a bit of relief, and she also expressed how easy it was to find things and transfer items to the nearby counters. That is the best feeling ever.
There are a few products that continue to be superstar workhorses for me each and every time I organize a fridge, and I have sourced them for you below.