Cut Down on Mealtime Chaos by Organizing Your Fridge and Pantry
If you have a busy family, it’s easy to end up with chaos in the kitchen.
First, you’re in the middle of cooking dinner and discover the necessary ingredients are gone. Next, you’re throwing uneaten leftovers and expired food into the trash, shaking your head over the waste.
Meanwhile, your kids (and your spouse) are constantly asking what there is to eat. No wonder it’s hard to stay chill! Fortunately, today’s refrigerator designs make it easy to get organized. Use the same techniques in your pantry, and you can reduce your mealtime stress.
Divide Up Your Fridge
The most important rule of organization is to always put like items together. Apply this philosophy to your fridge as well.
Think about how your family works when planning your configuration, and take advantage of any adjustable shelves and moveable drawers you have. Some new models are even equipped with elevator shelves so that you don’t need to remove the contents to move the shelf up or down. Separate items by category, and then use the different drawers and shelves in your fridge to create distinct zones.
For example, move the condiments your kids rarely need — like lemon juice, hot sauce, or gourmet salad dressing — to an upper shelf. Leave the easy-to-reach bottom shelves open for kid-friendly items like juice boxes and ketchup.
Try some of these other ideas to streamline your routine:
- Breakfast foods: Put frozen waffles, pancakes, and premade breakfast sandwiches on the same shelf in the freezer. Move eggs, bacon, fruit, and yogurt next to each other in the fridge. When all your breakfast ingredients are grouped together, it’s easier to get your family out the door on time in the morning.
- School lunch ingredients: Use a drawer or movable bin to house your kids’ school lunch ingredients. Keeping lunch meat, cheese, fruit cups, and jelly for sandwiches in one spot facilitates both decision making and speed. If you have a multiple-temperature-zone fridge, you can protect lunch meat by setting that area to be extra cold.
- Snacks: Having a dedicated snack section of the fridge can be a lifesaver. Children can easily find a healthy snack and help themselves. Choose an easy-to-reach drawer, shelf, or corner, then stock up. Some ideas include yogurt, cheese sticks, apples, oranges, grapes, carrots, and celery sticks, and individual servings of hummus or guacamole.
- Dinner ingredients: Stop that block of cheddar cheese from disappearing before you can get it into a casserole! Select a shelf to hold items you bought specifically for dinner recipes, then label it so that the rest of your family knows not to eat anything you put there.
- Leftovers: Organize leftovers in a central location. If you can see them every time you open the fridge, you’re more likely to eat them before they go bad.
- Dietary restrictions: Reserve a spot for family members with special dietary needs and fill it with gluten-free, sugar-free, or otherwise compliant foods.
Organize Your Pantry
Whether you store dry foods in cabinets, drawers, or a pantry, putting like items together can make a world of difference. It’s so much easier to see what you need, and it can even save you money — you won’t buy duplicates at the store or forget about the food in the back until it expires.
Follow the same organizational guidelines as you do with your refrigerator, and it will be easy for your family to learn where to hunt for snacks, breakfast foods, or dinner ingredients. Start with these four steps:
- Empty it out completely. Check all the expiration dates and discard any expired items.
- Divide foods into categories. Set aside foods for breakfast, lunch packing, dinner, and snacks, and group together your condiments, spices, and beverages.
- Store dry ingredients in glass or plastic. Use clear containers for crackers, cereal, pasta, rice, and more. They help keep the contents fresh, and you can quickly see how much of an ingredient you have on hand.
- Create zones for each category. Finally, put everything away in its new home. Choose the location for each category with intention. Place nutritious snacks and other kid-friendly foods on lower shelves. Keep candy and sweets out of reach so that kids must ask for them instead of helping themselves. Don’t forget to label everything!
Sticking to a routine will help you keep both your refrigerator and pantry organized. Practice these good habits just before restocking:
- Empty out food before shopping. Clear out the fridge and pantry before grocery shopping and toss any expired or old food. Look for unused leftovers and check any upcoming expiration dates. Plan to make meals using those items first.
- Clean shelves when they’re empty. Wipe down your fridge and pantry shelves each week after you clear them out.
- Arrange new food back to front. Place new food at the back of the fridge so that you finish older food first. Keep in mind that adding lots of warm groceries can raise your fridge’s internal temperature. Let hot foods cool to room temperature before refrigerating, or choose a fridge with a power-chill feature to drop the temperature down fast.
The more organized your fridge and pantry are, the easier it is to prep breakfast or pack lunches — allowing you to be less stressed in the kitchen.
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