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Tips for a Healthier New Year’s Refrigerator

If one of your intentions or resolutions for 2017 is to eat better, you’re not alone. Every year, most Americans who make resolutions put losing weight or staying fit & healthy at the top of their list—and how you eat makes a big difference in your weight and your health.

Of course, you’ll need some support along the way. A great way to support healthier eating is by changing what’s in your fridge. It’s a simple principle that’s been demonstrated by scientific research: you’re more likely to...

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If one of your intentions or resolutions for 2017 is to eat better, you’re not alone. Every year, most Americans who make resolutions put losing weight or staying fit & healthy at the top of their list—and how you eat makes a big difference in your weight and your health.

Of course, you’ll need some support along the way. A great way to support healthier eating is by changing what’s in your fridge. It’s a simple principle that’s been demonstrated by scientific research: you’re more likely to eat what you see (or what’s conveniently at hand). Your refrigerator is likely where you store most of your food—keeping it organized and strategically arranged can make it more likely that you’ll grab healthier snacks or prepare healthier meals…and help you attain your healthy goal.

Start Clean

Get started by clearing out your refrigerator (and freezer). Be ruthless!

  • Put foods you want to keep in a cooler and put it outside (winter’s a good time for this!) or in the next room.
  • Get rid of duplicates, old leftovers, half-eaten holiday indulgences, and unidentifiable science experiments. Dump the old food and recycle the containers.
  • Clean the fridge, inside and out. Wash or wipe down the walls, shelves, and drawers. Vacuum the coils and clean off the outside surfaces (this helps the fridge function efficiently and may even save you a little money).

Organize Vertically

Don’t just shove stuff back into your fridge any old way. You’re looking to support your resolution and enable your success, so get organized!

The experts at TheKitchn.com recommend organizing your fridge space the way the professionals do: vertically, based on how foods need to be cooked.

  • Foods that don’t need to be cooked to be safe to eat—prepared foods, leftovers, drinks, etc.—go into the upper part of the refrigerator.
  • Other foods are organized downward, based on the temperatures they need to be cooked to. Foods that need to be cooked to the highest temps, like raw meat, go at the bottom.
  • Organizing your fridge this way maximizes food safety and minimizes cross-contamination—anything that gets dripped on has to be cooked to a higher temperature than what dripped on it.

Place Foods in the Temps They Need

Keeping the vertical safety approach in mind, place foods where the fridge’s temperature is best suited to them. Even though your particular shelves and drawers might vary, most refrigerators have similar cooling conditions.

  • Upper shelves tend to be warmer. Put foods here that don’t need maximum cold, or don’t need cooking to be safe: yogurt, cheeses, leftovers, beverages, etc.
  • Lower shelves tend to be the coldest. Here you put ingredients that need colder temps or that you’ll cook thoroughly, such as eggs, meat & seafood, and dairy.
  • Door shelf temps fluctuate widely whenever you open and close the door; this is the warmest part of the fridge. Put foods like butter, condiments, and juices here; they don’t need to be as cold and can handle the changes. (Never put eggs or milk in the door; they need the cooler temps of lower shelves or at least the rear of shelves.)
  • Bottom drawers can be a bit more complex to figure out. Drawers are designed to capture humidity that helps preserve fresh fruits and veggies—but they’re also usually at the bottom of the fridge, which means any produce that you might eat raw (like salads, carrot sticks, etc.) could get cross-contaminated from other foods above. If you have a dedicated drawer for meat (or if you don’t eat meat at all), you’re good! If not, improvise.
    • If you have 2 drawers, use one for meat and the other for produce.
    • If you have 1 drawer, use it for produce. Bring in a clear plastic bin and store your meat in it on the shelf immediately above; the bin will contain accidental drips and keep your produce safe.

Keep Snacks in Sight

Now that you’ve got your refrigerator spaces organized—with some breathing room from your cleanout!—you can shop for the fresh, healthy foods you want to eat in the new year. Bring them home and put them in the right places.

Then do one more thing to support your healthy eating resolution: prep some fruits & veggies, boil some eggs, or get a few other items ready to eat and arrange them in the front. (It’s easier to make this step a habit if you make time for it right when you get home, especially if you shop on the weekend or a day off.) Later, when you’re hungry and standing in front of the open door, you’re more likely to grab what you see first.

When healthier foods are easy to see and ready to use, you’ll be more likely to eat them instead of the sugary sweets or salty snacks you want to avoid. It might take some practice (especially if you’re not used to devoting an hour or so to washing, cutting & bagging some foods after shopping), but with a little organization and the right food placement, your fridge can help you reach your goal—and make eating well a lifelong healthy habit.

Dig in further with these links:

Brian Wansink, et al., “Slim by Design: Kitchen Counter Correlates of Obesity,” Cornell University Food & Brand Lab, 2015. Accessed Dec. 21, 2016.

Maria Janowiak, “How to Organize Your Fridge to Keep Food Fresher, Longer (and Cut Your Energy Bill),” Greatist, Oct. 28, 2014. Accessed Dec. 27, 2016.

Martha Stewart Whole Living, “The Healthy Refrigerator.” Accessed Dec. 27, 2016.

TheKitchn Organizing Guides, “The Best Way to Organize Your Refrigerator.” Accessed Dec. 23, 2016.

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