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Want to Eat Better? Keep a Healthier Refrigerator

What you eat makes a big difference in your weight and your health. And what makes the biggest difference in how you eat? It’s the foods that are visible.

A powerful way to change your eating is by changing what’s in your fridge. Science has shown that you’re more likely to eat what you see (or what’s conveniently at hand). Keeping your fridge—most Americans’ primary food storage location—organized and strategically arranged makes it more likely that you’ll grab healthier snacks and prepare...

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What you eat makes a big difference in your weight and your health. And what makes the biggest difference in how you eat? It’s the foods that are visible.

A powerful way to change your eating is by changing what’s in your fridge. Science has shown that you’re more likely to eat what you see (or what’s conveniently at hand). Keeping your fridge—most Americans’ primary food storage location—organized and strategically arranged makes it more likely that you’ll grab healthier snacks and prepare healthier meals.

Start Clean

First, clear out your refrigerator (and freezer). Be ruthless!

  • Put foods you want to keep in a cooler and put it aside.
  • Toss duplicates, old leftovers, half-eaten treats, and unidentifiable science experiments. Dump or compost the old food, recycle or wash the containers.
  • Clean the whole fridge, inside and out. Vacuum the coils (this helps the fridge function efficiently and may save you a little money). Wash or wipe down the walls, shelves, and drawers inside, plus all outside surfaces and handles.

Organize Vertically

Don’t just shove stuff back into your fridge! Experts 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 gets 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 temperature is best suited to them. Your shelves and drawers might vary, but most refrigerators have similar cooling conditions.

  • Door shelves are the warmest part of the fridge. Put butter, condiments, and juices here; they don’t need to be as cold and can handle the opening and closing of the door. (Never put eggs or milk in the door; they need cooler temps!)
  • Upper shelves are cooler than the door. Put foods here that don’t need maximum cold or cooking to be safe: yogurt, cheeses, cooked leftovers, beverages, etc.
  • Lower shelves are the coldest. This is where you put items that need colder temps or that you’ll cook thoroughly, such as eggs, meat & seafood, and dairy.
  • The drawers are designed to capture the humidity that helps preserve produce—but they’re also usually at the bottom of the fridge, which means foods that you might eat raw (salad greens, fruit, etc.) could get cross-contaminated by other items above. If you have a drawer for meat (or if you don’t eat meat), you’re good! Otherwise:
    • If you have 2 drawers, use one for meat and the other for produce.
    • If you have 1 drawer, use it for produce. Get a clear plastic bin for your meat and put it on the shelf immediately above; the bin will contain drips and keep your produce safe.

One More Thing: Keep Ready Snacks in Sight

Once you’ve got your refrigerator spaces organized, you can go buy the fresh, healthy foods you want to eat—and have a plan for where to put it.

Then do one more thing: Wash and cut some fruits and veggies, boil some eggs, portion out a few other items so they’re ready to eat, and put them on a shelf up front. (It’s easier to make prep 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 at the open door, you’ll see something tasty and ready to go.

When healthy snacks are easy to see, you’ll be more likely to grab them instead of junk food. It might take some practice, especially if you’re not used to devoting an hour or so to prepping those foods after you shop—but with a little organization, your fridge can become your best resource for healthy eating.

 

References Eating healthier means you’re the boss in your kitchen, so stay strong! These resources helped us put together this article:

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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