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Your Best Healthy-Eating Ally Is an Organized Fridge

What you eat makes a big difference in your health. And what makes the biggest difference in what you eat? It’s which foods you see.

Science has shown that you’re much more likely to eat what you see (or what’s conveniently at hand). Most Americans use their refrigerator as their primary food storage location—so keeping it organized, with good-for-you foods up front, 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!

  • Toss all the old, duplicate, and turned-fuzzy foods (you know the ones we mean).
  • Then clean the whole fridge, every surface, inside and out. (Vacuum the coils behind or underneath, too; it helps the fridge run efficiently and may even save you some dough). 

Organize Up and Down

Don’t just shove stuff in there! Experts recommend organizing your cold space like a professional.

  • Foods that don’t need cooking—prepared foods, leftovers, drinks, etc.—go into the upper part of the refrigerator.
  • Other foods get organized downward by 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.
  • This scheme maximizes food safety and minimizes cross-contamination—anything that gets dripped on will be cooked to a higher temperature than what dripped on it.

Use the Right Temps

Keeping that vertical approach in mind, store foods where the temperature is best suited to them. Your shelves and drawers might vary, but most refrigerators offer similar cooling conditions.

  • Door shelves are the warmest. Put butter, condiments, and juices here; they can handle the door's opening and closing. (Not eggs or milk, though—they need cooler temps!)
  • Upper shelves are cooler than the door. Put yogurt, cheeses, cooked leftovers, beverages, etc., here—they don’t need maximum cold or cooking to be safe.
  • Lower shelves are the coldest. Put items here that need colder temps or thorough cooking, such as eggs, meat & seafood, and dairy.
  • Drawers are designed to capture humidity for 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. What to do?
    • If you have a drawer for meat (or if you don’t eat meat), you’re all set. 
    • If you have 2 bottom drawers, use one for meat and the other for produce.
    • If you have 1 drawer, use it for produce. Store meat in a clear plastic bin 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 fridge spaces organized, go buy the fresh, healthy foods you want to eat. Good job!

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. (Make prep a habit: do it right when you get home.) Later, when you’re hungry and standing at the open door, you’ll see something good ready to go.

With healthy foods easy to see, you’re more likely to grab them instead of junk. It might take some practice—but a little organization can make that fridge your best ally if you've resolved to eat healthier. 

 

Resources Updated 12/28/18. 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 12/21/16.
Maria Janowiak, “How to Organize Your Fridge to Keep Food Fresher, Longer (and Cut Your Energy Bill),” Greatist, Oct. 28, 2014. Accessed 12/27/16.
Martha Stewart Whole Living, “The Healthy Refrigerator.” Accessed 12/27/16.
TheKitchn Organizing Guides, “The Best Way to Organize Your Refrigerator.” Accessed 12/23/16.

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