If you love the idea of meal prep in theory but aren't sure how you could ever manage to keep your fridge nice and organized enough to be able to throw together healthy meals on a whim, we're here to help. We spoke with professional organizers who weigh in with useful, actionable advice for getting your fridge in tip top shape so that eating healthy and using up ingredients is less of a hassle.
Before you tackle the project of organizing your fridge, you'll first want to remove all of its contents. "Clean the drawers, shelves, and door caddies to remove and debris, crumbs, and spills," advises Jill Moore of Organized Jill. Afterwards, you'll want to complete a few other key steps. First, Moore says, take inventory of what you have. "Sort into categories: condiments, dairy, meats, produce," she suggests. "If you own a bottle of ketchup, now is the perfect time to let the fast food ketchup packets go to the trash." You'll also want to look at the expiration dates on bottles and part ways with food items that are clearly past their prime, leftovers that won't be consumed, and ingredients that have sat unused, Moore advises. Lastly, check your fridge's temperature settings to make sure that your new inventory will keep well once it's added.
And note that taking a basic inventory of your fridge shouldn't just be a one time task. "One day a week (I like Saturday mornings), spend a few minutes setting up the next week for success (and calm)," offers Kristin Roser of Kristin + Co Organizing. "Take inventory of what you have, toss expired or spoiled items, and plan your meals for the following week." This way, you'll save money and prevent excess waste. As Roser adds, "Buying only the items you need for the week will cut down on overcrowding and overspending on food that spoils."
Place Veggies High Up
Plan to fill your fridge with lots of healthy ingredients? Up high they go! "Like all areas of the home, the adage, 'If you don't see it, you won't use it' applies to your fridge," shares Tori Cohen of Tori the Organizer. Cohen notes that it's more than ok to remove veggies from the produce drawer and instead place them higher up where you will see them every time you open the fridge. So what should you place in the produce drawer instead? "Make it a cheese drawer," Cohen suggests. "You will never forget to look for the cheese!"
Add Labeled Bins to Your Fridge
Labeled bins are by no means just for the hall closet; you can use them in your fridge, too.
Why is a label so significant? "Labeling simply eases your mind, when you open the fridge and can quickly scan the contents without searching," says Marlena Masitto of Philly Neat Freaks. "It also helps reduce waste almost instantly." Don't forget to add a date on your label, too, Masitto says. "One can use something as simple as masking tape (which doesn't leave residue on containers) or food prep labels, which can easily be found online. Dating prepped food is so important. Life is busy and it's easy to forget when food was prepared."
Melissa Graham of Melissa's Organizing Solutions also sings the praises of labels. "The fridge can be a black hole, but if you label everything you possibly can, it doesn't have to be," she says. "You can have fresh vegetables, unspoiled leftovers, and best of all, no offensive odors or scary mystery containers for which you hold your nose as you up-end into the trash can."
Keli Jakel of Organized by Keli & Co is always eager to decant items. "The original packing of an item is always going to be different from the other item packages in your fridge," she explains. "For example, think about blueberries, strawberries and raspberries—all those containers are similar (plastic with holes), but they are all different shapes," she says. "They never stack well and are awkward in the fridge together." Other food items prove even more challenging. "Take for a different example yogurt, eggs, and leftovers. All these are not stackable at all and have no chance at fitting together like a perfect puzzle without the exact same containers."
Store Food in Glass Containers
So what should you use to store those strawberries instead of their original packaging? Keri Scott of Once Upon a Clutter is a proponent of using glass containers to store food of all kinds. "Food tends to store better in glass containers, and all the various food and food colors make a nice looking fridge," she says. "Stick with three different sizes: Think small, medium and large. This will allow you to stack them in an organized way while allowing ease of use and space."
Organize By Category
This is a great way to meal prep, says Jean Prominski of Seattle Sparkle. "Organize your fridge so that you have different categories of foods (cut up fruit, cut up veggies, cooked meat (or vegetarian protein), and cooked grains/carbs)," she shares. "When you're ready to make a meal, you can either make something cool (like a salad) or switch up your routine and cook everything as a stir fry or in a broth." On a related note, don't feel the need to spend all day Sunday cooking every meal you plan to consume in a given week, but do spend some time getting yourself set up for success, Roser suggests. "Take 30 minutes after grocery shopping to wash, chop, and bag or store fruits and veggies. You will be amazed at how much less space chopped food takes up in your fridge." And why not make the process fun? As Scott suggests, "Play some fun music and ask your kids to help!"