14 Fridge Tricks That Will Save You Big
One of the most painless ways to reduce your carbon footprint and save money is to stop wasting food. A study by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that 40% of the food produced in the United States goes uneaten. While there is significant waste in every link of the supply chain between the field and the dinner table, the average American family throws away more than $2,275 in food each year! And $2,275 is a lot to spend on wilted lettuce and leftover pizza.
In the kitchen, as with pretty much every other aspect of life, a little asset management goes a long way when it comes to saving money. Here's where to start.
Audit Your Stash
The first step in organizing your refrigerator and freezer is to go through and throw away any spoiled food. Be thorough. Open and examine all condiments. Check the sell-by dates on frozen food. Absolutely everything over a year old should be dumped outright, but use Still Tasty or Eat By Date to check the viability of everything else in your freezer and refrigerator. I know, this sounds like pure drudgery.
However, once you do this step you'll know where you are wasting the most grocery dollars. Is your crisper drawer really the compost drawer? Are there 12 different jams at different levels of decomposition taking up room in the door? Is your freezer a morgue for on-sale hot dogs? What's your food-wasting Achilles' heel?
If you take the time to do this step, you will also have a clearer knowledge of the storage life of your favorite foods. Many people throw away perfectly edible food because they don't know there is a difference between a sell-by date and a use-by date.
Once you've purged your refrigerator and freezer of all the spoiled food, look at the food that is on brink of going bad. One of the easiest ways to save money is to shop your refrigerator first, before buying new food at the store. Now is the perfect opportunity to make Thursday Night Soup. Use a recipe calculator to find recipes that use up the food you already own. Your first step in stopping food waste should be to eat through your fridge and freezer. Menu plan for the next week around your existing food, and tailor shopping trips around purchasing ONLY food that will help you use up your nearly stale food.
Speaking of old food, eat your garbage. Stale bread is the key ingredient to croutons, French toast, and bread pudding. Make vegetable stock out of those wilted vegetables or puree them into a green smoothie.
Now that you have a clearer view of what foods get wasted in your house (I recommend doing twice yearly trash audits to further refine your shopping list and schedule), it's time to go to the grocery store. But wait! Before you step foot out of your house you need to menu plan and make a shopping list. Every single article about how to save on food costs includes menu planning and list making, because Americans over-shop for everything, including food.
1. Consider a Smaller Refrigerator
Take a cue from college and consider buying a smaller refrigerator when it is time to replace your current appliance. With an average capacity of 17.5 cubic feet of storage, Americans have the largest refrigerators in the world. American refrigerators have gotten huge over time due to our uniquely American once-a-week food shopping schedule. But here's the truth: the average American family of four cannot eat through 17.5 cubic feed of perishable food every week. Just because there's real estate in the fridge, doesn't mean it should be filled.
But it is. In fact more than a quarter of American homes have a second refrigerator, and 15% of those refrigerators are over 20 years old. So, on top of food waste caused by over-buying, Americans are also wasting hundreds of dollars every year storing beer and ice cream in the garage. Ditch the second refrigerator.
2. Think Outside of the Ice Box
For extra refrigeration at parties, chill drinks in an ice-filled bathtub or utility sink. Our local liquor store has an instant beverage chiller that cools room temperature bottles and cans 25 times faster than our refrigerator. This quick chilling is offered as a free service to customers. Or use a cooler to keep holiday food overflow cold until you can serve it. If you actually need more freezer space to preserve high-ticket items such as meat and homegrown produce, instead of keeping a second freezer, consider paying a neighbor to use their unused freezer space. My neighbors regularly store backyard fruit that I don't have time to immediately can in their freezers in exchange for jars of jam.
I like to think of my tiny refrigerator as a closet for my food. Just like my clothes, I have a one-in, one-out policy for perishables. The small size of my fridge, combined with this minimalist attitude, keeps me from buying too much food.
After over buying, poor storage practices account for most food waste in the refrigerator and freezer.
3. I Can See Clearly Now
While it may save money on plasticware, storing food in old cottage cheese or butter tubs is a great way to waste a lot of food. For most people, out of sight equals out of mind, even if the containers are properly labeled. Restaurant kitchens use clear storage containers because they let the cook see, at a glance, the condition and quantity of the food. Borrow this practice at home. Mason jars are an excellent way to store food in the fridge (and double as microwaveable lunch containers and drinking glasses). Use clear plasticware designed to go in the freezer to store frozen goods. For people who are not plastic-averse, look for square or rectangular food safe containers. Square containers use less storage space than round containers.
4. Store Eggs in an Airtight Container
I use a 32-ounce Tupperware lidded tumbler to store my eggs. In addition to taking up four square inches of shelf space instead of the 48 square inches of an egg carton, the tumbler, which holds a dozen eggs, is stackable. The firm top and sides of the tumbler also protect my eggs from breakage. But most importantly, the tumbler is airtight. Eggs are porous. Eggs stored in an airtight container will stay good for an entire month.
5. Control Air Circulation
In addition to eggs, certain varieties of produce will last longer in an airtight container, including: asparagus, beets, mushrooms, carrots, celery, cucumbers, okra, radishes, summer squash, turnips, zucchini, berries, and all cut vegetables. However, most other vegetables like air circulation.
6. Don't Store Vegetables With Fruit
Many fruits produce ethylene gas, which is a ripening agent that can cause other produce to spoil prematurely. Fruits that produce ethylene include apricots, avocados, bananas, cantaloupes, kiwis, mangoes, nectarines, papayas, peaches, pears, plums, and tomatoes. Ethylene sensitive produce includes apples, asparagus, broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, eggplants, green beans, lettuce, potatoes, summer squash, and watermelons. Keep 'em separated.
7. Wash Produce Before Serving, Not Before Storing
This goes against every OCD fiber of my being, but I extend the life of my fruits and vegetables by storing them "dirty." Adding moisture to produce speeds up spoilage by giving all the bacteria and microorganisms a nice big drink.
8. Separate the Greens From the Roots
Trim green tops from carrots, turnips, radishes, and beets before storing them in the refrigerator. The greens suck the moisture out of the edible roots, making them limp and chewy. By the way, carrot, turnip, radish, and beet greens are edible and super yummy! Don't throw them away!
9. Arrange the Food According to Your Needs
My Liebherr refrigerator came with unintentionally hilarious instructions about where to put my food… based entirely on the German palate. For example, Liebherr dedicates a large amount of shelf space to schmaltz storage. While I am sure that nine zillion dollars goes into the research and development of every refrigerator interior, it's just not scientifically possible to design a refrigerator that suits everyone's food culture and eating habits. So, if you are following the manufacturer's instructions and still wasting food because you are losing track of it inside of your refrigerator, you know it's time to rearrange.
My refrigerator is very tall and skinny, which means that I cannot see what is on the very top shelf, unless I get out a step stool, which I do approximately never. If I were less lazy, I could post a top shelf inventory list on the front of the refrigerator. But why? I just let the top shelf be the snack domain of my much taller husband. And, very little annoys me more than constantly having to rearrange jars in the refrigerator because I can never remember what's behind the first visible row of food.
So, instead of the daily search for jars in the back of the refrigerator, I store all the 32-ounce jars of pickles and mayo, all the tubs of yogurt and cottage cheese, the ketchup bottle, and my tumbler of eggs upright, in the pull-out crisper drawer. At a glance I can grab exactly what I need by reading the lids.
Using the crisper drawer for jars and bottles leaves the shelves open to store my produce, (much of which is packed into airtight Tupperware containers and mason jars to maintain freshness).
10. Maintain the Correct Temperature
It's worth buying a cheap appliance thermometer to make sure that your refrigerator is maintaining a temperature at or below 40 degrees and your freezer is always below zero. What's obvious to most people is that higher temperatures allow for faster food spoilage. What is not obvious is that inside of every refrigerator there are hot and cool spots. Move the thermometer around the inside of the refrigerator to check for temperature variation. Don't store the lettuce in the coldest part of the refrigerator where it will wilt, and don't store dairy in the hot zone.
11. Don't Stand With the Door Open
Your mother was right about this. Opening the refrigerator door for 30 seconds can raise the interior temperature of the refrigerator by five degrees. Also, certain foods, like dairy, are light sensitive. Years ago I bought a glass-front fridge, thinking I would save on energy costs by being able to find items before opening the door. What I saved on energy costs, I lost on soured milk.
12. Sometimes Labels Are a Good Thing
Use a permanent marker to write the date on take out food containers and partially consumed packaged food. Don't play Russian roulette with that open carton of chicken broth. Everything that goes into the freezer should be labeled. You might remember that you put the spaghetti sauce in the red container and the plain tomato sauce in the blue container, but will you remember this code six months from now? Why force your brain to memorize even more trivia when you can just write "plain tomato" on a piece of masking tape and be done with it?
13. Dry Freeze Individual Servings
Food that has been thawed once should not be refrozen. When buying meat in bulk, freeze each serving in individual containers or bags. If you have the space in the freezer, consider freezing meat, fish, and berries on a cookie sheet first before transferring the food to storage containers. This prep work guards against food waste by allowing you to pull exactly the right amount of food out of your freezer. Aren't you tired of banging the block of frozen berries on the counter every morning to break off the right amount of fruit for your smoothie?
14. Rotate Your Stash
New purchases should always be on top or up front, so you know what needs to be used first. Put the newest purchases on the bottom of the freezer compartment and toward the back of the refrigerator. This is especially important for meat, as it's so expensive to purchase.
Are you a wizard at refrigerator organization? Share your best tips with your fellow readers in the comments section!
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