During the long winter months, we have many holidays – both Jewish and secular – which generally translates to lots of food items on sale – both necessary and unnecessary and even on things you might have never heard of.
As good Americans, when an item is on sale, we will buy one, two, or maybe three – especially if it’s a good deal. Then, we come home, open our fridge and we find that we have no room. Some of us have multiple fridges and freezers and, as we try to stuff our new purchases inside, we discover that deep in the recesses is the exact same product, purchased last year, also on sale.
This is frustrating and cost-prohibitive. There must be a way to organize and maintain our groceries. Here are some low tech, no further investment necessary suggestions. After all, simplicity is best!
First things first. Let’s give the refrigerator and freezer a through cleaning. That means taking out every single item and laying them out on the counter. Get rid of everything that is past its sell by date, gather and combine the lone slices of bread saved in different bags, and dump the containers of ice cream and yogurt that have only one spoonful left. Then, take out all the shelves and thoroughly clean and wipe them. Whatever can fit into your sink can be washed with soap and hot water. Any hard bits of food stuck on the shelf should be sprayed with a lot of detergent and allowed to sit. If it’s possible, let the shelf or drawer soak in hot water.
Once the fridge and freezer are completely empty, clean the interior well, spraying everything with cleaner and letting it sit for a few minutes. For extra credit, you can bring out your vacuum and clean the coils at the bottom of the fridge. Having these coils dust free keeps your fridge running more efficiently and saves on electricity.
Once the fridge is clean, line the shelves with silver foil or fridge liners. If you don’t have any, stock up this coming Pesach. (Tip: this will also save you a big job on cleaning the fridge on Pesach!) Having your shelves lined is a great way of keeping the fridge clean – along with a commitment to wiping down your fridge on a weekly basis.
A good way to keep your fridge smelling nice and clean is to keep a box of open baking powder inside – it absorbs odors without any toxic chemicals and is cheap too!
Before you start putting your items back, pause to make logical groupings. For example, gather all the cheeses in one place, put all the spreads and dips in another, round all the condiments in a third. This way, you can easily see how much you have of an item and if you are in need of something. A great way to corral everything in the fridge and freezer is with labeled plastic bins, although if you don’t have any extra lying around, there’s no need to purchase any. Your fridge will stay just as organized without them. Don’t forget to wipe any jars or containers before placing them back in the fridge.
Take note of the things that get finished quickly, typically your milk, eggs, cheese, bread etc. Those are your staples. When they go on sale, you may stock up, because you will be sure you will finish it. For everything else, be aware of what you have.
If you have a white or beige fridge, you can take a dry erase marker and track items as you finish them. Even if you don’t, a marker is a great way to label jars on the date opened, so you don’t have to guess if the item spoiled or not. Either way, keep a notepad and pen nearby, and make a running list of the items as you finish them. When you go shopping, either make a list from your fridge white board, or take along the list you’ve been keeping, and only purchase items you need. If it’s not on your list, you probably don’t need it. An exception would be if an item were on sale. Then, you could buy one or two and make note how quickly your family finishes it. If it takes months for you to use the product, you probably didn’t need it. After all, if you didn’t actually need to buy it, it’s not much of a money saver.
Finally, we all struggle with using our leftovers before they go bad. A great idea is to designate a section of a shelf and label it “Eat Me First!” When your family is rummaging around for something to nosh on, tell them to check the “Eat me first” section to see if there is anything appealing there. This will do a great job on reducing waste and getting the most bang for your grocery dollar.