What is it about the back-to-school season that lights a fire to just get things done? I feel like I am nesting all over again, which is odd because I am actually prepping to send my kids off each day…
We typically do our grocery run on Sundays to shop and meal prep for the week ahead. We are typically weekly shoppers and stock up on sale items on occasion. This week when I returned home from the grocery store, Bryan and the kids helped to put away the recent grocery haul.
This sight really is not all that unusual for us over this past year. We purchased a counter depth fridge (this one) as part of our kitchen renovation, and organizing it proved slightly more challenging than the regular depth options we have owned in the past. We did ditch our freezer chest in the garage, and replaced it with our previous kitchen side by side fridge and freezer (this one). Both needed a little organizational attention, but the one we actually use each and every day was first on my list.
My biggest dilemma was the freezer drawer…. In fact, it made me regret our purchase for far too long. Opening the drawer gave me literal chills, even though I liked to call it our hot mess express.
Yeah, I didn’t even know those frozen berries and ice cubes were way back there until I went to take these before photos… #yikes
Most weeks I would open the fridge and think to myself, “I really should do something about this” and then I would convince myself that it is just a fridge and I had bigger fish to fry. But then I realized that I couldn’t typically find the fish I wanted to fry, or that I accidentally over purchased the fish because I wasn’t aware of what I had on hand.
With school on the horizon, I knew I had to finally take back control of the fridge and freezer situation (plus a few of you have been asking for this post which was another nice push, so thank you).
The one thing I loved most about our previous fridge and freezer situation, was the ability to use my favorite organizing bins. I tried to use them in this fridge as well, but with 6 less cubic feet to work with, only two of the bins fit. Those two bins were really the only part of the fridge that was organized and functioning properly. I later took my own advice and added a small lazy susan for some of our jars, and that was also a small organizational win. It was time to tackle the rest of the shelves and bins.
Prior to working on this project, I had taken measurements of our fridge and freezer and had been looking for new bin options. I prefer to organize with bins because it allows me to categorize food types which ultimately makes things easier to find. And in the freezer drawer, bins are helpful in preventing objects from being lost at the bottom.
After a lot of searching, I picked up a stack of bins from Target for just a few dollars each.
I was elated to see that I could fit a total of 7 of these bins in my two small freezer drawers!
In fact, elated doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings. Remember, I live for this stuff. And now that I finally had organizers after a year of rummaging through expired and freezer burnt food, I couldn’t wait to get things categorized.
As I removed items from the freezer onto the counter, I sorted them down into general categories. I also used this as an opportunity to check all dates and wipe down the interior of the freezer. I then placed items into the bins, keeping categories a little general and flexible.
Remember, we have a second freezer in the garage, so the intent with this freezer is to store all of the foods we will reach for over the course of the week. The garage should only be used for anything much too bulky, massive plan-ahead-cooking and freezing sessions, and items we purchase in large quantities due to a good sale price. Prior to grocery shopping, I will restock the inside freezer with items from the garage freezer, and then continue to plan the rest of our meals for the week.
Inside the top three bins, I categorized out the following:
- Gluten free bread and waffles
- Frozen veggies
- Frozen meats
The bottom four bins were categorized with the following:
- Frozen treats
- Breakfast items (croissant, hash browns, sausage patties, etc…)
- Frozen quick meals (chicken breast strips, breakfast burritos, etc…)
- Add-on items/sides (rice, soup, etc…)
Again, the bins are pretty flexible in terms of their contents, their primary purpose is to prevent anything from becoming lost in never never freezer land.
Just as I removed everything from the freezer, I took the same steps with our fridge. I also added some superfabulous grey stripe Fridge Coasters.
Are your heart shaped eyes increasing in size like mine?
The liners will help keep fridge cleanup easy breezy, while the stripes will make us smile every time we open the fridge.
The fact I can finally see and find everything only makes that smile bigger. I mean seriously, do you hear the fridge angels singing?
After a little research, I realized that I was storing a few things incorrectly. I found this darling infographic to be particularly helpful in where I returned items to the fridge.
The biggest “ah ha” was to store our meat and dairy in the center of the fridge. But let’s just take a quick tour of all of the shelves.
The upper left shelf holds our jarred condiments, and with a quick spin of the lazy susan, they are all easily accessible and nothing is becoming lost in the back. A few stacked tubs of sides also live on this shelf.
The next shelf holds our washed grapes and my version of fruit snacks. There are mixed feelings on washing and storing fruit, but I find we eat it so quickly that I have never had a problem with it going bad or becoming slimy.
Do your kids watch The Crazy Russian Hacker on You-Tube? My younger two boys are always giggling and learning something new, and I admit to being sucked in from time to time as well. Well, my boys were watching one day and informed me that I needed an onion chopper because I am always adding raw onions to my dishes (poor Bryan) and I cry every time I need to cut up the onion. The chopper makes it quick and easy to cut up an onion, and even allows me to store the onion for a few days in the fridge. I decided to give it a try and it really does chop an onion in a flash, but I had to be sure to add a box of baking soda to the fridge because that smell will try and linger.
The next small area of the fridge offers just enough room for leftover containers and eggs. And honestly, with three growing boys, we have very few leftovers. Sometimes I will make a salad of some sort to add to the kids lunches throughout the week. I do love these glass containers, which also allow me to use a dry erase marker on them to add the date of the meal.
Just below you can see that now our dairy and meat live right where they belong, in the middle of the fridge. And they are easy to find because everything else is out of the way organized in the other parts of the fridge! #calmdownjen #easilyexcited
Another shelf now holds two bins which are intended for school lunches and snacks. One corrals sides like yogurt, fruit squeezers and cheese sticks, while the other stores their juice boxes. By taking these items out of their original packaging, I am able to save space in our fridge and create a “drawer” that is easy to grab from while packing lunches each day.
We have used this can holder for a few years now, and really like that it prevents any cans from rolling around in the fridge while conserving a few inches as the same time.
As I mentioned, my favorite bins did find their way back into the fridge; again for breakfast items and our yogurt obsession. In this case, I didn’t fix what wasn’t broken. I just added a couple new labels and continued on.
Our fridge has a couple of drawers that are also labeled for specific tasks, one we use as a veggie crisper and another for fresh fruits.
For leafy veggies, such as herbs and lettuce, I remove the vegetable from its packaging and wrap it in a clean paper towel and place it inside of a zipper bag. The paper towel seems to prevent the vegetables from becoming soggy during the week.
Another trick I recently learned is that celery and carrots can be stored in water to keep their freshness and to prevent them from drying out. I picked up two of these tall bins and just be sure to switch out the water every day or two.
Because I also like to pre-wash my fruits (two reasons; I don’t trust that my boys will remember to wash everything before they eat it and I just find it more convenient to reach for prepped fruit over the course of the week), these ventilated containers aid in maintaining their freshness for longer.
Below the fruit and veggie drawer, there is another drawer that we like to divide in half to use for our meats and cheeses. Again, meats and dairy are being stored in the central part of the fridge, and the divider easily slides to offer some flexibility.
Another weekly prep item I like to do from time to time, is whip up some pancake batter and store it in the fridge for a quick morning breakfast. This batter dispenser is fun for creating shapes and easy enough for my boys to make their own, however, I only trust the freshness for a day or two so we need to do pancakes early in the week.
The other door is pretty typical and does a good job holding our dressings and condiments, again very loosely categorized.
Are those liners still making you smile?
Who knew that organizing 20 cubic feet would require so many words and photos!? #whew
A few more quick talking points:
- We don’t store much food in the fridge in the garage, typically it is just used for extra beverages. However, it does come in handy when entertaining and looking to store larger bowls and dishes.
- Speaking of the other fridge, I am sure we could find a way to make this one work all on its own if we had too, but having the old fridge as a back-up in the garage has really made this smaller counter-depth fridge more manageable for a family of five.
- We opted to purchase the fridge with the water dispenser inside of the fridge vs. in the face of the door to save on storage space (and don’t regret that decision one bit).
- Frozen pizzas really didn’t fit well in our freezer drawer, so we began utilizing either tortilla shells or pre-made pizza crust (which we store in our pantry) and making our own fresh pizzas instead.
- Our optimal fridge temp is 38 degrees and freezer temp is generally set to 0, however, it did rise while taking photos which is why you may have noticed the higher number.
- I could have went on a labeling frenzy, but decided this should be easy enough for all of us to grasp and maintain. If anything starts to fall apart, I will add a label or two down the road.
And to finish up my ramblings, the glorious before and afters of this fun and rewarding organizing task:
*affiliate links used
from IHeart Organizing http://www.iheartorganizing.com/2016/08/organized-counter-depth-fridge-freezer.html