Dear Kathi ~ I need help in my refrigerator!

This year we had enormous amounts of leftovers from the holidays in our refrigerator that we did not eat. Usually this never happens but this past year our fridge has been a disaster. I am fed up with the state of affairs in our refrigerator and vow to keep it under control this year.  Any ideas would be really helpful.                               

Steve   Rancho Santa Fe

Dear Steve,

I am sorry to hear of your uneaten leftovers from the holidays. There is nothing better than a leftover stuffing sandwich on sourdough bread! Here are a few tips to make sure your leftovers  don’t get forgotten along with other tips to keep your fridge in great shape all year long!

Designate a Shelf for Leftovers

One way to ensure that leftovers are not forgotten is to designate a shelf where they always live. The best shelf will be the one closest to eye level. This way, as family members are reaching in for a snack, they will be confronted with tasty morsels just waiting for a second go-round. If you have to share this shelf with other food items, make sure to keep the leftover containers in the front of the shelf. If it takes to long to discover leftovers, they will often be forgotten.

Organize Your Fridge the Right Way

If you want to really organize your entire refrigerator, empty everything out and begin with a clean slate. Before you begin to place items back into the fridge, think through the automatic response locations. Sometimes these are not the ideal places for certain items to live.

For instance, should the eggs and butter be kept side by side? Should the marmalade be also in the same vicinity? Some fridge manufacturers have thought these questions through and others have not.

Create Zones

Where items should live depends a lot on your lifestyle. For instance, if you rush into the kitchen and dash out the door with barely a piece of toast, you might want to consider placing all items related to this endeavor into one area. Coffee creamer, milk, butter jam and bread if applicable, could be kept in a plastic bin so that in the morning you simply pull out the entire bin and you are in business. Place the bin back into the fridge after you eat and run out the door!

Maybe you drink smoothies every morning. If so, definitely keep a bin in the freezer for all smoothie related fruits. I even keep my vita-mix in the same bin. Pull this out, grab the rice milk form the fridge and the smoothie is ready to blend. This bin also keeps the sticky fruit residues off of the freeze and kitchen counters.

Feeling overwhelmed by all of your clutter? Want to take a few steps and finally get your home organized?


The same procedure can be used if you eat lunch on the go from home. Keep meats, cheese and condiments all stored together in a container or at least next to each other on the same shelf. A good practice to help maintain order in the fridge is to straighten it out every time you bring home new groceries. Take a moment to relocate wandering items to their proper shelves before you load in new items. A great way to simplify your life is to alternate cooking and eating leftovers every other night. This practice not only cuts down on kitchen time but also eliminates the need for tossing spoiled leftovers.

Prep Meals in Advance

If you have one night open for cooking during the week, make it count by prep cooking staple items like chicken breasts, beans or hamburgers while you are cooking your dinner.

On the nights that you are exhausted from a long day, these items will be practically finished and waiting for a final quick prep to eat.

Your refrigerator can become chaotic without systems in place

Keep diligent watch and create systems that work for your family. If at first you don’t succeed and create a system that works, keep tweaking it. Eventually you will find the methodology that works for your kitchen and for your family.

Bottom line, as with all organizing projects, thinking things out and setting up systems in advance pays off in spades (and in awesome leftover meals)!