Welcome back to Make 2018 Great!
Last time we organized our dry goods pantry.
This time, we’re organizing our refrigerator and freezer.
The good news is – this will probably go a little more quickly than organizing our pantry! Hopefully, due to the perishable nature of food in your fridge, you’re already cleaning on a semi-regular basis. Like maybe once a month.
For 2018, though, let’s start cleaning our fridges once a week.
Why once a week? You how bad it feels when you toss food during your once-a-month fridge cleanup? All those nutritious fruits and veggies you forgot about; all that money you’re throwing away. Well, imagine how it will feel when you do that EVERY WEEK. It will feel ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE. And after a few weeks of mindfully throwing out produce and money, one of two things will happen – either you’ll start utilizing all your produce, or you’ll stop overbuying.
STEP ONE: Choose A Day
The best day to clean your fridge is generally the day before trash pickup, or possibly the day before that. Beyond that, you have a serious risk of critters getting into your garbage can to help themselves to your leftovers and expired produce. (Raccoons and possums where I live; perhaps rats or mice where you live.)
Don’t worry about the time it will take – after the first few weeks, a general fridge cleaning should only take about 15 minutes.
STEP TWO: Make Sure Your Dishwasher Is Empty, and Arm Yourself With A Sturdy Garbage Bag
Especially in the first few weeks, we’re going to be dumping some leftovers and tossing out a lot of produce. Make sure you have room in your dishwasher so you can put your Tupperware and Pyrex in right away (you don’t want to have dirty bowls stacking up on your counters and in your sink). Also, make sure you have a STRONG garbage bag (because believe me, you don’t want to have this bag break on the way outside to your trash).
STEP THREE: Take Everything Out Of The Fridge
After the first time, you can just do this shelf-by-shelf. But for now, take everything out.
STEP FOUR: Discard
This should be easy, as with produce and leftovers you can tell immediately whether or not the food is past its prime.
The exception will be the condiments in your door. Do take a moment to check the dates. Glance at the ingredients to make sure there are no animal ingredients you missed while in the store. And also consider if you really want all those condiments in your life. It’s easy, for instance, to buy a lot of stir fry sauces at a great sale, then find out you’re not really a stir-fry kind of person. Trash anything that is expired or doesn’t benefit your life anymore.
Good News: You only have to clean your condiment door every 3 months. I say 3 months because, if a condiment is only a week or even a month expired – ehh, it’s kind of hard to toss it. After three months, it’s a no-brainer and you can toss without any mental turmoil.
STEP FIVE: Clean The Shelves
If this is your FIRST TIME EVER cleaning your fridge, you may want to thoroughly clean with bleach. If it’s not your first time ever, use a gentle eco-friendly cleanser that’s safe around food, or a water-and-white-vinegar solution.
You may want to consider lining your refrigerator drawers with paper towels or a clean dishcloth.
NOTE: Anytime you are using a cleanser that is NOT food-safe, remove ALL the food from the shelves (you don’t want the cleanser to drip to the food on the shelf beneath).
STEP SIX: Replace and Organize
Now it’s time to replace everything in your fridge. Do it in a way that makes sense to you. Here’s how I do it:
Top Shelf: I store beverages here – almond milk for drinking, soy milk for cooking, juices such as orange and cranberry and carrot. Often some Lenny Boy Kombucha and NoDa Hop, Drop, N Roll. I also store my flaxseed oil on this shelf and Vegenaise. (I find Vegenaise – or any kind of faux mayo – gets runny stored in the door, which tends to be warmer.)
Juice is always vegan, right? WRONG! Always CHECK THE LABEL. “Heart-Healthy” orange juice is fortified with Omega-3s, which could come from flax seeds – or, in the case of Tropicana’s Healthy Heart Orange Juice, fish oil and gelatin! (From tilapia, sardines, and anchovies.) Also, some vitamins and minerals (such as Vitamin D and calcium) and colorings may be animal-derived. Look for 100% juice, with as few additives as possible!
Second Shelf: Mostly fruit and yogurt (since I often pair yogurt with fruit). Lemons always and frequently limes. Since it’s winter, right now I have apples and oranges, often grapefruits. In the spring and summer this shelf would have berries and peaches.
When storing bagged produce, take a moment to go through the bag, making sure there isn’t a moldy orange or a bad apple. (Yes, one bad apple really can spoil the bunch!) Do the same with boxes of fresh berries.
Third Shelf: Boxed washed salad greens, leftovers, and other random things.
Many fruits and some vegetables (like tomatoes) taste better when stored outside the fridge. However, there are reasons you may want to keep them refrigerated. For example, if you’re having a problem with fruit flies (or any other pesky insects). Also, storing fruit in the fridge WILL make it last longer – important if you are a one or two person household may take a little longer to eat a standard box or bag of produce. I find that bringing fruit back to room temperature before I eat it restores much of the flavor. (Never, ever store bananas in the fridge, though. If your bananas are going bad, freeze and use for smoothies.)
Dairy Drawer: I still use this for “dairy” – the vegan kind! Earth Balance buttery sticks, tofu, tempeh. Refrigerated mock meats like Gimme Lean Sausage. Miso. Vegan Cream Cheese. Follow Your Heart Cheese Slices. (Yaaay! Harris Teeter began carrying Follow Your Heart vegan cheeses – instead of Go Veggie, which had casein – as of January 1st! The Pepper Jack is awesome.) Fresh ginger and hot peppers – I like to store these here so they don’t get lost.
Vegetable Drawer: I store my salad vegetables here (separate from the vegetables I would use as a main or side course). Here you will find things like romaine lettuce, carrots, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, and sprouts.
Some people recommend washing and chopping your salad veggies in advance so it will be super-convenient to make salads. I differ; I find washing and chopping veggies in advance results in a loss of crispness and shortens their shelf life. Experiment and see what works for you, though.
Convertible Meat/Veggie Drawer: I store my “major” side dish or main meal veggies here. Right now I have cauliflower, turnips, and beets. In the summer you’re likely to see broccoli, yellow crookneck squash, and fresh corn. It helps to keep my “side dish” and “meal maker” veggies apart from my salad veggies.
The veggie drawers in your fridge are usually equipped with humidity controls. Take some time to experiment with different settings to see if that makes a difference in the freshness/longevity of your produce.
The Condiment Door: This is where I store condiments (duh!) I do try to group like with like. For example, mustard, ketchup, and salad dressings on one shelf. Chutneys, tamarind paste, ginger paste, garlic paste, and other Indian-related items on another shelf. Jams and jellies on another shelf. Better than Bouillon, soy sauce, Braggs, vegan Worcestershire, etc. on another shelf. You get the idea.
If you don’t do a lot of cooking – or rarely use cooking oils – consider storing your cooking oils in the condiment door to keep them from going rancid.
AND WHILE WE’RE AT IT … THE FREEZER!
Clean your freezer once every six months.
STEP ONE: Remove Everything
(Ya’ll know that’s always going to be Step One, right?)
STEP TWO: Clean
This should be easy-breezy. Bleach if you’ve never cleaned your freezer before, otherwise use some eco-friendly, animal-friendly, food-friendly alternative. Typically freezers just have a few wire racks and few spills, so you should be able to wipe these down in no time.
STEP THREE: Discard
Check open bags of veggies (often freezer burn), and any frozen leftovers that seem to be more ice than food at this point. Be on the lookout for those random items you bought because it seemed like a good idea at the time, but yet you know in your heart you have no real intention of eating. Let them go.
Newbie vegans/reducetarians/plant based people, if you come across any meat/dairy items, consider how much you still want to include these in your life.
Most of the time unwanted freezer food needs to go into the trash (expired, freezer burn, etc.) But if you have freezer food you don’t want, and is unexpired/unopened/appears not to have freezer burn, please consider passing it on to a friend!
STEP FOUR: Replace and Organize
Replace the food in a way that makes sense to you. Again, I like to store like with like. My freezer allows me to “adjust” the shelves; you may also want to see if yours allows this.
My freezer is full of frozen fruit for smoothies. I also stock up on frozen greens (collards, turnip greens, spinach). Other frozen veggies include green peas, corn, and green beans. I choose unsauced, unseasoned versions for maximum versatility.
Steam-in-the-bag microwavable veggies are convenient, but tend to be more expensive than regular frozen veggies. (Plus, there’s usually less in the bag!) That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy them, but be aware of price and buy on sale.
You’ll notice I don’t have any frozen dinners – for several reasons. One, the more I cook, the less I like the taste of frozen dinners. Two, the older I get, and the more I learn about nutrition, the less I want to put highly processed food into my body. Don’t get me wrong – frozen dinners are wonderful for new vegans and a great convenience for everyone. But if your freezer mostly contains frozen dinners, you may want to take a moment and examine why.
If you eat frozen dinners frequently for convenience (for example, that’s what you eat for lunch every day), be sure to look at nutrition labels and choose the healthier options. The difference in calories, fat, sodium, and nutrition – even in the same brand – can be jaw-dropping. Also, look beyond the grocery store. Veestro, for example, will ship high-quality frozen meals to you. They offer a huge variety, great taste, and in general a really healthy nutritional profile.
If your problem is you don’t know how to cook, you have several options:
Cheapest and easiest, get a super-easy beginner cookbook (like one of Happy Herbivore’s) and Make 2018 Great by trying a few new recipes each week.
See if there is a local vegan meal delivery service in your area. The food tends to be healthier and better tasting than frozen food. In Charlotte we’re fortunate to have Nourish, which offers a number of freshly made, utterly delicious meals, many of them freezer-friendly. (I especially recommend the lasagnas, soups, and anything Mexican.) Even if you know how to cook, you can Make 2018 Great by occasionally treating yourself to a few days of not cooking! If you don’t live in the Charlotte-Metro region, Nourish offers shippable meal plans to NC, SC, GA, TN, VA, and WV.
Or try a service like Purple Carrot, which delivers recipes and pre-measured, often pre-prepped ingredients – so it’s more like assembling than cooking.
If you like to cook, but your problem is time, make a double batch when you do cook. Chilis, pasta sauce, any bean or lentil based dish, and most soups freeze well. Also, consider looking into weekly meal prep – it could be another way to Make 2018 Great!
I keep a few faux meat products on hand – usually some crumbles and some kind of chicken. I think these products are amazing, but I try to limit the amount I eat. Both because they’re highly processed and because they’re waaay too easy to rely on. If you find yourself stocking up on “chicken” patties and veggie burgers, you may want to consider:
Using these foods more as “ingredients” than as a main course. For example, use Gardein beef tips to make a hearty beef stew with potatoes, carrots, onions, and peas. Add “chicken” to a hearty vegetable soup or chili. So much more nutritious than beef tips over rice, or another chicken sandwich!
Making your own veggie burgers. Homemade veggie burgers are surprisingly easy, healthy, and taste MUCH better than frozen. They’re also much cheaper. If you’ve never made your own veggie burgers before, add this to your 2018 bucket list!
Remember, being vegan is about compassion … not only compassion for the animals, but compassion for yourself and your body!
Finally, in the bottom drawer of my freezer I have lots of breakfast items – frozen waffles, raisin bread, tater tots, vadas … often I’ll have some frozen roti or naans. The shelves on the door of my freezer are quite narrow, so they hold mostly odds and ends – frozen samosas, vegan ravioli, cold packs for my lunch bag, and, yes! – some non-dairy ice cream and fruit sorbet!
Wipe off the top of your fridge. Remove any expired coupons and receipts you don’t need from the doors, and tidy your refrigerator magnets. Wipe down the doors. Vacuum the coils. Be sure to clean your water dispenser area and change your water filter, if needed.
I have two dry erase boards on my fridge. On one I’ll list things to buy. The other I’ll list what I need to eat – the fresh fruits in my fridge, the box of tofu that’s about to expire, the beets I don’t have a plan for yet. I’ll also list any recipes I’m planning to make.
Whew! This has been a lot of work, but it’s worth it. Now you have a clean and organized fridge and pantry, and know exactly what food you have. You’ve done this in a mindful way, reflecting on how you actually eat and how you want to eat. Cooking and shopping will be much easier. You’ll save money and make better choices. Maybe you’ve even got a few new goals or ideas to make 2018 great! And, hopefully, you’re also expanding your idea of compassion to include yourself.
We’ve still got more to do, but for now just bask in a job well done, take a few pics of your newly organized fridge, and brag about it on Facebook!