The surprising ways to spark joy and save cash in your kitchen
Yes, 2020 is finally over and by gum, we’re going to make 2021 so much better. It will be a few months yet until life returns to normal, so we're going for small wins - finally clearing out the wardrobe of trousers we'll never fit, painting that peeling windowsill and sorting out the fridge. Well, we can't help with those first two but we’ve got simple tips from expert Sue Spencer, a Marie Kondo trained Professional Home Organiser (it's true) on how to improve your fridge organisation and save money in the process.
Now’s the time to do a fridge audit, says Spencer: “It’s likely that there’s some obscure, half-used jars clogging up space in the fridge – so there’s no better time to spend an hour decluttering, cleaning and reorganising your fridge so it serves you better!”
Begin by categorising what’s in your fridge already so all similar items are gathered together, then check use-by-dates and see if there’s anything you already know you won’t be eating because it’s past its best. (That two year-old jar containing one pickle.) Be realistic; are you going to use these items? If not discard them.
Does everything in the fridge need to be there? Potatoes, onions and bread suffer from being refrigerated so these can be kept in a cool dark space instead. If you like cold chocolate bars, try refrigerating one at a time rather than whole packet.
By doing this, you’ll know exactly what you’re working with!
Now look at the heights of what you have and the heights of your fridge shelves. Do you have a lot of small jars that could fit in a smaller space? Would this free up more room for tall things you have that won't fit in the door? Try moving the shelf heights and play with what minimises unused space.
Jars and bottles
“It can be difficult to remember when you opened jars/packets that are then stored in the fridge so I recommend using a permanent marker to write the date you opened it on the jar," says Spencer. "That way you’ll know when it’s time to throw it out. A quick look in my fridge found the following shelf life for opened jars pasta sauce (three days), curry paste (seven days), pesto (two weeks), pickle (six weeks). It's also worth keeping the labels facing out so you can see exactly what you've got."
If you regularly use sauces or pastes that go mouldy and get thrown out, freeze the portion you don't use on the first day you open the jar. You can freeze pesto, pasta sauce or curry paste in ice cube trays, then store in plastic boxes so that you can use as much or as little as you need. They can be added to the dish or heated from frozen in the microwave or a pan. (If your freezer is a mess, read our article on how to freeze food.)
Check your fridge for jars that contain a teaspoon of contents and incorporate that tiny amount into your lunch or dinner. (This is how curried cauliflower cheese toast with mango chutney was born.)
“I recommend having a ‘use first’ tray or space in the fridge," says Spencer. "In mine I’ve got close-dated items or older fruit and veg on it which reminds me to use them first. Cooking these items simply, such as roasting root veg or making an easy vegetable soup means you can grab a spectacular lunch of bits you might have thrown out.
“As you write your weekly shopping list quickly check the fridge to see what you have and what you need to use up. Throw out things past their best and give your fridge a wipe down so it’s clean when you put in your weekly shop. Also decide whether any ‘special’ ingredients you bought for one-off recipes need to stay (like tahini for hummus) – if you keep it, plan how you’ll use it up.
“Another tip is to keep a shopping list open in the notes app on your phone – when something runs out pop it on the list – that way you’ll already know what needs replacing in the fridge."
One ‘positive’ that came out of lockdown was that consumers were keen to reduce food waste. After all, with it proving hard to predict when or how we could shop, we needed to make sure our provisions would last a week.
Out went ‘popping to the shops’ on the way home from work, in came meal planning and prepping.
“I encourage people to do a rough meal plan for the week as it helps to ensure you use what you have and also only buy what you need,” says Spencer. “It doesn’t need to be really strict and can be as simple as: leftovers from a roast on a Monday night, chicken meal on a Tuesday, fish on a Wednesday and a vegetarian meal on a Thursday – that way you’ll have the fresh fridge ingredients and can be spontaneous with whatever is in your cupboards.”
Having a few "throw it all in" recipes like soup, or if you're feeling fancy, grain bowls, allow you to combine small amounts of different ingredients to make something greater than the sum of their parts. Smoothies are good for using yoghurt and fruit that are on the edge. If you realise you have a lot of these bits and bobs, be flexible with your plan and use them up to make instant space savings. Don't put it off until they look really unappetising.
When you’ve done your food shop
“When you unpack your weekly shop make sure you rotate the items you already have in your fridge put the closest dated items at the front so they are used up first. It’s useful to check dates on your fresh meat at this point – if something is close dated you can adapt your meal plan or pop it in the freezer straight away to use later."
The freezer acts as a pause button, so while it's good to freeze things with as long a date on as possible, it's fine to freeze things as they approach their use-by date. Write the new post-freezer best-before date on the label before your freeze it (check our freezer tables for details). Once you defrost food, use it as quickly as possible.
Visibility is crucial to cutting down on food waste. “I store my fruit and vegetables in airtight containers that keep food really fresh and are as clear as glass so you can see exactly what’s in each tub." If you really aren't going to be able to see what needs using up, write a list of "use me" foods on a note and keep it on the front of your fridge.
We are so up for ditching that guilty feeling of throwing away wasted food for 2021 and having a gorgeous glamorous-looking fridge sparking joy each time we make a cup of tea. Will it last until February?