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If Your Refrigerator is a Wreck, Your Diet Probably Is Too

When we’re hungry we eat whatever is in our cabinets and refrigerator. If there’s nothing there to eat, we go out. Even if there IS great food to eat in our refrigerators, but it appears hard to cook, hard to get to, or unappealing in any other way, that’s a barrier to eating at home.

We can eliminate some very big barriers to cooking and eating at home by better managing our refrigerators and freezers – our main healthy eating environments.

10 Common Refrigerator Problems and What to Do about Them

Do you have any of these refrigerator/freezer problems?

  1. You don’t know what’s beyond the first layer in your refrigerator. The first layer is a united front, and you’re not going past it.

    Solution: Nobody likes to look into a refrigerator crammed with stuff. It’s awkward to dig around to see what’s in the back. You forget what’s back there, and it frequently gets spoiled. So don’t buy so much stuff in the first place. Buy only what you can use for 1 or 2 weeks. And check your refrigerator contents frequently moving stuff from the back up to the front. In the grocery store business they call this “facing” the product – moving inventory from the back of the shelves to the front. It’s a great practice for your refrigerator too.

    Also, when you get home from buying groceries, make a list of what you bought and post it on the refrigerator so you’ll remember what you have. Or do what I do (because it’s fun), and make a mind map of your groceries. I also put a quick reference meal planning box on my mind map. See a sample mind map of groceries and meal ideas here.

  2. Your refrigerator is in bad shape (drippy, chippie, moldy, warpey, tiny) and you don’t even like to open the door.Solution: Not everybody can afford to buy a new refrigerator. But did you know that old yucky refrigerators aren’t nearly as energy efficient as new ones? And if having a yucky refrigerator keeps you from eating at home, you’re spending a lot of money eating out – money that could be saved to buy a new refrigerator.

    When you do have the cash or your old one finally gasps its last breath, consider making the investment in a new fridge rather than a used one. Because of the energy efficiency issue, this is the one appliance that you should consider buying new. Of course if your budget is tiny and somebody has a nice upgraded refrigerator for $50, take it with a smile.

  3. Your refrigerator is a very expensive composting bin.Solution: We all have composted plenty of food, even I have. And it bugs me when I do it. What a waste of food. But life happens, we get busy or disorganized, and food management fails.

    If you need a little motivation to stay on top of your produce, remember that you paid $3.50 for that broccoli, $6.50 for those cherries, and $5.00 for those avacados And make a plan to use them. Do you make a weekly meal plan? If you’d like to give it a try, download this weekly meal planning sheet.

  4. Your refrigerator is stocked with odds and ends, none of which looks like a meal.Solution: Again, the solution is to plan meals. Even if you don’t know what you will be eating for every meal, you can do general planning to know that you’ll eat salad most days, you’ll have tacos one day, and a casserole another day. That’s a good start for ad-lib planning if you’re not a big meal planner.
  5. The only things in your refrigerator are condiments, ice cream, and beer.Solution: This is a sign that you either live alone, don’t like to cook, don’t know how to cook, you travel and are always on the road, or you are extremely busy and eat all of your meals out.

    How about starting with a small change? Even if you don’t eat all of your meals at home, you can dramatically improve your nutrition, save money, and reduce calories by cooking and eating at home. See if any of the following tips sound good to you. Get a good, simple cookbook, take a cooking class, buy frozen meals that are rated high in nutrition, or decide to get skilled at one kind of meal like breakfast.

    Stock your fridge with things you’ll need for breakfast. When you get comfortable with that, branch out to making healthy sandwiches. Once you’ve mastered that, start making healthy snacks or dinner. Add to your skills gradually.

  6. Your freezer is so full, you can’t possibly squeeze one more thing in there. You don’t have a clue what’s in there.Solution: Sounds like you just put things in there and rarely take them out to eat them. This is a common problem. If you freeze only things that you loved the first time (leftovers), you’ll be more likely to eat them. If they were just so-so the first time, give them to the dog rather than freeze them because they’ll taste even less yummy after freezing. Use this handy “freezer content” sheet to keep track of what you put in your freezer (and how long it’s been there).

    Freeze things that are appealing to you that you know you’ll eat. Your list might look something like this: rice and bean burritos, lasagna, soups, fruits, your favorite frozen veggies, etc. That’s what my list looks like.

  7. Your freezer hasn’t been opened in so long, you didn’t notice that your ice cubes have been “defrosted” in the trays (meaning they’re empty).Solution: Hey who needs ice cubes anyway? I never use them. But it IS a sign that you’ve neglected your freezer. Start by taking everything out and putting it on the counter. If you haven’t written dates on anything and you can’t remember when you put the food in there, toss them in the trash can. If it’s fruits or vegetables you can safely put them in your compost pile. Never put animal products (meats, yogurt, cheese) in compost piles because they attract critters.

    You’ll be more likely to use things from your freezer if you plant to use them when you do your weekly meal planning. Use the weekly meal planning sheets described earlier. Foods will taste better and be safer to eat if you mark the date on the package and eat them in a reasonable amount of time. I keep a sharpie in the drawer next to the freezer for easy access. Be sure to fill out the freezer contents sheet when you put something in or take something out of the freezer.

  8. Your refrigerator is full of beautiful fruits and vegetables. They looked so great at the store, you decided to buy all of them.Solution: Actually, you might wonder why this is a problem. If you buy too much produce, you can’t possibly eat all of it before it goes bad – unless you’re a rabbit or have a family. I know about this one because I’ve succumbed to the beauty of the colorful pyramids of produce many times. It’s hard to resist a deal on a case of mangos. But how many mango smoothies can one person eat in a week?

    If you overbuy produce frequently, you might like to try planning your meals for a week and see if that helps. Use the weekly meal planning sheet.

  9. Sandwiches are a favorite at your house, but it takes forever to drag out all the stuff you need to make one. It feels easier to go for fast food instead.Solution: If you have favorite meals or snacks that require taking tons of things out of the refrigerator, consider grouping them in a narrow plastic tub. You can take the whole tub of sandwich fixings and dressings out, set it on the counter, whip up your sandwich, and easily put it all back in one motion. Simple dimple.
  10. You have everything you need to make great salads, but you just don’t have the time to make
    them. Next week, you’ll be hauling the slimy green dripping contents out to the compost pile (hopefully you have a compost pile).

    Solution: As soon as you get home from the grocery store, wash and prepare your veggies for easy access when you’re ready to make a meal. If you make lots of salads, , wash and spin the lettuce (using a salad spinner) and bag it or divide it into several large salad plastic bowls – ready for you when you get home or ready to take to work for lunch.

    Wash and cut up the major salad ingredients and spin the moisture off so they last longer. Make up a week’s worth of veggies bagged to go. You can put dressing in a small plastic tub with a tight fitting lid for dipping – if you can afford the calories or if dressing will encourage you to eat raw veggies. It works for me.

Having a tidy, organized refrigerator and freezer will make meal planning and preparation much simpler and more pleasing. And having an idea of what you will be cooking and eating for the week can help save you time and money. Don’t forget to use these handy worksheets.


  • Mind Map of Groceries/Meal Ideas [PDF]
  • Freezer Contents Sheet [PDF]
  • Weekly Meal Planner [PDF]

These forms are PDFs so you’ll need the free Adobe Reader.

Take Action – Nothing Changes Without Action

  1. Use the worksheets provided to get on top of food management and meal planning.
  2. Find ways to add more whole foods to your diet: fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains.

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Cheryl Miller is a wellness expert and life coach. She specializes in helping people take action to live a healthy, happy life . . . in this lifetime.

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