Eat More, Cook Less Series Part 2 of 4: 5 ways to fill your fridge so your 5 year old can make dinner

Our fridge at it's best ... before kids!

I know the feeling of opening up a fully stocked fridge, and saying, "there's nothing to eat in here!"

What you really mean is "there's nothing in here that's healthy and ready to go into my mouth in the next 2.5 seconds, so I'm just going to eat some chocolate".

I have an 8 month old, I get it.

Even as a nutritionist, I don't eat perfectly. Not because I don't want to, but because I'm rushed, stressed, or too tired to remember my own name, much less put dinner together.

After years of running from one appointment to another, and now from room to room after my little guy, I've figured out a thing or two about having a healthy meal on the table in 10 minutes flat.

In the name of public health and the collective sanity, I'm sharing my best kept secrets for keeping your fridge full of ready to go, healthy fixin's so easy to assemble, even your husband (whoops! Did that slip out?!) 5 year old could do it!

We all know that filling your fridge is an art. Veggies and fruit should go in the crispers, but if you don't see them (and especially if you don't meal plan!), they get forgotten, only to be discovered 3 weeks later, mushy, half decomposed and leaking a stank-ass liquid into the bottom of the drawer. Lovely.

So instead, you put the limp veggies and fruit that need to be eaten on the shelves where you can see them, along with the eggs, juice, milk, and exactly 379 bottles of half used condiments. You know, that jar of fruit chutney Aunt Mabel gave you last Christmas that you opened out of guilt love? It's still there, growing fuzz and a pair of legs, beside the red curry paste, relish, and 10 kinds of barbecue sauces. We all have 'em!

When we brought our son home from the hospital after 4 1/2 months, I was forced to clean out the fridge for basic sanitary reasons. Frankly, scrubbing my fridge was heaven compared to sitting in a hospital room all day.

What I didn't expect was the huge weight lifted off of my shoulders of trying to cook exotic meals with fancy ingredients. That, and a huge, white space waiting to be filled with fast, healthy foods.

Here's how to replace all the frankenfoods in your fridge with simple, healthy foods that stay fresh longer than 2 days:

  1. Buy pre-washed salad mix for the beginning of the week: Not the kind with all the fancy extras, like croutons, nuts, and dried fruit (you can buy the extras separately for much cheaper). Take the extra 2 seconds at the grocery store to turn the package around, and check for rotting lettuce. Buy the one that looks the freshest! When you get home, open it up, and take out any lettuce that's slimy or looks questionable. Take 3-4 pieces of Select-a-size paper towel, or 2 pieces of regular sized (or a clean tea towel if you're Captain Planet or a granola-crunching hippie like I am sometimes), and wrap it it around the inside of the container from the top to the bottom. You'll get an extra 2-3 days of freshness without everything turning to mush.
  2. Buy pre-washed spinach for the end of the week: Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your salad mix rots within 2 days of buying it ... damn you, laws of nature! Pre-washed spinach will sometimes last for up to 2 weeks if you follow the same steps above as the pre-washed salad mix. If you need to use it all up at once, just steam it, and add some organic cultured butter and sea salt. Watch that whole carton turn into just one cup of cooked spinach.
  3. Prep your salad fixin's: Now that summer's here in SW Ontario, all I've been making for dinner is grilled meats and a kick @ss salad. There's nothing worse than having to prep all of the different ingredients when you're hangry, so I prep all of mine once or twice a week so it's all ready to go. I get out my food processor, and grate and slice all my fixin's (read all about using your food processor like a secret kitchen ninja here in Part 1 of the Eat More, Cook Less series), which could include any or all of the following: carrots, cucumber, toasted pine nuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, feta or Parmesan cheese, dried cranberries, cherry tomatoes, grated cabbage, mushrooms, celery ... the list could go on and on! I either store all the toppings together or separately so everyone can assemble exactly what they want.  When it's salad time, just get a handful of your pre-washed salad mix, sprinkle on some toppings, add your dressing, and you're good to go in 30 seconds flat.
  4. Clean out your condiments!:  All those jars are just cluttering up your fridge and your mind. Instead of going with something stress free and simple, you try to conjure up some magical curry recipe or thai dish that the whole family will love on the first try. Don't get me wrong, I have my go-to dishes like this (I LOVE me some curry or peanut sauce), but most of the time it's easiest to go on auto-pilot. My list of must have condiments in the fridge so I can make pretty much any sauce are: Dijon mustard, tahini, almond butter, low-sodium gluten-free tamari sauce (or low-sodium soy sauce if you're not gluten free), fish sauce, sesame oil, maple syrup, and fresh lemons. 7 condiments that can replace the 52 that you probably have in your fridge right now.  I make one mason jar of salad dressing each week so it's ready to go.  Much cheaper, more nutritious, and tastes a million times better than the crap Kraft brands most people buy.  Check out my go-to recipe for salad dressing at the end of this post!
  5. Fragile first, sturdy second: I try to use my fragile, quick to go limp produce at the beginning of the week, because no one likes limp anything.  Get your mind out of the gutter, I'm talking about using the salad mix, zucchini, mushrooms, and fresh herbs at the beginning of the week.  Leave the carrots, celery, fennel, spinach, and kale for the end of the week, they'll still be happy to see you.

As a side note, I didn't talk about how to clean out your fridge in detail, I'll leave that to someone who's already done it, documented it, and shared it!  Click here to read another amazing resource for cleaning, de-cluttering, and creating a seriously frugal fridge.

In the next part of the Eat More, Cook Less Series, I'm going to tell you exactly how I use our deep freezer to save me HOURS of cooking each week ... it's not just for breast milk anymore!

To read part 1 of the 4 part Eat More, Cook Less Series, "The one time and sanity saving appliance that you need in your kitchen right now", click here.

Leave a comment with ONE time saving secret in your fridge!

GO-TO SALAD DRESSING

BY ASHLEY SROKOSZ, RHN

Prep time: 1 min

1 part vinegar (balsamic, apple cider, rice, red or white wine)
OR
1 part freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 to 3 parts oil (olive, flax)
1 small spoonful Dijon mustard
1 small spoonful liquid sweetener, if needed (honey or maple syrup)
Other flavourings as desired (fresh garlic, fresh ginger, fresh or dried herbs)
Sea salt and black pepper to taste

1. Put all of your ingredients in a mason jar, and shake what your mama gave you.
2. Taste, and if it's not perfect to you, add a little more of what's missing.  For example, if it's too vinegar-y, add some more oil.  Too oily, add more vinegar.
3. Dress the salad at the last minute so it doesn't wilt, and wait for the compliment to pour in.  Celebrate with wine.

Notes: Change it up to match your dinner!
Asian = rice vinegar + a touch of sesame oil + honey + fresh ginger + Sriracha chili sauce
Italian = white or red wine, or balsamic vinegar + olive oil + honey + thyme + oregano + garlic
To make enough for the whole week, I'd start with 1/8 to 1/4 cup of vinegar, which means you'll need about 1/4 to 3/4 cup of oil.