Do yourself a favor and make sure your fridge is stocked with the right stuff. It helps with meal prep in a pinch, can save some money, and can save you a trip to the grocery store. It can also stop you from having to pick up takeout on the way home from work!
Here are some of the simple refrigerator essentials I strive to have in my refrigerator at all times. Don’t bother to stock up on everything all at once. Unlike the pantry or the freezer, a number of these simple refrigerator essentials have a short shelf life. If you don’t eat them within a week or two, they’re going to the waste basket. I recommend just starting with 2 or 3 categories and slowly incorporating the suggestions your daily cooking.
Simple Refrigerator Essentials
Vegetables are a key ingredient to every meal. The more vegetables you have on hand, the more likely you’ll be to eat them. Pick a variety of colorful vegetables to give you a wide variety of nutrients. But also pick vegetables you like to eat. Make sure some veggies are cut and prepared to grab for a quick snack.
Ideas: carrots, celery, broccoli, mushrooms, spinach, arugula, salad greens, peppers, snap peas
Use in these recipes: vegetables are so versatile, they can be cooked (or not cooked) in so many ways. Eat raw with dip or in salads, roast, steam, add to soups or stews, add to grain bowls and the list goes on…
Some fruits should always be refrigerated, like berries. Others have their shelf life extended by putting them in the refrigerator like citrus. Lemons and limes are always good to have on hand to add a boost of flavor to many types of recipes. It always amazes me that just a little lemon zest can make such a big impact. Some fruits likes pears, peaches, and avocados ripen on the counter, then can be put in the fridge to help them hang on for a few more days. Have a few different choices available for snack time.
Ideas: blueberries, strawberries, cherries, raspberries, oranges, lemons, limes, ripe apples, ripe pears, ripe avocados
Use in these recipes: smoothies, fruit sauces for pancakes or desserts, yogurt topping, cereal toppings, desserts
Fresh herbs brighten up any recipe. Whether it’s brightening the appearance or the flavor. They can turn ordinary ingredients into delicious cuisine. If you are adept enough at gardening to keep your own herb garden, more power to you. But for those of us who are gardening-challenged, keeping fresh herbs in the refrigerator
Ideas: mint, basil, thyme, cilantro, parsley
Use in these recipes: grain dishes, soups, sauces, dips, and garnishes
Nuts, Natural Nut Butters and Seeds
It can take a good 10 minutes to mix up my separated nut butter from the pantry. But once the time has been invested, the butter will stay together in the refrigerator. Keeping both nuts and seeds in the refrigerator helps keep them nice and fresh. Nuts, nut butters, and seeds pack lots of nutrition in a small package. Used in small amounts, they can add a bit of flavor and texture to a dish.
Ideas: peanut butter, almond butter, tahini, walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, pine nuts
Use in these recipes: sandwiches, as a snack with fruit, dips, spreads or sauces, salad, oatmeal or yogurt toppings
Quick Cooking Whole Grains
Whole grains are a nutrition powerhouse, but sometimes have long cooking times. Pick a few varieties with shorter cooking times to have on hand so meals can come together quickly. Grains with long cooking times are good too, but require a bit more planning which isn’t always doable.
Grains can really be kept anywhere in the kitchen. The pantry is great for something you use every week or day (like oats in our house). The freezer is a good place if they are already cooked, or for varieties you only use once a while.
Ideas: oats, farro, quinoa, cornmeal, polenta
Use in these recipes: simple side dishes, grain salads, grain bowls, salads in a jar, add to soups
Cured Meat and Cheese
Cured meats and cheeses add a punch of flavor to your food. Typically they are higher in saturated fats making it a good idea to only use a small amount or a sprinkle for flavor. But the richness a cured meat added into the cooking process at the right time imparts on the dish is truly divine. And a little cheese sprinkled on some pasta, salad, or cooked vegetable takes it up a level. As a bonus, Sometimes adding cheese or bacon to something may entice a child to taste it.
Ideas: bacon, salami, parmesan cheese, Romano cheese, feta cheese
Use in these recipes: soups, risottos, polenta, pastas, pizza, salads
Yogurt, Tofu and Eggs
Yogurt is an excellent choice for breakfast or snacks, but also a great base for dips, toppings, spreads, and dressings. I prefer whole milk or low fat yogurt over fat free. The higher fat content makes for a creamy, more satisfying yogurt. The flavorless, plain varieties are also preferable. This way you can control the amount of added sugar in your yogurt.
Like yogurt, tofu is a great vegetarian protein source. It keeps for a good amount of time in the fridge due to its packaging. I like having it on hand as it’s quick-cooking and can round out dinner in a pinch. There are many varieties so it’s worth trying new ones until you find a version that works for you.
Eggs are another great vegetarian protein source. They also cook up very quickly and can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner AND can be used in baked goodies.
Ideas: Plain whole milk yogurt (regular and Greek), plain low-fat yogurt (regular or Greek), silken, extra firm, or sprouted tofu
Use in these recipes: breakfast parfaits, smoothies, tzatziki, herb sauces, marinades, stir-fries, pancakes, frittatas, desserts
Ideas: pesto, tomato paste, low-sodium soy sauce, mustard, olives, pickled vegetables (cucumbers, capers, banana peppers, hot peppers, etc.)
Use in these recipes: soups, pastas, sautés, sandwiches, beans, grains, or vegetables
Leftovers are virtually unavoidable when you’re cooking at home. But I love having them in my refrigerator. They make for quick and easy lunches to take to work. Or they make for a savory breakfast I’d prefer to eat over any sweet breakfast option. Sometimes leftovers also lead to a creative dinner. Fried rice, wraps, and soups are a few of my most common uses for leftover vegetables and grains.
Every so often, I need to re-evaluate what’s in my fridge. When a hectic week hits home, I definitely find my fridge out of balance – not enough fruits and veggies, and lots of extra other stuff. Before I go grocery shopping, I’ll make sure any old leftovers or past due items are removed and take a moment to create a plan to fill up on fruits and veggies.