Confession time: When I first went vegan, I had no idea what plant-based foods to keep in my fridge. When I took out all the meat and dairy, it turned into a wasteland for leftover macrobiotic experiments and expired condiments!
Of all the kitchen storage spaces, your fridge has the biggest influence on what and how you eat. When you keep an abundance of fresh fruits, veggies, plant-based proteins, sauces and so on at the ready, you’re saving your future self from mealtime stress (thank you, past self!). You’re more likely to reach for nutritious plant-based meals than last-minute takeout or dishes that leave you feeling like crap.
Simply put: A thoughtfully stocked fridge makes it easier, tastier and more affordable to maintain a healthy plant-based diet.
A few months ago, I posted a blog about how to stock your freezer to make plant-based cooking even easier and more delicious (it was one of my most popular posts of last year, so be sure to check it out if you haven’t already!). Before that, I wrote about how to save time and money by filling your pantry with vegan staples, and even shared a free downloadable checklist to simplify your pantry-packing efforts.
So naturally, I couldn’t wait to bring you this post on stocking your refrigerator to round out the series… and your kitchen!
We often end up wasting food AND dough (the money kind, not the pizza kind!) because we’re not strategically stocking our fridges. I don’t know about you, but realizing that the mushrooms I bought last week went bad as they languished at the bottom of my produce drawer is one of my least favorite things.
The good news is that maximizing your food’s freshness isn’t that hard, it’s just a matter of knowing what to stock in your refrigerator and how best to store everything. And once you get that down, you can count on tasty plant-based foods at every meal. Yum!
Today is all about boosting your fridge-filling expertise. We’ll talk about the benefits of a fully stocked fridge and how it’ll help you simplify mealtime. Then I’ll share 5 essential tips and guidelines for turning your fridge into a plant-based wonderland—these have been game-changers for me and I think they’re going to change the way you feel about your kitchen!
Then COMING SOON: Part two!
Your fridge is special. I’d go so far as to say it’s the heart of the kitchen. And like I mentioned earlier, stocking it isn’t as easy to master as your freezer or pantry. That doesn’t mean it’s complicated, but it deserves a more in-depth discussion. That’s why you’re getting not one but two posts on the topic!
Part two goes live on February 11, and here’s what you have to look forward to: I’m whipping up a comprehensive list of my favorite fridge staples. You’ll find out what I always make sure to have on hand, what to look for at the grocery store and how to store everything for maximum shelf life. I’ll also share simple plant-based recipes that incorporate each item from the list so you have plenty of ideas when it comes time to cook.
Now without further ado, let’s start our fridge-stocking adventure!
Why is it so important to have a well-stocked fridge?
As simple as it sounds, the best thing you can do to maintain healthy eating that also satisfies your taste buds is keep a variety of fresh, plant-based foods readily available. That way, you can quickly put together meals that taste good AND make you feel good.
No more last-minute scrambling or frantic trips to the store! Plus, if frequent takeout or eating out strains your budget (or leaves you wishing for more nutritious homemade options), you’ll be more likely to avoid temptation if your fridge is packed with stuff you genuinely enjoy.
When I transformed my diet, it took me a while to figure out how to turn plant-based foods into tasty meals. Don’t worry if you’re in that place right now—the first step is getting clear on what to keep in your fridge, what to look for at the grocery and how to store it.
From there, you’ll learn simple ways to create balanced meals by mixing and matching vegan protein sources, complex carbs and healthy fats. We’ll get to that in part 2 of this blog when we cover specific refrigerator staples and how to use them in recipes. If you are interested in learning more about the basics of plant-based nutrition, I suggest checking out my Crazy Sexy Reset in the meantime!
It really comes down to this: The more options you give yourself at mealtime, the easier it’ll be to eat the way YOU want to eat.
How to Stock Your Fridge: Tips for Shopping, Stocking and Storing Plant-Based Foods!
These guidelines have been absolutely essential in my kitchen over the years. They’ll help you make the most out of your fabulous fridge and everything in it!
1. Choose seasonal and local food whenever possible.
Food, especially produce, is tastiest and freshest when it’s in season. If you’ve ever had a tomato in the Northeastern U.S. during the winter, then you know what I’m talking about! Watery, tasteless produce simply isn’t appealing, so why let it take up valuable real estate in your fridge? Plus, sticking with what’s available nearby is a chance to try new plant-based foods and get creative in the kitchen!
Seeking options made or grown locally is also a reminder to slow down and think about where our food comes from. How far did our groceries have to travel and what impact does that have on the environment? How can we better support local businesses (like farmers and independent stores) with our purchases?
This doesn’t mean you have to avoid all off-season food or stuff that has to travel. Do what you can! For example, avocados don’t grow in upstate NY, but they’re a staple in my fridge (I keep them at room temp until they’re ripe, then move them to the fridge to prolong their life!). So I get my avos, but I do my best to balance that out with my other choices.
Also, I love stocking up on in-season produce and freezing it for later. For example, I get all the blueberries I can during the summer so I’m fully stocked until the warmer months return! On Sundays, I move enough berries to the fridge to defrost and enjoy over the course of the upcoming week.
2. Opt for organic and non-GMO whenever you can.
Choosing organic, non-GMO plant-based foods is good for your fridge and the environment. Conventional farming practices, like the use of toxic pesticides, negatively impact our world in numerous ways (some of which we probably haven’t even discovered yet). This is a complex issue that we can’t cover in detail today, but this is a good resource if you want to learn more—getting educated on this stuff can be very empowering!
So why don’t we just eat all organic, all the time? Well, it can be a major burden on your budget, especially depending on the options available near your home. Please don’t put pressure on yourself to be perfect! Do what you can while sticking to prices that are comfortable for you. Because think about it this way: If you’re stressed about money, that’s bad for your health too.
My favorite resources for deciding what to buy organic and what’s ok to get conventionally grown are the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists. Every year, the Dirty Dozen identifies the non-organic fruits and vegetables that are highest in pesticide residues. Prioritize organic for those foods. The conventionally grown fruits and veggies that make it to the Clean Fifteen tend to carry fewer pesticide residues, so it’s safer to get non-organic options from that list.
3. Be mindful of packaging.
Some grocery stores have made big improvements in packaging over the last few years. I’ve noticed biodegradable bags in the produce section and reusable totes at checkout. But we still have a responsibility to minimize the packaging we personally consume!
When possible, avoid filling up your fridge with packaged/pre-chopped produce. I know those options are convenient in a pinch, so I’m not suggesting you ditch them altogether—just keep the extraneous packaging in mind. Bring reusable shopping and produce bags with you everywhere (I keep them in my car so I don’t forget). If you don’t have any, check out my brand recommendations in this article.
Also, consider this: A lot of produce comes with its own natural packaging! Oranges and bananas have peels, apples and avocados have skin… you get the picture. 🙂
4. Storage is everything.
How you store perishable plant-based foods can mean the difference between having fresh ingredients at the ready and finding slimy/moldy/smelly stuff lurking in the back of the fridge when you’re already hungry. Storage really is one of the most important aspects of maintaining a well-stocked fridge.
I’ll share more detailed storage tips in part two of our fridge-stocking series (coming your way on February 11!). But to hold you over until then, here a few overarching words of advice:
- Get good-quality storage containers—I prefer glass because it doesn’t absorb smells or colors and allows you to quickly see what’s inside. Glass is also usually easy to clean and safe for the microwave, dishwasher, freezer, etc.
- Remember that each food has unique storage needs. It’s important to tailor the storage method to the food. For example, I suggest washing leafy greens before putting them away, but most other produce doesn’t need to be washed prior to going in the fridge. I’ll share in-depth storage tips for each item on my list in part two of this series!
- Try products designed to make food last. I’m not suggesting you go crazy filling up your kitchen with products that promise to extend the life of your food… then you won’t have enough room for the actual food! But certain products are worth trying, like Debbie Meyer GreenBags (or these cotton bags for a plastic-free option). They’re a great replacement for single-use grocery store produce bags AND they make produce last way longer than any other method I’ve tried. This is just an example of what’s available, so go for products that address your needs.
5. Plan ahead.
Planning for the week ahead (even loosely) will make mealtime easier AND streamline your grocery list. You don’t have to map out every meal to reap the benefits of planning. I usually start by taking an inventory to see what basic staples I need to restock. I’m talking about items like nondairy milk, Ezekial bread, spinach for smoothies and kale for salads—the stuff I use every week for my more impromptu meals (usually breakfast and lunch).
Then from there, I choose a few plant-based meals to batch cook, or make when I have more time to spend in the kitchen. I check to see which ingredients I have and add the rest to my list. And voilà… we’re ready for the store!
Before we wrap up, I want to acknowledge a critical reality: Many folks all over the world face food insecurity every single day. Some families simply don’t have the resources to buy enough food for everyone. Others live in food deserts, where access to any fresh food is extremely limited. It’s a privilege to be able to think about stuff like planning ahead, organic vs. conventional, getting nice storage containers and so on. This is a reminder for all of us to acknowledge that privilege, educate ourselves and build awareness, and do what we can to support and help our neighbors.
I can’t wait to share my favorite refrigerator staples with you!
In just a couple of weeks, you’ll find out what I ALWAYS keep in my fridge. You’ll also get detailed tips about what to look for when you’re shopping, the best way to store each item and some scrumptious plant-based recipes to put all of that food to use! Until then, you can catch up on my posts about how to stock your pantry here and how to stock your freezer here.
Keep an eye on your inbox—part two of this delicious series arrives on Tuesday, February 11!
Your turn: Any guesses about which plant-based foods will make it to my favorite refrigerator staples list? Share your theories in the comments below!
Peace & fabulous fridges,
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