Healthy Eating: Stocking the Perfect Refrigerator

Your refrigerator can be your best friend or your worst enemy when you’re trying to eat healthy.  Here’s a few tips on stocking your refrigerator for success.

Let’s start with the freezer.  On top, on bottom or side-by-side, all freezers have two things in common: they’re designed for long term food storage and operate better when full.  The ideal temperature for your freezer is OF. If you have an automatic ice maker in your freezer, you’ll get healthier, better tasting ice if it’s hooked to some sort of water filter.

The ideal temperature for your refrigerator is about 40F. Invest in a simple refrigerator thermometer and keep it the ‘fridge at all times. To maintain a 40F temp, the thermometer should read 38F.

Most refrigerators have two “crisper drawers”, both for fresh veggies or one for veg, one for meat.  All fresh meats, fowl and fish  MUST be kept in one of these drawers, on the lowest level of the refrigerator.  This will prevent meat drippings from contaminating other foods.

The key to healthy eating is moderation. Most Americans eat portions that are far too large. For protein, start thinking in terms of 4 ounce portions, 5 max.  Also, as lean as can be. Trim off excess fat from beef and pork, the skin from chicken.  If you’re a serious carnivore, this may be a challenge for you, but stick to it.  To help, invest in a digital scale to make the process easier. Pre-portioning your meats will help you avoid overeating. Keep your proteins individually wrapped, ideally in butcher paper.

For some of us, the real challenge, is dairy.  Milk, cream, cheeses, coffee creamers…the temptations are endless.  If you drink regular milk, replace it with 2% milk. Use regular cream cheese? Make the move to the low-fat version. Same for yogurt and cheese.  If you’re a cheeseoholic, think eating it in bite size pieces. Cut a few pieces, rewrap the cheese and put it back in the refrigerator before eating.

Buy butter, salt free. Not margarine, not “butter blends” or “spreads”.  We need some fat every day and we’re to love the taste of fat…let it come from butter. If you have a butter keeper in the door, use it. If not, invest in a covered butter dish to prevent flavor crossover.

Notice here that I have yet to use the term”fat free”.  For good reason: I think most fat-free foods taste awful. You’re trying to change your behavior over time, not grow to hate food.

But give up coffee creamers. They’re not good for you or your diet. If you use them to make coffee more palatable,treat yourself to a better brand of coffee and learn to enjoy it black.

Vegetables: Buy and eat more fresh vegetables. In fact,  you should have as a goal of eating two vegetables for dinner every night. Steaming green and leafy veggies is quick and nutritious. Root vegetables such as beets are colorful (remember, everyone eats first with their eyes), delicious and packed with nutrients. Soft vegetables such as zucchini and summer squash can be very quickly sauteed in a hot skillet sprayed with cooking spray – on the table in minutes with zero fat.

Get into salads. Eat a salad with every dinner. And learn to make your own vinaigrettes. The less prepared foods you eat, the healthier, and happier, you’ll be.

Store your vegetables loosely bagged, ideally in paper bags, in your crisper drawers.

Watch your starches, potatoes and rices especially. If you simply can’t do without, remember moderation is the key. Treat yourself and buy the smallest red bliss or fingerling potatoes you can find. Wash, slice them into a saucepan of cold water and boil them until done. Leave the skins on…skins are good for you.  Measure out your rice – a 1/4 cup of dry rice is more than enough for a portion. Don’t use packaged rices. Neither starches need to go in the refrigerator.

Fruit:  Eat fresh fruit for breakfast and lunch. Every day. Can’t think of leaving the house with a toasted bagel and cream cheese? Set yourself the goal of eating that only twice a week by the end of the month, eating fresh fruit the other days. Your body will thank you for it. Softer fruits such as grapes will last a bit longer when stored in the crisper drawer.

Sweets: Move away, slowly if you have do, from ice cream to either frozen yogurt or sorbets.  Keep the chocolate, just buy it in individually wrapped pieces…take a few, put the bag back in storage and then enjoy.

Wean yourself off of flavored carbonated beverages.  If you miss the bubbles, try seltzer. Same kick, no additives.

Move in this direction at your own pace and you will over time change the way you eat, look and feel. Without the angst and guilt associated with so many diets.

Next post: Five cookbooks everyone should have.

Refrigerator thermometer pic courtesy of
Butter dish pic courtesy of

Kent McDonald is a Certified Personal Chef, living and working in Phoenix, AZ. (c) All Rights Reserved, 2009

5 thoughts on “Healthy Eating: Stocking the Perfect Refrigerator

  1. — Paper bags don’t trap moisture the way plastic bags will. Many produce sections these days have automatic misters to keep the produce fresher, or looking fresher at least. If you take a bunch of parsley for instance from one of these displays, put it one of those all-too-handy plastic produce bags and store it in the crisper drawer, the extra moisture will speed up the deterioration by several days. A paper bag will help extend the shelf life of the product by letting the extra moisture evaporate.


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