8 ways to maximize refrigerator storage capacity when entertaining

Do you find yourself playing Tetris with your refrigerator on summer holidays or the average action-packed weekend? Trying in vain to squeeze one more platter of shrimp and tomato kebabs in between a watermelon and the ice tea jug?

Often the contents of a refrigerator are manageable on a day-to-day basis: however, as soon as you turn hostess, it fills to capacity—and over! Overnight, shelf space becomes precious real estate, and items risk getting crushed, or worse yet, spilled, from the influx.

Welcome to a common entertaining dilemma.

My very first apartment was a small loft with a postage stamp kitchen and a only mini-bar for a fridge, but I found ways to make it work—even with my love of fresh produce. Now, even though I have a regular-sized refrigerator, I still take similar measures to keep things organized when I’m entertaining.

Here are some creative strategies I developed to keep things cold and maximize the storage capacity of my fridge before a long weekend of entertaining.

fridge

1. Sort and purge

This usually happens on the Friday of a long weekend. I’m making space to hold salads, platters of appetizers, and meats prepped for the grill, such as cedar planked salmon.

Item by item, classify the current contents of your fridge and ruthlessly pitch anything that can – and should – go. I’m not encouraging unnecessary food waste, but now is the time to parcel out those shrived, rotting members to the compost, dog, or toxic waste depot.

A good rule of thumb is, if you can’t remember when you served it, throw it out! Check expiry dates and toss old items, as well as practically empty containers.

(Psst, yes this is my real refrigerator. A few of you have been asking on social media…Take the full tour!)

2. Eat leftovers

Any leftover food that is still good should be served up for dinner the day before your event. Unload containers onto the counter and set up a buffet. As a bonus, you don’t have to cook. If it doesn’t get eaten, perhaps you can freeze it for later: lentils, brown rice, meats, pasta and soups all keep well in the freezer.

3. Downsize containers

For everything that remains in the refrigerator for the weekend, make sure it is in the smallest containter possinle. Merge anything that can partner with another item (salad greens, berries, etc). Check for jars of condiments with only a few tablespoons remaining and transfer the contents into a small jar with a lid.

September seasonal vegetables

4. Cull the lesser-perishables

Evaluate which of your refrigerator items could safely sit out for a 24 hour period. Example: carrots and other root vegetables, zucchini, tomatoes and onions, jams or other items with high sugar content, bread and buns, etc.

Transfer these slower-perishables to a bin or a box and place in the coolest room in the house such as a basement office or even the garage.

Grow herbs-1

Place fresh herbs in a jar of water and keep them on your counter. They will keep for a few days and they will be easily within reach for cooking.

5. Create a temporary icebox

Create a make-shift refrigerator for bulky items, like condiments, melons, pickles, etc, with a camping cooler and ice. Store it in the garage or another out of the way place. Just don’t forget to return the items to the fringe once the party is over!

A few days before I need the temporary icebox, I fill old plastic juice or pop bottles with water and freeze them. Then I stash these in the camping cooler and they keep my food cold for 24 hours.

Tip: choose items you know you won’t be using for your immediate cooking project. You don’t want to be running to the garage every time you need an egg.

keep party drinks cool in a galvanized tub

6. Banish beverages

This can also be called Operation Take back the Fridge! No more wresting with a case of beer that is threatening to crush your carefully prepared canapés. I like a glass of frosty iced tea as much as the next person, but that huge jug can take up valuable territory on my fridge shelves.

Most beverages such as bottles of wine, juice boxes, pop or beer don’t need to be refrigerated until the last minute—and for that you can toss them in the freezer 60 minutes before guests arrive.

Another option is to set up coolers or tubs outside with bags of ice or frozen pop bottles and stash drinks in there for easy accessibility. All of the above automatically applies to watermelons, but not to dairy; keep all dairy in your refrigerator.

Related: How to Set up a Functional Outdoor Bar

7. Stack fridge items whenever possible.

Turn milk cartons and other sturdy containers on their sides and use them to hold your platters. I stack as much as possible, then I ask the children to kindly refrain from helping themselves to anything in the fridge, just for a day. So far no accidents!

8. Shop smart, meaning not at all

Except for the foods you need for a weekend of entertaining, do not plan a weekly ‘big shop’ until after the party. Your pantry can wait to be restocked and your fridge will appreciate the lighter load. Don’t be tempted by a sale on butter or eggs; you can wait a few days!

Now, with your best efforts now tucked safely inside a well-organized refrigerator, all you have to worry about is the weather and keeping the kids happy.

Here’s wishing my US readers a wonderful Memorial Day weekend.

How is your fridge looking these days? Does it have breathing room?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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Comments

  1. Samantha Dillard says:

    I just found out about you in a n old BHG. I just LOVED the article! I enjoy gardening an canning (we call it “puttin up” where I come from) as well! Canning is an old fashioned art and it pleases me when I find people who still have a love for it. I will definately be buying your cookbooks to add to my collection!!!

    • Thanks, Samantha! We had fun shooting that article. We’re also in the June 2016 issue of Parents magazine!
      I’d love if you added my cookbook to your collection. What an honour!

  2. Tetris… ha, ha! Love it. I credit that game for my super-awesome camping gear packing… and fridge organization… : ) Have a fun weekend in the garden. Stay cool! (It’s stinkin’ hot already here on the Ontario side of the border!)

  3. I just read that 23% of American homes have two fridges. That seems like a lot! Maybe your tips will lead to downsizing and lower energy bills. 🙂

    • That’s crazy! I guess a lot of people have the ‘garage fridge’. And you never know – I think people can always use tips for organizing the fridge. It can be such a beast!

  4. I feel like I need these tips on an everyday basis! Our fridge always seems packed to the brim, and that’s after upgrading to a larger refrigerator a couple of years ago.

    I love that wooden box you have your herbs in too!

    • Haha, thanks Lisa! The refrigerator always has a way of getting out of hand faster than we can imagine. Keep up the good fight! 😉

  5. That is your fridge! Awesome job! Love how you compared it with Tetris haha! Thanks for the tips. The idea of creating a temporary icebox and shopping smart is something I will practice. xx

    http://www.prettyweirdbombshell.com

  6. Garage fridge… Guilty as of a few days ago! What is now our garage fridge was our kitchen fridge until DH & I finally got fed up with the leaking & bought a new, gorgeous, stainless steel behemoth of a side-by-side. Having just purged the old fridge & moved only the kitchen necessities into the new one, our fridge is neater than it’s ever been! We’re using the newly-cleaned garage fridge for drinks mostly. We also have a chest freezer.

  7. Thanks for sharing this, i have gotten a few actionable tips from reading this article

  8. Hi Aimee,
    I found your blog through another blog and absolutely love it. These refrigerator tips are going to be quite handy as my fridge appears to full most days. Thank you!

  9. This blog post is great! It’s all common sense but it’s good to have a reminder for all strategies in one place 🙂
    When the temperatures get cold again, another perfect fridge alternative is the terrace 😉

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