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.
1. Sort and purge
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?