How to Organize Your Fridge for the Holidays
Winter holidays can mean fridge chaos—here's how to avoid it.
If you are like me, your fridge and freezer are always well-stocked. And by well-stocked, I mean totally jam-packed. While my chaos is somewhat organized, and I can usually move stuff around to accommodate whatever I am working on for dinner, when it comes to preparing for holiday feasts? I need to do some serious re-org.
Holiday cooking means things like giant meat invasions in the form of turkeys and hams and whole prime ribs of beef. Holiday cooking means stashing pre-made dishes and baked goods in the freezer to make big meals easier. Holiday cooking means making fridge room for the usual life sustenance, plus festive dishes and ingredients, leftovers and likely expanded options to manage houseguests. So, short of buying or renting a second fridge or freezer, what is one to do?
I start by doing a deep-down clean-out of both fridge and freezer. Expired condiments, unidentifiable blocks of frozen stuff, anything that is questionable hits the bin. I reorganize what is left and do some menu planning that uses up frozen meats and vegetables or entrees over the weeks leading up to the holidays to make as much room as possible.
Then, because I live in a cold-weather environment, I shift anything that should probably not be warm room temperature but doesn’t need to be fridge cold to coolers that have a lid that latches closed and stash them on my back porch. If you have an unheated garage this also works well. Do not attempt if you live in bear country. Think about it this way: your fridge needs to be 40 degrees or lower to keep food safe. So, if it is 40 degrees or lower outside? Then your food outside in the coolers will also be safe.
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Jams, jellies, mustards, ketchup, all are perfectly safe for a while outside the fridge at room temp for up to a month. I remove all beverages which are handy to have cold but take up way too much room. Anything non-dairy and non-essential gets porched. I shift to whole fruit shopping: citrus, apples, pears, and bananas, all can be kept at room temp, unlike berries or cut fruit which need fridge space. If you have a room in your house that tends to run cool, use that for things like onions, potatoes, root vegetables and squashes. If you need more space for thinks like your turkey or ham, or to stack baking dishes, think about temporarily removing the drawers and using that space, which will hold more than the drawers.
Once you have cleared the decks and are ready to load in holiday necessities, think as much as possible about prepping before storing. A bag of chopped celery is easier to store than a whole head. It will also streamline your cooking. Shallow baking dishes or large rectangular Tupperware stack well in the freezer, and many of your standard dishes like stuffing and sweet potatoes freeze beautifully.
As you get to the week of the holiday, if your local temps aren’t 40 or below, you can buy large bags of cheap ice for your coolers to expand your storage capabilities if you need to. Shift the shelves around in your fridge as needed to accommodate anything that is an unusual size. If possible, when hosting overnight guests, think about easy available snacks that don’t require refrigeration, granola bars, pretzels, dried fruit and nuts, veggie chips, all make for quick noshes for your guests that don’t require digging around in the fridge. Keeping a small amount of single serving yogurt, cottage cheese or hummus tubs in the door of the fridge is also a good way to streamline snacking.
Finally, only you know how much fridge and freezer space you have to work with. When planning your menus and your schedule, don’t be ashamed to ask guests to bring dishes you know you won’t have room for, or to make reservations for dinners or brunches before and after the holidays, so that you don’t have to store more than what is needed for the main event.