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Taking stock of what’s in your fridge, then prepping and storing your groceries will help you make healthy food choices.istockphoto

Forget the detox diet this spring. If you want to feel more energetic, improve your health and perhaps lose a few pounds, cleanse your fridge instead. Taking stock of what's inside your refrigerator – and deciding what to keep and what to toss – is the first step toward making nutritious food choices.

Giving your fridge – and pantry (more on that next week) – a spring makeover will help ensure you have the right foods on hand for healthy meal prep and, if stored properly, you'll reduce food waste, too.


Start by emptying your fridge and cleaning the shelves with hot soapy water. As you return items, check best-before dates on salad dressings, condiments, nut butters and other packaged foods. (Read to the bottom for more details.)

Now you're ready to stock up on nutrient-packed, minimally processed foods. Here's my go-to guide to a healthy fridge – it's actually a peek inside my own fridge – that will keep your eating habits on track.

Fresh fruits and vegetables

I prep my produce in advance for the week to ensure I actually eat what I buy instead of tossing out wilted, rotting vegetables. To do this, wash and dry lettuce, then wrap it in paper towels and store it in resealable produce bags.

Refrigerate red pepper strips and carrot and celery sticks in cold water in a closed food container for ready-to-go snacks or veggie side dishes; they'll stay crisp for a week.

To prolong freshness, use your crisper drawers properly. Produce that releases ethylene gas, which cause them to rot prematurely, should be stored on the low-humidity setting. These include apples, pears, ripe bananas, ripe avocados, mangoes, honeydew melons, papayas, peaches and plums.

Store produce that wilts from moisture loss, as well and fruits and vegetables sensitive to ethylene gas, in the high-humidity drawer (e.g. leafy greens, fresh herbs, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, strawberries, zucchini).

Stock produce strategically, too. I store a bowl of fresh fruit on a shelf where my family can see it as soon as they open the fridge. It makes healthy snacking easier when hunger strikes.


My staples include plain Greek yogurt, kefir (I pour it over berries and add it to smoothies) and skim or 1 per cent milk (for my husband's daily latte fix).

I also keep a tub of feta cheese and a piece of Parmesan cheese (easy to grate for pasta and salads) on hand. I stay clear of processed cheese slices and cheese spreads. If I want to indulge, I buy a block of really old cheddar and store it wrapped in wax paper, not plastic wrap, to let it breathe.

You won't find highly processed margarine in my fridge. Instead, I stock butter and, since I rarely use it, I store it in the freezer.


When I am not travelling, I keep a week's worth of hard-boiled eggs in my fridge for a convenient hit of protein (as well as B vitamins, zinc and brain-friendly choline). I buy eggs without antibiotics and, whenever possible, eggs from hens that have been raised in humane conditions (e.g. free mobility to access food and water).


Packed with healthy fats, fibre, vitamins and minerals, nuts are a regular feature in my fridge. (They go rancid more quickly when stored at room temperature due to their high fat content.) My staples include raw almonds, cashews and walnut halves, all tasty pairings with dried fruit.

Roasted nuts also have a reserved spot in my fridge. I alternate between roasted slivered almonds, pine nuts, shelled pistachios and pumpkin seeds.

I toss roasted nuts into salads, add them to yogurt and sprinkle them over stir-fries. It takes only 3 to 8 minutes to roast them in a 350-degree oven.

Plant proteins

Not a week goes by when my fridge isn't home to a block of firm tofu or cooked pulses. Chopped firm tofu is an easy protein boost to soups, stir-fries, vegetable curries, even salads.

Canned beans are super convenient, but I have started soaking and cooking dried beans on the weekend. It's easy to do and can be done while you're doing something else, including sleeping.

Cooked beans keep in the fridge for up to four days (or up to three months in the freezer). Seasoning with salt will prolong their refrigerated shelf life to one week. I add them to soup, salad, chili and tacos.

Whole grains

Brown rice, quinoa, de-hulled barley, whole corn meal and whole-wheat flour stay fresh longer when stored in the fridge rather than a kitchen cupboard.

Salad dressing

I rarely buy commercial salad dressings. Most list water as the first ingredient (that's great if you want a diluted dressing that drips to the bottom of the salad bowl), plus some brands contain as many as four grams of sugar (one teaspoon worth) per tablespoon.

My solution: homemade dressings (no sugar, little or no salt) stored in OXO BPA-free salad dressing shakers. I make a week's worth of vinaigrette dressing (French, red wine, balsamic or lemon) every weekend.

Smoothie ingredients

I have a designated area in the fridge for ground flax, chia and hemp seeds, unsweetened shredded coconut, even vegan protein powder, which I store in clear containers. It prevents rifling through my fridge every time I want to make a smoothie.


My condiment shelf includes mustard, mayonnaise, hot sauce, salsa, fish sauce, curry paste, sesame oil, walnut oil, capers, olives, hummus and tzatziki. I buy small jars and bottles of everything so I can use it before the best-before date.


I purposely make enough to have leftovers for quick, healthy meals during the week. To prevent left-over mysteries – and food waste – I store them in clear glass containers so I can easily see what's inside. Leftovers will keep for four days in the fridge.

Non-dairy beverages

My refrigerated beverage list is short: plain and naturally flavoured sparking water and unsweetened almond milk (for smoothies).



"Best-before" dates indicate how long a product will retain its peak freshness, flavour and quality; they don't tell you about the food's safety. Once you open a food package, best-before dates no longer apply.

Many refrigerated foods can be eaten safely soon after their best-before dates have passed, provided they've been stored properly. That's true for milk, yogurt, eggs and many condiments. (They may not taste as fresh, though.)

However, the quality and safety of fresh meat and poultry, deli meats and smoked fish decrease after the best-before date. Once past their prime, throw these foods out.

Resist the temptation to combine the contents of open jars of identical products since their best-before dates may be different depending on when you bought them and how long they've been opened.

Pitch any leftovers that have been refrigerated for more than four days.

Check the temperature of your fridge, too. To keep foods safe, make sure your fridge is set at 4 C (40 F) or colder. And don't overstuff your fridge; air circulation is key for keeping foods cold.

Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto.

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