Follow these tips to ensure you always have what you need for a simple, but delicious, weeknight meal and a small spread if unexpected company stops by.
By Annelise McAuliffe
An organized, intelligently stocked refrigerator may be a sign of truly reaching adulthood. A chiller filled only with midnight snacks and booze doesn’t mean you don’t have it all together, but it could mean you need some assistance in the food planning department. As a college student, it was always a special treat to return home to my parents house and ravage the fridge filled with every imaginable condiment before moving on to the freezer which had been stocked for a long winter and finally concluding with a round belly in the pantry that was fit for a zombie apocalypse.
Follow these tips to ensure you always have what you need for a simple weeknight meal or a small spread if unexpected company arrives so you can offer them more than a glass of tap water and your takeout leftovers.
Always Have a Protein
Eggs should be on every grocery list you make. Regardless of your budget, if you have eggs in your fridge you can make breakfast and probably whip up a forgotten baked good on demand, provided your pantry has some basics, too. The next time you need a quick dinner you know you at least have the protein portion of the meal covered. Now just add salad, pasta, or any of these options to complete a simple, delicious meal. If eggs aren’t your style, keep sausages, your favorite ground meat, or tofu on demand in your freezer.
Grab Some Colors
A well-stocked icebox that is ready to whip up a wholesome, gourmet meal at anytime should have a fruit and vegetable of at least three colors. Grab your orange carrots, green spinach, yellow bananas, and brown mushrooms or other seasonal hues on each of your grocery runs to outfit yourself for an array of dishes. Be sure to have one fresh herb in your fridge at all times to compensate for your dried selection. I am always sure to have at least one leafy green on hand at all times that can be enjoyed raw or cooked into a dish I am making.
The ingredient basics for a well stocked fridge go beyond the cooler and flow into you pantry, too. Olive oil, salt, pepper, onions, a lemon or lime, a head of garlic, and butter may not all belong in the fridge, but they are necessary for just about every dish you will cook. If you have those item, you can make a dressing to toss with a salad or pasta and you have the start to a flavorful soup when combined with your rainbow of vegetables.
Know Your Staples
I know if I at least have oats or eggs I can make a gourmet breakfast. For lunch, as long as I have artisanal cheese or an array of fresh greens I can make a filling salad or a fun cheese plate. And if there is stock in my freezer or fridge, I can make a hearty soup for dinner that will make all of my uninvited dinner guests feel at home. Once you figure out your strengths and know what you need to be able to execute your favorites it is easier to make a grocery list and have a fridge that is full and working in your favor.
If if you do not eat dairy you know your alternatives. Diary products add fat, flavor, protein and are important for baking. Be sure to have a milk and butter (or oil) of your choice in your fridge at all times for making everything from a late night homemade mac and cheese to a creamy dessert icing.
Acknowledge the Grains and Beans
At the beginning of each week I make a slightly larger batch of quinoa, rice, pasta, beans, farro, or something that is filling, nutritious and versatile. Throughout the week I can throw together a quick lunch salad, incorporate the items into a stew for dinner or serve it as a starch next to a peice of fish or other protein main dish.
Fill Your Condiment Shelf
Now this does not mean that you should have so many sauces and dips that they sit forgotten in the back of your refrigerator for years, but having one of each of your favorites can take a boring burger to a perfectly flavorful dinner. Have one of each of your favorite hot sauce, mustard, ketchup, barbecue sauce, pickles, and jam (or whatever your favorite toppings may be) in your fridge doors for those dishes that need an extra boost.
Have a Small Drink Selection
It is always a good idea to have more than water on hand if you think you friends may stop by. Whether you are a wine drinker or prefer beer have a six pack or a bottle you enjoy stocked away for a special occasion or an impromptu get together. For nonalcoholic options, that is up to you. Pick something that you would enjoy regularly anyways as most juices or fresh sodas (without the gunk) do not last as long. As an easy alternative to plain water, have a pitcher of homemade flavored water in your fridge. Add slices of cucumber or citrus fruits for a beautiful and tasty display.
Have a Snack
For those in between meal hunger pangs, to have a few snacks on hand in your fridge so you don’t have to resort to leaving your home and be sucked into making inevitable junk food purchases. Carrot sticks, hummus, yogurt, tortillas, and peanut butter, along with the rest of your fresh fruits and vegetables, can keep you full between meals without having to turn on the stove.
When all of your goodies are washed, organized and in their proper place it is easier to see what you have, what you need, and what you would like to eat. Have a dedicated fruit and vegetable draw, place all your beverages in one area, and leftovers in another, and don’t forget to keep all of your raw meats at the very bottom in case they drip. Label and date the prepped meals you have in your freezer so you remember what is in there and how long you have had it. Check out these ideas for cooking for a stocked freezer.
Mandatory family outings to the Detroit farmers' market and nightly home-cooked meals cultivated Annelise's respect and curiosity for food. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, she spends her free time in New York City recipe testing, eating breakfast all day, and dreaming up international culinary adventures.