3 Tips for Cooking with Whatever’s in Your Fridge

The eternal question in my household: What’s for dinner? At the end of a long day, getting to the grocery store simply doesn’t happen. As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I know the value of having a fridge stocked with healthy foods. As a mom, I know that sometimes you have to find creative ways to get dinner on the table. Using what I already have on hand helps me save money while still providing the nutrition I need. Ready to embrace the chaos of cooking creatively with whatever you can find? Here are my top tips:

Organization Goes a Long Way

Placing items in the right spot helps you find what you need, when you need it. It also keeps your food fresher longer, as freshness depends on keeping foods at their temperature sweet spot. Here’s your quick guide to fridge organization:

  • Upper Shelves: Leftovers, drinks and fresh foods like milk, yogurt and cheese.
  • Lower Shelves: Raw ingredients slated for cooked dishes.
  • Door: Condiments only: it’s the warmest part of the fridge. No eggs or milk here, keep them somewhere colder.
  • Drawers: Store fruits and veggies here.

Don’t Be Afraid to Adapt

Recipes shouldn’t be written in stone, adding items or swapping things out can still make for a delicious dinner. It’s all about finding ways to use the foods you have in the recipes you want to make. Here are some ways to revamp our favorite recipes:

  • A salad is a smart start with major health benefits – plus it’s a great way to use up some of your vegetables and fruits. Adding more vegetables and fruits to any dish adds fiber, important for keeping you at a healthy weight.
  • Casseroles, enchiladas and pizzas are easily adjustable. Chop up those veggies and add them on in. Throw some of your favorite shredded cheese on top, and you’re adding a great source of high-quality protein, calcium and vitamin D.
  • Looking for dessert? Consider a smoothie or parfait. Yogurt is always a great base for dishes and you can use up the fruit in your fridge. Fruits and vegetables about to turn? They’re perfectly good blended into a smoothie – and you’ll sneak in a few more servings for your family.

Understand Those Expiration Dates

Confusion about what to toss, when, lets a lot of food go to waste. Know your two types of dates:

  • "Use by" and "Best by" dates are recommendations. If it’s a few days past the date, but still smells fine and looks good, feel free to use.
  • "Sell by" applies to perishable items, such as meat, poultry, seafood and milk. It’s a guide for how long stores should keep it on the shelves. You can still store it at home and use it beyond that date.

Fine-tuning my fridge has benefits beyond saving money and time – it also helps reduce food waste. Food waste continues to be a huge problem in this country: One in three calories ends up in the trash – calories that could help feed the more than 49 million Americans facing food insecurity every day.

Explore more ways to reduce food waste, and find great recipes to start cooking tonight at DairyDiscoveryZone.com!

By Katie McKee, MCN, RDN, LD

Katie has always loved teaching others about the power of nutrition. She has a background in journalism as a reporter, writer and editor and has been part of the Dairy MAX team since 2015. When she's not working, Katie enjoys cooking and spending time with her young son and family. Learn more about Katie