Like the rest of you, I have a lot of people in my house lately. All day. Every day. And even if you have just one person in your house it feels like alot. The mothers out there with one child are just as frazzled as those of us with four. Because it's different. And it's messy. And C19 feels like an odd mix of the exciting first days of summer break and the food and drink laden Christmas vacation and, well, hell. I vacillate between an overabundance of happiness and what could be called homicidal thoughts.
The amount of eating that is taking place here is shocking. I have two teenage boys who are never, ever full. I have an 11 year-old girl who plans "to bake every day from 2 - 5 p.m" which involves a lot of mess (for me) and a lot of calories (also for me). Our 9 year-old would eat plums and cinnamon sugar toast for every meal if I let her (I do). Andy Blackford thinks chips and salsa is a food group and I hide chocolate in the pocket of my robe -- a new low. This house feels very small and the chocolate is almost gone.
It took me a few weeks to accept the fact that we aren't going anywhere soon; but I finally faced the music and realized I had to get this place to work with me, since nobody else does. I've spent the past days cleaning up and cleaning out many spaces. Over the weekend I carved out time to make a two-week meal plan and grocery list. I disinfected our two refrigerators. I wiped down every cabinet and tossed all those free, grimy water bottles and the random coffee cups Andy is having a passionate love affair with, which has been going on for years. I turn a blind eye...for the children.
What's more upsetting about the coffee cup situation is when expensive, organic, beautiful food goes to waste while kids make a meal out of popcorn and granola bars. In light of the virus, it seems ridiculous to eat packaged food while the lowly grapes go unloved in the back of the the fridge. Below are some tips that work for us (let's be honest, primarily me) and may work for you, too:
Take everything out of both the freezer and the refrigerator and clean every drawer, shelf and crevice. We fill a spray bottle with vinegar and water and a few drops of citrus from the last of the oranges nobody ate - throw the rest down the disposal or simmer them, along with a cinnamon stick, in a pot on the stove. This cleaning method is non-toxic and cheap... two good things. I pay five bucks for help with this job and give my blessing for my kids to eat what they find. It's amazing what kids will eat. Crystallized popsicle from last summer? Down the hatch. Flat soda from an open can? Toss it back. (Full disclosure, during the virus I've been offering my children one Sprite a day if they leave the house all together for at least an hour. This helps me avoid saying something I regret or committing a heinous crime against humanity. Soda is contraband in our house so it's highly unlikely there would even BE a flat soda because they basically lick clean the insides of the precious can of diabetes.)
Check expiration dates and toss things out of date (this goes against everything I was ever taught by my mother and her sisters - I can't even discuss what I've witnessed in my life but the phrase 'IT'S STILL GOOD' should be on every single one of their tombstones when they die of rancid pie crust or curdled milk).
Wipe down any bottles and containers and marry together like items; the two bottles of balsamic dressing are now having a moment together.
We buy organic 90 percent of the time (another thing my mother finds ridiculous) but I still wash all fruits and veggies as soon as I arrive home. I know, I know - this is such a pain but I am always happy later and dinner prep doesn't feel as taxing if the ingredients are ready to go. We use this veggie wash:
I drop all of our fruit in a bowl of cold water and a splash of applecider vinegar, let it sit for about ten minutes and drain. Once everything dries I put a piece of lunch paper in the bottom and pop it all back in the fridge.
I've been using these cute papers since my kids were small. They are a lifesaver. You can use them as a placemat or in lieu of paper plates for most things (sandwiches, pizza, toast, nuts, berries, cookies, margaritas) and my crew has had many a morning muffin or afternoon snack on these little square-foot saviors. I got my first batch when I worked in catering and have been buying them from a restaurant supply store ever since. You can also find them on Amazon but they are a little more pricy than buying in bulk. Still, they are recyclable and take up less space than paper products. I love these things.
I hate tin foil wrapped anything unless it's a burrito and plastic storage containers make me queasy. Do they ever really get clean? Are they really chemical free? We have been using glass containers for years. I've bought several from estate sales and the rest have come from IKEA and Amazon. Seeing the food is the first step to getting people to eat the food. Leftovers left languishing in a takeout box or a foil wrapped whatever either spoil or get forgotten. Square and rectangle shapes are best, in my opinion, because they allow for more storage in less space.
My Ikea faves - I have several of these in various sizes.
The are inexpensive and are freezer, oven, microwave and dishwasher safe.
They are pretty enough to use on the table in a pinch.
Estate sale finds -- I adore these little glass containers for leftovers.
I have several egg holders from the Container Store (you can find similar here) because they stack nicely and we buy eggs in five dozen increments.
Mark one egg with a date so you know expirations.
Hand wash these containers every few weeks - the dishwasher melts them which is something I learned the hard way.
If I didn't have to buy enough eggs for an army mess hall, I would invest in these pretty ceramic ones from Crate&Barrel.
We fill these glass water containers and keep them on the door of the fridge. I am constantly nagging my children to drink more water (and hang up their towels and brush their teeth and not eat in their room but...) and seeing pretty bottles filled with cold water helps;
we put these on the table at dinner time so everyone can refill their glasses.
Once you've tossed and cleaned and organized and watched your children eat random items out of the freezer, it's time to put it all back in a way that makes sense and is visually appealing. A container of colorful sliced peppers makes a snack of veggies and dip much more likely. Cold, already-washed red grapes in a clear glass dish is as tempting as a cupcake.
Kidding. Nothing is better than a cupcake unless it is a cupcake with another cupcake on top.
Here's how I organize the Blackford fridge:
They are loaded into the Container Store container and placed on an upper shelf.
Milk and cream and yogurts go on a shelf towards the back where temps are colder and items are less likely to be affected by the (constant) opening and shutting of the fridge.
Fruits and veggies:
Leafy greens in one drawer (a lot of people use mesh bags for these... I wash and wrap mine loosely in those trusty black and white papers or a clean kitchen towel) and other veggies in the other; washed fruits and already sliced veggies on a middle, eye level shelf.
Meat | Cheese | Poultry:
We keep this in the long bottom drawer - again, the papers go inside so when things get grimy I can toss them. I should be making money off of these papers...seriously. I put the cheese together on the left (blocks of cheddar, goat, feta) and the lunchmeat, etc. on the right.
We also buy this in bulk and I stash most of it in the trusty little butter holder on the upper right door. I was gifted a Butter Bell and it is the cutest little thing and you can leave it on your counter so the butter is always soft. Unfortunately, I had to stop using it because I was eating an, um, 'inappropriate' amount of butter.
It appears we have more condiments than food - not sure how that happens. I try to get it all in the doors and, again, keep like with like - ketchup, mustard, horseradish, relish in one spot and salad dressings in another.
There's always a bottle of white, much to my sister's delight, in our fridge and the overflow goes in the garage or the wine chiller in the basement or my purse, depending on the day.
Home-cooked leftovers go in to clear containers at eye level, along with the washed fruit. I give restaurant take-out a 24-hour reprieve before it gets tossed and we have become more savvy on ordering less when out.
Use what you have when you can. Anything not earmarked for a recipe is fair game. I smash up tired looking tomatoes and saute seen-better-days spinach into store bought spaghetti sauce. I freeze leftover gluten free bread for breadcrumbs because wow does gluten free bread cost a lot of money and why nobody eats the heel is beyond me. I mix leftover sweet potatoes into chili. I am basically Ma Ingalls in yoga pants over here.
Do a weekly purge before you go to the store so that your arrival home is all about putting things away rather than throwing things away.
Don't forget to bring your reusable bags and then wash them in that week's laundry load. A study found that the germ level inside reusable bags can be pretty scary.
Once you unload all your groceries and put the non-perishables away, wash the counters and wash your hands and then wash all the fruits and vegetables and put it all away.
Again, hide all candy, sodas or other contraband in the veggie drawer because absolutely nobody opens that drawer. If you come to my house and the broccoli has a subtle taste of M&Ms, keep it to yourself. There's more where that came from.
Check out this brilliant mother's trick:
I am including a recent shot of a friend's fridge. (She will remain anonymous but her name rhymes with Darcy and she has red hair and we went to highschool together.)
She's lamenting that her kids won't eat a real meal because they would rather have snack food. I told her it's because her refrigerator isn't organized well. Just kidding. I didn't tell her that. Because that's a big fat lie and would be super mean to say to one of my oldest friends who is also vacillating between happiness and homicide. I told her the reason her kids want to eat snack food is because snack food is delicious and those lucky teenagers have an insane metabolism. Still, this is what many of our refrigerators look like because we live in a real life lockdown with real life people.
But if you really want to give yourself some goals, check out the photos below. Only celebrities can have refrigerators like this. In fact, that last photo is a shot of Khloe's fridge designed by The Home Edit - the Instagram darlings of organization. Still, it's nice to pretend. And you don't have to be famous to be organized. You just have to be diligent and you have to know where the candy is hidden and you have to use Sprite as a bribe.