Your fridge and freezer are an oft-neglected but important tool in keeping you sane. Instead, we turn it into a scary house of horrors—a freezer-burned bag of who knows what buried under a box of 3-year-old fish sticks. I mean, I THINK they are fish sticks. Last week, we tackled your pantry and so, this week, on to cold storage.

Now, this a sexy, organized fridge

First up: The Fridge

Like your cupboards, step one is to clean out your fridge. Remove everything so you can clean the inside and take stock of your contents. Go through your condiments and sauces. My money says that you have at least one duplicate and one that expired 3 years ago. Start a list and throw that stuff out, buy a fresh replacement. Also, wash the messy jars before you put them back in the fridge with soapy, hot water.

Clear Plastic storage bins

are perfect to keep things organized. One bin for all chili sauces, hot sauces and other leaky, oil things that wreak havoc when they drip. First of all, you can just pull the bin out to go through and find what you are looking for. Second, if jars leak, you just clean the bin. You don’t get chili oil all over the shelf and, hence, all over the other items. In my fridge, there is one for mustards alone because I am a condiment addict. Don’t judge until you see what you have in yours. Your condiments say a lot about you.

I have an egg container like this

because I like to see how many eggs are left and cardboard containers get wet and floppy. You can also stack on top of a plastic container. Keep containers flat on the top so you can stack them – I LOVE these stackable, clear bins

Make sure at least one part of the fridge, or even a whole shelf, for perishables.

This is where your fresh ingredients go, your leftovers, dairy and anything with a shelf life. You should have to go digging through a forest of jars to find a rotting container of cottage cheese hidden in the back. Check the dates from time to time and move the stuff that is going to go bad sooner to the front so you remember to use it.

Invest in some fridge liners. I use these so that if there is a spill it’s easier to clean this than the actual shelf. It also helps prevent leaking from the upper shelves. We also really don’t want any meat on the bottom to leak into the crisper. They can be easily trimmed to fit and they are also great for cupboard shelves.

Food Prep Bins

If you have to make lunches daily or just want to get ready for the week, you can make bins for that. When I know I will cook quite a bit, I might chop onions, scallions, celery, peppers etc and store them in small bins. That way I just grab the bins and start cooking. Cutting out 20 minutes of chopping is often the only thing standing between me and ordering out. Put breakfast or lunch items in one bin so that you can just pull it out, make your sandwiches or whatever you make for lunch, grab a yogurt and Bob’s your uncle.

Okay, you should now have a clean, organized fridge.

The top shelf and the door are the “warmest” part of the fridge, getting colder as we go down. Use the door to store often-used condiments, and more delicate oils like nut oils. Keep milk and any meat on the lowest shelf. Of course, the crisper is for fruits and veg as it has a regulated humidity factor. Dairy, eggs and spreads can go on the top shelf.

The Freezer

Apply the same fridge principles apply to the freezer.

Use clear, plastic containers to organize. If you freeze leftovers in bags, write the content and date with a sharpie. When you freeze in reusable containers, get out the green painter’s tape and sharpie and stick that on with the item and date. You can go nuts and keep an inventory on the side of the fridge.

Get silicone ice cube trays with lids so you can stack and keep smells out. I use these large silicone ice cube trays which are also great for freezing pesto, compound butter, etc. It’s smart to keep one set for ice and another for food so you don’t get smell transfer. Nobody wants a gin and tonic to taste like garlic butter. Or, maybe you do.

Plastic magazine holders can be great for stacking your flat bags of food – use your imagination and repurpose things you might already have.

Check Your Contents Regularly

First of all, figure out what you use all the time. Go through your freezer every 4-6 weeks and rotate older items from the back to the front. Out of sight, out of mind and the next thing you know, you have freezer-burned chicken thighs. Bring those beauties to the front so you can see them and cook them.

ANYTHING you repackage needs to have the date written on it. Even if food doesn’t go bad, the quality degrades after a long time. Don’t buy more than you need and use what you buy. Oh and store your frozen items vertically. Freezer bags are frozen flat on a tray and then stacked on their side in a clear bin. Eureka!

Less Waste

Catering has taught me to use everything. Take citrus. Every time I use a lemon, lime or orange, I zest it first. I keep a small container for each type of zest in the freezer. You just keep topping it up, adding fresh zest on top of the frozen. Zest is thrown in rice, when roasting veggies or making dips like hummus, sauces and vinaigrettes. If my citrus is close to going bad, I juice them and freeze that in small freezer bags. Lay flat so you can just bust off a chunk as needed.

Make Extra For the Freezer

When making lentils or beans, make more, on purpose, so you can freeze the leftovers. As always, try to lay the freezer bag flat for easier storage. I have a small tray that I use for this purpose. Lay the bag of frozen whatever on the tray and then put the tray in the freezer. Once solid, I can then stack the bag on its side in a bin. No more digging and wasted space with bulky items. You are going to the trouble of making labour-intensive things like pesto, hummus etc, so make more than you need. Just remember that two smaller bags are better than one huge bag. Packagee in usable portions.

Freeze all your leftovers

Stop throwing away half a can of tomatoes, a cup of rice or soup. Freeze it. Keep a bin of one-serving small bags of rice, stew, soup etc for lunches or late-night snacks. Label everything with contents and date. Save all chicken carcasses and bones for stock. I keep a bag on the go where I add scraps. All root veg peels, onion skins and ends, bits of carrot, celery and fennel go into the bag. When it’s full, I make chicken stock and, guess what I do with that? WE FREEZE IT.

Take things out of the packaging

Although that box of chicken nuggets looks like it’s easier to store, it also contains a ton of wasted space. If you need the instructions, cut that off the box and either tape it on the outside or slip it in the bag. Repackage if necessary.

Like the fridge, there are warmer spots and colder spots

The door is where you put things like nuts (yes, nuts should be in the freezer or the fridge if use them often), flours, tomato paste and zests. It’s the warmest spot and the fridge gets colder as you move down and to the back of the shelves.

Label, label. In case I forgot to mention, LABLE.

If you are fortunate enough to have a stand-alone freezer as well as the one that is in your fridge, you can still use these principles. A chest freezer (the black hole of frozen foods) requires more stackable bins with lids, clearly labelled. The dollar store is your friend as you will need lots of them. Store like items together, label the hell out of everything and, Godspeed.

Standing freezers are the mecca of extra freezers. Organize it like a fridge.

The bottom line is that a well-organized fridge/freezer will make your life easier. You will find that cooking is not quite as stressful as it used to be. Maybe, just maybe, you might actually learn to like it.