Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links and we will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on our links. You can view MCC’s Full Disclosure Policy HERE.
Hi, my name is Leah and I am an OVERPLANNER! One of those I need to know what is happening tomorrow, yesterday types. Yup, that is me! While these traits are annoying A LOT of the time, I have found that planning, list making, and over thinking has made me a pretty organized person who is prepared for most things at anytime!
One thing I have become VERY obedient about is keeping a well stocked pantry, freezer and refrigerator. This allows me freedom to make a nice variety of meals, pack kid’s lunches quickly, and almost always have ingredients on hand to whip up a favorite dessert without a last minute grocery run.
Since I have 2 young kids, plus babysit, you will notice my fridge runs more ‘family friendly’ but I think these tips and ideas will inspire you to get the most out of your budget and more bang out of every day ingredients!
📍 Pin HERE for later!
Let’s explore what I consider fridge MUST haves and why I always keep these on hand.
Milk – a gallon or two always on hand. When grabbing it at the store ALWAYS look for the furthest expiration date. This is an easy habit to start when shopping the refrigerated section. Nothing is worse than getting home and realize your milk only has 2 days left before the best buy date when you can get a gallon with a date 10 days or 2 weeks out!
Eggs – 2 or 3 dozen at all times. A breakfast must have and with 4 kids each morning a dozen doesn’t last long! Plus I am an avid baker and seem to go through them quite quickly. Eggs have a super long shelf life so don’t be afraid to stock up on a good sale. Hard boiled eggs can become deviled eggs for any potluck in minutes. Read how to cook them in the Pressure Cooker HERE!
Heavy Cream – I always have at least a pint on hand. It is a staple for adding to sauces, soups, and gravy for an extra thick, rich base. Using leftovers for soups is a BIG part of my meal planning. Adding a few tablespoons of cream to a basic soup puts it over the top and seems like hours were spent making it. Not only for savory dishes, heavy cream makes THE BEST frosting and glazes. Add to powdered sugar and you have a pourable glaze for cookies and cinnamon rolls. Check out this iced lemon cookie recipe for inspiration!
Butter/Margarine – Always REAL stick butter for baking, gravies, and sauces. I keep at least one pound in the fridge. Find it on sale, grab extra and store in the deep freezer for up to 6 months! I keep spreadable margarine for toast and sandwiches. I don’t use it often, but it is nice for quick grilled cheese or spreading on toast.
Sour Cream – a MUST for tacos, stroganoff, baked potatoes and many other recipes including baked goods. It too has a LONG expiration date, so don’t be afraid to buy a few when it is on sale! Try this taco breakfast casserole for a change up at your next brunch!
Cream Cheese – Load up on this when it is on sale – the expiration dates go out for MONTHS! I use this for buffalo chicken dip, cheesecake, frosting, smeared on bagels, and of course Pickle/Ham Rolls. Learn how to make Micki’s family cheesecake recipe HERE (you will never believe how she makes the crust!)
Pita bread &/or Soft Tortillas – mini pizzas, quesadillas, chicken or tuna salad wraps and tacos are always an option when these are kept stocked. Plus, quarter the pita bread, brush with olive oil, season with salt and bake until crisp for a warm fresh cracker for dipping in humus, pizza dip, olive salad and MORE!
Beef & Chicken Base – I buy these in larger tubs at Sam’s Club or GFS, however, you can find it at any grocery store in the soup/broth aisle. NEVER be without broth again when you keep these these bullion style flavorings. Make soups, gravies, sauces and more anytime. These French Onion Meatballs use Beef Broth and will become a FAVORITE dinner option!
Cheese – I am from the Midwest so you KNOW it is practically it’s own food group in our house! I like to have several blocks of cheese for snacking or grating. Cheddar and co-jack are my mainstays. However, mozzarella and provolone are staples too! I keep a bag of shredded cheese stocked also. Generally a 4 cheese blend for tacos, pizza, quesadillas, etc. American cheese slices are a must with kids. Grilled cheese sandwiches are a go to lunch or late night dinner! Find some AMAZING grilled cheese tips HERE!
Fresh Fruit – Apples, Oranges and Lemons are ALWAYS in my fridge. Typically some berries and grapes (or anything seasonally available and on sale) are chilling, too. I keep a washable plastic basket at kid level full of fruit. The kids can help themselves and are easily drawn to it when it is at their level. Lemons are handy for adding freshness to many meals and is a must have for lots of baked goods (like this Lemon Poppyseed Bread).
Kid’s Drawer – One drawer is designated with kid friendly, grab & go items. Whether it is a snack on the run, packing lunches, or a fast breakfast, these keep the kids happy and able to self serve! Cheese sticks, yogurt cups, beef sticks, baby carrots, Gogurts and Danimals. My yogurt stash is rotated heavily with whatever is on sale or has coupons (find printable coupons HERE). I always keep a quart of plain or vanilla yogurt for smoothies or fruit parfaits, too.
A few more items that are mandatory
- Dressings – Ranch, Western, Italian (great for making pasta salads!!)
- Mayo, Ketchup, Mustard, Worcestershire Sauce, Jelly, Pickles
- Cooked chicken that I prep once a week – dinner is ready in snap without having to thaw and prep a protein
- Lunchables or Protein snack packs (not an everyday item, but lunch on the run or for fun picnics)
- Juice boxes and Gatorade
- Canned Biscuits or Crescents – Lots of meal options with these on hand. Crescent chicken is a fav.
- Refrigerated Cookie Dough – I bake from scratch most of the time, but occasionally its nice to just toss some in the oven for a quick treat!
- Sliced cheese & lunch meat for sandwiches and wraps
- Lettuce or bagged salad
- Prewashed veggies like broccoli and carrots. I roast them often for a side dish and use the left overs for soups or stir fry.
Now will all these ideas work for your family? NO, but hopefully you can find some inspiration for better meal planning or stretching your budget.
Do I keep my fridge this organized? YES! It has taken me a long time to get a good system into place. Don’t try and take it all on at once. Focus on one area and slowly get your own method down and stick with what works.
Keeping drawers and bins organized and sorted is necessary to know what is on hand. I got these Y-Weave ones from Target HERE. As an additional note, I clean out leftovers and bins once a week. Every Sunday I purge or freeze any leftovers from the previous week and check expiration dates. Never let leftovers build up and consume the space. Don’t be afraid to freeze leftovers for a use later. Cooked proteins like chicken or ground beef freeze great and make meal prep later so simple! Chili, spaghetti, and even Sloppy Joes freeze and reheat better than the original meal! Items you may not think to freeze include mashed potatoes (great for soups later) and shredded cheese. Don’t let these items waste away in your refrigerator.
I also find keeping my leftovers in clear containers helps me use them. I never have the ‘mystery’ container everyone is afraid to open! Plus, if they are stored at the front, in plain sight, it is easy to use them up whether reheated or as as leftover makeover!
If you are struggling with meal prep always look to re-purpose at least one meal a week. For example chili on Sunday becomes chili dogs or loaded baked potatoes later in the week. One prep, two meals! With a good fridge inventory, you will have shredded cheese and sour cream on hand for either one of these meals.