Jun 062015
 
It's watermelon season!

It’s watermelon season!

On a hot, humid summer day, there is nothing more refreshing than a slice of ice cold watermelon!

The organizational problem with watermelon, however, is that it is so large and takes up a lot of space in the fridge. If you are a watermelon fan, it’s time to make some space. Clear out a spot in your fridge and designate it your “watermelon spot.” Ideally, place it at about eye level so that every time you open the fridge for a snack, it is the first thing you see.

2015-06-06-watermelonshelf

In addition to being delicious, watermelon is a great source of the antioxidant lycopene that can serve as an internal sunscreen in addition to its other health-giving properties!

Another way to solve your watermelon space problems--mini watermelons!

Another way to solve your watermelon space problems–mini watermelons!

My children loved these "cute" sized watermelons.

My children loved these “cute” sized watermelons.

We are aiming to eat watermelon every day during the summer as part of our healthy eating goals.

Have a watermelon tip or favorite watermelon recipe? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on June 6, 2015 General Tagged with: , ,
Jan 082010
 

I have a couple of loose ends to tie up from previous posts and will be using my Fridays this month to do that.

Back in November when we were chatting about food, the Ruly Challenge that month was to eat from the fridge and pantry stores and clean out the fridge. It took me longer than a month to get my fridge cleaned out but I wanted to show you the results.

Fridge Outside - Before

Fridge Inside - Before

The refrigerator in our house doubles as an information booth. We put up photos, invitations, reminders, etc. on the outside because we know it will get noticed. Unfortunately, we sometimes take this too far and the fridge gets buried in information.

Prior to the Ruly Challenge, the inside of our fridge was full of stuff. We frequently tossed things out that we didn’t use in time. When you opened the fridge, it was hard to find things that looked delicious and we ate out quite often.

The Ruly Challenge was a good experience for us as it forced us to pick through all the “stuff” in the fridge. Most of it we ate, some of it we tossed. We eliminated about 20 bottles of old salad dressings, soy sauce, etc. in the door of the fridge, rearranged the shelving to maximize space, gave it all a good cleaning (trying out the eco-friendly cleaning method of baking soda and water which worked great!) and the new result is working much better for us.

Fridge Outside – After
Fridge Inside – After

In fact, it is working so well that I am now convinced that given the option, we would purchase a smaller fridge to save energy and space. The bottom two shelves of our fridge are practically unused.

I created a new informal system within the fridge to help us keep things organized. I used many of the tips I posted here. The major changes were to put all the leftovers and items expiring soon at eye level so they are the first things we see when we open the fridge. On the freezer side, our previous eye-level food was ice cream. We don’t need any visual reminders to eat ice cream so we moved that down to the bottom, less accessible part of the fridge. Below is my fridge organization system (which reminds me a bit of a Richard Scarry illustration).

My Fridge Organization System

We have been living with this arrangement for a little over a month now and I am pleased to say that the fridge still looks about the same as when we took these pictures! Of course, it doesn’t look like this all the time. I recently unburied it again from all the great holiday cards I posted on there. Also, when my husband was putting away groceries recently, he rearranged much of the freezer to make the frozen food boxes fit (a frequent problem in side-by-side fridges). After some initial panic over the change to my work, I realized that things would get back to “normal” as soon as we ate the frozen foods and sure enough that is what happened. It took less than five minutes to get my system back once the frozen foods were gone.

Keeping the fridge food levels to a minimum is really the key to keeping the fridge looking like this. When you keep the food levels low and have an assigned section for each food category, you quickly see what is outgrowing its space that you need to address. For us, the “leftover” and “eat now” section is the one that is constantly getting out of hand. When we start getting Tupperware containers on the bread shelf in the fridge, I know it is time to stop cooking (or stop grocery shopping) and start eating what we already have.

When I was cooking over the holidays, it was also a lesson to me to just purchase the ingredients for the 2 or 3 special meals I was going to prepare. With the meals and leftovers, we could eat for several days or even a week. I didn’t need to stock up on frozen foods, meats, etc. at the same time. This is something that we have grown so accustomed to doing that it feels strange to check out with a lighter cart. In fact, when I was doing my grocery shopping, I overheard the following conversation:

“Look, honey, the beef is on sale! Should we stock up?”

“No, I am trying to use the stuff we already have in the deep freezer downstairs.”

“But it’s a really good buy!”

“No….well, OK, maybe just one.”

Sure enough, they added another roast to their cart. We have never had a deep freezer and don’t plan to get one. I have enough trouble staying on top of the things in the small freezer we currently have! Also, while some people insist a second freezer is a great way to lock in bargains and save money, I am not sure this is necessarily true. To reap the benefits of a deep freezer system, you would have to really know the cost of all the meals you prepare and know that you would definitely eat whatever it is that you are purchasing in bulk. You would also have to be saving at least as much money as it costs you to run the deep freezer in electricity costs. In our experience, there is always something on sale that we find appetizing every time we go to the grocery store. Also, I know that I get tired of eating the same things again and again and that I tend to forget about things that I purchased in the past. I have never felt that I was wasting money by not having a deep freezer.

Of course, in full disclosure (although what can be more “full disclosure” than displaying the contents of your refrigerator on the Internet for all to see!), I have little expertise as a cook and make complicated dishes with multiple ingredients probably once a decade. However, I have learned from the many good cooks in my family that often times a few good simple ingredients can be just as flavorful. My new fridge system works well for my style of cooking. There certainly could be many other options that work well in other situations.

It was a serendipitous choice to start my minimalist efforts with my fridge. The fridge has been a good teacher for several reasons. First, we don’t mourn the loss of items like wilted salad greens or old bottles of condiments. It is a relief and a joy to throw those out! Second, if you start getting too much in the fridge, you just start eating. There is no complicated process to list the items for sale, bag them up for Goodwill, etc. Learning what the minimum in food consumption is will be helpful to our waistlines in the long term as well. If we are not stocking up on it, we are less likely to impulse eat it.  The fridge challenge is one that you can start at any time. You may be surprised at what your refrigerator is waiting to teach you.

What are your fridge organization secrets? Please share in the comments. (As a reminder, anyone posting a comment this month can receive a Ruly thank you note if you send me your address at info@beruly.com). Thanks to all for the great comments on the last post as well as the great comments I am getting behind the scenes!

Have a great weekend!

 Posted by on January 8, 2010 General Tagged with: ,
Nov 132009
 

There are few issues in a business office that involve as many politics as the shared office refrigerator.  Naturally, we treat lunches and snacks very personally and when we leave our food somewhere for safekeeping, we want to find it safe and fresh when we come back to it.  It brings a distinct sense of unease to find your sustenance moved, tampered with or otherwise disturbed.

The most common problems with the office refrigerator are overcrowding, stolen lunches, forgotten food left to rot and assigning responsibility to some unlucky soul to periodically clean out the office fridge–one of the most thankless and awful tasks.

Of course it also doesn’t help things that we are all bringing with us our own hangups about food and eating into the mix.  Dietary restrictions, food snobbery, calorie counting, secretive eating, allergies, cleanliness routines…you name it and someone in your office has an opinion on the matter.  The office itself may cause our eating behaviors to become more bizarre.  Once we are in a shared food environment, primal survival instincts are triggered and we become supremely intolerant and compulsive.  Or, some may be trying to put on a front of good eating habits to appear more conscious of nutrition and calories in an attempt to enhance their professional image.

If you need a lift for your Friday, try not to laugh as you read these true articles related to food in the office:

So what can you do about the office fridge?  At the risk of creating a passive agressive note of my own, here are some Ruly suggestions.

  1. Each person using the fridge should store lunch for only one day’s worth of food at a time.  Excess food will be considered open for sharing with the rest of the office.
  2. At the end of the week (or day), everything in the fridge and freezer gets tossed and the fridge is cleaned.  The tossing should occur, however, well after working hours have concluded, preferably during the late evening or on a weekend.  You don’t want to toss dinner for someone working late.  Once employees learn that this policy is ruthlessly enforced, they will learn quickly to take care of their food or pack it in disposable containers they don’t mind losing.
  3. Include cleaning of the office fridge in your company’s janitorial/housekeeping contract.  Avoid assigning this task to an employee who does not have janitorial responsbilities as part of their job description unless you really want to destroy their morale.  Alternatively, offer additional compensation for the person who “volunteers” to clean out the fridge.
  4. If you have enough space, consider designating one space in the fridge for shared food and mark it with a colored shelf or label.  This is where you can put leftovers from meetings or extra portions from lunch.  Note that catered, perishable food should not be kept out for more than 2 hours from serving.  Put leftover catering in the shared spot in the fridge and leave a note on the kitchen counter rather than leaving it out.

Keep smiling and enjoy your fridge and your weekend!

 Posted by on November 13, 2009 Ruly Humor Tagged with: , ,
Nov 092009
 

Hope you had a wonderful weekend and that you are continuing your efforts to eat from your fridge and pantry stores.  Remember, the more you eat at home now, the more money you are saving, the more space you are freeing up for yummy, fresh foods next month, and the less time you will have to spend cleaning out your fridge. Plus, you are doing a good deed for the planet as well.

Now that we have reviewed the organizational strategies employed by the food industry, you may be wondering how you can use these strategies at home.  Here are some Ruly suggestions:

  1. When you get home from the grocery store, no matter how tired you are, make sure you put away all the groceries properly.  Take a few minutes to unpackage items like juice boxes, bottled waters, pudding cups, or bulk packages of items so that the foods are easily accessible and ready to eat/cook. “Face” the products so that the front of the package faces toward you like they do in stores.  This small routine has been a big help to me.  If your food/snacks are ready to grab-n-go/cook, you are less likely to get take-out because you are too tired to fix anything.
  2. In general, store your food with like items together (ex. all the milk together, all the juice together, all the meats together, all the cereal together, etc.)  The newest purchases should be placed at the back and the oldest purchases upfront.  This will make it easier for you to see what you have and what you have run out of.
  3. Store beverages in easy-to-pour clear containers or dispenser boxes so that you are encouraged to drink them and can easily see how much is left.
  4. Consider purchasing pre-cut fresh vegetables and salads to save time, reduce food preparation waste and encourage you to actually eat the vegetables.  (Note, however, that pre-cut veggies are often more expensive so you will need to balance the expense versus the possible benefits of eating more veggies because they are more accessible.)  Alternatively, when you are chopping vegetables, chop extra into a clear plastic container so that the veggies are ready to use as sandwich toppings, in salads, etc.
  5. When you put leftovers or meats in the fridge, attach a label with an “eat by” date.  Generally, leftovers keep for no more than 4 days in the fridge.  If it will take you longer than 4 days to eat the leftovers, package them for the freezer instead. It may be helpful to print this Food Safety chart and put it on your fridge as a guide or create your own chart based on the food items you frequently store.  This chart from the Dietary Managers Association has a more exhaustive list but is too big for the fridge.
  6. Consider designating one space in your fridge for items that need to be eaten right away before they spoil.  That way, if you are looking for a snack, you will peruse those items first. You will also know which items to toss when you take out your garbage each week.

If you are on a diet or trying to encourage healthy eating (who isn’t these days!), use marketing strategies for food presentation and sales in your own home to support your own eating goals.  For example:

  1. Eye-level placement – Put the foods you want yourself to eat at eye-level and the foods you should be saving for treats in harder to access places.  It would be interesting to note what you have at eye level now.  Are you eating the most of your eye-level foods or are you wasting this valuable space with frequently unused items.
  2. Displays – Create your own special “displays” for items you need extra encouragement to eat or quick items to grab on your way out the door. Maybe a banana stand with fresh bananas, a bowl of fruit, packages of nuts, muffins on a cake stand, the traditional cookie jar, etc.
  3. Loss Leaders – grocery stores often place an item on sale next to items with better profit margins.  You could use this strategy to encourage nutrition.  For example, put a bowl of dried fruit next to the brownies.  Make it easy for yourself to get back on track with good eating habits.

Below are some organizing tools that may also be helpful in your efforts.

2009-11-09-rubbermaideasyfind RubbermaidEasy Find Lids 36-pc. Food Storage Set
2009-11-06-storesafelabels Storesafe Dissolvable Food Labels (11-0004)
2009-11-06-lock-lock-pitcher Lock & Lock Storage 1 Gallon Large Pitcher
2009-11-06-dryfooddispenser Double Dry Food Dispenser – Silver
2009-11-09-cookiejar Anchor Hocking Montana 1-1/2-Gallon Jar, Brushed Metal Lid

Keep up your excellent work!  In the next post, we will introduce a new monthly feature that you are sure to enjoy.  Type to you then!

 Posted by on November 9, 2009 Industry Lessons, Storage Solutions Tagged with: , , , , ,
Nov 042009
 

This month’s Ruly Challenge will give you back precious space, put money in your wallet, save the planet and perhaps allow you to shed a few pounds too! Intrigued?  Read on!

When I opened my own pantry last week, I found it was so jammed that I could hardly fit in the new groceries.  Taking a hard look at what was in the pantry, I decided it was time to reduce and become more streamlined.

The Challenge: To the best of your ability, aim to subsist on nothing but the current food stores in your pantry and refrigerator/freezer.  Eat as many meals as you can from the ingredients you already have, purchasing as little as possible.  Clean out your refrigerator and freezer and unclutter your fridge doors.

Food waste is a serious problem in the United States.  The issue has been researched and documented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Due to the perishable nature of food, there are losses throughout the food production and distribution cycle but the largest percentage of losses occur at the consumer level.

“In 1994, the food supply provided an estimated 3,800 calories per person per day, enough to supply every American with more than one and a half times their average daily energy needs. Given this abundance, few of the Nation’s resources have traditionally been devoted to measuring or reducing food waste. . . . From foods forgotten and spoiled in the refrigerator to the uneaten vegetables tossed in the garbage, consumer and foodservice food waste is the single largest source of food loss in the marketing chain. Estimated at 91 billion pounds, this food loss accounted for 26 percent of the edible food available for human consumption in 1995.”

Estimating and Addressing America’s Food Losses,” Food Review, January – April 1997

Tim Jones, a professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona, has spent decades going through people’s garbage to determine the truth about our consumption and waste patterns. Professor Jones estimates that each household wastes 14% of their food purchases, throwing away at least $590 per year.

“[F]ruits and vegetables are the single biggest category of wasted food. . . ‘[T]hat’s what healthy people do, right? They eat lots of fruits and vegetables. So they buy those, usually on a Sunday, let’s say. And then all week long they get home from work, tired, they have prepared foods that they do have. And finally the next weekend when they get around to finally having some time, let’s say on Saturday, and they go in there and open it up and most of it’s already mush.’”

Anthropologist Suggests Ways to Stop Wasting Food,” National Public Radio, November 27, 2006

“Cutting food waste would also go a long way toward reducing serious environmental problems. Jones estimates that reducing food waste by half could reduce adverse environmental impacts by 25 percent through reduced landfill use, soil depletion and applications of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.”

Study: Nation Wastes Nearly Half Its Food,’ The University of Arizona, UA News, November 18, 2004

Growing up, I watched my Depression-era grandmothers save or freeze every morsel of food they prepared or were served.  They took leftovers home from restaurants before it was popular to do so and cringed if you didn’t eat everything on your plate.  Nothing was wasted.  As someone who has never known hunger, I found this behavior odd.

We are now so far away from this parsimonious food strategy.  It is so easy to buy food in huge quantities cheaply and just throw away what we don’t want or need. The Ruly Challenge this month asks us to step back for a moment and think about what we really do eat in a month.

If you only purchased what you truly would eat (and a little more for emergency storage), how much money might you save?  Would your waistline also benefit? Would you make better shopping choices in the future?  Will you learn something about yourself and evaluate the goals you have for yourself with regard to eating versus the reality of what you actually consume?

As for me, all of the excess staples and impulse food buys over the past months are now waiting for my family’s consumption.  So far, I have eaten breakfast from the pantry (oatmeal) and have made several lunches and dinners from the fridge and freezer.  Accomplishing this challenge requires some creativity.  We all get into standard patterns of eating (cereal for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, etc.).  To use up your food supply, you will need to change your eating patterns and perhaps invent new recipes. (I had a yummy smoothie yesterday blending together orange juice concentrate, frozen blackberries, a tube of Go-Gurt, water and ice.)

At the end of the month, if there is something you still have not touched, it is time to decide whether it gets thrown out, donated to a food charity, friends or family or gets to stay.

Of course, I expect you to deviate from the plan for Thanksgiving meal preparations but in this regard, be thoughtful about how much you are preparing and have a plan to use all the leftovers.  Use Thanksgiving as a feast to reward yourself for your discipline and reflect on those who may not have such luxuries.

Finally, at the end of the month when your food supply is down to a minimal level, clear out your refrigerator and freezer, wash the inside and outside of your fridge and, if your fridge is covered in magnets, photos and other “stuff” decide which objects get to stay on the fridge and which can be tossed or preserved elsewhere.

In the business context, you could adapt these strategies to the office kitchen.  How much food and snacks that you are paying to provide are your employees actually consuming?  Have you built up a stockpile of coffee to last you the next year?  Would it be worthwhile to do a quick survey to see what people are eating/drinking and what is just going to waste?

The challenge this time is a bit tougher than last time.  I suppose the shortcut version is just to toss out a bunch of food at the end of the month but that isn’t really the point if you do that all the time anyway.  I encourage you to make at least a small effort.  Please feel free to post comments on your progress and creative recipes along the way!

Bon Appetit!

 Posted by on November 4, 2009 Ruly Challenge Tagged with: , ,