It physically pains me to waste food, so I make a conscious effort to only buy as many fresh groceries as my family can realistically eat within a week or so. Even with the best of intentions, certain items end up in the back of the fridge, withering away behind a carton of almond milk, and they go bad before I can use them.
A simple-yet-brilliant fridge organization hack from registered dietitian Alyssa Miller, the woman behind the @nutrition.for.littles account on Instagram, provides a solution to this problem. It’s called the “need to use” bin.
It’s pretty straightforward but, as the name suggests, the bin is designated for the items you need to use soon because they’re about to go bad.
“Things I frequently put in there include halves of avocados, open chicken stock containers, half bags of bagged salad, salsa, cottage cheese or large yogurt containers,” Miller told HuffPost. “So things that are ‘on the clock,’ if you will.”
Miller came up with the idea a couple years ago after getting frustrated every time she found spoiled food in her fridge. Not only was it wasteful, she said, but it was hurting her wallet, too.
“I was trying to tighten up my spending at the grocery store, which is always where I tend to blow my budget,” she said.
So she designed a better system.
“I [already] had a designated place for leftovers in my fridge but a lot of these foods didn’t fit the mold for true leftovers,” Miller said. “They were just foods that were on the verge of going bad. So I had to create a new place for these types of foods and train myself to always look there first.”
Reducing your grocery bill and food waste — one of the most overlooked contributors to the climate crisis — may be the primary benefits of the “need to use” bin. But Miller discovered an unexpected perk: It also helps her answer the dreaded “what’s for dinner” question.
“For example, if I have a half-used jar of salsa in the bin, it makes my decision easy to make something Mexican for dinner,” she said. “Or a half-used avocado means avocado toast for breakfast. It actually helps me with decision fatigue and menu planning more often than not.”
To keep her system running smoothly, Miller regularly does a quick sweep of the fridge before she puts away new groceries, throwing out anything that went bed and moving any time-sensitive items to either to the “need to use” bin or to the freezer. If there’s anything in the freezer that she needs for that week’s menu, she moves it to the fridge then, too.
“Tossing food waste can be a little painful and that reminder keeps me on course for utilizing the ‘need to use’ bin and using what I buy,” Miller said. “When we let [the fridge] sit for weeks and don’t clean it out regularly, not only do we forget what we have, but it’s also easy to feel like [the wastefulness] isn’t happening as frequently.”
For more food-related hacks that will save you time and money, head over to Miller’s Instagram.
And if you need a good bin for your fridge, Amazon has this one for $11.99: