Refrigerator Revamp: Food Makeover for Cancer Prevention

Refrigerator interrior

Although Refrigerator Makeover: Extreme Edition is not (yet) a reality TV show, imagine a team of registered dietitians turning up in your kitchen with lights and cameras ready to redo your fridge. They rifle through the shelves and thrust these items in front of the camera:

  • Tupperware with a green-tinged mass inside: "Is this a science project?"
  • Cheese in a can: "What were you thinking when you bought that?"

If this sounds like an all-too-true nightmare and your fridge is filled with soft drinks, leftover Chinese take-out, hot dogs, sausage biscuits and pizza, consider a do it yourself makeover. You might even want to take pictures before and after.

If You Stock It, They Will Eat It

A fridge makeover can help you ensure that the healthy choice is the easy choice. Stocking your fridge with antioxidant rich, cancer-fighting vegetables, fruits and whole grains may be the most important step to improving you and your family’s eating habits. Studies show that children and teens eat more fruits and vegetables when those foods are available in the home. Although research is scarce on whether adults are influenced by the availability of healthful food in the home, it’s worth a try to see if stocking your fridge with appealing and ready to eat healthful foods helps you shape a better diet.

Refrigerator Safety

Reduce your risk of foodborne illness:

  • Use a refrigerator thermometer to be sure your fridge temperature is at 40 degrees F. or below.
  • Refrigerate or freeze perishables and leftovers within two hours of purchase or use.
  • Separate large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers for quicker cooling in the fridge.
  • Thaw food in your refrigerator—not on the counter!

More information on food safety.

Picture Perfect

What does a "healthy refrigerator" look like? Colorful. Refrigerator foods should be primarily fresh, unprocessed foods—vegetables, fruits, milk or soy milk, yogurt, eggs, fresh poultry, lean meat, tofu and 100 percent juices. Except for condiments, foods in the refrigerator should have quick turnaround for safety as well as for flavor. Freezer items keep longer—a good place to store frozen vegetables and meats for later in the week.

Refrigerator Storage

Life Expectancy Estimates
Fresh vegetables: greens, peppers, cauliflower etc.
3-5 days
Root vegetables: carrots, turnips
1-3 weeks
1-2 days
Citrus, apples, melons
1-3 weeks
5 days, opened
7-10 days
Raw seafood, poultry and ground meats
1-2 days
Raw fresh steaks, chops and roasts
3-5 days
Cooked (leftover) poultry and meat
3-4 days
Fresh eggs
3-5 weeks

Food storage information:

Steps to a Healthy Fridge

  1. Start by purchasing fresh, healthful items you can realistically eat in one week. Choose produce items that have varying times of perishability: a small head of romaine lettuce or other leafy greens, a couple of peppers, a bag of carrots and a cabbage for example. Try the Simple Leafy Green Sauté recipe for an easy way to cook greens. Add one small container of berries, a bag of apples and a melon. Go for low-fat or nonfat dairy items and fish, poultry and lean meats. Limit the amount of high-sugar-added foods and beverages. Look for the whole grain tortillas for quick and easy wraps.
  2. Make your healthful purchases easy to get to and highly visible. Wash and cut up fruits and vegetables and store these and yogurts up front. Pre-portion leftovers for next day meals—place 2-3 ounces of chicken breast, 1/2 cup pasta and 1/2 – 1 cup vegetables in one appropriate storage container ready to be re-heated for a quick lunch or dinner.
  3. Consider the condiments. Choose more low-fat salad dressings, reduced-sodium soy sauce, trans-fat free and soft margarine and reduced-fat mayonnaise, for example. Remember, condiments are to be used as flavor enhancers, not side dishes, so think small servings.

Your Own Frozen Meal Line

If you’re able to put in a little time cooking on the weekend you can prepare entrees and and other dishes that freeze well so you’ll have your own homemade convenience meals for those busy weekday evenings. There are many cookbooks and sites online that specialize in recipes specially designed for freezing, so do a quick search and find those that are right for you.

The Pay-Off

Re-doing the "food environment" in your home with more vegetables, fruits and other lean fresh foods is a great start to overall health improvement. If you have children in your home, you have the opportunity to influence their choices now and in the future. Some research indicates that children who grow up consuming abundant fruits and vegetables at home continue doing so into adulthood.

Don’t wait to be a reality TV show star.  Go ahead and conduct your own extreme makeover. See more on our blog and inspire others by sharing your stories and you can even send us pictures.

Adapted from February 2010 eNews article

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