Shuffling the food around can make a huge difference in what we consume every day. "Studies have shown that we reach for what's convenient and what's visible," says Janet Polivy, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Toronto in Canada. We talked to psychologists, dietitians, and food experts to create a refrigerator that fosters healthy eating. Here's what it looks like.
Think of this eye-level shelf as your kitchen's primary fuel station. Place washed, dried, and cut-up raw vegetables in airtight containers on the top shelf. The same goes for washed, cut-up chunks of pineapple and melon. "This way, they're the first things you see, and they're ready to eat," says Detroit-based dietitian Bethany Thayer. Berries are perishable, so rinse only before eating. Add a few hard-boiled eggs for a quick peel-and-eat protein boost. Consume all foods here within two or three days, and replenish.
Organic yogurt and cottage cheese -- which provide healthy doses of calcium and protein -- earn prime placement in the next rung. Also on this shelf, hummus and nut butters, which provide protein and good fats; pair them with sliced veggies and fruits. If you're not salt-sensitive, include a jar of naturally fermented pickles; small amounts can aid in digestion. Nuts -- particularly calcium-containing almonds and omega-3-rich walnuts -- last for months longer when they're chilled (a small handful equals a serving).
Avoid salty and nitrate-filled deli fare, and opt for cooked meats and cheese. Shave off slices from leftover roast turkey or chicken; besides being an add-on for salads and sandwiches, turkey and chicken can serve as a protein-packed snack. As for cheese, says Jessica Krane, a dietitian with Sports Club LA/Boston, incorporate 1-inch cubes of Parmigiano-Reggiano or sharp cheddar into savory snacks; a sprinkle of feta or goat cheese adds sustenance to a salad or turns a tomato wedge into a tasty treat.
Replace sodas, punches, and energy drinks -- even the sugar-free ones -- with pitchers of water. For flavor, toss in slices of citrus, or cucumber and mint. All-natural orange, grapefruit, cranberry, and pomegranate juices are nutritious choices, but drink in moderation: Fill half a glass with juice, and bring it to the top with plain or sparkling water. (Note that juice blends may contain only small amounts of a particular juice.) Keep organic low-fat or skim milk on hand as a filling high-calcium drink or for cereal and oatmeal.
Keep antioxidant-packed fresh herbs in full view, and you'll be inspired to cook with them. In the back, pack stashes of cooked brown rice, quinoa, or wheat pasta to eat in the next day or two so you'll have a fiber-rich meal, even in a pinch. Do the same with extra soup or sauce. Store in single-serving packets if you struggle with portion control. Eggs require cool temperatures, so leave them in the carton and tuck them in the back of the bottom shelf. Marinate any fish or meat here for tonight's dinner.
For the most nutrient-rich dishes and salads, stock an array of dark leafy greens: spinach, kale, romaine, arugula, and red lettuce. Keep carrots, green beans, bell peppers, and cruciferous veggies handy here, too. Because many fruits emit ethylene gas, which speeds ripening in other produce, place them separately from vegetables, says James Parker, who works at Whole Foods' national produce and floral buying office. Aim for a variety -- in the fall, go for pears, citrus, persimmons, pomegranates, and apples.
Place nutritious condiments at eye level. Miso paste whips up into a quick soup, while salsa makes a flavorful dip. Store fruit preserves, marinades, sauces, and other condiments used for meals -- or those you'd like to avoid overdoing (ketchup, mayonnaise) -- on lower shelves. Since many store-bought dressings contain unhealthy ingredients, concoct your own and keep it here. (For vinaigrette, mix a two-to-one proportion of olive oil to vinegar; add salt, pepper, and spices such as garlic, oregano, or thyme to taste.)
Stock up and store fresh veggies and fruit on the top shelf so a vitamin-rich meal or smoothie is always at your fingertips. If you have a tough time keeping portion size in check with bread, make the freezer your friend: Save a section to enjoy immediately and freeze the rest. When inspiration hits to cook up soup, sauce, pasta, or rice, make extra, and store them in meal-sized containers. On a separate shelf, store lean cuts of omega-3-rich fish such as salmon, as well as chicken, pork, or beef.