10 Tips to Help You Turn Your Refrigerator into a Healthy Salad Bar & Deli 

by Rachel Albert-Matesz

You know you should be eating produce-dominated meals, but where do you find the time to prepare all those fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins? Our fast-paced lifestyles can make it seem like an ominous endeavor to get nourishing and delicious meals on the table on a daily basis. 

The biggest stumbling block is not having healthy food on hand when hunger strikes. One solution is to shop, chop, prep, and cook food in advance of meals, before you’re ready to reach for whatever processed, packaged, and preserved food is within easy reach. 

To get a running start for the week, set aside a four-hour block of time on Saturday or Sunday. You’re not going to make a week’s worth of food in one afternoon--the food wouldn’t be fresh, flavorful, or nutritious. (Although salad dressings, marinades, toasted nuts, salsa, chutney, and barbecue sauces will keep for two weeks, most other foods will not. 

Your goal: turn your refrigerator into a healthy salad bar and deli and set up for the first half to three-quarters of the week. With a head start, it won’t take as much effort to keep the food flowing. 

1. Shop ahead

To eat produce-dominated meals three times a day, you must purchase copious quantities of vegetables and fruits. You’ll want to fill every nook and cranny with fresh produce, and restock as your supply dwindles. If your refrigerator is amply stocked with fresh foods, you’re more apt to eat them than processed foods. 

2. Chop ahead: Wash, dry, and chop an assortment of colorful vegetables for steaming, stir frying, simmering, sautéing, parboiling, or tossing into salads. Don’t chop every vegetable in the house, just enough for three or four days, then repeat. 

3. Quit canning...but use jars

Canning calls for excessive salt and leads to significant nutrient losses. But don’t toss those jars––they’re perfect for storing chopped raw or parboiled vegetables, salad dressings, sauces, marinades, raw or toasted nuts, seeds, shredded coconut, melon or pineapple cubes, broth and stock in the fridge, and for shelving dried herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables, and baking supplies. 

SIDE BAR: What’s so great about glass jars?

(1) They’re are non-toxic and won’t off-gas chemicals or leach carcinogenic phthalates (plasticizers) and xenoestrogens into your food; 

(2) won’t retain residual flavors or odors from previously stored foods; 

(3) are easy to line up in the refrigerator and pantry; 

(4) allow you to see what’s inside at a glance; 

(5) grab your attention, inviting you to eat more colorful foods, particularly produce prepped ahead (6) are inexpensive, durable, and 

(7) an ecological alternative to plastic. 

5. Label, label, label

Attach small squares of paper with rubber bands or use masking tape and indelible markers to note contents and date perishable items so you don’t keep foods around past their prime.

6. Spin-off

Make salads a daily do. Rinse greens in a bowl, drain, whirl dry in a salad spinner, then stash the container on the top shelf of the fridge. (Place a cotton placemat or dish towel underneath to absorb moisture if your spinner has openings on the bottom.) 

For a split second salad, slice or tear lettuce leaves unless the leaves are small. Top with colorful raw, roasted, grilled, parboiled, or steamed vegetables, garnish or dress, and serve. For one-dish dining, add sliced, diced, or flaked fish, poultry, or meat.

7. Plump-up the protein shelf

Every day or two, transfer one or two packages of fish, poultry, or meat from the freezer (or grocery bags) to cake pans, loaf pans, or pie plates on a designated meat shelf with two or three meals in mind. After cooking, transfer another package to the refrigerator to allow ample time for thawing. 

8. Double up

Bake, broil, steam, poach, sauté, roast, or grill fish, fowl, or meat with two to three meals in mind. Hard-boil eggs by the dozen. Slice leftover meat over a salad for one-dish dining. Add extra salmon to scrambled eggs with herbs, or a tuna-like salad. 

Make an impromptu stew with leftover lamb, roasted vegetables, herbs, and broth. Slather last night’s steak with barbecue sauce or herbed mayo. 

9. Veg-ahead

Sauté kale, collards, or mustard greens, steam asparagus, or parboil broccoli and cauliflower with three meals in mind. Do the same when you roast, bake, simmer, or grill roots, tubers, squash, or onions. 

Leftover veggies are perfect for pack lunches and great at room temperature. Serve warm roasted vegetables for dinner and the leftovers on a bed of salad greens. Purée Sunday’s baked squash to make Monday’s creamy squash soup with ginger. Turn baked potatoes into potato salad or a main-course salad with meat and salad greens. 

10. Dress ahead

Scrumptious salads dressings will encourage you to take second helpings of vegetables. Make dazzling drizzles and dressings on the weekend. Store in wide-mouth pint jars or bottles saved from commercial dressings. Add your own label. Not just for tossed salads, these delicious sauces can top parboiled or steamed vegetables. 

11. Go garnish

To add texture, flavor, and eye appeal, fill pint jars with minced parsley, scallions, chives, cilantro, arugula, or dill to sprinkle over poached eggs, soups, stews, salads, mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes; add to an omelets, tuna, or chicken salad. Dry toast two kinds of nuts and refrigerate in glass jars, then chop or crumble over fruit and vegetable salads, cereal, yogurt, poached fruit, baked squash, or roasted roots. 

Reprinted with permission from The Garden of Eating: A Produce-Dominated Diet & Cookbook (Planetary Press, 2004) www.TheGardenOfEatingDiet.com 

Author Bio: Rachel Albert-Matesz works as a healthy cooking coach, cooking instructor, personal chef, and freelance food and health writer. She is the co-author of The Garden of Eating: A Produce-Dominated Diet & Cookbook (Planetary Press, 2004). www.TheGardenOfEatingDiet.com