If you find yourself buying more fresh produce than you actually eat, or letting your conscientiously-stored leftovers languish in the fridge before you finally dump them into the trash, it might be time to reorganise your food storage system and make the stuff you need to eat right away the easiest to access.
In other words: you need an “Eat This First” shelf.
You can set up an “Eat This First” (or ETF) shelf in both your refrigerator and your cabinets, if you want. All you have to do is designate an area—preferably a highly visible area—in which you will prominently place leftovers, produce, hard-boiled eggs, that packet of deli meat you opened yesterday, anything with a relatively short shelf life.
Then, the next time you need to put together a meal or grab a snack, you can start by pulling items from the ETF shelf.
I learned about the ETF shelf from MarketWatch by way of NerdWallet, but it’s been around for a while. In fact, you can find “Eat This First” printable signage at both StopWaste and I Value Food, if you want to hang a sign to remind yourself and/or family members to… well… eat this first.
Of course, not everyone in your household may agree to participate in the ETF shelf project. Judge John Hodgman podcast listeners might remember a recent episode titled “Reheat Offender,” in which Hodgman ruled that a wife could not order her husband to follow the ETF principles, and the husband could choose from any of the available foods in the refrigerator:
Yes, food waste is an awful thing, and you want to minimise it at every turn. However, as I said, we are only human beings. Whatever comes after this life, I do not know. As far as I am concerned, this is the one we’ve got. And you are allowed to choose to eat the things that you want to eat, that are good!
If you are going to set up an “Eat This First” shelf, it might be a good idea to ensure that the foods that go on the shelf are foods you’ll want to eat first. (Buying or preparing food just because it’s a “good value” or “good for you” is kind of counterproductive if no one actually eats it.)
You’ll also want to remember to rotate foods onto the ETF shelf as their perishability increases or their expiration dates draw near. If you’ve got a bunch of yogurt cups shoved into the back of the fridge, for example, make sure to move them to the “Eat This First” section before their shelf life runs out.
And then enjoy the food you’ve worked so hard to purchase, prepare, and organise—and enjoy the fact that eating everything before it goes bad means not only less food waste, but also less time spent cleaning out the refrigerator.