Unclutter your refrigerator before Thanksgiving

If you host Thanksgiving at your home, then now is the time to start making room for all of the dishes that need to be stored in your refrigerator. Use up the items that are currently taking up space. My wife calls the process of clearing out the ingredients available in the refrigerator as “creative cooking.” It consists of not shopping for groceries for a week while concocting dishes from the ingredients that remain in the refrigerator and cupboards. Creative cooking also takes place at our house prior to long vacations.

While you clear out the space in your refrigerator it is freeing up valuable real estate for the turkey along with the side dishes that will reside in there while they wait to be prepared. This also allows for room in your refrigerator for the all important leftovers.

With just a little more than a week to go, clear out your fridge and give it a good cleaning. Let us know about some of your favorite “creative cooking” recipes in the comments. One of my favorites is a good old fashion stew using up meat and savory vegetables.


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

28 Comments for “Unclutter your refrigerator before Thanksgiving”

  1. posted by Lynn on

    “Refrigerator Tetris”. Thank you for a new phrase in my vocabulary, as well as an accurate depiction of life in my kitchen. I’m an empty-nester who is learning how to cook for one instead of a tribe. [And who took eight books to Half-Price Books last night and is giving two chairs to one of the kids tonight. Baby steps.]

  2. posted by Tabitha (From Single to Married) on

    It’s amazing what a difference cleaning your refrigerator can make. We recently did this (after weeks of putting it off) and I was surprised how good it felt!

  3. posted by Cat on

    One of our standbys for this is to have friends over for fajitas – uses up the veggie odds and ends, and because we usually have a few types of salsa/tortillas going, gets rid of those jars/packets too. (and, just maybe, a margarita mix!)

  4. posted by Another Deb on

    “Refrigerator Tetris” Bwa Ha haaaaa!

    Before a big grocery shopping trip I would also advise that you clean out the trunk of the car (mine was last used to transport bedding plants and bags of potting soil for the fall garden here in AZ).

    Then collect all of those cloth grocery bags and put them on the windshield or something so you don’t forget to take them in to the store!

    Now organize your coupons and put them with the list.

    Happy shopping!

  5. posted by Rue on

    I don’t have any recipe advice to offer. But I did want to say that playing Tetris can be done in many ways! I did it in the trunk of my car when I moved across country!

    Refrigerator Tetris could be an interesting Thanksgiving Day activity for the whole family!! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. posted by George on

    I sometimes make a “one pot” and shve everything in and cook it – usually tastes ok! Add spices etc to make a mild curry and its all good

    Or just have a picnic at home with odd bowls of different foods.

  7. posted by Fit Bottomed Girls on

    Creative cooking and fridge tetris. I love it. I usually will make a big one pot of chicken, beans and whatever other veggies are in the fridge. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. posted by Sue on

    Leftover veggies can be pureed and stirred into spaghetti sauce.

    We also do family buffet night, when all leftovers are set out, and you pretend you are at the Golden Trough (Corral).

    Leftover cooked chicken can be sliced or diced and added to lunch salads.

    We usually don’t have many leftovers, though. I have a 15 YO son with a teen’s appetite, and whatever leftovers there are come with me to work for the next day’s lunch! Saves space and $$.

  9. posted by Kate Nolan on

    Huh, I have to clean the fridge tonight. I’m hosting Girls Night and there’s a certain “funk” to it!

    When I have random leftovers I tend to just snack my way through them. A benefit of being single, I think, is not having to worry about dinner for someone else.

    In regards to the actual cleaning, what do you all do? Baking soda and water? I try that, but it takes forever to work the residue off.

  10. posted by Celeste on

    Frittata (stove) or quiche (oven) is my go-to for using up bits of meat, cheese, and veggies. Same thing with a different cooking method.

    I once had friends over for a clean-the-freezer dinner. I just heated up everything we had and set it out for people to eat up. There was only enough corn for one person, but that worked out since he disliked all other veggies. Everybody doesn’t have to eat matching food, and it doesn’t have to be served on matching plates, either.

    Moving is the other time when the fridge has to be emptied. We always joked about, mmmmm, mustard sandwiches tonight. LOL!

  11. posted by Sarah on

    My father-in-law tells a story about a family friend whose mother made “Momma’s Goulash” every Saturday. Momma’s Goulash was a big stew pot full of all the leftovers from the week. She mixed it all together, and what came out was what was served on Saturday – even to company.
    My father-in-law laughs when he tells the story, but he always points out that Momma’s Goulash was unexpectedly delicious.

  12. posted by Sarah on

    I always use a solution of dish soap in warm water, and I wipe everything. I take out all the drawers and shelves for major cleanings. I dry it all with a dry towel.
    When you’re finished, take a cotton ball soaked in vanilla extract and wipe down the inside. I found that tip online a long time ago. It gives the fridge a very fresh scent.

  13. posted by Karla on

    I used to have to do this stuff for a resaurant near inventory time.

    I recommend making a list of the jars and things you want to use up and menu planning accordingly. The jams are great shortbread cookie fillings or pie fillings, especially in combinations and with frozen fruits (Lemon curd, raspberry jam and frozen blueberries are great.) Many salad dressings and sauces are great marinades for meats prior to cooking, or tossed over leftovers for lunch salads. Olives, pickled veg, and cheeses are great additions to pastas warm or cold.

  14. posted by Sasha on

    Yeah, quiche is usually my go to-also to use up milk or eggs that are going bad. People think of it is fancy but it is often my throw-together dish.

    Also food are variations like omelette or frittata. Pizza is nice for using up miscellaneous veggies, meets, cheeses, or sauces. If you have tortillas, English muffins, or canned biscuits (or bisquick or something) to use up they can also make good alternative pizza bases.

  15. posted by ns on

    stuffed potatoes! whether it’s veggies, beans, chili, salsa, or random cheeses, anything works on top of a potato (then again, i’m irish…). it’s a great use of fresh veggies that are about to turn, or frozen ones that have been in there a little too long.

  16. posted by Susan on

    Dump all the dibs and dabs of jams and jellies into a single jar and stir. Do the same thing with tiny amounts of salad dressings. Pickles as well or make relish out of pickles, olives, pimentos, etc. All these things turn out great mixed together and goodbye space wasting jars with teesy bits of stuff.

  17. posted by homedotmade on

    Our “go-to” in creative cooking is quesadillas! We ALWAYS have tortillas and cheese–anything else is fair game for fillings.

    Different kinds of meat, veggies, everything is better with melted cheese and stuck between two tortillas!

  18. posted by Craftistic on

    @Lynn: As a single person I’ve actually started cooking the family-size portions. If I eat one and freeze six, then I only need to cook twice a week and I’ve got all my lunches and dinners covered! I did need to do a bit of extra cooking when I started so I didn’t have to eat the same darned meal every day for a week, but now that I have a couple of weeks’ worth of meals in the freezer, then I just need to make 14 lunches & dinners per week to maintain.

    Also, I label everything with the date that I made it and also write on a list on the freezer door what’s there and when it went in and how many. Each time I take out a container, I make a mark on the page so I know what’s left.

  19. posted by Emma on

    I love it when we eat up out of the store cupboard and fridge. It gets my creative juices flowing! One of my favourite standbys is omlette or spanish omlette type dish – loads of eggs and all the veggies. Any cheese on the top and it’s delish.

  20. posted by Julie on

    Every week or so I make a dinner (usually a stir fry) called “What’s In the Fridge.” Which has prompted my husband to ask, at times, “What IS in the fridge?” Or we’ll pull out all the leftover containers and have “Meals of the Week in Review.” I still definitely need to do a more thorough cleaning before next Thanksgiving though. We’ve got some severe condiment issues.

  21. posted by Michele on

    Hee! We call this going on a food boycott. We aren’t big meat eaters, so using up leftovers usually results in a salad with some unusual toppings or a grain/legume mixture.

    One thing that really helps us prevent this is to put away leftovers in lunch-size portions, with the side dishes included. That way, the fridge is full of grab-and-go options on hectic mornings.

    I’ve been known to do this with body lotions and makeup, too, when the bathroom cabinet is out of control.

  22. posted by hkittleman on

    I use a mild solution of Simple Green. With the refrigerators I’ve had, EVERYTHING comes out and apart so you can get the crud in every little crevice (I just learned this recently having had to clean two fridges). Then I use a paper towel to get most of the water off, then let the parts sit out to dry.

    Regarding decluttering the fridge and freezer, we moved recently and I actually started several weeks ahead of time to use up the food. There’s just two of us, so a week wasn’t long enough, plus by the last week, we didn’t have time nor desire to cook anything anyway.

    Now that we have a fresh start, I’m only buying ingredients we need for the next two weeks. Of course when there’s sales, we stock up, but I try hard to use those before the next sale comes along. Now, if I could only figure out how to use the hot sauces and various vinegars we moved with us….

  23. posted by Propagatrix on

    Cottage pie is my standby. Mince up leftover meat, combine with leftover chopped vegetables and whatever gravy-like substance you care to toss in as a binder, put a layer of mashed potatoes on top, throw on a little grated cheese, dust with paprika, and bake for about 45 minutes.

  24. posted by Melanie on

    We call this a pantry purge, because we include not only the fridge but also the pantry. We do it 4 times a year, and it takes about 3 weeks to really get down to the bottom of our food supply.

    At the end of 3 weeks anything non-perishable leftover goes to the food pantry donation shelf at the grocery shelf since it is unlikely we are going to eat it.

    My mother cannot understand the need or desire to do this. But then she has canned food on her pantry shelves that were purchased by my father who died 11 years ago.

  25. posted by Barbara on

    Leftover vinegar is good for cleaning. I do my windows and woodfloors with a mixture of water and vinegar. You can also use it as a hair rinse, or even as a fabric softener, or as dishwasher rinse aid to make your glasses sparkle.
    With hotsauces I like to cook curries. Curries are also good for veggie and meat leaftovers.

  26. posted by Christine on

    Thursday is COTF (clean out the fridge) night @ our house. We started this last year, because Thursdays were a 4H horseback ride night for my daughter, so we needed something quick & we didn’t all eat together.

    It worked so well to use up leftovers that we have just continued it — generally we have at least 4 servings of random leftovers from the preceding few days. I microwave plates for everyone, & if there aren’t enough leftovers for mom, then I get scrambled eggs with cheese on wheat toast (which is total comfort food for me) because we always have eggs & cheese in the fridge.

  27. posted by Linda on

    National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day is Nov 15th, so I’m sure everyone completed this task yesterday ๐Ÿ™‚

  28. posted by Conna on

    I take everything out and make stock, veggie and or meat, which I freeze. I also keep a baggie in the freezer for stock tidbits in which I put things like mushroom stalks, celery and tomato ends, and onion skins.

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