Home refrigerators were originally used to store just a few perishable essentials like meat and milk. In fact, the first electric units of the 1920s were only slightly bigger than modern mini-fridges. Nearly 100 years later, refrigerators are bigger than ever and used to store the bulk of the food consumed by an American household.
Americans spend anywhere from $130 to just under $300 a week stocking up on food for a family of four, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Those numbers include dry goods that wouldn’t be kept in the fridge, and leave out fridge staples like condiments that families don’t typically buy every week. However, once in a while, you might have to fill a fridge from scratch.
Take a tour of a modern fridge, and learn how expensive it is to stock a refrigerator for a family of four for a week.
Cost to Stock: $44.50
Although the newest refrigerators have ample door bins designed for stowing milk and eggs, putting these items there will shorten shelf life and cost you more in the long run. Instead, stock the refrigerator door with butter and cooking oil, condiments, soda, bottled water and juice. Many modern fridges even have separate pass-through doors, which allow you to access these items without opening your entire fridge.
For best results, stock the door with a pound of butter ($4), two bottles of salad dressing ($5), a bottle of orange juice ($4), a bottle of apple juice ($4.50), extra virgin olive oil ($8) and a case of bottled water ($9). Remember condiments like ketchup ($3), mustard ($1.50), pickle relish ($2.50) and barbecue sauce ($3) to give your meals that extra zing.
The Low-Humidity Crisper Drawer
Cost to Stock: $39.85
Refrigerators usually have two to four crisper drawers for stowing fruits and vegetables. Adjustable slides let you adjust the humidity level in each drawer to keep your produce at the right level for maximum freshness. Because the USDA recommends two to four servings of fruit per person per day, you have to plan for 56 to 112 servings of fruit for your family of four to last the week. To maximize health without maximizing spend, stock your low-humidity crisper drawer with 8 pounds of apples ($10.40), 8 pounds of pears ($12.80) and 5 pounds of grapes ($16.65).
Save more money on produce by joining a food co-op, such as Bountiful Baskets. Operating in 25 states throughout the nation, the Bountiful Basket Co-op pools participant money to buy fresh, local produce directly from growers, netting the best prices. Buy at least two baskets at $15 each to feed a family of four for the week.
Although you’ll save a bundle on grocery prices, you won’t get to pick the produce you want, and you have just a 20-minute window in which to pick up your produce on delivery day.
The High-Humidity Crisper Drawer
Cost to Stock: $33.21
Stock your leafy greens and other veggies in a separate drawer from your fruits and slide the humidity adjustment to the highest level to keep them from wilting. Fill this drawer with enough fresh veggies to equal the 84 servings of fresh veggies per week your family of four needs, including two 2-pound packages of baby carrots ($5), two bunches of broccoli ($4), three heads of romaine lettuce ($7), two bunches of spinach ($6), five bell peppers ($3.80), two bunches of green onions ($1.16 ) and 5 pounds of zucchini squash ($6.25).
Don’t waste money by putting veggies in your fridge that don’t belong there. Store garlic, onions, tomatoes and potatoes outside your refrigerator. And avoid storing potatoes and onions together, as they emit gases that make the other rot faster.
The Meat and Cheese Drawer
Cost to Stock: $69.67
In the latest refrigerators, you’ll find the meat and cheese drawer just below the produce drawers. Some open from the outside, giving you easy access to deli meats, cheeses, bacon and hot dogs without having to open your refrigerator door. The USDA recommends two to three servings of protein per day, and this drawer is the perfect place to store easy-to-prepare meats and cheeses.
Costco is the best place to head for sandwich meat and other fixings perfect for budget family meals. Buy two 2-pound packages of turkey, ham, beef or pastrami lunch meat ($29). A 2-pound brick of Dubliner Imported Irish Cheese ($10) adds a lot of flavor without adding calories when thinly sliced. Finish stocking this drawer with a four-pack of 1-pound bacon packages for breakfast ($15.86) and a 1.5-pound package of beef franks for weekend cookouts ($14.81) or after-school snacks.
The Middle and Lower Shelves
Cost to Stock: $37.75
Delivering 13 essential vitamins and minerals and 6 grams of protein, eggs help spice up boring meals. Keep them on the middle shelf of your refrigerator, the coldest spot, along with other foods susceptible to bacteria. Store items such as raw meat or poultry on trays or in baking pans so any juices leaking from the packages don’t contaminate other food.
Stock this shelf with three dozen eggs ($4.25), two gallons of milk ($6.50) and a protein for every night of the week. A serving of meat is just 4 ounces, so 3 pounds of ground beef ($11) and 5 pounds of boneless skinless chicken breast ($16) serve as a nice base for budget family meals throughout the week. Save money and protect your health by buying your meat twice during the week, as it can spoil in just a few days.
The Top Shelf
Cost to Stock: $22.05
One of the warmer spots in your refrigerator, the top shelf should be limited to things that won’t spoil quickly. Stock this spot with snacks for the kids, like peanut butter ($4.50) and jelly ($1.80), hummus ($3.50), fruit cups ($6.25) and salsa ($6).
The top shelf is also the ideal place to store leftovers. Distribute the food in smaller clear glass containers that prevent spills and spoiling. Additionally, you’re more likely to eat snacks you can see clearly.
All together, stocking a fridge for a family of four for a week can cost as little as $247.03 when you start from scratch. Depending on your family’s preferences and eating habits, your food cost could be less or even more.
Protect your investment by preventing food-spoiling bacteria from building up in your fridge, and you won’t have to worry about food-borne illnesses, either. Line shelves, drawers and compartments with easy-to-clean fridge mats. You can make your own by cutting some plastic placemats from the dollar store to fit or just line your shelves with plastic wrap that you can peel off and throw away.