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Refrigerator makeover: Keeping your most-used appliance tidy and clean

(BPT) - The new school year is upon us and with it comes hectic schedules and harried mornings that make weekdays a mad dash. With school lunches to make, snacks...

(BPT) - The new school year is upon us and with it comes hectic schedules and harried mornings that make weekdays a mad dash. With school lunches to make, snacks to prepare and evening meals to plan, getting out the door on time can be a challenge. Having the house in order and a few things made ahead of time can be a huge convenience that means a world of difference in those time-crunched minutes.

A simple way to prepare for the morning craze is a neat and orderly refrigerator. It's often easy to neglect your fridge, letting it get overloaded with expired products or splattered with food stains, but with a few simple steps, a “refrigerator makeover” is within reach.

Cleaning, organization and maintenance are equally important to keeping your kitchen in order, says Mike Wisner, head home economist and executive chef for LG Electronics USA, who has a few tips on making over your refrigerator routine:

* Edit the contents. If it's expired or unidentifiable, it shouldn't be in the refrigerator. “People often don't realize everything they have in their fridge,” Wisner says. “Old condiments and jam jars - even produce or leftovers - are pushed to the back where they aren't seen.”  In fact, according to a new national survey conducted for LG, 68 percent of American households have had foods go bad because they get “lost” in their fridge - an estimated annual loss of more than $832 dollars. If it's past its prime, or if you find items you're unlikely to use again, just throw them out, Wisner advises. That special snack your kids had to have but went uneaten or the numerous containers your husband rifles through and leaves empty? Time to go.

* Give it a thorough cleaning. At least once a year, it's a good idea to remove shelves and bins and clean them in the sink. Wisner recommends a simple solution of dishwashing soap and warm water. “If there are stubborn stains, let them soak first, and use a scrub brush if necessary,” Wisner suggests. Ensure you wipe down the interior of the fridge, as well as the doors - and even sticky jars or bottles. While you're at it, make sure your fridge and freezer are set to safe temperatures - 40 F or below for the refrigerator and 0 F for the freezer.

* Evaluate whether your fridge meets your needs. Maybe you're among the 40 percent of American consumers who reach for their favorite foods three to five times per week (according to an LG poll). If so, easy access to meals and snacks is important for your lifestyle and you might want to consider some of the newer offerings on the market that cater to your needs. A new super-capacity French Door refrigerator from LG, for example, has a feature called “Door-in-Door.” It's a compartment within the fridge door that keeps the most popular snacks, drinks and treats within easy reach - and clear sight. “The family can access the small compartment - and grab their favorites - without having to open their entire door,” Wisner says. And if you're like the one-third of Americans opening their fridge 20 to 50 times per day, lots of cold air escapes into the room, wasting energy. The door-in-door feature gives your kids a clear path to their “go-to” snacks and drinks and retains cold air, while the contents of the fridge remain safely chilled.

*Prepare for tomorrow. Have lunches to make? Set aside baggies of carrot sticks, celery or cold salads to pack the next day. Same goes if you're planning for snack time. Kids love fun containers and creative touches, too - so whether it's silly colored ice packs or apples in star-shaped slices with peanut butter, make eating healthy fun for them, too. Often when it comes to families' refrigerators, Wisner says, bigger really is better, and you don't have to sacrifice size for energy efficiency, he adds, urging consumers to look for the popular Energy Star label when shopping for a new fridge. Whether you've got teens that eat their way through the contents in an afternoon, or want to pre-prep for dinners for the week, having extra space means you're able to plan ahead.

* Start organizing - and don't stop. Invest in some good storage containers - and use them. Food can go bad prematurely if stored improperly, so forgo the wrinkled tin foil in favor of airtight lids, and choose sealed jars instead of punctured cling wrap. If it makes sense for your family, group things in a logical way, such as putting dairy items together, leftovers in a certain area, tomorrow's lunches in the door and so on. Let everyone in the family know what goes where, and encourage them to help keep it tidy. Staying on top of organizing will make it easier to find what you want, when you want it.

 “Transforming your fridge from a messy maze to an ordered space that's easy to use can have a wide reaching effect,” says Wisner, who refers consumers to lg.com for more ideas. “It can make the morning rush easier to manage, help keep your family healthy and simplify the process of making meals.” So what are some simply stored snacks that you'll be able to access easily in your new set-up? Chef Wisner offers some healthy snacks - for kids little or big.

Healthy after school snacks

Updated Ants on a Log

Ditch the peanut butter and raisins and replace them with almond butter and dried cherries on top of celery for a twist on the classic after school snack. For a special treat, add some semi-sweet chocolate chips to the cherries.

Fruit Skewers

Cut up some pineapple, banana, and strawberries, or any of your child's favorite fruits, and turn them into a kabob-like treat using bamboos skewers. Serve them with marshmallow fluff for dipping. 

Hummus and Veggies

Get your kids to eat their veggies by pairing them with Hummus for dipping. Baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, celery, and almost any other veggies go great with this creamy, flavorful dip.

Homemade Smoothies

Both filling and nutritious, a homemade smoothie is as easy as blending frozen fruits together with some orange juice or milk. Let your kids get in on the action by picking and creating new flavor combinations.

Yogurt and Granola

It doesn't only have to be for breakfast. Adding granola and fresh fruit to your child's favorite yogurt will keep their hunger at bay and provide a lot of nutrition.

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