Food

My Mini Fridge Taught Me How to Cook

What My Mini Fridge Taught Me

As soon as I toured my 175-square-foot studio apartment, I was hooked. It had two windows! It had a bathtub! It even had a closet! It was a New York victory, and I was ready for it to be mine. But, it had one small limitation…

The first time my friend Eleanor stopped by, she whispered, “Stella, where’s your fridge?” as she stared directly and intently at it. My 32-inch appliance came with two teeny shelves, one crisper drawer large enough to cradle approximately six baby carrots and a freezer the size of a single pint of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia. I soothed my kitchen anxieties with visions of takeout and ramen. But after one-and-a-half years of the mini-fridge life, something surprising happened — I started cooking and liking it. Here’s what I’ve learned from my dorm-sized setup:

How to be scrappy
The best part of a mini fridge? Nothing is wasted. There’s no casserole lurking in the depths of the freezer or bargain berries expiring under a pizza box. You can’t “accidentally” forget about those bell peppers you’ve been “meaning” to use. Seeing everything at once forces me to imagine the dinner possibilities (stir-fries, quesadillas, salads) I might have otherwise overlooked.

The joy of five-minute grocery runs
Gone are the days of cruising Midwest supermarket aisles with an extra-large shopping cart. I used to spend my monthly food budget on whatever sounded delicious (read: frozen party appetizers) during that rare, leisurely spree. My current setup allows for less than one week’s worth of food. That means I’m at the grocery store all. the. damn. time. So, I’ve mastered the five-minute trip where I pick up only ingredients I know I’ll use right away. My shopping bags are easier to lug home, my meals are fresher and my overall food expenses have gone down. Plus, I’ve made a few joke-telling cashier friends in the process.

Workhorse ingredients are essential
To save space, I also stock up on ingredients that can produce multiple meals. For example, a big bag of kale and a couple cans of white beans can carry me through with recipes like skillet bruschetta, a hearty minestrone and cheesy mashed beans with a fried egg. Who knew you could live so large with a mini fridge?

Three words: pantry, pantry, pantry
With limited fresh ingredients, dependable dry staples turn up the flavor. I use my $10 California Olive Ranch extra virgin olive oil like a magic potion. A drizzle adds depth to anything from greens to cavatelli. Other pantry must-haves include flaky sea salt (because you only live once), red pepper flakes (to add a kick), breadcrumbs (for some needed crunch), canned San Marzano tomatoes (to make a homemade sauce to show off), garlic (because garlic), beans (for protein) and couscous, quinoa or lentils (to round out the meal).

Of course, it’s not all great — I miss the days of boxed white wine, frozen pizzas and other luxuries too big for my fridge — but, as my little brother says, “Stella, get over it.”

What about you? Do you have any grocery shopping tricks?

P.S. What’s lurking in the back of your fridge, and 14 genius tips for living in a small space.

(Illustration by Alessandra Olanow for Cup of Jo.)

  1. Amy says...

    I lived in America for University from London to South Carolina and there were many many conversation home about the apartment fridge. It was HUGE! It was like a walk in fridge.

    This brought back those memories! Great post :)

  2. I’m moving into a 250 square foot (free-standing!!) house this week with my partner and our 80 lb dog. I’m similarly over the moon that there is a bathtub, though pretty disappointed that there is no oven and just a tiny fridge. Still, even knowing the kitchen situation was sparse, it was a no-brainer. It’s HALF the rent we’re paying and we don’t have attached neighbors.

    I cook a lot, often roasting vegetables and chicken, so things will definitely have to change. I’ve resolved to be open to what the constraints might do for our eating repertoire, and I’m grateful for this simple and straight-up article about the possibilities. Thank you, Stella!

    • Suzanne says...

      Iris: don’t forget about a toaster oven if you do really miss roast chicken and veggies! :-)

  3. This kind of works for me too. I have a really small freezer so I tend to buy only fresh food. I definitely eat better because of it. I love the illustration.

  4. Elizabeth says...

    Our family had a fridge that was installed horizontally, divided into thirds (two for fridge, one freezer space) and hung like a cupboard on the wall. It was made by GE and my parents bought it when they built their house in 1959. It was great and my mother didn’t replace it until 2011 (I’ll save you the math: 52 years) but it still worked. Increased the counter area tremendously. When I think of it, it wasn’t a very large space but it suited our 4-person family just fine. I photographed it before it was replaced, thankfully, and I’ve never understood why it didn’t become a popular option. Maybe because it lasted so long!

    • LOR says...

      That’s awesome, I wish we could see a picture!

    • sasha says...

      Wow, I would love this!!
      Why on Earth didn’t this catch on?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      wow, that photo is so cool! love this idea.

  5. Kelly Libby says...

    Favorite post!! I love this article and hope you will share more stories about simple living and reducing waste.

    I’m so impressed with your readers who prep and shop for a full week or more of meals! I have tried repeatedly to prep and plan for the week but as a singleton, I have continually wasted so much food which is something I’m disgusted by on a deep moral level. And, take out is expensive and again, so much waste — the bags, the plastic, the 1/2 eaten entrees because you must meet a delivery amount in the city. Meal prep doesn’t work for me because I like to eat exactly what i’m in the mood for that night. Maybe it’s just something light like crackers and cheese and olives. Maybe I’m STARVING and want a huge entree.

    Recently, I’ve made big changes in my shopping and eating habits and it’s working!! Less food waste, less spending and a happier belly. I’m trying to shop more frequently which is easy in Boston — Whole Foods on every corner makes a quick trip possible. I shop mostly in the outside isles, and have been buying less each trip. I do have a stand up cabinet that I use as a pantry stocked with dry ingredients like gluten free flour, beans, quinoa, brown rice, stewed tomatoes, etc. As well, I’m investing in high quality oils, salts and seasonings to literally spice things up a bit. Then, I can buy fresh veggies, fish, eggs, milk, cheese etc as I need them for the week.

  6. Sally K says...

    Add my name to the list of those wanting a house tour!

    One shopping and kitchen trick I have is to minimize the number of cuisines I cook. Most of what I cook is from my midwestern background or Mediterranean inspired. But I keep some basics for Asian and Tex-Mex on hand. That’s it. I don’t need to cook every cuisine. If a recipe calls for something I don’t keep on hand, I check to see if I can buy a small enough quantity or if there’s another recipe I can make that uses that ingredient. If not, is there something I can substitute or can it be omitted? If I can’t do any of those, I don’t make the recipe.

    I still have a wealth of options and if I happen to feel like I’m missing something, I remind myself that most of the world’s population still eats only what is available locally.

  7. june2 says...

    Our local asian market also sells appliances like the LG slimline brand fridge – tall, very narrow refrigerators! And they come in very luscious colors, some with elegant floral prints on the exterior, and cool musical tones inside…lol. Unfortunately I can not for the life of me come up with a link – but check your local asian appliance market and they will likely have them too!

  8. Laura says...

    During the recent wildfires in Northern California, I was displaced from my home for 4 weeks. After 2 weeks we were able to get in… and let me tell you, a FULL fridge of rotting food is even worse than it sounds. I had to purge everything and scour the fridge and freezer along with any food that had been open on the table, in the pantry etc. (no toxic smoke residue for me!).

    Ever since, I have kept our fridge sparse and I LOVE IT! I don’t have a freezer full of Trader Joe’s frozen meals I forget about until a year later. No more extra condiments languishing in the back of the bottom shelf. I love having the full size fridge when I need extra space, but I love the minimalism of only having what we really need. Bonus, it forces me to use more fresh ingredients and in-season fruits/veg!

    • sasha says...

      Wow, talk about a restart button! I love your positive attitude and that you learned something valuable from the experience that’s making your life happier. But holy cow that must have been really hard and scary. So glad your house made it.

  9. I lived through 3.5 years in a 300sq ft SF studio apartment with no dishwasher OR MICROWAVE!! My fridge was a big-sister version of a mini-fridge. I lived alone at the time and did most of my weekly shopping at the Sunday farmer’s market. I loved my zero food waste lifestyle!

    Sharing a (much larger) fridge with my husband is honestly one of my least favorite parts of newlywed life. It’s amazingly easy to over / under buy food for the week with just 1 extra person to feed!

  10. Kirsten says...

    Such a fun read. Love your style Stella!!

  11. When I left the US to bounce from rented apartment to rented apartment in Europe, the most life changing fact happened upon me when I realized that you don’t have to refrigerate your eggs. They can stay in your pantry, fridge-free, for up to two weeks. I promise you, they won’t go bad! My mind was blown, and our sacred mini-fridge space was saved.

    • Caroline says...

      I think that that works in other countries but not here because our eggs are “washed” and that removes part of the shell that protects it. I can’t remember the details, but I know that our conventional egg treatment alters something and then makes refrigeration necessary.

    • Amanda says...

      So I grew up in France, where eggs are not refrigerated like they are in the U.S. and Japan and Scandinavia. The main thing to know is that if eggs have never been refrigerated (meaning you bought them that way), then you can leave them out on the counter or keep them in your dry pantry for a week or two. BUT if the eggs have been refrigerated at some point in the supply chain or in the store/market, you can only leave them out for about a day before the possibility of spoilage increases dramatically. There are kind gnarly bacterial risks (oh hey salmonella) to leaving un-refrigerated eggs out longer than that.

      American eggs are washed, which removes the outer coating on the shell that acts as an impenetrable barrier, so they can’t be left at room temperature here like they can in Europe and other parts of the world.

    • Ashley W says...

      Seconding that… rule of thumb is if you bought them refrigerated, keep them cool. If you get fresh eggs, feel free to keep them out! Out of habit we refrigerate eggs from friends or neighbors with chickens, but there’s definitely no need.

    • Anne says...

      I’m over here all worried about Bethany Houston’s health right now. Hopefully she’s still in Europe, so she hasn’t left eggs out here in the US yet. Tell us you’re okay, Bethany!!!! ;)

    • sasha says...

      Wow, talk about a restart button! I love your positive attitude and that you learned something valuable from the experience that’s making your life happier. But holy cow that must have been really hard and scary. So glad your house made it.

    • sasha says...

      Sorry for that mistake comment moderator!

      Just a shout out for back yard hens, since we’re taking eggs. You only need a little space, hens are super fun and not much work at all and the eggs are amazingly good. And you feel good about eating food you helped produce, and not contributing to inhumane conditions for chickens. We’ve had them for many years now (even raised chicks in our bathroom with a heat lamp!) and we’ve never regretted it.

    • No worries guys, still in Europe and totally fine ;)

  12. My husband and I just moved back to the US from Switzerland and our fridge sized has easily tripled! I don’t even know what to do with all the space!
    Mini fridges are the best!

  13. Lisa says...

    I’ve just gone the other way. In our last Flat, the fridge was only big enough (as my friend out it) for a bottle of champagne and some strawberries. I wish we were so awesome that that’s all we had in there, but sadly not. With a child it quickly became d and now we live somewhere with a bigger fridge (though still not massive – it’s a fridge freezer). I do love having a bigger freezer though. I was actually able to make and freeze a bunch of meals for when our second baby arrived and can keep things like frozen peas on hand for when we’ve run out of food. I can’t go back, I just can’t

    • Congee says...

      Yeah, I used to live in a 400 sq ft apt with my (now) husband for 4 years… before having a kid. I can’t feed my kid take out everyday, I need to cook varies and healthy meals, and having a fridge helps. We go to the farmers market weekly and need the storage space!

  14. liz says...

    Stella, frozen pizza in NYC???? seriously girl, NO!

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Hahaha, good point, Liz.

  15. I must say I find going to the grocery store every week by myself such a relaxing experience, particularly for the people watching! I spy on what items people are buying (especially anything in bulk) and make up little stories about their lives and what they are headed home to do. I’Il eavesdrop on funny spats between couples or exhausted parents and their kids, or on the lady at customer service passionately searching for champagne vinegar! And of course, my heart is always happy when a sweet person says “sure, go in front of me!” Grocery stores are just fascinating little pockets of human life.

    • Kelly Libby says...

      Yes!! Me, too!! I am just like you. :)

  16. Olivia W says...

    Properly burst out laughing at this “as my little brother says, “Stella, get over it.””.

    I think you’re talking about what in the UK we call under-counter fridges with an icebox. To me, a mini fridge is a tiny table top thing that can hold about 10 cans of drink. BUT what I came here to rave about is the fridge/ freezer we inherited with our current flat that is basically an under-counter height fridge with a 2 shelf mini freezer above. It‘s about 2/3 height of a full-size fridge-freezer and comes up to my rib cage (I’m 5’6”). Anyway, it is basically perfect, the ideal fridge-freezer. Not big enough to over-fill but with a proper freezer so you can batch cook or freeze leftovers. Does anyone know what these are called, I want to know for future reference!

    • Susan says...

      In the states, they are usually referred to as an apartment sized fridge. :)

  17. AJ says...

    Love this! Really enjoy all your writing Stella, but it really comes to life when you’re writing about food and New York life!

  18. JAR says...

    love this! i have a full sized fridge in my place but share it with two roommates so am relegated to only one shelf – definitely understand the “you can’t lose anything” mentality and often feel accomplished at the end of the week when it’s bare and needs refilling cuz it means i didn’t waste anything i bought. those cheesy beans look amazing, def adding that to my rotation.

  19. Kelly says...

    I have a ‘regular’ fridge/freezer but as a mom of 2 milk drinking, fresh fruit eating kiddos I find myself at the grocery store all the time too! I so prefer to have a couple days of the freshest stuff available over stocking up and trying to remember to use up all the things. We do live in the city and have lots of options for stores to pop into, plus Instacart…

    My mom always has had 2 refrigerator/freezers…one fridge is just full of water/pop/beer. And both freezers full of meat. Cracks me up as it’s just her and my dad most of the time, but if there’s ever an apocalypse, i’m heading to her house to live off the well chilled, perhaps slightly freezer burned fat of the land!

  20. Amen to this! I have nearly emptied my enormous chest freezer in the garage and plan to list it on Craigslist. I am tired of big shopping trips, storing massive amounts of food and – inevitably, despite my various organizing systems – losing track of some things until they are way past the “best buy” date. I grew up in the ‘burbs, filling super-sized carts like you said. I’m over it. I lived in England for a year and shared a dorm-sized fridge with three other people and like you said, there was less waste, shopping trips were frequent (but so quick!!) and my food was always at peak freshness. Paring back feels SO GOOD!

  21. French Girl says...

    Ahhh I know what you’re going threw, parisian fridge here.

    In my experience the space issue raises one big underlying question: how to organize things (same for clothes, books etc). I fought with my boyfriend SO MANY TIMES about how he put things stupidly in the fridge… so often that we ended up with a fridge map. Super creepy but super efficient!

    • Kate says...

      A fridge map. I love it!
      I came up with a pantry algorithm a few years ago. Basically the same idea, but a map might be easier to read.

  22. sasha says...

    Where I live, many families have deep freezers (Costco, hunted meat) and big walk in pantries. I’ve got neither. But since I’m a person that doesn’t like trying to keep track of what’s in my storage, I like it that way. I would absolutely forget about food in a big set up. My fridge often doesn’t have much, but pantry staples are always stocked.

    I love versatile foods too- big spinach from Costco can be salads, sauteed with garlic and red pepper flakes, go in soups and that delicious veg carbonara recipe posted here a little while back, big cans of tomato go in soup too, pasta sauce (putanesca!!), simmered with Indian spices and boiled eggs, rice and beans, chilaquiles sauce, and peanut butter! Man, peanut butter is my favorite….Congo sauce with tofu or potatoes, grilled pb and banana and honey on challah, stir into my oatmeal, Thai sauce for noodles, coconut soup, smoothies.
    I love reading how other people solve the same exact problem that faces us all-what to eat.

    • Nicole says...

      Congo sauce? Do tell!

    • Katie says...

      Do you live in Idaho? Deep freezers, hunted meat, Costco. Sounds a lot like my neck of the woods ;)

  23. Martina says...

    Love this article!
    Coming from Germany, I ‘ve learned our fridges here are obviously very small;)
    Honestly, I would never be able to buy food for one, let alone two weeks in advance! Often I just stop by the grocery store after work to buy the items for the meal I’m in the mood to cook, or my sons told me in the morning they’d like to have this or that for dinner – and of course I won’t have everything needed for that. Bonus: I always have fresh vegetables, which I also think makes the meals much better!

  24. Islay says...

    Ok two things! 1) I absolutely adore your writing style. It’s so fresh and witty, but also thoughtful enough to make it sound like you’re chatting to a close friend

    and 2) HOME.TOUR.PLEASE! Would love to see how on earth you’re living in 175 square feet!

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Thanks you, Islay — seriously means so much! xoxoox

    • Blythe says...

      I second this request! I would love to see how you’ve set up your home!

    • Blythe says...

      I third this request! :)

    • Thank you Stella! I now know I’m existing in 68 feet 10.772 inches of space. My double chambre de bonne(double maids room) in Paris at 21 meters used to seem a decent size. I have never been happy with the mini-bar fridge and was thrilled when it died. Current mini is waist-high and Has space for ice cubes and frozen soups. Yahoo. Lots of Paris aparts are so equipped, which is why the wonderful Picard shops exist. You can pick up nightly fabulous frozen dinners of all ethnicities and their excellent ice creams come in dixie cups. Love keeping my eggs on the counter. Made the move from NYC worth it.

  25. C says...

    Our fridge is a teeny tiny vintage Admiral refrigerator from the 40s passed down through the family from my great(!)-grandmother. It still works beautifully and it’s style is the first thing guests comment on when they walk into our kitchen, second being– “HOW DO YOU FIT ANYTHING IN THERE?”– at which point I always explain these points. Everyone exclaims that it makes so much sense and they had never thought of their own bulky fridges like that before. But the best part is it’s history! I have memories of sneaking cookies out of it at my grandmother’s house and my mother has memories of doing the same at HER grandmother’s. I get to remember multiple generations of women in my family every time I do some of the most mundane tasks, like grabbing the carton of soy milk, which is more than I can say about any of my other boring appliances!

    • Anne says...

      That is SO COOL! What a wonderful story!

    • MM says...

      So nice! There must have been no planned or built in obsolescence back then when your great grandmother’s fridge was built ;-)

  26. I also have a mini fridge and it’s great! I couldn’t deal with the mini freezer, though, so I bought a little one and use it as a plant stand. I’m not sure if it’s made me cook more or less, but it has made me meal prep to save room!

  27. Jessica says...

    This is so refreshing vs the current trend of Sunday ‘meal prep’. (which can also avoid a lot of waste, but I’m just tired of hearing about it). And usually I would be annoyed to hear about how a recent grad is adjusting to city life + career, but Stella writes in a way that is interesting for women of all ages. :)

    • Kelly Libby says...

      OMG!! Me, too. Meal prep. Ugh. I’m so tired of hearing that freaking phrase. I don’t WANT to meal prep on Sunday. I like to relax on Sundays and then eat what I want each night during the week. It has been helpful to cut up some fruit and/or a few veggies for snacking and I’ve been loving making a big pot of veggie bean chili but seriously. Who is that ORGANIZED to plan meals for an entire week ahead of time??!! hahahahaha.

  28. Stella! Now we MUST see your 175 square foot apartment! Must. Pretty please?!? With (pantry) sugar on top? Thanks! :)

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Hahaha, thank you, Lindsay! x

    • Annie says...

      Ditto! P.S. – that mini fridge makes you all the more European :)

  29. Yulia says...

    What an amazing and fun challenge that would be! I’ve never had a mini-fridge–only the enormous kind. But I have to say, I live with just my partner and our freezer and fridge are constantly full AND constantly emptying! We make almost every single thing we eat, which means we need enough ingredients for a week of meals and healthy snacks for two very active, hungry people. Fresh produce for a week takes up a lot of that space, but I also like to have already prepped ingredients to make hearty salads for weeknights, and there are tons of things we eat for snacks. We eat it all and waste almost nothing! Going to the store multiple times a week sounds like an absolute chore to me–but I suppose that’s just because it’s not convenient where I live. With that said, Stella, it sounds like you are having a lot of fun in your kitchen! :)

    • Sharon says...

      I second your comment! My husband and I are only two adults, but we eat a lot of food! My husband hunts, so we have a second fridge and a deep freezer in the garage (suburbia all the way), but I think I could inventory all 3 at 95% accuracy without taking a peep inside. I cherish my food! And since I do the majority of the shopping, I love knowing all the food options I have and never worrying about running out. Ate the last piece of bacon, no worries, I have another pack in the garage. ;-) I love having tons of fresh produce and being able to roast a huge pan of vegetables when the mood strikes. To each there own I guess!

    • Kelly Libby says...

      Impressive! I have tried repeatedly to prep and plan for the week but as a singleton, I have continually wasted so much food which is something I’m disgusted by. I like to eat exactly what i’m in the mood for that night. I’m trying, now, to shop more frequently, in the outside isles, and buying less each trip. I do have a stand up cabinet that I use as a pantry stocked with dry ingredients like gluten free flour, beans, quinoa, brown rice, stewed tomatoes, etc. As well, I’m investing in high quality oils, salts and seasonings to literally spice things up a bit. Then, I can buy fresh veggies, fish, eggs, milk, cheese etc as I need them for the week.

  30. Dee says...

    I LOVE this article it makes me want to go home and dump everything in my oversized fridge. There is always so much waste. I have such good intentions and then plans change, ingredients go bad, things get pushed back so far you don’t even know they are there. This is inspiring me to try
    to shop a little differently. Thanks Stella!

  31. cc says...

    Ahhh I LOVE this post and the comments. I lived in Oxford for my last semester of college and had one tiny shelve in one tiny fridge. I LOVED IT!!!!! I ended up being unintentionally vegetarian, lost weight, had tons of energy and never even missed eating meat. I would stop by Tesco after studying at the library and pick up hummus, carrots, kale, peanut butter and crumpets. I’ve sadly strayed from this since being back in the States but this has inspired me to go back to the simplicity of the old days!! Thanks, Stella! xo

    • This is so inspiring. Maybe having a large fridge and freezer really is what’s holding me back.

  32. Rue says...

    In grad school I did a lot of long-duration travel for work. There were several versions of long work trips for me: 1) camping for several weeks, 2) staying at an extended stay hotel, or 3) staying in an (empty) apartment.

    I joke that one of the skills I didn’t intend to acquire while getting my PhD is being able to feed myself in each of these scenarios. Like, you could air-drop me in rural wherever and tell me whether I have access to pots and pans, electricity, a stove, a fridge, or none of these, and then set me loose at the grocery store and I am ON it.

    Sometimes now when I have a busy week ahead of me, I remind myself that I can food shop *as if* I were camping or fending for myself in an empty hotel room kitchen, and that helps me snap to it and go into “I can do this!” mode.

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Amazing, Rue!

  33. Meghan says...

    I fell in love with the mini-fridge after living in Germany. Trips to the grocery store were a treat and built into my daily routine! They were quick stops, but it was the period of most creativity in my cooking. I both used up what I had and was spontaneous with whatever I bought at the grocery store that. I had the added bonus of only buying what I could carry in my bike baskets! I absolutely loved it. Mini fridges are the WAY to go for 1-2 person households. After moving back to Canada, my fridge felt large, ominous and begging to be filled. It still feels too big after a year and a half back!

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      YES!!!!

  34. Anne says...

    Same story here! After college I lived in a TINY 3-bedroom flat in London – we’re talking zero living space, just a hallway with 3 bedrooms and a kitchen the size of a large closet. We split a mini-fridge between four people!! I cooked a lot of pasta and sauce (a college habit) until my roommate stopped me one day and said, “You need to eat vegetables. Here-” and handed me a bag of peas. I starting going to the shop on the corner on my way home from work and picking out a meal and a vegetable, and doing my little cooking. Fond memories!

    Next weekend I’m moving out of my current shared apartment and into a new home with my new husband – and we’re going to have the fridge ALL TO OURSELVES!!!!!

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Awesome, Anne! Congrats!!!!

  35. yes! the first apartment my husband and i shared was a total gem but only had a mini fridge and a microwave sized convection oven…but we actually cooked all the time and learned how to make it work. one year we even cooked thanksgiving! you can do a lot in those small spaces and to this day (now there are 4 of us and we live in a house) i still have the emptiest freezer of anyone i know. i always mean to become the mom who has yummy bolognese or soup frozen at the ready but i just forget…those three years were pivotal! 😂

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Love this so much, Margaret! So, so awesome about Thanksgiving.

  36. Aw this reminds me of my student days when I shared a tiny fridge with FOUR people!! So I had half a little shelf to stash my things. I would only plan for a couple of meals, usually based on something cupboard-y like pasta or rice. Well done for making it work for you!! x

  37. Your little brother sounds just like my mom, Stella. :) Also, I love hearing about what it’s like to live in a tiny studio, because that’s exactly what I hope to do someday.

  38. Savannah says...

    I have a full-sized refrigerator but have never shopped for more than a week. I just keep bags of ice in the freezer to try and save on energy costs. I don’t know how to buy a monstrous amount of food at a time!

  39. aga says...

    Great post! Going to make all three of those kale recipes! Waste is an issue… and ditto to an apartment tour, please!

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Thank you, Aga!!!

  40. It’s really amazing what you come up with when it calls for it! We have a big kitchen at home, but when I went interstate for a clinical placement, I had to stay in a shared student dorm so shared BASIC kitchen. I half a shelf and one door space (For milk) and like 1/8th of the freezer. Bought basic cooking utensils = saucepan, mini frypan, chopping board, two knives, mini rice cooker. The usual suspects: soy sauce (I’m Asian), white pepper, honey, garlic, rice. It was great! The things I could come up with was amazing. I bought one bag of oats that lasted me 7 weeks for breakfast. One small loaf of bread would be enough for 1.5 weeks if I wanted sandwiches for lunch. I bought one whole chicken which I deboned and used the bones for soup (I can’t live without my Chinese soups!) which would be 3 dinners. It was a great experience and definitely less food waste! .

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      This are genius ideas, Candy! Thank you for sharing!

  41. Joney says...

    I’m curious, is keeping the minifridge and not buying a big fridge due to cost or space?

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Both! Since I’m renting, I’m not in a place to buy a full-size refrigerator for this 2-year lease. But most importantly, there is absolutely no room! The kitchen cabinets touch the top of my mini fridge :)

  42. Laura says...

    We moved to Germany last year and now we also have a mini-fridge (a common fridge here). I used to HATE the once a week trip to the grocery store in the States that took at least an hour and required LOTS of prep. Now I love going to the grocery store, nearly every day, because it is quick. It is part of my regular routine and I only have to think of a meal or two rather than prep for a whole week.

    It’s great and actually one of the things I will miss most if we move back!

  43. Nicole says...

    This made me hungry!

  44. Stephanie Fonda Ben-Zeev says...

    This brings back memories of the 175 sf apartment I lived in 15 years ago in the east village. I managed to include a “living room”, an “office”, a “dining room” and a “bedroom” in that space. It was cozy and a perfect landing pad after an energetic/chaotic NYC day. Plus, there was a Chinese takeout shop right downstairs- didn’t get any better than that.

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      What a dream, Stephanie! Love hearing this!!! Very inspiring. I have tried to do the same with separating my space into sections, but usually that means my desk area is my office, living room and dining room. Hahaha.

      And amazing about the takeout. Love.

  45. We had a tiny (not mini, but close;) fridge for four years as a family while we lived in Switzerland. I agree with everything you say, and we also learned how to use our window sills during the winter!!! Champagne chills on window sills in winter. And casseroles and even our Le Creuset could keep out there! Good thing for huge European window sills – and honest neighbors. :)

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Love this so much, Lindsey!!!

  46. Pam says...

    Love this, so glad it is working for you.

    But I love my regular size fridge (AND extra chest freezer too!) for the phase I’m living in. Working and having 2 little kids, I don’t have time to go (drive) to the store a lot – I meal plan and shop once a week only. Need the fridge space to store the week’s meals (and freeze yummy leftovers). There are many ways to be thrifty and eat healthily, and yours makes me look back so, so fondly on when I used to live in my own little apartment and walk to get my groceries .

  47. Heather says...

    Yes! My first *grown up job* after university was teaching English in Seoul. My job came with an apartment, and the apartment with a teeny-tiny mini fridge. It was in Seoul with my teeny-tiny fridge that I learned to love cooking. Working with the small fridge and a 45-minute subway trek to the international food store helped me to become more resourceful and adventurous cook. Viva la mini fridge!

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Love this, Heather!!!

    • lomagirl says...

      What I loved when I lived in Korea was that the vegetable market was at the foot of my apartment. I miss the walking/bus riding/marketing on the way home culture that is so prevalent in other countries. I hate driving to the grocery store here in the US.

  48. Vicki says...

    My mother in law just gave us her chest freezer, but I am so wary of it. Hers was always stuffed to the brim with meat, and leftover cake, and four kinds of ice cream, and some of it had been there for YEARS. The waste really bugged me! And the miserliness of saving little scraps of food (which then never were used up and were still wasted!). In the end, I took the freezer because I do have four boys, and I hear they eat a lot when they hit puberty! I’ve gotta couple years still before the onslaught — but now I guess I am prepared!

    • Andrea says...

      My Mom uses hers to buy meat at a discount (close to its expiration date) and freeze it. She also uses it for storing frozen berries and freezer jam to make winter less grim. She uses it more like a frozen shelf and less as storing leftovers. It’s really allowed her to cut back on her grocery bill.

      I agree, I hate odds and ends and leftovers that come from the freezer. I realized that I hated eating leftovers and would just throw them away from the freezer. Now, I use mine to store either raw ingredients or frozen foods from TJs.

    • june2 says...

      Growing up we had a full sized standing freezer – always packed to the brim with U-pick fruit and veg and the tomatoes we grew. All winter long we would have strawberry shortcake, blackberry cobblers or peach and cherry pies, etc.

  49. Lindsey says...

    I too would love a tour! My family of three lived in a 400 sq ft house and I thought that was small! Small living is so fun though, always an adventure!

  50. KSM says...

    I always find it interesting to see how some people have knack to pen simple things into an interesting post. Stella’s post are just that. I had noticed earlier too that she picks up from simple events and narrates them beautifully. As someone who has tried a hand writing a trivia blog, I can tell how difficult it is if one is not a good observer of smallest things. Stella must be a very observant and aware person.

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      This is such a kind comment, KSM. Wow! Thank you so much. xoxoxoxo

    • Joanna says...

      Yes! This could have been such a non-post, but it was really exciting to read and the comments on here are great. I have a family of 4 and a bigass fridge now, but this makes me yearn to be living alone in a tiny space of my own with a teeny tiny fridge to live that Stella life! :)

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      crying now!!!! you guys!!!!

  51. Alex says...

    Yes! I had the most dreamy illegal apartment in Cambridge MA fresh out of college with a mini fridge and no sink. I got so used to buying groceries daily, cooking from fresh ingredients, and yes, relying on pantry items. I do not miss washing dishes in my shower but the buy/cook fresh habits have stuck. I still walk to the grocery store nearly daily on my way home from work. It’s become such a lovely ritual.

  52. Rose says...

    I absolutely love these kinds of articles on cup of jo. I always need more ideas on how to stretch ingredients and make three different delicious meals using the same ingredients. I don’t live in a studio but I do live in a tiny two bedroom which has a studio-like kitchen. I have no counter space besides a tiny kitchen table, no drawers, and very limited cabinet space. I basically never cook for this reason, but ideas like this make me think maybe it is possible after all. Thanks Stella!

  53. Anna says...

    Oh yes I have grocery shopping tricks! We eat the same thing every day and our grocery shopping trip is a breeze and practically memorized. We make larger batches so we don’t have to cook all the time but practically everything is homemade and organic. So it’s cornmeal and eggs with maple syrup for breakfast, hearty veg soup and homemade bread for lunch and homemade veg pizza and salad for dinner. We also keep apples, avocados, lime, and organic tortillas around for a late night snack/quick meal replacement. We keep Uncle Matts OJ in the fridge other than our beloved Berkey water. Ta-da! Most of our list is found on the outer edge of the grocery store (fresh produce, bulk, eggs and dairy.) I’m about to have 3 kids 3 and under so simple and something everyone can eat is the name of the game right now. Our fridge and pantry stay neat and we don’t struggle with food waste.

  54. Amy says...

    We’re a young family of five with a 19 cu. ft. fridge, which is on the small side for our area (shopping is all clustered in the middle of town, not interspersed among residential areas unfortunately, and we don’t work in that direction). I find the size somewhat limiting, but mostly because we make a lot from scratch (i.e. I don’t always buy jarred pasta sauce, I’ll make a quadruple batch and freeze the extra). So we have a half-size deep freeze downstairs to handle the gallons of applesauce I make each year from my mom’s apple tree, freezer meals I make (double dinner, freeze half for another night). On the one hand – an even smaller fridge would probably convince me to stop making so much food myself, which would save me time and mental energy…but not money or health. I’m always so conflicted on this one. Which is worth more?

  55. Kate says...

    This is currently the life I am living. It’s making me giggle. I live in a place with a full size fridge, but I also have four roommates, so I have been relegated to a bar fridge in my closet, because my room is closest to the kitchen.
    Because I don’t have to hold the milk and the butter, I have a little bit more free space, but my sunday night tetris-ing (Sundays are meal prep days) of my fridge has become an amusement for both my roommates and my twitter.
    But yeah, with the mini fridge, I’ve become a bit of an expert (ish) at cooking, and I love it. I’m 19, so obviously I have lots to learn, but this week was sweet potato soup and chickpea curry, and both taste really good, so I guess I’m not doing too badly. Thanks for sharing!

  56. Sarah W says...

    I am VERY excited to try the cheesy mashed white beans!

  57. Laura says...

    Would love to see an apartment tour! The glimpses you’ve posted are so so beautiful.

  58. Lisa says...

    At the grocery store constantly? That would be my own personal hell.

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Hahaha

  59. Suzanne says...

    I lived in France for almost a year and shared an apartment of sorts with four other women. Our shared kitchen had one mini-fridge. There was a grocery store across the street to we went frequently, but we also used the concrete window planter boxes outside the kitchen window as secondary food storage. We’d occasionally forget to bring things in overnight when it dipped well below freezing and found mushy veggies the next day, but overall it worked pretty well!

  60. Megan says...

    Let’s have a tour of your apartment!!!!

    • Meg says...

      Srsly

    • Porkchop says...

      YES!!!! :D

    • Took the words right out of my mouth! Yes!

    • I agree, I would love to see a tour of Stella’s place! I love the house tours that Cup of Jo shares (they’re all so dreamy) but as I’m living in a small condo in Toronto, styling tips for a studio are a lot more relatable.

    • Audrey says...

      Yes!! Would love to see.

  61. ALV says...

    This is the way a lot of Europeans operate. When I lived in Italy and Scotland we had small refrigerators and just shopped more often for food. Of course, in Italy the grocers on every corner have something amazing and fresh and it takes 5 seconds to buy it…not so with the local Fine Fare near me. However– I recently re-did my kitchen and purposely got a smaller fridge. Now with Fresh Direct/ Food kick etc you can be pretty lazy about grocery shopping at the last minute and just buy what you need for the next few days. Live on, small freezer!

    • Jasmine says...

      We live in Europe and have both in our home :)

  62. Caraboa says...

    When my dad was in the Navy and living in a tiny apartment in the city, he welcomed the winter months where he could gain a freezer/fridge by using his fire escape as external storage.
    He had no interest in cooking and being creative so he just ate peanut butter sandwiches and pretzels for a year! Always cold beer in the refrigerator, I assume…

  63. Amanda says...

    When I first moved to San Francisco, I lived for two years in a studio with a mini fridge. What I found was that I pretty much stopped cooking meat! Without the option to throw it in the freezer to cook whenever or much room for leftovers in the fridge, I found that it just wasn’t worth it to me to make the effort for just me. Now, 13 years later, I’ve never gone full vegetarian, but there are certain things that I lost a taste for during that period that never came back — good bye, poultry!

  64. I love this! May we have a “tour” of Stella’s 175 sq. ft. apt? Please?

    • Una says...

      Yes to this!

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Awww, thanks so much, Linda! xoxo

  65. zoe says...

    and if you do a house tour please include one shot of the inside of your fridge MTV cribs style?

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Hahahahaha

    • A says...

      “This is where I keep my Barbie sized Cristal!!!”

      Tiny fridges are amazing!

  66. My last few years of college I was an RA so i got my own tiny apartment that came with, you guessed it, only a mini fridge! So i totally get this small fridge mentality! kudos to you for making it work so brilliantly!

    p.s. i also read all of the comments first because i, too, want an apartment tour so bad!!

  67. MA says...

    My family of 4 lived in a small apartment in Oslo, Norway for a couple of months this past summer and we had a small fridge that was slightly larger than a dorm fridge. I LOVED it. Granted, we lived within two blocks of a green grocer and a bodega-style store, and larger groceries were a short distance away, so shopping was easy to do on the fly. Which was good because there was no way that we could store a full week’s worth of food in the fridge! We got creative most nights, and we wasted so much LESS. I’m actually appalled at how much food we waste now that we are home with our 26 cubic ft fridge. Food gets lost in there. I’m waiting until this behemoth kicks the bucket so we can get a smaller fridge!

  68. Carolyn Lonacker says...

    I’m currently living the exact OPPOSITE situation — recently got a new (bigger) fridge, filled it with food from Costco yesterday, and now I’m scratching my head over what to cook for dinner tonight. Wah-wah.

  69. Hope says...

    ha, I always eat frozen pizzas 10 minutes after I buy them….no need for a freezer :)

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Hahaha, brilliant reminder!

  70. Jodi says...

    I have an “apartment size” fridge which definitely isn’t mini, but not anywhere near a full size. My husband and I do a somewhat larger shop on Sundays for what we KNOW we will consume during the week (stuff for our daily smoothies, milk, coffee, etc.). But I really love doing a quick run to the store every other day or so during the week. It allows us to be more spontaneous during the week in case we don’t feel like cooking or want to meet a friend for dinner, and allows us to use really fresh ingredients when we do decide to make dinner. I also try to take inventory of my fridge and cupboards before I go to the store in case there’s any lingering leftover ingredients I need or want to use up the following week. But agree with another reader’s comment, this is likely easiest when living in a big city!

    And HOUSE TOUR please!!!

  71. Lizzie says...

    Hey Stella- It’s marvelous you’re skilled in cooking nice vegetarian meals. Delicious food that is gentler on the planet and kinder to animals- No shame needed! I wish more people cooked like YOU – and it was the meat lovers feeling bashful.

  72. Leah says...

    Do you have a patio or any outdoor space? I live in a northern climate and always use the outdoors as an extra fridge/freezer during the colder months–you might be able to comfort yourself with an extra tub of ice cream in January!

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      So smart!!! Thanks, Leah!

    • Susan says...

      Yes! When I was 19 lived in northern England and kept my milk out on the window ledge during the winter—nice and ice-cold! 🥛☃️

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      when hurricane sandy hit nyc, we lost electricity for almost a week. toby was two years old and still drank milk all the time, so we put it on our fire escape! worked like a charm :)

    • T says...

      I’m Australian so the concept of this BLOWS. MY. MIND. Though why should it? Of course it works. But wot!?

    • Christina says...

      Ice cream + boxed white wine! Might be worth a window planter box just for these items ;)

  73. Jessica says...

    My husband and I lived in Scotland for four years. The refrigerators there are glorified mini fridges. Everyone just shops every couple days. But there are also small markets on practically every corner, so it makes popping to the store a breeze. And usually my husband or I would just pick up the ingredients for dinner on our way home from work. I have to admit, the thing I missed wasn’t the large fridges, it was the supermarkets with oh so many choices.

    • R says...

      I am in my fifth year of living in Scotland and that is my number one challenge and complaint: lack of interesting/varied food options. Because I don’t live in one of the two biggest cities (the gulf between second and third is vast!) there is no selection of fruits and vegetables, and many cheeses are difficult to get, though I live across the street from a cheesemonger.

      I do have a big fridge though!

    • Sharon in Scotland says...

      I have a lovely orange, rounded retro fridge with a little freezer. It’s only me so I shop once a week, but things still get lost/forgotten/ignored. When I was training and living in halls I used to share the fridge, I just used to do a daily shop when I walked past Sainsbury’s………….lovely!
      What I miss living in the Highlands is a green grocer, can’t be had for love or money! but the local butchers/fishmongers are good

  74. I recently moved to Paris and my fridge is not tiny but is certainly smaller than the standard US size. Even when I lived in the suburbs I always liked to do grocery runs every few days instead of buying a lot of food that goes bad, but I definitely agree that living in the city makes a “small fridge lifestyle” more possible and kind of necessary. Good article :)

  75. Liz says...

    Julia Child learned to cook in Paris with an oven the size of an American toaster oven, and look how she turned out! When in doubt, just ask yourself what she’d cook.

  76. Sarah says...

    Love this post. I recently spent two months living in a hotel (a long work trip) and had just a very small kitchen with mini fridge, two-burner stovetop and a microwave. It was such an adventure – reminded me of being a student and having to make do with whatever kitchen items I owned. Being in a foreign country where I couldn’t always buy the ingredients I wanted was even more of a challenge! I ate so well and had so much fun working out how to cook things when I didn’t own a huge array of cooking utensils and didn’t have an oven. One of my favourite things to cook was a recipe I found on this site – Pan-fried Butter Beans and Greens. Made a thousand different versions of this!

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Love this so much, Sarah!!!!

  77. Hillary says...

    I want to know where you go shopping in NYC that it only takes you 5 minutes to grocery shop! Those lines (especially at Trader Joe’s) are no joke!

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Timing is EVERYTHING

    • Kelly Libby says...

      I’m not in NYC — but I live and shop in Boston. I usually shop in the morning but last night I thought i’d just “pop in at 6 pm”. Holy crap!! What a mistake.
      The lines were out the door, the customers carts were banging into each other, the produce was impossible to sort through. A generally unpleasant experience. If possible, go in the early morning before work. The Whole Foods breakfast buffet seriously motivates me to get up a little tiny bit earlier — and i hate mornings.

  78. brianna says...

    I’m going to sixth that request for a house tour. I have a regular size fridge in my apartment, but I also have a mini fridge because my last apartment had the worst roomies ever and I had to keep my stuff completely separate. I have to agree that I did better with just the mini fridge.

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Thanks so much, Brianna! Love that you had a mini fridge, too!

  79. Libby says...

    I’ll second the call for a house tour!!

  80. Dayna says...

    My apartment currently has a tiny fridge/freezer (not as tiny as the one in the article) but it is pretty, pretty, pretty *in Larry David’s voice* small.
    There are some perks, I prioritize when I am at the grocery store and only buy things I need and will eat, versus buying fun little items I think I will get to, but never actually touch.
    I will say I do miss having the real estate to buy extra things like a TJ’s frozen pizza, or more than one ice cream flavor. But hey, when I’ve made it you’ll know because I will have a huge fridge.

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Hahahahaha

  81. Megan Quintin says...

    The other thing to think about is what actually does need to go in the fridge versus what can survive on the counter/in a cupboard. As I suggest this your next post will be ‘surviving food poisoning’ but if you do your research you’d be surprised to find certain things don’t need to be kept in the fridge. Different cultures definitely keep different things cold vs room temperature.

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Such a good point, Megan! Agreed! x

    • Angela says...

      I was about to comment making that same point! I did some research about produce that was best in the fridge and best out-that was a real eye opener. The information out there concerning expiration dates is also interesting.

    • Sarah says...

      I can attest that boxed wine does not need to be refrigerated. Get some of those plastic ice cube things that can refreeze if you prefer your wine cold, and drop a few in the glass so it doesn’t get diluted, and voila!

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      !!!!!

  82. Denise says...

    I miss living in the city where I’d walk to the grocery on my way home from work and get only what I wanted for that evening meal. I always had exactly what I needed. Now I drive to the grocery once a week and consistently overdo it.

  83. Erin W says...

    Are you a vegetarian, Stella? Noticed you mentioned all veggie foods :) My European friends swear by going to the grocery store every few days for the freshest possible ingredients which I think makes for fantastic meals! I, however, kind of hate going to the grocery store and my once every 1 or 2 weeks trip where I stock up on everything feels like such an ordeal. I’d rather avoid going multiple times, even for a quick trip because getting to the store takes up quite a bit of time to begin with. If you pass by the grocery on your way home every day though, I can see how it would be easier!

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Such great points, Erin! We were just chatting in here in the office about how much easier this style of shopping is in a bigger city. I couldn’t imagine driving to pick up groceries at the rate I shop now.

      And, I cook 99% vegetarian. Pretty embarrassed by my lack of meat-cooking skills :)

  84. Rae says...

    This proves the point that many of us are more creative (and maybe happier?) with limitations. Your fridge is like the capsule wardrobe of kitchens or a dinner party or eligible dates, not tinder!

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Haha, really, really good point, Rae.

    • Rachel says...

      What a great point, Rae. Stella, love reading your articles. Here’s a tip, if you haven’t already figured it for yourself: store your butter in a butter keeper!

  85. Christina says...

    I love this! It’s like, kitchen minimalism. A new trend!

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Thank you, Christina! xoxox

  86. Courtney says...

    I’d love to see your apartment! Give us a tour?

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Fun idea, Courtney! Thank you!!

    • Amanda G says...

      Agreed! Would love to see her functional usage of 175 square feet!!!

    • Sally says...

      Agree! House tour please!

    • Laura says...

      Tour! Tour! Tour!

    • Yes, pls!!

    • Yes! Tour please!

      Alina

    • Lauren says...

      I second this! :)

    • M says...

      Yes please! I’m another tiny space person, so I’d love to see how you handle it.