Life without a fridge isn’t easy, but it can be done. I grew up without running water and electricity, so I’m familiar with the challenges of living without a refrigerator.
Today, I’m a grateful fridge owner, but I’ll be the first to admit that living without one has some benefits.
Thirty years ago, I built a house on a few acres of land that I had inherited. I lived there for several years without a fridge, electricity, or other amenities.
I learned a lot about living without a fridge, so I’ll share some of the successful methods I used. Hopefully, people who are in a similar situation will find these methods helpful.
How I Stored Food Without Refrigeration
Storing food without a refrigerator looks a lot different than storing food when you have about 25 cubic feet of cold storage space in your kitchen. However, there are several ways to store food without one.
Using An Ice Chest
When I lived without a fridge, my main method for keeping food cold was an ice chest.
I always put the food I wanted coldest, like the milk and fresh meat, right next to the ice. Coolers come with disadvantages beyond space limitations, though.
One of the biggest problems I had came from using blocks of ice. A block of ice in a cooler keeps food cold enough for a few days, but you’re left with a lot of melted ice water.
Draining the ice water out of your cooler helps keep your food dry, but there’s a lot of cold in that water, and when you drain it out, you lose it all. Since I didn’t have an endless supply of ice, I had to make mine last.
I rented freezer space at the local butcher to keep our farm-raised pork, and it was also perfect for freezing jugs of ice. Frozen jugs of water or ice packs are a much neater method than blocks of ice.
Keep Your Cooler Cool
Coolers have limited efficiency, so where you store your cooler is important. I used to cover my cooler with an old sleeping bag. I eventually upgraded and put my cooler inside a foam board insulation box I built.
During the hottest part of summer, finding a cool part of the house became much harder, so I dug a hole in a shady spot outside my back door and put my cooler in it. Then, I used a piece of foam board insulation to cover the top. It was a bit of a pain because I had to pull the cooler out to drain and clean it, but it kept my food colder.
Ultimately, I improved this design by building a concrete box underground with a gravel base. That was a lot easier and neater, and the concrete’s thermal mass helped keep everything cooler longer.
Before the invention of refrigerators, people used root cellars and cold rooms, and they are still the best place to store vegetables long-term.
I used my root cellar to store vegetables, eggs, cheese, and butter. Learn here a cheap and easy way to build a root cellar in your backyard.
Working With Mother Nature
Where I live, life without a fridge is much different in the summer than in the winter. When the temperature outside dropped in the fall, I kept my cooler outside.
Once winter hit, there was an endless supply of ice to keep everything cold. All I had to do was set out a jug of water overnight. By morning, it was frozen and ready to pop in my cooler.
Food Preservation Techniques
While living without refrigeration, I also grew a large garden. For a few months of the year, many of the meals I cooked came directly from the garden. The easiest way to prevent fresh food from spoiling is to leave it on the vine as long as possible.
I canned, pickled, and dried most of my garden surplus, so it never needed refrigeration. The root vegetables and cabbages went into the root cellar, and I canned the wild game my husband harvested.
Shopping More Frequently
When I lived without a fridge, I purchased small quantities of fresh food and shopped more frequently. Perishable items like fresh meat won’t last more than two or three days in a cooler, so I had to skip the bulk deals.
Cooking Without Refrigeration
It might seem pretty simple to grab a cooler and some ice and ditch the fridge, but I had to change my cooking habits too.
Here is what I learned.
Have you ever stood in the doorway of your fridge, staring at the contents and wondering what to make for dinner?
That doesn’t work when you’re living out of an ice chest.
The fewer trips I had to make in and out of my cooler, the better.
Since I was more conscious about what I purchased, I always knew what was in my cooler and planned my meals before I even opened the lid.
I’ll admit that leftovers can be pretty great, but how often do you store them in your fridge for a few days without touching them, only to throw them away later?
Life without a fridge is easier when you aren’t dealing with leftovers, so I rarely saved any unless they were going to be eaten for lunch the next day. Leftovers don’t last as long in a cooler, so avoiding them by cooking smaller portions is safer.
Foods That Don’t Need Refrigeration
There are a lot of foods that don’t require refrigeration. Grains, rice, beans, and pasta are excellent food choices, whether you have a fridge or not. And when you only cook enough for one or two meals, you never need to worry about keeping them cold.
Canned food is another great choice. When I lived without a fridge, I canned entire meals, like quart jars of stews and soups, which made cooking much easier. Foods like canned chili or tuna can sit on your shelf for years, but frozen meals have a much shorter shelf life.
When it comes to vegetables, some foods are easier to keep without a fridge. Storing lettuce is hard in a cooler, but other green vegetables, like squash and broccoli, keep well in a cooler or root cellar.
Benefits Of Not Having A Fridge
While some people see a fridge as an absolute necessity, it isn’t. Since it’s possible to live without one, it’s a convenience, and not everyone is in a position to have a fridge.
Even though running a fridge is pretty cheap and makes life a lot easier, there are some advantages to not having one.
First, you become more conscious of your food choices. Living out of a cooler with limited storage capacity changes everything, from how you shop to how you cook. Since we waste about 40% of our food in the US, it’s good to be more conscious about what you buy and eat.
Second, eating healthier is easier since you have to prepare more food from scratch. For example, you don’t have the temptation of popping frozen tater tots in the oven, so you’re more likely to eat a baked potato.
Reflections on Life Without a Fridge
Life without a fridge forced me to be creative with my food choices, and I learned a lot about food storage solutions.
It was a challenge to live without one, and the time I spent without a fridge made me appreciate the convenience of refrigeration even more.
I’ve lived without a fridge a few times in my life, and one of the things I missed the most is ice cubes, especially for cool drinks in the summer.
However, just like everything else to do with a fridge, they are convenient, not necessary.
There are many reasons why someone would have to live without a fridge, and you never know what the future holds.
If you ever find yourself in a spot where you don’t have the convenience of a refrigerator, use an icebox and stock up on non-perishables, and it won’t be as hard as you think.
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