What's in your fridge?

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Feb 2, 2014

Peek inside the refrigerator of any household and you will get a pretty good idea of who they are and their lifestyle.

Over the past three weeks, SundayLife! persuaded 15 families to open their fridges to explore if there is a link between what people eat and who they are.

A woman's habit of arranging yogurt tubs according to expiry dates gave away her occupation: Ms Nathalie Ricaud, 45, is a professional organiser.

The fridge of new citizens, housewife Michelle Flora Soe and her family, betrays their Myanmar origins. It contains many Burmese food staples such as strips of dried fish and red dates in black sugar.

You can tell that post-graduate student Patrick Tung, 28, is a photography buff because one of the two fridges in his home is packed to the brim with boxes of film.

Given that Singaporeans are known to be well- travelled - affluent Singaporean travellers made an average of seven trips abroad in 2011 and 2012 - it is no surprise that many fridges contain a wide range of food products bought on holidays abroad.

Parmesan cheese from Italy, wagyu beef from Australia and placenta jelly from Beijing are found in the well-stocked fridges of the families interviewed.

And contrary to popular belief, families still prefer home-cooked meals. Ten out of the 15 households eat in at least four times a week.

Teacher Norizah Jamari, 47, who lives with her husband, three of their four children and her father, says: "I have a big family, so eating at home is much cheaper for us."

Social anthropologist Geoffrey Benjamin, 73, who taught sociology of food at Nanyang Technological University, says: "Although we should not jump to conclusions without further investigation, fridges are a very good source of data.

"Some fridges contain highly luxurious items while others have just down-to-earth products. You can learn a lot about people's lifestyles from their fridges."

What are some must-haves in your fridge and why? E-mail

Frozen breast milk in store

The first thing you notice about this 374-litre Panasonic fridge are the neat rows of little bottles, filled with breast milk, in the freezer. It is for Ms Loh's three-year-old preschooler, whom she is trying to wean off for formula milk but without much success. "Even when I mix the powder formula with the breast milk, he knows the difference and spits it out," she says.Who: Ms Alexia Loh, 34, engineer. She, her husband Lim Cheng Siang, also 34 and an engineer, and their children Jacinta, six, and Jarrel, three, live in a four-room HDB flat in Jurong West.

She expresses her milk about three to four times a day, and has a novel use for the unconsumed bottles after six months - she makes a milk bath for her children.

In this household, the children eat healthier food than the parents, says Ms Loh, who spends about $80 a week on groceries from a nearby Giant supermarket.

The carton of Omega-3 eggs, which costs about $1 more than regular eggs, are for the children's meals, while the regular eggs are for herself and Mr Lim.

The children have breakfast and lunch at their preschool and dinner at their grandparents' flat a few blocks away, which is usually a simple meal of porridge with chicken or fish, and a vegetable dish. The parents make do with economical rice or dumpling noodles at the hawker centre.

Ms Loh cooks on weekends for her children, mostly with fresh ingredients such as fish or chicken, while she and her husband continue to eat out at nearby hawker centres. She is adamant that her children eat well, which means no salt or oil in their food.

She says: "My husband and I make do with whatever food we can, but the main priority is our kids because we want to make sure they grow well and healthily."

Kezia Toh

Everything has its place

Who: Ms Nathalie Ricaud, 45, professional organiser. She lives with her husband, a 43-year-old banker and their son Thomas, 10, in a four-bedroom condominium in River Valley. The couple, who moved from France to Singapore in the late 1990s, are permanent residents.

Ms Ricaud has a strict set of rules when it comes to her fridge. Some of them: Arrange things according to their expiration date; eat last night's leftovers by the next day; keep fruit neatly into plastic boxes.

She says: "Every Sunday, I spend about 10 minutes organising my fridge and checking if there's anything that needs to be disposed of. I make sure it is organised - that is what I do for a living. My family know I am quite picky."

In her job as a professional organiser, Ms Ricaud, who runs her own company Get Organised & Beyond, has sorted out messy fridges and established organisational systems for her clients.

Found in her own 511-litre Panasonic fridge are items such as Meiji flavoured yogurt (in neat rows with the earliest expiration date in front), loaves of bread, fruit such as oranges and melons, and vegetables such as chye sim and spinach.

There are also condiments such as Lee Kum Kee Hoisin sauce and Kikkoman soya sauce.

Ms Ricaud and her son visited France last year and they brought back bottles of foie gras and berry jam.

Meals at home follow a weekly plan she devises. It includes dishes such as chicken donburi and edamame, lasagne and salads.

Her domestic helper goes grocery shopping twice a week either at Cold Storage in Great World City or FairPrice in Killiney Road. Their groceries cost an average of $500 a week. It takes several minutes for the helper to stock the fridge to Ms Ricaud's instructions.

Ms Ricaud says: "A key advantage in having an organised fridge is that you waste less food. My fridge is organised to have good visibility of everything, so I can see what I have at home."

Cheryl Faith Wee

Opt for organic

Who: Madam Chua Beng Wan, 40, housewife. She, her husband, their two children - Chloe, 15, and Jared, 13 - and a domestic helper live in a three-bedroom condominium unit in Bukit Timah.

About 60 per cent of the contents in the family's fridge are organic.

This includes B.-d. Farm Paris Creek's natural yogurt and full cream milk, Nature's Glory's organic hulled rolled oats, Woodstock organic tomato ketchup as well as clear packs of brown rice, chia seeds and quinoa.

Madam Chua believes that an organic diet is safest for her family, as regular food may contain synthetic pesticides or fertilisers, which could cause cancer.

She explains: "When we eat organic, we are nourishing and not harming our bodies."

She started eating an organic diet five years ago, after learning about the trend through health magazines.

She now shops at FairPrice Finest supermarkets, the wet market and online health products store, spending about $200 to $250 a week.

There are other nods to health, though she tries to keep the taste appealing to suit her two teenagers, such as a gluten-free mesquite steak sauce from Stonehall Kitchen and a Whittingtons preservative- free orange essence, which is used for the occasional baking session.

Japanese food products fill the other half of her fridge.

These include miso paste, jelly, seaweed, dashi soup stock and mirin, a sweet rice wine used in Japanese cooking.

She says Japanese cuisine strikes the right balance between healthy and flavourful.

"Japanese food products are of good quality, and eating them brings back wonderful memories of being on holiday in Japan."

Food containing trans fat is banned in her household. But the more than 400-litre Mitsubishi Electric fridge also has a few not-so-healthy indulgences, such as Kit Kat chocolate and Ben & Jerry's ice cream.

Currently, the most "unhealthy" item in the fridge is barbecued pork for the festive season.

Kezia Toh

Holiday spoils

Whenever they travel, Dr Soh and her husband bring back food. Spoils from trips past include a 1.2kg wedge of Parmesan cheese from Italy, a 2-litre bottle of sake from Japan and 3kg of dried sausages from Hong Kong.Who: Dr Karen Soh, 40, medical director of an aesthetics clinic. She, her husband, orthopaedic surgeon Siow Hua Ming, 42, and their four children - sons Matthew, 12; Mark, nine; and Luke, 10 months, and daughter Kayleigh, eight - live in a semi-detached house in Bukit Batok.

When their oldest child was born, they found that they were running out of refrigerator space and bought a second fridge.

Dr Soh says: "We buy quite a bit when we go overseas. Some things cannot be found here or are hard to get, or more expensive, so it is better value to buy in bulk. Space was a big issue."

She and her husband travel at least three times a year for work and leisure. They also go on at least four family vacations every year with their children.

The food they bring back is stashed away in a 400-litre Fisher & Paykel fridge, along with ingredients which are used less frequently. For instance, black sesame paste used to make Chinese desserts and boxes of green tea-flavoured Kit Kat from the family's trip to Japan last year.

Another fridge, a Samsung model that can hold about 400 litres, is set aside for staples such as eggs, fruit and meat.

One must-have in this fridge is milk. The family drink five to six litres of different types of milk a week, ranging from soya milk to low-fat fresh milk.

They also have a wine fridge that holds about 150 bottles, and three spare fridges in the backyard in case extra space is needed, especially during festive occasions such as Christmas, to store large portions of a ham.

Dr Soh says that the multiple fridges do not raise their monthly electricity bill much: Two of the fridges are energy-conserving models and the spare ones are not switched on unless in use.

She throws out items that have expired as and when she notices them. Her domestic helper keeps track of what is in the fridges, too, and the family have a "first in, first out" policy - whatever was put in first gets eaten or thrown out first.

Thrice a week, Dr Soh does her shopping at a FairPrice Finest supermarket and a wet market in Upper Bukit Timah, spending an average of $400 a week. Her family usually eat at home on weekdays and eat out on weekends.

Dr Soh and her domestic helper do the cooking. The fridge always has an ample supply of ingredients that allows them to prepare different types of cuisine, including Italian and Japanese dishes such as homemade pesto pasta with chicken and Japanese beef bowls.

Dr Soh says: "We are foodies and we do consume quite a bit as a family too."

Cheryl Faith Wee

Solely for film

Who: Electrical engineering PhD candidate Patrick Tung, 28. He and his parents - Madam Tan Yoke Koon, 55, a housewife, and Mr Alan Tung, 62, who is retired but used to run an off-set printing business - live in a four-room HDB flat in Hougang.

When Mr Patrick Tung started taking photographs with vintage cameras in 2007, he would keep boxes of unused film in a small fridge meant for drinks.

Over the years, the analogue photography enthusiast's film supply expanded and colonised the family fridge in the kitchen.

Now, the collection has grown so large that it occupies a separate, entire 388-litre Toshiba fridge in the dining room. In its freezer, main compartment and chiller, he stores thousands of dollars worth of film: from boxes of black-and-white peel-apart film by Fujifilm to reels of medium-format Kodak Ektachrome slide film.

He usually buys them online from United States-based shops such as B&H.

Mr Tung, who is in the fourth year of his post- graduate studies at the National University of Singapore, says: "The temperature in Singapore is not ideal for film storage. Humidity is one thing and we are too warm compared to the climate in the US. Some kinds of film are quite sensitive."

Madam Tan adds in Mandarin: "His film was placed side by side with our food. I did not know if the chemicals on them would be harmful or not."

In 2010, she bought a new fridge to store their food and gave the old model to her son.

About five times a week, Madam Tan prepares home- cooked meals for her family.

She goes shopping for the ingredients once every two days at the FairPrice supermarket in Hougang Mall or Kang Kar Mall. She spends $60 to $90 a week.

Soup features prominently in Cantonese cuisine and Madam Tan, who is Cantonese, buys ingredients such as dried scallops and lotus roots to brew nourishing ones such as lotus soup and old winter melon soup for her family.

Despite having plenty of room in her large 566-litre Samsung fridge, her ingredients sometimes spill over into her son's fridge. For instance, eggs which she buys in large batches of 30 because the family often have them for breakfast, are often stashed among Mr Tung's precious film.

She says: "There are only three of us at home, but I wanted to get a large fridge because it can be hard to find small items in a small cluttered fridge."

Cheryl Faith Wee

No to leftovers

Who: Retiree Soh Lin Eng, 73. She lives alone in a four-room HDB flat in Jurong East.

After regularly eating leftovers during the days when she worked two jobs as a restaurant waitress and hotel housekeeper, Ms Soh now refuses to keep food overnight. She says: "After working so hard and eating leftover food my whole life, why would I want to eat it now? Now, I relax and enjoy life."

She spends about $200 on groceries every week. She does her shopping at a nearby FairPrice supermarket and wet market.The widow, whose husband died six years ago, stocks her fridge full of items for her five children and their families when they visit on weekends. All are in their 40s and she has 11 grandchildren, aged between nine and over 20.

She treats her family to dishes such as braised sea cucumber - the chiller is packed with four clear boxes of the delicacy, bought from a traditional Chinese medicine store for $100 to $200 - pork shabu shabu and soups. There are dried items such as black bean, ginseng, dried scallops and wolfberries for soups in the fridge too.

She also grinds two bottles of fresh chilli paste with garlic each week, which is a hit with her family, and throws out the remainder at the end of the week, about the same time she clears her Sharp fridge with a capacity of more than 300 litres.

Thrice a week, she cooks for herself: a small, simple dinner comprising rice or porridge, and a vegetable and meat dish.

Her fridge, however, holds many items she does not like to eat: sugary treats such as cupcakes, chocolates and sparkling grape juice, which her children give her.

To make sure the family come back and finish the treats, she wraps them in plastic and stows them in direct sight in her fridge. "I put them there to see who wants to eat them. If not, I will throw them away."

Kezia Toh

Water and blended vegetables

Who: Mr Raphael Lim, 34, personal fitness trainer. He lives with his mother, housewife Quek Guek Eng, 68, in a five-room HUDC flat in Braddell. His two siblings, who are 45 and 46 years old, are married and do not live with them. His father died from pancreatic problems at 59 years old in 2003.

Mr Lim has several quirky eating habits. He drinks only bottled water and usually blends all the fruit and vegetables he consumes.

He says: "It is out of pure laziness. I drink a lot of water and having to boil it and wait for it to cool in the fridge is not very convenient.

"I also do not want to have to deal with cooking and preparing vegetables. It can be quite troublesome."

Almost every day, he blends raw vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes and kale to create 1.5 litres of a pulpy concoction. He finishes drinking this in about 30 minutes. He also makes fruit smoothies with ingredients such as frozen bananas, berries and coconut oil.

His more than 500-litre Samsung fridge is also always well stocked with 1.5-litre bottles of Evian water, which he usually buys in a pack of six (about $12) from Cold Storage in Great World City.

For the past year, he has been trying to follow a paleolithic diet.

The diet consists mainly of protein, vegetables and fruit. Grain and dairy product are avoided.

Hence he eats a lot of beef or fish as well as carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes. Occasionally, he cheats by eating bagels and ice cream which can be found in his fridge. "I follow the diet about 80 per cent of the time. As a personal fitness trainer, it is important to be in shape and I feel that my energy levels are better with this diet, but I have a sweet tooth. I still want to be able to eat like a regular person."

Due to his schedule, which involves working in the mornings and evenings, Mr Lim seldom eats with his mother.

For his meals, he frequents Cold Storage and organic food shops for kale and a speciality butcher in Outram Road for grass-fed beef. His weekly shopping costs about $100. His mother does her shopping at a wet market and FairPrice supermarket in Toa Payoh and Cold Storage in Novena. She spends about $50 a week.

With just two of them at home, there is plenty of space for their things. They tend to buy what they need often and finish the things in the fridge quickly.

Unlike her son who avoids grain, Madam Quek's breakfast is usually a bowl of cereal. For lunch and dinner, she eats out or cooks dishes such as a pork tenderloin fried with oats, with a side of sweet potatoes.

Over the past year, however, she has picked up some of her son's eating habits and drinks his blended concoctions almost daily. Madam Quek adds in Mandarin: "It has a very good flavour. It is also very healthy - I feel like it makes my skin smoother."

Cheryl Faith Wee

Food from childhood

Who: Chitra Mirpuri, 38, who runs North Indian restaurant Shahi Maharani in Raffles City. She lives with her husband, investment manager Manish Kaul, 38, their two children - Diya, six, and Riana, two - and two domestic helpers in a four-bedroom condominium unit in Tanjong Rhu.

Like her marriage, Ms Mirpuri's fridge is a union of different cultures.

Amid the bottles of familiar Singapore sauces, such as Kee's Kung Bo Sauce, you would find a large bag of Kashmiri chilli powder.

The Singaporean restaurateur is married to a Kashmiri and the about 1kg bag of chilli powder is a gift from her mother-in-law, who came to visit them from the city of Pune early last year.

Of the Kashmiri chilli powder, which is a brighter shade of red-brown than local chilli powder and has a richer flavour, Ms Mirpuri says: "It gives a fantastic colour and a very nice flavour. This is a flavour my husband grew up with and I cook that for him now."

The family of four eat mainly Indian food at home and go vegetarian about thrice a week. One of Ms Mirpuri's two domestic helpers prepares simple dishes such as lentils and masala vegetables such as okra, potatoes and cauliflower.

Ms Mirpuri takes on the more complex dishes such as Kashmiri mutton curry. Spices and herbs which are the mainstays of Indian cooking - including mint and cumin - are kept in the fridge to ensure they stay fresh.

The fridge also contains cheeses, such as Brie and mozerella. Ms Mirpuri and her helpers consistently check food in the fridge and throw away those that are old or expired.

Groceries, which cost an average of $450 a week, are bought from the Cold Storage supermarket at nearby Kallang Leisure Park and Sin Aik provision shop in Tanjong Katong Road.

Ms Mirpuri takes leftovers from the restaurant home at least once a week. Shahi Maharani was opened by her late mother in 1997 in Scotts Walk and moved to Raffles City in 2001.

The family's favourites from the restaurant include prawn and chicken briyani as well as malai chicken tikka. They also eat Italian and Chinese food at home every week, such as spaghetti and fried rice, and occasionally other cuisines such as Spanish food. Hence there are ingredients such as paella (Spanish rice) in the fridge.

Ms Mirpuri says: "It is crucial to develop my children's tastebuds from young, as opposed to eating Indian food all the time. Being in Singapore, we have so many options and I want them to be able to adapt to different cuisines."

Cheryl Faith Wee

Perfect with instant noodles

Who: Housewife Tan Hui Hong, 55. She, her husband Ng Keh Eng, 56, a manager at a media company, and their daughter, assistant studio video editor Ng Yi Han, 25, live in a three-bedroom condominium unit in Kallang.

Most of the items in this bare fridge accompany Ms Tan's favourite meal, which she eats about twice a week: instant noodles.

They include Napa cabbage, ready-to-eat kimchi (pickled cabbage), crabmeat sticks, Japanese cucumber and Korean chili powder.

Neither Ms Tan nor her husband cooks, and the family prefer to order hot meals, which are delivered to their door in tiffin carriers, for dinner on weekdays.

On weekends, they eat out or order delivery. "It is a more convenient way of settling daily meals," says Mr Ng.

Besides, he says, the family dislike having to store leftovers, so unfinished food is thrown away.

"We don't want the fridge to stink and attract cockroaches," adds Ms Tan, who clears the fridge once a week.

Packs of soya bean milk, root beer and sparkling apple juice accompany the fast meals.

With so little cooking done, the family shop for groceries about twice a month, spending about $50 to $100 each time.

The Ngs' 383-litre Mitsubishi Electric fridge door bears the most obvious testament to the family's tastes, with the week's dinner delivery menu and delivery hotlines for Pastamania and Cafe Melba stuck on it. There is also a mini timer magnet which is "used to set the cooking time for my instant noodles", says Ms Tan.

The family has been living like this for the past decade. Previously, a domestic helper cooked daily.

The family have a home-cooked meal at the home of Mr Ng's elder sister only on special occasions such as Chinese New Year or Christmas, says Ms Ng.

She explains: "Eating out gets boring after a while, but for the past decade, I have gotten used to not eating home-cooked food every day.

Kezia Toh

Everything saved

Who: Ms Michelle Flora Soe, 49, housewife. She, her husband, safety officer Tin Soe, 51, and their three children - administrative executive Nicolas, 24; Primary 4 pupil James Steven, 10; and Primary 6 pupil Calvin Frederick, 12 - live in a five-room HDB flat in Clementi. The family from Myanmar became Singapore citizens five years ago.

Nothing is wasted in this household. A lick of Wall's fruit salad ice cream in a tub and leftover coffee from breakfast, barely enough to fill a cup, are saved in the 487-litre Samsung fridge because "we can always have it again", says Ms Soe.

She spends more than $100 a week on groceries from a nearby Sheng Siong supermarket and the wet market.

Staples include strips of dried fish, stored in two Tupperware containers, which the family eat, heated and re-fried in oil, with daily meals of rice or porridge. The dish harks back to how families eat in Myanmar, says Ms Soe. She gets her supply from relatives who visit or from Burmese food stores in Peninsula Plaza.

Another familiar comfort is red dates, which she buys from traditional Chinese medicine stores. These are soaked in black sugar and chilled for a sweet treat.

Ms Soe clears out the fridge about once a week and usually dumps the leftovers after three days.

She and her husband are the biggest fans of Burmese food. Her three children, on the other hand, prefer to feast on crabmeat sticks, fries, saba fish and chicken balls, which are kept in the freezer, as they tell her that Burmese food is "a bit smelly", says Ms Soe.

"Actually, they just like burgers," she adds ruefully.

Kezia Toh

Variety is the spice of life

Who: Ms Amy Yap, 41. She lives with her friend and business partner Niki Yapp, 42, in a two-bedroom condominium unit in Loyang. They run floral boutique One Olive in Tiong Bahru.

Despite eating mainly simple fuss-free salads and pastas at home, the two friends' fridge has an elaborate selection of condiments - more than 20 kinds from red cooking wine to chocolate balsamic vinegar.

Ms Yap says: "I love variety and this allows me to come up with a lot of different permutations. I can mix them to come up with fusion-style dressings."

From the various condiments, she whips up dressings which she tosses with vegetables such as salad leaves, tomatoes, figs and pumpkin.

The two women have dinner at home about four times a week and tend to prepare baked dishes, such as baked salmon with home-grown dill.

Their about 350-litre Hitachi fridge also contains chilli and seafood spicy miso paste, which they use to prepare Korean food such as kimchi stews. They do their grocery shopping - spending about $25 to $60 a week - at a wide range of supermarkets, including FairPrice Finest, Cold Storage, Meidi-ya in Liang Court Shopping Centre and Culina in Dempsey Road.

There is also a bottle of Sabah chilli. Ms Yapp moved to Singapore from that Malaysian state when she was 10 years old. Her parents brought bottles of the chilli, which are not available here, when they visited her last month.

She says: "I started to like this chilli about seven years ago. It tastes great. You can dip anything in it, from baked luncheon meat to yong tau foo."

The two friends have three dogs and keep supplements for their pets in the fridge too. They throw away expired products when they see them.

About once a month, they invite friends over for meals. The cordials such as Ribena and orange squash in the fridge are for such occasions. Ms Yap says: "Sometimes when we cook, one dish becomes two and then three. So we call friends over to help finish the food. We do not like leftovers."

Cheryl Faith Wee

Beauty packs and placenta jelly

Who: Ms Gan Ee Bee, 39, curator at Gan Heritage Centre. She lives with her husband Kuek Tee Meng, 48, chief financial officer at an aviation engineering company, and her nephew Louis, five, in a four-room Housing Board flat in Bishan.

A compartment of Ms Gan's fridge looks almost like a vanity table, with beauty products such as SK-II Facial Treatment Essence and Laneige Water Sleeping Pack. Storing these items in the fridge keeps them "nice and fresh", says Ms Gan, whose husband also stores his saline solution and contact lenses there.

On another shelf sits a box of placenta jelly from Japanese cosmetics brand Dr.Ci:Labo. Ms Gan's sister-in-law, a teacher in an international school, bought her the placenta jelly in Beijing last November. Ms Gan believes that it improves the skin and tries to eat it daily.

The 475-litre LG fridge does have edible, non- beauty products though. A compartment of snacks, such as Pepero cookie sticks and Snickers bars, is there for Louis - and his visiting friends - to raid.

Ms Gan likes to pack food in clear containers so she can see them easily. The habit, however, has a downside: It makes it harder for her to see and keep track of the expiry date of items, such as a box of sotong balls in the freezer which she says may have expired because she does not remember when she bought it.

The family eat out on weekdays at hawker centres, but Ms Gan cooks on weekends, spending about $200 a week on groceries from a nearby FairPrice supermarket and wet market.

The hefty expenditure, despite the household not cooking often, is due to their choice of pricey ingredients.

Ms Gan buys cod fish, garoupa, crocodile flank meat, prawns as well as ginseng, with which she makes herbal soup.

Driving up their food bill are also processed options for late-night cravings: fries from Farmland and CP Honey Wings - which she dips in Castello blue cheese - in the freezer.

However, the couple have changed their eating habits slightly since Louis started living with them two years ago, says Ms Gan. His father, Ms Gan's brother, works in Singapore but travels frequently and wants the child to attend preschool in Singapore. Ms Gan says: "When cooking, we try to boil, not fry, because we want him to enjoy the real taste of food."

Ms Gan and her husband, who are Malaysian citizens and Singapore permanent residents, own another property in Iskandar. There, they have a fridge stocked with durians, as Ms Gan's parents run a durian plantation.

Kezia Toh

Buy in bulk for big savings

Who: Teacher Norizah Jamari, 47. She and her husband, police officer Samsuri Masuki, 49, have four children: Nur Syahirah Izzah, 24, who is married and does not live with the family; polytechnic student Nur Syafiq Adi, 22; national serviceman Nur Syahmi Aliff, 20; and student Nur Syafi Adli, 17. The family live with Ms Norizah's father, retiree Jamari Majid, 72, and a domestic helper in two adjoining units of a Housing Board flat in Marsiling with five bedrooms.

To feed seven people, Ms Norizah believes in buying in bulk. That is why she has more than 40 eggs, six packs of chicken sausages and jumbo packs of fish fillets, chicken and beef patties in her 573-litre Toshiba fridge.

For daily meals of dishes such as lontong, briyani and curry, she also stocks curry, laksa, pandan and lime leaves, as well as flavourings such as masala masak merah and fish curry powder.

There is no fresh fish, she explains, because her three sons have previously been hospitalised for having fish bones stuck in their throats.

"After that, they refused to touch fresh fish again," she says.

She seldom buys fresh meat too - only about once every two months - as prices can add up. For example, she would need to buy two whole chickens to feed the entire family for one meal.

"The boys don't complain and just eat what I cook, as long as I cook their favourite food," she says.

She grinds jars of fresh ginger, onion and garlic paste weekly for use with the dishes, and her vegetable compartment is packed with chilli padi, carrots, snow peas and cucumbers; and spices such as galangal, lemongrass and turmeric.

Ms Norizah's father has diabetes, so she keeps three boxes of alcohol swabs in the side compartment. He uses them before and after his daily insulin injections.

The family rarely eat out and Ms Norizah spends $150 a week on groceries. She keeps costs down by shopping in Johor Baru about twice a month and getting her supplies from a nearby Sheng Siong supermarket.

Eating home-cooked meals goes a long way towards saving money, she says.

"I have a big family, so eating at home is much cheaper. Plus, I get to prepare food that is appealing to my boys."

Kezia Toh

Always ready for a party

Who: Ms Josephine Pay, 54, and her husband Willy Ng, 57. The couple run a plastics manufacturing business and have two sons - Boon Choon, 27, runs a juice-cleanse business while Wen Jie, 24, is studying in Britain. They live in a three-storey semi-detached house in Loyang.

There may be just three people living at home, but Ms Pay's fridge stocks enough food for eight. This is because she and her husband entertain friends on weekends.

They will crack open bottles of wine and grill beef, which explains the slabs of wagyu beef in the chiller. A friend recently travelled to Australia and brought back the beef, which cost about A$200 (S$220) for 3kg.

Besides preparing barbecued Korean-style beef, Ms Pay also likes to cook beef stew, which she spices up using the condiments that line three rows in the fridge. They are mostly from a Korean goods supermarket at Century Square.

The avid cook also believes in the goodness of soups for her family. Her 472-litre Fisher & Paykel fridge contains a $50 ginseng root, a Tupperware box of dried abalone about the size of one's palm and dried clams from traditional Chinese medicine shops at Fu Lu Shou Complex.

She likes to brew herbal chicken soup at least once a week because she believes it helps to improve her family's immune system, she says.

She spends more than $100 a week on groceries at a nearby FairPrice supermarket and wet market. Most of that is spent on fruit and vegetables: Slices of grapefruit, dragonfruit, kiwi, pear and apples are always on the table after dinner.

Mr Ng says: "It is better to eat to stay healthy than to spend money on a doctor later."

Kezia Toh

Bare essentials

Who: Mrs Khuen Ho, 60, housewife. She and her husband Vincent Ho, 63, a retired regional operations manager, live with their children - product designer Michael Ho, 26, and doctor Jayne Ho, 28 - in a five-room HDB flat in Clementi.

When Mrs Ho's children were younger, she would cook meals for them every day and keep her fridge well-stocked.

Now that her children are adults, her 385-litre Mitsubushi fridge appears relatively bare - with an almost empty freezer and sparsely filled main compartment. She says: "I generally do not like cooking, but I made sure that they had home-cooked food every day for lunch and dinner. Now I mostly cook only when the whole family is home for dinner."

In those instances, the housewife usually cooks rice and four side dishes. When it is just her and her husband, she cooks a simple one-dish meal or they eat out.

In the 1980s, when Mrs Ho and her husband moved into their marital home in Clementi, there was only one wet market nearby. Since then, three supermarkets have opened within a 15-minute walk from her home, making it convenient to buy groceries whenever needed.

Mrs Ho usually does so daily. On average, food for the family of four costs about $100 to $150 a week.

"I prefer things fresh, so I do not stock up for a week because I am not sure if I will be cooking. It would be a waste if my children decide not to eat at home at the last minute," she says.

She makes it a point to buy fruit such as grapes and strawberries as well as drinks such as Yakult and Florida Natural grapefruit juice. She also keeps some frozen food such as peas, which can be stored for months.

The fridge also has things such as facial masks from Guardian pharmacy, and small packets of sweets and chocolates belonging to the children. Their parents still clean up after them.

Mr Ho says: "They leave their sweets and chocolate in the fridge until they expire and have to be thrown away or they eat a few pieces and dump the rest in the fridge and leave them there."

Mrs Ho clears out the fridge several times a year when it starts to smell bad.

She adds jokingly: "I still have to ask their permission before throwing such things away."

Cheryl Faith Wee

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Feb 2, 2014

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