In a cartoon, when a character spots something he wants, the camera zooms in on the object, trumpets sound and the object takes on a heavenly glow. Your toddler or preschooler likely sees your refrigerator the same way: it's a big, possibly shiny box filled with jars and cartons of mysterious treats. Putting the fridge off-limits just makes it all the more appealing to a curious little munchkin. Fortunately, it's too heavy for her to pull over onto herself, but if she climbs inside and helps herself to whatever she wants, it's not going to end well for anyone.
Tackle one of the jobs that few people enjoy: cleaning the refrigerator. Your kids are going to get their hands into the fridge every so often, and they're drawn like magnets to sticky spots and nasty patches of mold. Pull out one shelf at a time and wash it in the sink. To keep chemical-laden cleaners away from your food, mix up a batch of the simple cleaner advocated by MarthaStewart.com: 2 tablespoons of baking soda stirred into 1 quart hot water. Scrub each fridge shelf with a washcloth or soft sponge that's been dunked in the mixture. Rinse each shelf with warm water and dry it before sliding it back into place. Scrub down the interior walls of the fridge with the cloth and follow up with a clean, wet sponge. Wipe the doors and fridge handles a few times a week with dish-washing liquid and a wet sponge to keep germs at bay and erase jelly fingerprints.
Go hunting for the perfect childproof refrigerator lock. Installing an actual padlock on the fridge is just a touch extreme, but you'll find plenty of child-resistant devices on the market that are simple to install, strong enough to thwart even a strong preschooler, and made to be opened with one hand (a crucial quality when your arms are full of groceries). One obvious but important thing to remember? Install the lock near the top of the fridge, where it's out of your child's reach.
Move any medications that don't need to be in the fridge into a locked box or childproofed medicine cabinet; unless the pharmacist told you to store something in the fridge, it shouldn't be there anyway. Store any refrigerated drugs in one of the fridge's high drawers -- you might even be able to attach a childproof lock on the drawer -- or in the back corner of a top shelf.
Shift anything that your child could use for nefarious purposes to the high shelves and to the back of the fridge. Put eggs up high, since they're never safe around little hands, and move heavy jars and glass containers out of her reach too. Leave fruits, vegetables and unbreakable things like cheese up front. If she's allergic to anything in the fridge, it needs to be kept all the way in the back of the highest shelf. Any alcohol has to be moved too, though ideally, you'll move it out of the fridge altogether. Try storing it in a padlocked mini-fridge in the garage. You'll feel a little creepy sneaking out there for a drink, but it's worth it to keep your little one safe.
Clear the fridge doors of magnets that pose any kind of choking threat. Opt for sturdy rectangular magnets or those that are intended for use with children. You might love the magnet in the shape of your alma mater's mascot, but if it has any pieces that a feisty toddler could break off and swallow, it's gotta go.
Outlaw step stools from the kitchen, along with chairs that are light enough to be dragged over to the fridge. If there's anything your child can climb onto, she's going to climb onto it. Bring stools into the room when you're letting your tot help you cook, and then banish them when the project is done.