The current coronavirus pandemic took us by storm and we’re now facing many uncertainties. Things we took for granted, such as being able to go out for a bite to eat, meet friends or go shopping, are now restricted, due to the social distancing rules and lockdowns in most US states.
Being cooped up at home while also working remotely and homeschooling and entertaining your kids and can be stressful and even overwhelming. There are things you can do to make your life at home a little bit easier, such as organizing dedicated spaces for working and studying, putting some of your furniture or other items in self storage to create more space at home, and sticking to a predefined daily routine.
A huge help in such circumstances is a well-organized kitchen and pantry, which reduces the need for frequent shopping trips, helps you avoid food waste and lets you cook nutritious meals for your family. Here’s how to organize your pantry and kitchen in ten easy steps, making the most of your food, your space and your time.
1. Empty your pantry, kitchen cabinets and drawers of all the food
Most of us don’t really know how much food and what types of foods we actually have at home, and we keep buying supplies without bothering to check the pantry first. Whether it’s pasta, canned goods, or condiments and herbs, chances are you have food at home that you have forgotten about.
Take out all the food from your pantry, cabinets and drawers and put it all on the kitchen counter. Clean all the shelves and drawers thoroughly with warm, soapy water, and allow them to dry completely. In the meantime, you can proceed to the next step.
2. Check out the labels, decide what stays and what goes
All food products have labels with a phrase such as “best before” or a variation of it. However, the labeling does not mean you should discard foods with a long shelf life, such as pasta, flour, rice, sugar, cereals, canned fruit, veggies or meats. According to the Food and Drugs Administration, Americans are throwing away about $161 worth of food each year, and much of that waste is related to labeling confusion.
Exercise your common sense when deciding if products that are past their “best before” or “best if used by” dates are fit for consumption. For example, if cans of food have rust, or the ends are bulging, the contents are probably spoiled and you should not eat them. But, if the metal containers are intact, chances are the food inside is still perfectly good. And, generally speaking, if there aren’t changes in the color, consistency and texture of dried and packaged foods, they’re probably good to go too.
3. Organize food into categories
Store your food supplies in categories – pasta, flours, rice, beans, oils, canned fruit and veggies, and canned meats. This way, it will be a lot easier to notice what supplies you’re getting low on, and what you can actually cook based on what you have available.
4. Get good quality storage containers
Buy items such as flour, sugar, rice and beans in bulk, to reduce the waste related to packaging, and keep them in airtight containers to prolong their shelf life. Protect canned foods from light by storing them in dark-colored containers. There are also special containers that keep fruit and veggies from spoiling too fast – it might be worth getting a set of those for your fridge.
Depending on your particular food storage needs at a certain moment, you might require different container types and sizes. Good quality containers are expensive, so, if you have ones you don’t need right now, but might use in the future, put them in your self-storage unit. This way, you won’t have to buy new containers each time you’re reorganizing your pantry.
5. Keep items at hand
The probability that you will use your ingredients increases if you keep them within reach. Make sure your dried herbs, condiments, oils and other such items are located in a kitchen cabinet, close to the area where you prepare food.
You’d like to bake more, but you are discouraged every time because you have to retrieve flour from one place, sugar from another and then dig through drawers for some baking powder. In this case, you’ll benefit from creating a baking kit that contains all of the above, plus your favorite pan, parchment paper, flavors and so on. Put them all in a large container, in your pantry, and, when baking fever hits, you’ll have everything you need in one place.
6. Clean out your fridge and freezer
Perform a deep clean of your fridge. Unplug the appliance, take everything out then wash the inside with warm water mixed with a little bit of dish soap and white vinegar. Dry all the surfaces then return the food to the fridge, making sure you keep separate shelves or drawers for dairy, meat, and fresh produce. When arranging the foods in the fridge, put the items that expire first, such as yogurts or greens, in easily accessible spots, so that you can eat them while they’re still good.
Inspect the contents of the freezer and cook the items that have been in there for a while. Use freezer containers for your frozen foods instead of plastic bags, as they’re reusable and it’s easier to take them out and stack and arrange them properly.
7. Plan your meals in advance
Planning meals in advance reduces waste and also the time you spend cooking. Plan a few meals you can whip up with the supplies you already have at home. Then, when getting new supplies, don’t buy stuff indiscriminately. Think about what you’re planning to cook for the next two weeks and order or get groceries based on that. Make sure you always have a steady supply of staples such as pasta, rice, canned tomatoes, flour and beans, ideal for situations when you can’t go out to shop and grocery deliveries are delayed.
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8. Minimize waste in your kitchen
Minimizing waste starts with the process of buying. Avoid foods that come with a lot of packaging and buy in bulk as much as possible. Eat the perishable items first and, if you cook more than you and your family can eat in a couple of days, freeze some of it for later.
Freeze the veggies you already cut but won’t use immediately. Keeping half an onion and a diced carrot in the fridge usually results in throwing them away in a couple of days. However, if you freeze all that, in a few weeks you have enough to cook a pot of vegetable soup. Do the same with scraps resulting from carving and deboning your meat – collect them in the freezer and use them for soups and stocks.
9. Consider composting
Composting drastically reduces the volume of wet waste your household is generating. Instead of throwing vegetable peel, cooked or uncooked veggies and fruit and other biodegradable waste in the bin, get a composting box and put it in your garden. It’s easy to use, it really doesn’t smell, and you’ll soon have some amazing fertilizer to grow your own plants in.
10. Grow your own herbs – and more
You can grow your own herbs, even if you don’t have a garden. Common ingredients like parsley, basil, rosemary, oregano and so on grow perfectly fine in pots which you can keep in your kitchen. You’ll have an endless supply of delicious, always fresh herbs at your disposal. And, if you have a yard, give gardening a chance. Certain greens and veggies, such as lettuce, spring onions, zucchini and cucumbers are pretty easy to grow, and totally worth it.
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Being mindful about the way you buy, store and use your food supplies helps you avoid waste in terms of the environment, but also in terms of money and time.
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