by Kristin Smola
Whether you’re recovering from cooking fatigue or looking forward to starting a whole new healthy cooking regimen, a clean, organized kitchen is key. Set aside a weekend to tackle these five steps for cleaning out the old and getting ready for the new in your fridge, freezer and pantry — and look forward to a clean and connected year in your kitchen, too.
1. Clean out the fridge. Clear your schedule for a couple of hours and clean out the fridge. I mean everything. This is easier when you set aside a staging area, then take everything out, wipe down shelves, walls, drawers and doors, too. I use an anti-bacterial spray cleaner. Then, I take a peek at the items I removed. Anything wilting and past its due date gets composted or tossed. I consider all my condiment jars, too; anything that hasn’t been touched in the past three months is discarded as well as anything that’s unidentified. Then, I wipe down all the items that are staying.
Once the fridge is clean, it’s time to put everything back in and turn that chilly blank box into an oasis for delicious ingredients. A few tips I use to keep my fridge looking supreme, feeling pristine and keeping all of my beautiful ingredients in excellent condition:
- Keep it clear: I like to use glass bowls to keep all of my vegetables accessible and visible.
- Label, label, label: Use clear glass jars or storage containers to keep leftovers and other ingredients. Label everything with a name and a date and keep labeling tape and a marker pinned to the fridge to keep the practice going.
- Commit to the practice: Once everything is clean and in its place, once a week I wipe down the fridge. It’s totally self-care in the best form.
2. Declutter your counters. They say your desk is a mirror into your mind. I’ll argue, your kitchen counters are, too. Cluttered countertops mean mealtimes will be cluttered and chaotic, so clean the small appliances, spices, fruit bowls, canisters and other collectibles and clear your brain and your space for delicious creations. I hate having appliances on my counters. The only appliance on my counter is a toaster oven. Everything else is away in the cabinet.
- Clear everything off and clean the counters: Like what you did in the fridge, create a staging space, and remove everything on your countertop. Wipe the counters clean and look at the space. Doesn’t that feel nice? Now, start putting everything back strategically.
- Consider appliances: Gadgets and small appliances can accumulate quickly. If you’ve used it within the year, keep it. If you have a recipe for something you can’t wait to cook that requires a tool or device, hang onto that tool. If not, set up a box for donation. Chances are, if you’re not excited about it in this very exciting kitchen moment, you won’t be later either.
3. Address your spices. If the spice drawer is your least frequented place in the kitchen, this is the year to change that. Tons of tiny, unevenly-sized jars is enough to trash any kitchen organization plan, so commit to investing in a few matching jars or canisters. Once you have a convenient place for your spices, it’s time to organize them. A few ways to keep your spices flavorful this year:
- Don’t lose power: Ground spices lose their potency within three months, so if you have ground spices that have been lurking for more than a year without much use, now is the time to toss or compost them.
- Buy small: Shop for spices in the bulk section instead of the spice aisle. This helps prevent waste by reducing the chances your spices will go bad.
- Daily grind: Grinding your whole spices is a lovely way to perk up your meals, plus it’s easy and cathartic, too. Whole spices are typically inexpensive, so invest in a small mortar and pestle or spice grinder and grind them yourself as you cook.
4. Pop into your pantry. If your pantry feels like a bottomless hole of jumble, you’re not alone. The usual scenario is all sorts of plastic bags and boxes, some open, some closed, in a difficult-to-decipher pile. Few things stack or seal, and this is what we call a “cabinet of chaos.” Treat your pantry as you did the fridge and counters and clean everything out. Sweep the floors and drawers, then take inventory of the contents. Toss out any ragged bags or items that are more than a year old. Then, give yourself the gift of aesthetically pleasing pantry containers. Doing so gives a layer of respect to anything you cook. Instead of unwrapping a flimsy plastic bag, you’ll be scooping from a sophisticated glass jar to make a cozy bean soup.5. The freezer! We saved the most adventurous project for last! Oddly, the freezer can be your best friend, especially in pandemic times when we want to eat fresh and healthy but don’t want to go to the store every day. Similar to the fridge and pantry, you’re going to clear everything out of the freezer, clean the walls, doors and drawers and then organize the contents. You’re likely to find some gems here. Discard anything unidentified or anything that’s been in the freezer for more than a year. Then, get down to business. Label anything that’s unlabeled, and then take inventory. Here’s how to put it all back together, for the better:
- File ‘em up: Instead of freezing sauces, cooked grains and rice (yes!), beans, soups or other items in clumpy lumps, freeze them flat on a sheet pan. Then, once they’re solid, line them up in your freezer like magazines. This strategy saves space and allows you to see what you have on hand at first glance.
- Ice, ice baby: Your ice cube trays are great tools for freezing small items like coconut milk, stock, wine, pesto and broth. Freeze them into cubes and store in a baggie for single-serving use.
- Blanch, squeeze, freeze: This is a great strategy for keeping greens easily on hand. Blanch greens, squeeze them of their excess water, then form them into balls and freeze them on a sheet pan. Freeze the greens balls solid, and store them in a baggie. Then, pluck them out for easy upgrades to omelets, pastas, soups and more.
Here’s to a happy kitchen and healthier you!