Spring is here, with its cool dewy mornings and warm sunny afternoons, it’s the perfect time to start that deep cleaning. Perhaps you’re planning to clean out your closets, organize your desk or wipe down some baseboards, but the kitchen is one of the most important spaces to deep clean.
The kitchen is the heart of the home; it’s used by all family members, and many of us spend a great deal of our time there. Having a clean and well-organized kitchen not only feels good, but it’s also easier to work in and it’s safer when it comes to the foods we eat. Below you’ll find some tips for cleaning and organizing your kitchen spaces.
Clean It Out
Splitting this task into themed chunks will be helpful. For example, start with all the cupboards containing dishware and cookware, then move on to the pantry and dry food storage, then the fridge and freezer. The two main benefits to this strategy are that it makes it very easy to vacuum and wipe down all surfaces before putting things back, and it allows you to look at everything that you have. You have to touch every item to decide if it stays or goes, check if it’s expired or not, and see what items need to get cleaned before returning. Another benefit of empty shelves is that it gives you an opportunity to organize things in a better way than they may have been before. For instance, maybe the blender is better stored in a cabinet rather than in the pantry.
Check Expiration Dates
As mentioned earlier, it’s important to check products’ expiration dates and look for any signs of damage or spoilage. Expired foods pose a health risk and could potentially contaminate other foods. If you’re not sure about something or can’t find a date, it’s better to be safe and get rid of it.
Clean Out Unused Items
Trash, recycle or donate any tools, appliances, dishware or cookware that are broken or damaged to the point where you don’t use them—or anything that may work fine but you never use. These items are taking up precious real estate in your kitchen and can make the space more difficult to work in. If you find something you want to use more, try storing it somewhere else—somewhere visible and convenient for you that will encourage you to use it more. This is also a good time to consider how things are stored, and if you may need to invest in some storage supplies. Some items may need to be washed off before returning them to their place.
After your storage spaces are empty and everything you want to keep has been chosen and cleaned off, it’s time to clean the storage space itself. Start by vacuuming out any large bits, then use your favorite all-purpose cleaner to wipe down the inside and outside of the storage space. A scrub pad will help you remove built-up grime, and a sprinkle of baking soda acts as a mild abrasive to help remove surface stains. When everything is clean and dry, you are ready to re-organize!
Put It Back Together
Consider a few things before putting your kitchen back in order. Some of these ideas may be worthy investments in the long run to maintain a clean and organized cooking and dining space.
Labeling your food is crucial to maintaining an organized and safe kitchen. You don’t have to get a fancy label maker; simple masking tape and permanent marker work great. You can even keep them conveniently located in a magnetic cup on your fridge. Labeling works best for containers where you may not see the original label at first glance, such as canned goods or spices. Consider using labels on your food storage containers for leftovers as well. The label should contain the product name and a date. Dates can be whatever makes sense to you and your family; for example, it could be the expiration date, opening date or the date you prepared the food.
Containers are also a great tool for organizing. They’re especially helpful for dry goods that may originally come in bags, such as grains, beans and baking ingredients. Containers keep food upright and more easily visible. Most containers are airtight as well, helping to keep food fresh longer.
I think most people have that one cabinet where they throw all their plastic containers and close the door as fast as possible so that they don’t avalanche out and bury you in mismatched lids and tubs. Let’s address this. Investing in food storage containers with have universal lids that can be easily stacked for storage is so helpful and convenient. Think about what size and shapes would work best to fit the foods prepared in your home.
First In, First Out: FIFO
If you’ve ever worked foodservice, you may have heard this. FIFO is a way of rotating foods to make sure nothing goes to waste. Foods that are going to expire or need to be used are positioned in the front of the cabinet or refrigerator, and the foods that will last longer are positioned in the back. Remember this as you grocery shop and add more foods after your big clean out.
Prep Before Storing
Before you put away your produce, and perhaps other goods, wash and remove stickers. This will make these foods more convenient to grab and use. Some people take the extra step and cut the food so that they are ready to cook with during the week.
You See It, You Eat It
People tend to eat the foods that they see, items that are immediately at eye level. Storing foods that have a short shelf life at eye level will help ensure they are eaten before they expire, reducing food waste and saving you money. If you are trying to incorporate more healthy foods, store those at eye level as well to remind and encourage you of the healthy choices you want to make. This can be applied to tools and appliances as well. Keep the things you use the most in a convenient spot, and if there is something you want to use more of, move it to an accessible location.
Similar to storing the foods you want to eat at your eye level, store the foods you want your kids to eat at their eye level. Having healthy snacks within reach of your kids will help them learn healthy choices and develop autonomy.
Store Like with Like
Storing items by theme is a useful way to organize your kitchen, and it helps remind you where things are located. Labeling, as previously mentioned, can come in handy here too if you want to label cabinets and shelves with what items belong there. If it’s in the budget, this is another opportunity where storage containers can help. Baskets, tubs, dividers, hooks and mini shelves are all helpful for keeping groups of similar items together.
Before You Buy
Wait before investing in a bunch of fancy acrylic containers you saw on Instagram. Put your things away with the containers and tools you already have or do your big clean out after taking the time to think about what you may need to optimize your kitchen. Give yourself a couple days, a week or even a month to be mindful about the flow of your kitchen. Look for problem areas and the kind of solutions may work best. Do online research for storage tools; think about the pros and cons a new tool may have in your home. Run through in your mind what it would be like to use these items, what kind of maintenance they may need, how hard it would be to clean them and their practicality. Giving yourself some time to think through specific products and do research to find what will work best for your home and lifestyle will help you make sure you spend your money wisely on things that will truly help your kitchen stay clean and organize in the long run.
Dana Mealing, RDN, LDN, is the community nutrition educator in the Tevis Center for Wellness.