One of the best things you can do for yourself in 2018 is to clean and organize your kitchen and pantry.
I know, I know. This does not sound like one of those fun “bucket list” goals I wrote about. But it’s a goal that pays amazing dividends – to your wallet, body, mind, and spirit.
Once your kitchen is organized and you know what you have, you’ll waste less food. (We’ve all thrown rotten produce away because we forgot it was there, lurking in the back of the fridge. Haven’t we? Surely I’m not the only one?)
Shopping will be easier, because you’ll have a better understanding of what you have, what you use a lot of, and what you don’t use so much of. You won’t be making so many “emergency” dashes to the store when you’ve already started cooking and are missing a vital ingredient. You won’t be stocking up on Ro-Tel tomatoes (or anything else) at “meh” sales because you can’t remember if you have any at home.
You’ll be more enticed to cook, and cooking will become a more pleasurable experience. And almost anything you cook at home is healthier and cheaper than eating out or heating up another highly processed, high fat, high sodium frozen dinner or veggie burger. You’ll probably lose weight and feel better, without even trying! Even if you don’t feel bad, you’ll probably gain some extra vigor and energy.
Above is nutrition information for a popular frozen vegan entree (one measly cup of food). 520 calories, 22 grams fat, 740 mg sodium, and no vitamin A or C (probably very little of any other vitamin, either). As a once-in-awhile treat, this is fine (as long as you really love the taste). But if you eat like this most days … just imagine how much better you are going to feel once you start gifting your body with real food again! Even if it’s as simple as heating up some canned beans, frozen veggies, and chomping on an apple or orange for dessert – your body will feel the benefits and be thanking you pretty quickly!
And cooking for yourself and eating nourishing meals is a very serious act of self care. Especially important if you live alone, or eat many of your meals alone due to work schedules or other issues! Think about how you feel when you cook a special meal for someone, or how you have felt when someone cooked a special meal for you. Now, imagine lovingly cooking meals for yourself. On a regular basis. Your spirit will not be able to help but soar.
Note: A common symptom of depression is weight loss or weight gain – because either the person loses interest in food, or loses desire in eating healthfully. It’s no coincidence that “therapy” for depression often includes small self-care tasks such as getting a manicure, getting a haircut, etc. – AND eating simple, but healthy meals on a regular basis.
Let’s start with cleaning and organizing your pantry – or pantries, since many of us store non-refrigerated food in more than one place.
Step One: Clean
Remove everything from the shelves. That’s right … EVERYTHING!
Wipe off any crumbs. If this is your first time ever cleaning your pantry, you may want to wipe the shelves down with a bleach solution. Otherwise, you can use a more gentle, environmentally friendly cleanser that’s safe around food, or even a vinegar solution. Let the shelves thoroughly dry.
While you’re at it, also clean the doors (inside and out) and any handles/knobs.
Tip: Consider lining your pantry shelves with Con-Tact paper. Spills and sticky stuff will easily wipe right off! Bonus: If the paper gets really dirty, you can always rip it off and put on fresh paper!
Step Two: Discard
While your shelves are drying, examine everything you took out of your pantry. Check expiration dates first and toss out anything that’s expired, and anything obviously past its prime (like these onions).
Examine anything you have in a glass container. Open up jars of flour and sniff to make sure the flour has not gone rancid. Check for bugs. Sometimes you can spot them visually – ewww! A quick way to tell is to hold the jar up carefully, being sure not to shift the contents, and look at the bottom of the jar. You should see whole beans and rice grains and pastas. If you see a lot of powder, that’s a sign your food may be infested. Dump the food and clean the jar thoroughly, and run it through the dishwasher if you have one.
Newer vegans, this is a great time to read labels and remove anything with animal ingredients you may still have around. Even if you did an initial purge, you no doubt have become more savvy about animal ingredients and may find a few items you missed the first time. (In fact, it’s not a bad idea for all of us to read labels – those sneaky manufacturers change ingredients sometimes!)
If you are reducetarian or plant-based, consider how many meat and dairy items you still want to keep around. Sometimes reducetarians and vegan wannabes tell me, “I don’t want to waste food, so I’ll eat what I have, and then when it’s gone I won’t buy any more.” However, more often than not, once they start eating plant based, (and learning about all the many reasons to be vegan), they lose the desire to “finish up” those foods. Is this you?
Note: Please do not waste unexpired food or, even worse, bury it in your backyard. (Yes, I know people who have done this.) Say a prayer over it if you need to; ask your God or Goddess to give you and others strength to continue to change things so no more animals need suffer and die for selfish reasons. Then take it to a food bank. There are some hungry people out there!
Step Three: Organize
Now it’s time to start putting food back on your pantry shelves. Since your shelves are now empty and clean, replace food in a way that makes sense to you. The easiest way, for me, is “like with like.” Breakfast items – tea, sweeteners, cereal, oatmeal, dried fruit, and grits are on one shelf. Beans, lentils, bulk spices, nutritional yeast, and other items stored in glass jars are on another shelf. Smaller spices are stored together. Canned goods are stored together. And so on.
As you replace each item, consider if it was a wise choice for your wallet, your spirit, and your body. Consider price, how healthy (or unhealthy) it is, and how much you like (or dislike) it. Four main points to my philosophy:
- The more expensive it is, the more you should love it.
- If it’s nutritionally valueless, it should be both something you absolutely effing love and inexpensive. If it’s meh, expensive, and either has no nutritional value or a negative nutritional value … PASS!
- Nothing, no matter how cheap or how healthy, is ever a bargain if you don’t like it.
- Spending more money for healthier food is often a wise choice. For example, strawberries routinely make the top of the “Dirty Dozen” pesticide list. If you only buy a box or two of strawberries a year, this probably doesn’t matter very much. But if you put fresh strawberries into your smoothies once or twice a week, it’s definitely worth it to pay a little more for organic.
Step Four: Plan
As you are replacing each item, consider:
- Is this something that should be stored in a glass jar? (Beans, grains, pasta, etc.) Check out my love for glass jars by clicking this link.
- Do I need a better way to organize my spices? Check out how I organize my spices by clicking this link.
- What do I need? What is missing? What am I out of – or nearly out of? What do I use a lot of? What do I rarely, if ever, use? These questions can help you form a personalized grocery list and stock a useful, versatile vegan pantry.
Step Five: Protect
It’s an unfortunate truth. Once you move towards beans, grains, and “ingredients” rather than meat, canned, and processed – bugs will start taking a liking to your food. There are a few simple ways to deal with this. (This topic is so important I’m going to write a entire blog post on this topic soon!) For now, we’ll just cover two simple precautions:
- Use airtight glass containers. Moth and weevil larvae hitch a ride home in your beans/grains/pasta when you buy it from the store. Storing your food in airtight glass containers is a one-two punch. One, the container “contains” the pests and stops them from spreading to your other food. Two, if a moth or weevil does escape, it will have a hard time entering another air-tight jar.
- Bay leaves. This is said to repel insects from weevils, moths, cockroaches, ants, and flies. Put a leaf in your rice, beans, flour, etc. – especially any container that is not glass or may not have a good, airtight seal. Tape a few leaves underneath the shelves.
Step Six: Maintain
OK, you’ve got your pantry in order! The bad news is, you’ll need to do this again in three months. The good news is, it will be much easier and, since your pantry is organized, you can just do it one shelf at a time. Wipe down the shelves, check labels for expiration dates and sneaky ingredients, check for signs of insects, note what you are low on, replace the bay leaves.
Whew! We’ve got that done! Take a deep breath and feel good about a job well done! Take a moment to examine how you are feeling … PROUD? A little EXCITED? HOPEFUL? CHARGED? Keep reading … we’ve still got more to do in our kitchen to make this the best 2018 ever!