Warm weather has finally hit Boston, which means windows stay open, more picnics in the park and drinks on outdoor patios. Warm weather can also inspire some people to SPRING CLEAN!!! The desire to feel a renewed sense of cleanliness, weightlessness, and clarity is not only a physical achievement, but also a mental one that can be applied to all areas of life; not just the proverbial spring cleaning of the home. I have found that even our kitchen cabinets and refrigerators need a good "spring cleaning". So what exactly is a kitchen "spring clean"? Just like in the home, when you clear out the clutter, clean off the dust and review old items, you are remembering why you chose them in the first place. Similarly in the kitchen, once it’s cleaned out, you can feel refreshed, enlivened to try new recipes, more motivated to use up old ingredients, and you’ll save money and time to repurpose what you have. Most importantly you can start fresh with items you may have learned about or want to incorporate into new health goals for you and/or your family.
So how do you "spring clean" your kitchen? It’s a practice that’s similar to purging out your closet – just follow these tips:
- Designate 4 piles on an open space (table, island, or floor) as USE NOW, STAPLES, NOVELTY/OCCASIONAL and DISCARD.
- Review items in your pantry and refrigerator to determine how they fit into one of these four categories. Physically put those items into the piles. The importance of this is to visually see your purchasing and storing habits. What will you have room for once you review your inventory?
- While you are assessing items for the four piles, the first way to determine importance is by looking at the expiration date. IF ANYTHING IS EXPIRED, DISCARD IT! Tired of the excuse "well if it wasn't in the house, I wouldn't eat it". Now’s the time to put that mantra into action.
Once you have designated the piles and discarded all the expired items, determine what goes into each of the four piles. First consider the items in the USE NOW pile and try to use those items up first!
- USE NOW: Fresh items bought within the last week, half used grain packages, containers of chicken broth or anything that you no longer want in your pantry/refrigerator.
- STAPLES: Items that you use on a consistent basis. This can include perishable and non-perishable items such as condiments and sauces - store bought or homemade. Take note if you would buy some of these staples again. If not, use them up this week. Make a game out of figuring out how you can use the most ingredients in one dish. While cleaning out the staples, review the ingredient labels for added preservatives (anything you can’t pronounce) and sugar content. Reflect on whether these items are healthy for you and your family. How many chemicals are in the ingredient list? Do you understand or know all the ingredients? How much sugar is there? For example, BBQ sauce can have upwards of 12g of sugar per 2 Tablespoons (daily suggested limit is 20g). These are all questions I'll discuss in a later blog, but for now, be conscious of how your staples may be affecting a goal of clean eating.
- NOVELTY: Items that are fun, occasional buys, and are considered treats. Keep these if you want, but also note how many fall into this category. If you have more novelty than staples, you may need to review your shopping habits. Are you compulsively buying? Are you hungry when you go shopping?
- DISCARD: Near expiring condiments, sauces, or anything canned or bottled opened but unused in a month. Anything you no longer desire or want in your house. Have you replaced your instance packaged oatmeal with old fashioned oats or steel cut oats? Have you replaced those high sugar granola bars and packaged soup mixes? If not, throw out these items. They are only going to be tempting on days or nights when you have little time or energy to prepare a fresh meal.
Now, what do you do with the USE NOW items? EAT them--CONSUME in a week. Be creative. Fresh vegetables? Make a root vegetable soup or cut up all the veggies for a salad. Cook that half package of grains with the remaining chicken broth for a more savory grain dish or base. Here's a recipeI made when I had some beef broth to use and lots of quinoa. The vegetables can also be used in scrambled eggs the next day. The dish can be topped with a fried egg for a savory, satisfying breakfast, or topped with cooked chicken for a protein packed power lunch. I find I always have just random amounts of grains left over from previous recipes. Cook in beef, chicken or vegetable broth and stir in a variety of cut raw veggies. The veggies will cook al dente in partially cooked grains. Add lemon juice, salt, pepper and any other seasonings. Voila! A quick, easy way to use up items. Sometimes being economical and fresh can provide a sense of fulfillment just as much as cleaning out that closet!
The final step is to REPLACE! This means every time an item is discarded, review whether it's a regularly used item. If not, then figure out what you would want to replace it with that fits your health goals. If a goal is to move away from canned beans and use dried, use up the cans and at your next grocery trip buy a selection of dried beans from bulk or in the prepackaged bags. Store dried beans in glass containers to preserve freshness. If you are interested in moving away from commercial peanut butter, at your next trip to the grocery store, buy the natural kind (with the oil on the top) or the freshly ground. Task yourself with buying one or two veggies you haven't bought before. Regain interest and intrigue in cooking and make it fun!.
My task for you: try this "spring cleaning" with your pantry or your refrigerator to start. Make this a new start for creating sustainable eating and cooking habits. Let me know how you do and if you come up with fun recipes along the way!!