The Easy Button for Spring Cleaning Your Kitchen, Pantry and More
March into Your Kitchen with New Intentions
With spring just around the corner, some are gearing up for a good, old-fashioned spring cleaning. For others (like me!) it can feel like a daunting task, pushed to the bottom of every weekend’s agenda. Until now! Here’s your easy button.
Start with the kitchen. It is the center of any home, after all. We eat and gather there with family and friends. It’s also where our food habits are formed. Step one is about cleaning out, step two is all about the tools or necessities, step three is restocking, and step four is the (oft-forgotten) emotional pantry.
For the garbage bin
Think of your kitchen as a restaurant. Would you eat there? Confession: some days I feel like my kitchen looks like a frat boy’s. It’s time to clean out! I know many of us have a hard time throwing out food but the expired condiments in the back of your fridge aren’t serving anyone, not even you. I hereby grant you permission to throw away the things you no longer need. Use this checklist for step one, the clean-out.
What to keep
We’ve finished cleaning out the foodstuff including fridge, freezer, and pantry. We’ll discuss restocking later in the article. Let’s Spring clean your tools and gadgets. We all have a drawer of knives but always reach for the same one or two. As a general rule of thumb, focus on what you need for preparing, storing, serving, or cleaning up. Below is your next checklist and for anything you’re ready to part with (duplicates for sure!), you can donate them.
Caveat: this checklist focuses on kitchen fundamentals. If you’re a home chef, you’ll probably have more, but for the typical family, this is a quick cheat sheet to cover your bases.
Missing items on the list? Maybe it’s time to purchase! Look at the quality and the warranty of what you’re buying. Choose tools that can handle high temperatures and have lifetime warranties. Who knows, maybe your new purchases will inspire you to use them and get cooking…or chopping.
Congrats! You cleaned out your kitchen. Now it’s time to restock.
Before heading to the grocery store:
Here’s a short guide to help you make your grocery list and make your way through the store:
Shopping for Produce:
When selecting your produce, go for medium-sized options (too big and too small are red flags. It will taste best if you focus on what’s in season where you live. When it comes to organic, we each must choose for ourselves. Personally, if it’s the kind of food where you’re eating the whole thing like apples and berries, I prefer organic as opposed to a fruit where I’m not eating the outside, like bananas or pineapple.
Shopping for Meat:
When choosing meat, go for the one with the least amount of visible fat, pick choice or select grades over prime, go for 90% lean ground meat, and be sure poultry is organic. When choosing fish, think Omega-3s: salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, and albacore tuna. Fresh fish is best, inspect the color (blood veins should be red or pink, not brown or discolored), smell of your fish (it shouldn’t smell fishy), and choose wild fish, not farm-raised.
Shopping for Oil: This is definitely a case of read the labels and know your stuff. Yes, it’s surprising that we have to read the nutrition facts and ingredients on something that’s supposed to be a single ingredient; nonetheless, it’s true!
Shopping for Herbs/Spices: There is no substitute for fresh herbs. Fresh gives that extra boost to the quality of the food and best flavor. Nevertheless, dried can be a great alternative.
Tip: When using dried herbs, rub them between your palms. The friction and the oils from your hands reactivates some of the herbaceousness. Also note, if you’re using dry herbs, you do not need as much as if you’re using fresh.
Remember, we’re thinking of our kitchens as a restaurant. You know what I notice about restaurant kitchens? They are organized!!! Here’s how to do it at home:
Use containers! Spend some time organizing things into containers so it’s easy to find the items you’re looking for in the moment you need them. You can also use containers in the fridge, freezer, and pantry to keep everything neat, tidy, accessible, and even labeled.
Keep your countertops clean! For many, counter space is limited and sometimes so is cupboard space. Yikes! We certainly want to do what we can to find a home for everything in our kitchens. Still, think about what is truly necessary to keep on your counter. Do your best to remove the rest. I have my coffee maker, paper towels, a utensil holder, and a toaster. I highly recommend putting away the food. Out of sight out of mind! This is a simple way to minimize the snacks every time we pass through the kitchen.
To stay true to the idea of “if my kitchen were a restaurant,” I check: Is it clean? Is it tidy? Do I have enough space to do what I need to do? Would I eat here?
Clean your emotional pantry!
Wow! We just did a number on the kitchen. I know what you’re thinking, “There’s MORE?!” I hear you. We did a lot. And yet there’s another pantry that has a massive impact on our total wellbeing. That’s your emotional pantry. I learned about this concept from my friend, Ana Vucetic, who is a Psychologist and Certified Nutrition Coach based in Estonia. So, what’s an emotional pantry?
Your emotional pantry is a new way to think about the underlying psychological and emotional factors that trigger eating, in particular binge eating or overly restrictive eating. The key to cleaning out this pantry is (potentially counterintuitively) not removing all the tempting foods from your home, but rather focusing on understanding what contributes to these triggers.
Oftentimes, your perspective on food stems from your past. This doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be a traumatic event. It could simply be a habit established in childhood. Did you endlessly snack after school? Did your parents offer ice cream after a sports game or a food reward for “good behavior”? Alternatively, maybe you were told you couldn’t have sweets as a kid, and you might find your adult self sneaking snacks or hiding food wrappers. Once you identify the origin or triggers for some of these less healthful habits, you work on shifting that mindset. If you change the narrative, you can reclaim the power in the situation; you are in charge, not the food. Of course, this is easier said than done. Starting is the hardest step. After the awareness, much of the shift evolves naturally as you notice when that old habit rears its head.
Tips for cleaning your emotional pantry:
- Understand your starting point. So often we hear about starting with the end in mind. Having a goal. In this context, it’s more helpful to deeply understand where we are now. How often do we find ourselves turning to (or away from) food for emotional reasons? Where does it happen? When does it happen?
- Watch yourself from the bird’s perspective. Essentially, the goal is to see yourself in the third person when binging or restricting. It can give us a bit of perspective, to have an idea of what happens and when.
- Practice a hunger scale. It can be so challenging to identify the difference between true, stomach hunger, emotional hunger, habits, etc. Differentiating between the reasons why we eat is a powerful skill. Before each time you eat, check in with your stomach, on a scale of 1–5, how hungry are you? Are you a 1? Totally ravenous? Or a 5? Thinking sure, I could eat a little something. This helps us identify when we’re eating to fill a non-food-related need.
- Trial and error through journaling. Keep a record of your meals and snacks. Which were your favorite? Which situations went as planned and which went awry? It’s not about having picture-perfect days, it’s about trying different approaches, seeing what works for you, and repeating those. The journal helps us look back and remember what worked best and what happened last time we were in a particular situation. As I often say, progress over perfection. Every attempt, trying a new approach is progress, whether it “worked” or not.
- Untangle the signals. What is your body telling you? It might be saying “Chocolate! Cookies!” But you know you ate lunch an hour ago. Check in with the emotions behind the desires around food? Are you lonely? Tired? Sad? Mad? Stressed? What can you do that would truly address the emotion or desired feeling? Perhaps taking a break to curl up on the couch and read a book for 20 minutes would be more helpful and truly address the desire for comfort instead of the food.
- Enjoy life NOW. So often I hear people say life will be different at their “goal weight.” That’s when we think happiness will happen. I encourage my clients to start doing those things now! What would make you happy now? What do you enjoy? What aren’t you doing because you’re waiting for that moment? While we think these other things (losing weight, for example) must happen before we’ll be happy, the reality is, being happy will help us make those things happen.
Remember, we learned to behave a certain way, which means we can unlearn it. If you notice something is no longer serving you, let it go and learn something new that does.
Spring is here which means opportunities to clean house! Most of our lifestyle changes begin in the kitchen and with food habits. Let these lists help you get started! Who knows, this just might be the springboard to the rest of your year.