By now, many of you have probably “KonMari-ed” your closets, offices and garages. This uncluttering of one’s life made famous by organizational guru Marie Kondo gave a lot of people cleaner homes, more functional work spaces and peace of mind.
What if we thoughtfully applied similar principles to our pantries, refrigerators and freezers? The baseline for healthful eating can be measured by what lives—or lurks—inside these realms. By stocking with nutrient-rich whole foods as opposed to highly processed rubbish devoid of nourishment, you can carve a path with improved odds of eating well and developing better habits.
Resetting your kitchen seems like it should be easy enough, but if you try to tackle it in a single sweep, it can handily overwhelm even the most determined effort. Be thoughtful, have a plan and do it incrementally.
Envision Your Ideal Eating Plan
Reality check: There is no ideal eating plan except for the one you can sustain over the long haul. To keep things simple, define reasonable parameters of what that looks like for you. The 80-20 rule is a good launching pad. “I will strive to eat fresh, whole, minimally processed foods 80% of the time; I will give myself leeway to sensibly indulge during the other 20%.” When you shop to restock, the ingredients you bring home should reflect this ratio and the framework you’ve envisioned. Be kind to yourself and don’t overthink it.
Commit To a Literal Kitchen Cleanse
Clean. It. All. Out. You will find things that make you cringe, laugh and cause you to shake your head in wonder. Every last item in your pantry, frige and freezer must be taken out and evaluated for keeping, tossing or donating. Wipe down each item you keep, organize it by food group and then return it to its newly sanitized home. Embrace the process and own each decision. It’s truly cathartic.
A few tips:
- If the item is expired, unrecognizable, nearly empty, frostbitten, stale or otherwise will not be used, trash it and don’t look back. This includes the frozen turkey soup you made two Thanksgivings ago and never ate. Reminisce for a moment about your clever good intentions, but then set it free.
- If the item is highly processed, sugar- or sodium-laden or lacking any redeeming nutritional value, say buh-bye.
- Purge each kitchen zone (pantry, refrigerator, freezer) on different days and do it when you are alone and can unpack and make a mess without upsetting your entire household. It can take time to do this right, so allow for focused, uninterrupted blocks to accomplish each phase.
Expel That Which Brings You Joy, Sort of
Depending on what’s in your current inventory, Kondo’s advice to “only keep items that spark joy” might be counterintuitive when it comes to certain foods. Be gentle but honest with yourself. If the item contradicts the 80-20 you’ve defined (e.g. fudge sauce you cannot resist, and in which you regularly bathe), get rid of it for now, but give yourself permission to revisit it in the future once you have a better handle on your eating patterns.
Tidy by Category and Location
In parallel to KonMari’s principle to “tidy by category,” do the same with foods, but also organize them into common areas where they will live. If possible, invest in airtight, see-through containers and a labeling system (masking tape and a Sharpie will work) that declutter each zone and visually help you track inventory. This also will help to eliminate food waste.
Here are some examples of how to group foods by category and store them together.
In the Pantry
- Dried goods/staples: beans, rice, grains, pastas, cereal
- Fats/oils and acids/vinegars (choose a dark, cool spot)
- Jarred condiments: pickles, capers, olives, peppers, tapenades, salsas, sauces—the magic pops that can give a finished dish that je ne sais quoi
- Canned goods: soups, sauces, tomatoes, beans, tuna
- Dried herbs and spices: toss and replace anything older than a year and buy in smaller increments from now on
- Baking essentials: sweeteners, leaveners, fats (keep flour refrigerated or in the freezer to extend shelf life), pre-made mixes
- Root vegetables/aromatics (keep onions, shallots, garlic and tubers in a dark, cool place)
In the Refrigerator
- Perishable Fruits and Vegetables
- Salad ingredients/dark leafy greens
- Nuts and seeds (if possible, devote a whole drawer to these nutritional powerhouses)
- Nut butters
- Deli items for sandwiches
- Dairy, eggs
- Leftovers and prepared batch items for easy meals and sides (rice, beans, salad, chopped vegetables)
In the Freezer
- Fruits and vegetables
- Fish, poultry, meat
- Home-prepared leftovers or batch items (dated and labeled)
- Convenience meals (buy based on short, recognizable ingredient lists that you can pronounce)
This purging process can be very telling about what you need work on nutritionally. If you want to take a deeper dive, consult with a nutrition professional or a qualified health coach. However you approach it, have fun, be creative and savor the finished task as a major step toward healthier behavior.