Spring is a time of renewal. Not only is it time to vary your workout and swap the wardrobe, it’s also an excellent time to spring clean the pantry! We usually think of spring cleaning in terms of sweeping out the dust and staleness of winter in favor of getting some fresh air back into our lives and homes. Home is our base, and often where we set our most common habits – especially when it comes to food. Laurie Schubert, PhD RD LDN, is a nutritionist and dietitian who specializes in sports and heart health. She loves talking about food and using food to stay healthy and full of energy! So, I asked Laurie to give us the lowdown on freshening up our food environment.
Spring is my favorite time of year. I love watching the trees leaf out and the flowers start to bloom. Inspired, I build a list of all the places around my house that need to be cleaned out, refreshed or repaired. First on my list this year is the pantry. If your pantry looks anything like mine, a good cleaning is in order! Here are some things to consider when spring cleaning your pantry.
Step One: Figure out what you have and what you should keep
Throw out any old, stale, or expired food, anything that looks a little sketchy, and anything that your pets have nibbled on. If you have non-expired food that you don’t want, get a box and fill it with food pantry donations. Now would also be the time to recycle that bulging sack of plastic bags from the grocery store and put the screwdrivers back in the toolbox in the garage. If it doesn’t belong in the pantry, get rid of it or put it away properly!
If you keep appliances, serving pieces, or large cookware in your pantry, check that the appliances work. Store them with any parts or attachments so they’re easy to find when you need them. Serving pieces and cookware should be checked for chips and cracks and washed. Then evaluate your cooking supplies. When was the last time you used that five gallon stock pot? Do you need all of the supplies to make jam? If you live alone and you never eat jam, probably not. These can be put in a box for recycling or donation to Goodwill.
Step Two: Clean the pantry
By this, I mean wipe down shelves, vacuum cobwebs out of the corners, and clean off any sticky containers or cans. I once dropped and broke a bottle of fish sauce in my pantry and it took hours to find all the splatters. And hooray for windows – mine were definitely open on that day!
Step Three: Consider the organization of your pantry
It makes sense to put the items you use the most front and center. Consider the items you cook with the most and put them at eye level. It also makes sense to group like items together. Store the spices in one place, the rice and beans in another. Store any small or slippery items like sleeves of tuna and small spice canisters in a box, bin, or basket. Potatoes and onions like it cool, dry and dark, so a closed pantry is ideal. They need a ventilated bin or bag for airflow, preferably near the floor where it’s cooler. They do not like the cold, humid environment of the refrigerator.
What about the snacks? People eat the items they see first. So put those chocolate chip cookies out of sight, either on a low shelf or a high shelf, or hide them in opaque containers, such as a brown paper bag. At the very least, put them at the back of the shelf, not the front. Out of sight truly is out of mind! The flip side is that you can put the healthier snacks front and center so they catch the eye of a hungry nibbler. If you want to go that extra mile, store containers for individual portions with the snacks (snack bags, small containers) to remind yourself to portion out your snacks.
Step Four: Restock with healthy items
Refill all of those sparkling clean and empty shelves with healthy choices or choices that support your goals. Keep the staples in your pantry and then plan to use them frequently. Staples can include grains and pasta, canned beans and vegetables, fruit packed in water, canned tuna and chicken, nuts and dried fruit, broths, oils, vinegars, dried chile peppers and mushrooms, spice blends… the list is limited only by your favorite flavors and the types of cooking that you do!
One hidden contributor to poor nutrition habits is the amount of food kept on hand. Research shows that people eat more when they have more food on hand. That’s great if you have a huge vegetable platter in your fridge! But that economy box of mixed flavor granola bars? Most will be eaten within the first week they’re in the house. Do you need to consume 27 granola bars in one week? Carefully consider where you shop and how much you buy. You might be unintentionally sabotaging your efforts if you buy a lot of food at the big box stores and you’re not feeding a small army.
Step Five: Celebrate!
Congratulations! You can now cook and eat with ease and pleasure. As a bonus, these principles also translate well to the fridge and the kitchen as a whole. What you see first is what you’ll eat. So now that you’re done with the pantry, how about looking at the fridge?
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