Spring Clean Your Cooking Routine
Anyone else have spring cleaning on their mind? Or has that shipped sailed since we’ve been stuck in our homes for months now!? Just like it’s important to periodically deep clean and purge unnecessary clutter around the house, it’s helpful to reevaluate your meal planning, shopping and food prep routine also. Here are a few simple steps for spring cleaning your cooking routine as we head into this new season.
Step 1: Take inventory of your fridge, pantry & freezer Did you know that according to the United States Department of Agriculture, Americans waste more than $161 billion dollars of food annually? That’s $1,600 a year for a family of four! To avoid this you should routinely take inventory of your food supply.
Let’s begin with your refrigerator, this cleaning process should be done at least once a week. For those fresh foods that are nearing the end of their shelf life, consider putting them in a soup, stew or smoothie. Throw out foods that have been "hibernating" in the fridge too long.
Next let’s venture into the depths of the pantry to see exactly what you have, then strategize how to use it (or if needed, toss it!). You can save money as you work through shelf-stable items too. Before purchasing duplicates be sure to use those that are close to their sell by date, then restock. Also remember to re-stock those healthy staples that make fast and easy weeknight meals; like this spaghetti squash with turkey veggie sauce dish. Some of my family’s favorite pantry staples are canned tomatoes, coconut milk, vegetable broth and nutrient-rich whole grains like quinoa and buckwheat.
Next work through your freezer. We jam pack our freezer with the usual suspects including riced cauliflower, broccoli, shredded kale, green peas, frozen berries and cherries, and of course wild caught fish! I often make double batches of meals too and freeze the second batch for a “prepared freezer meal” one another week; it’s such a fun surprise (but be sure you label it, otherwise it could be a surprise)!
As you clean each of these areas, check expiration dates to help determine when to dispose of foods. But when in doubt, throw it out. Have you ever wondered what's the difference between "use by" and "expiration?"
• “Use by” or “best if used by” date is not a safety-related date (these are usually placed on shelf stable foods, like cereal). It’s the last date recommended for use of the product at optimal quality.
• "Expiration" date means don't consume the product after this date (think of your dairy foods).
Once you’ve finished each area of your kitchen try to get in the habit of using the First In, First Out method – which means put those closest to their end date in the front of your fridge/pantry (so they’re the first ones to be used). That way you never waste food, or money.
Step 2: Embrace seasonal produce One simple way to get out of a cooking rut is to switch up your go-to fruits and vegetables based on the season. Bonus: this also means fresher and less expensive finds! I love salads with seasonal fruits and vegetables like this one featuring strawberries and radishes which came back in season, beginning in March. Did you know that depending on the season, frozen produce may be more nutritious than fresh? That’s because if a fruit or veggie is out of season it is picked while it’s still green (meaning not yet ripe) and held under conditions during transport to ripen. That means less tasty, and less nutritious food. Be sure to print this Produce Availability Chart that shows you how to eat seasonally, for those of you who are Michiganders.
Step 3: Find a meal planning method that actually works. Remember that meal planning is key to staying on track with healthy living goals, so if you’re current setup isn’t working, it might be time to switch gears. Make it a goal to find an approach that feels doable -- and most importantly, sustainable. If this is something you struggle with, you might consider outsourcing. Try out my meal planning program to save time so you can focus on improving your culinary skills and enjoying home-cooked meals over endless recipe searching. The recipes are so tasty too, so even if you enjoy meal planning, trying my plans can offer nice variety for as little as $9/month!
Dedicating time to freshen up your cooking routine can produce results that last. A simple, well-planned menu and well-stocked pantry will reduce your stress in the kitchen and limit the need for takeout (saving your health and your wealth). Set yourself up for success…which step will you tackle first?