I’ve previously shared ways to keep veggies on hand for quick, easy additions to healthy meals; today I’m going to show you how I stash proteins for the same convenience.
In our house, we’re mostly sporadic organizers. Or sporadic messies, depending on whether you’re a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty kinda person.
But in the places where I need to find stuff day-in and day-out, I like to keep things pretty neat, because searching for stuff makes me nuts!
Here are a few cheap, easy things I’ve found that help keep my stuff findable. Most of the containers are items you’d find at an office store, Target, or the like.
Batteries in a magazine file
In a house full of computer nerds, we go through batteries like crazy, so I buy the huge multi-packs at Sam’s. For the longest time, I just stashed them willy-nilly in my office shelves, but one day as I was deciding whether to throw out this magazine bin, it hit me that this is the perfect size for those big battery blister packs.
Spices* in a CD box
*or anything else that comes in flat bags or envelopes
We buy most of our spices from a local specialty store (yay, The Spice Merchant!), where the spices are packed in these flat plastic bags that are 4 or 5 inches wide. I’ve found a CD bin works perfect for this, and is just the right depth to stash in an upper cabinet. This would also work for instant soup packs and small boxed mixes such as Rice-a-Roni or Zataran’s.
Nuts* and clothespins
*and other things that come in paper bags
Nuts are both healthy and versatile, so I always keep a good stash of several different kinds on hand. The ones we eat most (walnuts and pecans) go in big canisters, but the ones that we buy in smaller quantities, I keep in the original bag (shout-out to another local: Nifty Nut House!), in another metal-mesh bin in the pantry. Writing the name on a clothespin helps me see what’s behind the front row at a glance.
- Breakfast – my pre-chopped onion, roasted sweet potato, and greens that I make into hash almost every morning.
- Fruit and yogurt
- Snacks; cut-up veggies and dips
- Nuts and coconut
Shopping bags in a folder holder
An office organizer, usually used to hold folders, is the perfect place to stash shopping bags of various sizes. When I have too many to fit in the holder, I know it’s time to start throwing them in the recycling or passing them on to thrift stores.
But don’t hate me because I’m organized…
Keeping a kitchen organized is a bit like putting an octopus to bed. You get one part tucked away neatly, and another tentacle pops out somewhere else! But you gotta keep trying. Can’t let the octopus take over!
Changing your diet comes down to some really practical things. And if you can break it down and look at it as a series of small changes, it becomes much less daunting.
I love these seven strategies that Dr. Mark Hyman suggests for revolutionizing your eating habits. And I think the number one item is especially smart:
1. Change your mind about cooking. When you view cooking as an act of love that you share with your family, you strengthen bonds, teach important life-extending skills to your children, and enrich and nourish your bodies and your souls.
This has certainly been the case for me! I used to view cooking dinner as drudgery; now I see it as a creative outlet, and a way to thank my husband for working hard all day! And to bless any friends or family who might be joining us.
(Yes, I work too, but I have more freedom in my schedule than he does, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. Creating a healthy, enjoyable meal is one of the ways I show that gratitude. When he retires, there will be more sharing of the load!)
2. Keep staples nearby. …3. Choose frozen. While fresh foods in the produce aisles are ideal, frozen berries, vegetables, and other foods make longer-lasting alternatives. You can stock up and have [them] on hand in your kitchen for healthy, easy meals when you can’t get to the market or these items are out of season.
Some items I try to always have stocked in my kitchen: a bag of onions, fresh spinach and/or romaine, carrots, celery, cooked/diced sweet potato, tuna, one or more kinds of already-cooked meat, eggs, avocado (or Wholly Guacamole singles), and coconut milk. In the freezer: more meat (cooked or not), mahi mahi, shrimp, frozen berries and/or cherries, green beans and other veggies. More detail in my how I stock my kitchen post.
4. Reclaim your kitchen. Establish your kitchen as the ground-zero family meeting place and establish it exclusively for cooking and socializing.
This one challenges me! I think we (me and the hubs) need to kick the laptops out of our kitchen. The clutter we accumulate nearby quickly takes over. (True confession: I tidied up a bit before taking the above picture of my end of the kitchen table!)
5. Re-evaluate your time. Time is the biggest excuse why many of my patients don’t cook. Keep a journal for one week to monitor your time. You might be surprised at how you spend your time.
I highly recommend this! I think most of us would find ourselves much happier and healthier if we gave up a few rounds of Candy Crush or a couple hours of TV or internet or “retail therapy” on the weekend to spend a little more time planning and prepping meals for the week.
6. Make mistakes. If you’re new to cooking or your skills have gotten rusty, don’t aim for perfection with your first recipe—aim for experimenting and practicing. Start with… basic recipes with few ingredients and work your way up to something more complex.
Yes, yes, yes! Just try stuff! Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t come out great. Learn and move ahead!
7. Get everyone involved. Enlist help from family members—drag your kids away from their video games and ask them to measure ingredients, pull food from the fridge, or even chop veggies if they’re ready to take on this task. Decide on meals together to get everyone excited about what’s in store.
Again — Amen! If you don’t have kids, make it time with your spouse, friend, or sister. Or, if you’re an introvert, choose your favorite music, crank it up, and relish the alone time!
If you do have kids, and if having all the kids in the kitchen at once is a sure recipe for chaos and bickering, take one kid at a time and make it a special one-on-one time for the two of you. Let them choose the music. Infect them with a love for preparing good, healthy food! (Spoken from one who wishes she’d done it this way early on. Oh well, maybe with grandkids.)
Start kids (or yourself) off with something fun and easy, like cookies (they could be Paleo! like these coconut cookies), and work your way up to healthier, more complex stuff. My daughter’s love for cooking began early — mostly in her grandma’s kitchen!
By the time she was twelve, she was able to make chicken noodle soup from scratch, all by herself. Ten (fast!) years later, she’s now married and easily handles the day-to-day cooking. (I’m so proud of you, Sweetie!)
So don’t make changing your diet overly complicated. Start with learning a little more about prepping and cooking food, with simple dishes, and with changing your mind about creating meals!
(One way to learn? Follow me on Instagram. I often shoot a quick pic of my easiest meals and post them there with brief notes about what went into them. @janalovesrealfood )
“Changing your mind” typography by dudebeawsome on Instagram
Ready to cut refined sugar and/or grains out of your diet –
but still want to enjoy sweets?
Check out my cookbook…
Pull and give away. Pull out the Zone 4/purge items and give them to a young person/couple who’s just setting up house. My DD just moved into her first apartment, so I compiled a nice pile of stuff for her to go through. She’s home this weekend, and was only too happy to take my mini loaf pans and pumpkin carving tools. If you don’t have someone to give away to, or after they’re done picking it over, load all that stuff up and take it to Goodwill, DAV, or Sally Ann’s (my MIL’s boutique nickname for the Salvation Army store). You won’t believe how great it feels to drive off, leaving that clutter behind! (Update: Here’s a great idea via Apartment Therapy — swap stuff with neighbors or friends. Just make sure you do more dropping off than picking up!)
Oh, and if you’re also tossing trash and recyclables while you pack, get two different colors of trash sacks, and consistently use one color for each type of waste.
Pull and pack. Whether or not you’re actually moving, it would be ideal if you could set up some table space in or near to your kitchen where you can lay everything out. Pull out all the Zone 2 & Zone 3 stuff (leaving the Zone 1 stuff, ’cause you need it every day, right?). Then give it another assessment: Have you discovered more stuff you don’t really need? Add it to your give-away stack.
Now, start grouping together things that you use together. Extra dishes that I use for large dinners can be packed with the linens or holiday table decorations that normally get pulled out at the same time, for example. Another idea: my soup ladle is bigger than anything else in my spoon-and-spatula canister that I keep out on the counter, and I rarely use it unless I’m making a big pot of something, so now I store that big soup ladle and my big soup pots together.
If you’re moving, start packing up the Zone 3 stuff first, because you can live a couple weeks without it. LABEL EVERY BOX CLEARLY! Write on the box a good description of its contents. Here are some nice looking labels for moving — free printables!
Why detailed labeling? Your Zone 3 stuff may not get unpacked for a while, so a few months later, when you’re ready for a big gathering, you might not remember whether “glass stuff” means extra drinking glasses, or glass cake stands.
Repeat the process with the Zone 2 stuff. Resist the urge to mingle the two if you have partially-filled boxes. Whether your reason for this is downsizing or a more efficient kitchen, these zones will start to make more sense once you begin unpacking and putting away.
By the way, where to get good, free boxes… Liquor stores are always a great bet. They get shipments in frequently, and the boxes are made to hold multiple glass bottles of liquid, so they’re good and sturdy. If you stop in one and ask for boxes a few days before you’ll actually need them, they may be willing to save them for you over several days. Be sure to say thank you! Another source is friends or family members who work in a place that receives regular shipments and normally breaks the boxes down for recycling. Your local craigslist or freecycle is another great source.
Next installment: Zone 1, and your moving-day kitchen kit.
Or, questions to ask yourself when you’re trying to downsize.
If you haven’t already, read Part 1 of how to reorganize a kitchen. It’s a fundamental step, and it’s super easy!
In theory, at least…
When it gets down to reality, though, it can be kind of tough to let go of some items, even if you rarely use them. So here is a progression of questions to ask yourself when you’re standing there with a widget in your hand, wondering whether to keep it or give it away.
|Find this collection on Etsy at http://www.etsy.com/listing/102475691/empeco-bread-box-siftervintage-kitchen|
Let’s start with the practical:
- When was the last time I used this?
- What are the odds that I’ll use it within the next six months? Name a percentage.
If you can’t remember the last time you used it, then you’re not keeping it for a practical reason, you’re keeping it for an emotional reason. (More on that in a minute.) If you won’t use the thing more than once or twice a year, then you might want to question whether you really need it. Exceptions may be made for special holiday traditions that you and your family truly treasure. For example, we always have homemade waffles with mixed-berry sauce on Thanksgiving and Christmas mornings, and once-in-a-blue-moon just because.
My kids (now in college) love that and look forward to it. It makes no sense for that waffle maker to be taking up space in my kitchen for the 363 days that it doesn’t get used. Still, it’s a beloved tradition, so I pack the thing away in a box in the basement, and pull it out just when we’ll want it.
(No, that’s not my photo, and no, I don’t put sprigs of mint on our Christmas morning waffles. Or anything else, ever. But the sauce looks kinda like ours. Thanks, Taste of Home.)
Now, to identify those things that you don’t really use, but are keeping for an emotional reason. Try asking…
- Does it represent a happy memory? Or does just seeing it make you smile?
- Would you feel guilty getting rid of it because Great Aunt Sadie brought it over from the old country?
- Does it represent me being someone I wish I were, but really am not?
If you’re just keeping it because you have some happiness attached to it, and if you have room for it, keep it! Put it out on display (not buried in a drawer) and enjoy it. If you don’t have room for it, however, consider getting a nice photo taken of it, and frame a small picture of it to keep in your kitchen where you’ll see it often.
If you’re keeping a thing just because it belonged to some ancestor, let me share some advice that an older relative gave me years ago which was incredibly freeing. I was debating what to do with an old ornate table that had been my grandma’s, but that I wasn’t particularly fond of. This woman — who collected antiques and was very into family history — said, “If you don’t love it, don’t keep it. You have other ways of remembering your grandma.” Which is absolutely right.
Okay, how about those things that represent some past hopes you had, or someone you once wanted to be. Say, cookie cutters that you envisioned sharing with your kids at Christmas cookie-baking time — only to discover that they had no interest and you had no patience! Let it go! Be free! You have other ways to count your success as a baker, wife, husband, mother, etc.
I recently let my sewing machine go for this reason. I used to sew pretty often, and I still think of projects I’d like to do, but honestly, I really only go at it about once every three years. I had to come to grips with the fact that I am no longer A Person Who Sews. But that’s okay. I am now A Person Who Works From Home, and A Person Who Volunteers, and A Person Who Walks the Dog (Almost) Every Day, which I wasn’t before, so it’s not like I’m becoming nothing by giving up this one aspect of myself.
Still having a tough time letting go of some things? Here are a couple more questions to ask yourself:
- How tough or expensive would it be to replace this if I really do need one again in the future?
- Is there someone else who might get more use and enjoyment out of this than I am?
In regards to that last question, I learned an important lesson from three people: Oswald Chambers, and my parents. In his classic book of devotions, My Utmost for His Highest, Chambers talks about keeping things for ourselves for so long, they become spiritual dry rot. He was speaking of spiritual blessings, but I think it applies to material things, too. When disassembling my parents’ belongings for their estate sale, there were so many things they held on to for so long that the stuff had become worthless. If they’d given away that TV or those clothes or that sofa when they first realized they didn’t need them, someone else might have enjoyed and been blessed by a few years’ use of the goods. Instead, the stuff sat in storage until it was so outdated or decayed that it was only fodder for the dumpster. Now, I try to look at items I’m keeping but not using — whether kitchen gear, clothing, or books — and ask, “Am I depriving someone else of the use and joy of this item by hoarding it for myself?”
I hope these questions are helpful to you. Next installment we’ll get down to sorting and packing!
Here’s the first step — and it’s pretty easy:
Think and write. Think through what you have and how often you use it. First, off the top of my head and then, walking through my kitchen looking in cabinets, drawers, counter and pantry space (and hall closet, since some of my kitchen storage overflowed there over time), I broke my kitchen tools and equipment down into
three four zones:
Zone 1: Things I use every day or every week. For me, this was things like frying and sauce pans, sheet pans, measuring cups and spoons, knives and cutting boards, some of my spatulas, one set of mixing bowls, the hubby’s coffee stuff, spices, and so forth. Also included in this is just enough everyday dishes to work for the two of us between dishwasher runs.
Zone 2: These are things I pull out a few to several times a year: when we have more than a couple people over for dinner (extra/nicer plates, cloth napkins, bread baskets), or when I’m making something I don’t make often (muffin tin, pizza pans, bread machine, etc.)
Zone 3: These are the things I only pull out for large gatherings: All of the extra plates and silverware, large serving platters, crock pots, extra coffee cups and glasses. Also in this group is the stuff that’s special and seasonal: waffle iron, dehydrator, extra-large soup pots.
Zone 4 – Purge: Every kitchen could benefit from the occasional purge. Whether it’s equipment for a hobby you no longer practice, or a gadget you thought you HAD to have that hasn’t seen the light of day in years, everyone has some kitchen stuff they could jettison. For me, this included some cake decorating stuff, half a dozen small tart pans, stoneware cookie molds, and a plastic lettuce knife. (Really?!)
In Part 2, I’ll explain how to start breaking down your kitchen contents into these zones, along with some packing and re-thinking tips.
Apartment Therapy recently posted an article on “How to Organize Your Refrigerator.” I thought most of their tips were fairly obvious, though. (“Rearrange the shelves: Arrange them to suit how you like to keep things…” Really? Don’t most people do that?)
However, there were some gems in the comments. I’ve collected a few here for your organizing pleasure!
“I keep a notepad on the fridge door for us to list the fridge staples as we use them up. No more memory work when I make the next grocery list. The list is already started for me.” – Cathryn @ Caro Interiors. Note: Again, this may be obvious to most people, but if you’re not doing it, you should. Especially in a household with more than one person, so that when the non-shopper uses the last of the soy sauce, the shopper knows to get more. We use a dry erase board. If I’m rushing out the door in a hurry and have forgotten to write the list out, I take a photo of the list with my cell phone.
“One thing I use that works very well is using a lazy Susan for jams, salsa, pickles etc.” — Dulcibella
“I have a neat trick for filling the refrigerator which also works for dishwashers. Look at the appliance product photos for the best place to put drinks, casseroles, cheese, veggies, meat, and shelf alignment. The manufacturer spends lots of time and money developing an efficient way for the appliance to work. Now everything stays well organized and seems to be in the right place, veggies not too close to the refrigeration, etc. The same can be done for filling your dishwasher [for best cleaning results].” — Funstraw
“You might find Fridge Binz helpful. The Container Store has some of the larger ones.” — LDYLSTAT Note: I started doing this in my freezer a couple months ago, just using cheap bins from the dollar store. I have one for meats and fish, one for fruits and one for veggies. It’s amazing how much easier that one little thing has made finding stuff in the freezer!
“I put all the salad dressings in a cardboard beer six-pack caddy (recycling!). It’s handy for putting on the table and I won’t buy anymore until a space opens up.” — Meecee
“Speaking of organizing condiments in leftover six-pack containers… I really geek out and match the beer brand to the condiments. For instance, I’ll use a PBR box to corral ketchup, mustard, steak and barbeque sauce. For items like soy sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce, and siracha, I’ll use Tiger or Kirin. And Peroni boxes are great for jars of sundried tomatos, roasted peppers, balsamic vinegar, and pesto. It makes it easy to grab everything you need for whatever your cooking. Grilling out? Reach for the PBR box. Making stir fry, that’s the Tiger box. Cooking burritos? Grab the Coronas box.” — Shannanigans Note: If I drank beer, that is something I would totally do! Yeah, I’m geeky like that.
“This might sound like an ad but my aunt sells Tupperware brand and the Fridgesmart boxes are awesome! They come in different sizes and keep veggies fresh longer!” — VintagePearl
“A habit [I got] from my Mother is reusing glass jars instead of buying plastic. Prechopped garlic/ginger jars are a great size for mini leftovers. Before there was green, it was called frugal.” — JSSPHAN
“I recently figured out how to keep from freezing salad in my counter-depth fridge. I keep it in a compartment in the door. If I use the one that was designed for gallon jugs of milk, I can fit the Costco sized salad box in there and it stays cold without being so close to the cold air vents that it freezes.” — EngineerChic
“I use these stacking bins in my fridge; they keep me from forgetting about items that might otherwise get pushed to the back of the fridge. I also use them in the pantry, and stack them with things like tea, onions, etc.” — Liz30
“I like to use a plastic box from the dollar store to put all of my sandwich fixins’ in. It is so easy to pull the whole thing out and slide it back in in one swoop, rather than gathering up the mayo, half a tomato, head of lettuce, cheese and lunchmeat and making multiple trips to get it out and put it all away. My husband and I were just discussing starting a home salad ba: prechop all of our favorite salad toppings and put them into some kind of divided container to encourage easy, fast salad lunches.” — WonkyOne15
For several roomies sharing a fridge: “Give each roomie a different brightly-colored basket. Add a white basket for anything that is a free-for-all & ok to be shared. Of course, you must still depend on the *honor system* but I found the visual reminder meant less missing food less often. Good luck with that. (Hey, i once resorted to storing my breakfast yogurt in a small plastic toolbox & a tiny padlock. Sad but true).” — Discerning
“My mom had a good fridge organizing plan: if anything was on the bottom shelf of the fridge, we were not allowed to use it, she was planning meals with it or it was for company. Simple rule: bottom shelf = don’t even touch it.” — Therese Z
Here are some other fridge organizing resources:
Before and After: A Refrigerator Make-over at RealSimple.
Step-by-step Process to a Clean, Well-Organized Fridge at About Working Moms.
A really thorough cleaning and organizing walk-thru with lots of pics at One Good Thing by Jillee.
Today I’m going to share a couple things I love that make everyday cooking just a little easier.
I’ve always kept all the most-frequently-used cooking tools close at hand in one large canister right by the stove. That’s handy, but as we collected more gadgets it got more stuffed, to the point where you couldn’t pull out one item without bringing one or two others with it. Not a major problem in the big picture, but just a little daily irritation.
So, a few weeks ago, I went through the utensils and narrowed them down to the ones that really get used weekly to daily. There were still quite a few, so I got two canisters of different heights and sorted the tools out by height. It’s a small change, but it makes it so much easier to find the exact thing I’m after, and pull it out quickly and cleanly.
Then a few days ago I had an ah-ha: I use my measuring spoons every single day, but I’ve always kept them in a drawer with other gadgets. Why not keep them out in the open by the stove, too? So I hunted in a local flea market for something tall enough to hold my measuring spoons, short enough so I can read the measurements stamped on them, and hefty enough to not tip over easily. I found this cute little ironstone pitcher for six bucks — score! It’s just perfect.
By the way, one of the things that makes every day cooking a little easier is these rectangular stainless steel measuring spoons. What I love most about them is that because they’re so long and narrow, they fit in just about any spice jar! I also like the fact that the rectangular shape makes it easy to eyeball a partial spoonful if, for example, you need a 1/2 teaspoon, but that spoon and the 1/4 teaspoon are in the dishwasher. Just grab the full teaspoon and guesstimate it.
I actually have two sets, so there’s (almost) always one clean in any size I need. I also like that the set includes a 3/4 teaspoon and a 1/8 teaspoon. You might balk at spending $12 – 14 on a set of measuring spoons, but not only will you use them every day, but these things will last for generations — literally. So that really makes it pennies per use.
Where I got the stuff:
The red canisters: Target (they came with lids, but I don’t use them)
The ironstone pictcher: A Legacy Antique Mall, Wichita KS
The measuring spoons: I don’t remember, but you can pick up a set (or two) at my Amazon shop.