8 Essential Tips to Organize Your Kitchen and Reduce Food Waste
You’ve walked into the space before: a cluttered, chaotic kitchen, where there’s little reason to how things are laid out or how food is stored. Perhaps this describes the kitchen you’re in now. If you often feel like you lose track of ingredients after they have spoiled, or you’re frequently one key ingredient short of a successful meal, we have good news: a few small changes in how you manage your kitchen can make a big difference in how you manage your meals.
An organized kitchen is a functional, time-saving, money-saving kitchen. Knowing what you have on hand and keeping track of the tools and ingredients in your space can help you efficiently create a healthy meal plan and cut down on food waste in the process.
Here are our top tips for organizing your kitchen and keeping food waste to a minimum.
1. Check the Best Before Dates Before You Buy
Before committing to a food purchase, check the best before date. Supermarkets will still sell (or discount) items that are on the brink of going bad, intentionally or because they weren’t removed from the shelf in time. Buying on-sale, nearly expired products can be money-saving in the short-term, but it can end in waste if you don’t use the item right away. If you still wish to take advantage of the discounted price, by all means, do! Having a meal plan generator can help you plan around ingredients you have and ensure they are used up in a timely fashion.
If a product – like fresh produce - doesn’t have a best before date, or you’re unsure how much longer it will last, check out these tips for how to pick the best produce at the market.
2. Organize Your Fridge Into Categories
A fridge full of opaque containers without rhyme or reason to their placement is a recipe for losing track of what you have on hand. You can channel your inner Marie Kondo and organize the contents of your fridge by category.
First, get rid of anything that is taking up space but it unusable (we are looking at you, nearly empty jar of almost-expired, crumb-filled mayo). When possible, toss or compost foods you know you won’t use.
Once you have created some space, sort your ingredients and remaining shelves into categories by type and use. Consider these categories as you sort what you have on hand and plan ahead for what you’ll buy for your healthy meal planning:
- Produce, like fruits and vegetables, in the crisper drawer(s)
- Meat and meat alternatives, in a drawer, preferably not directly above fresh produce or unpackaged items
- Prepared foods for meal prep (such as ingredients you’ve already cooked) in containers on top shelves
- Raw ingredients to be cooked for your meal plan (like chopped salad or stir fry veggies, marinating proteins) stored in clear food storage containers (so you can see what they are)
- Dairy and eggs on a middle or top shelf
- Bottled or canned beverages, sauces, and condiments on the door, where the temperature is warmest
- Specialty foods like pickled vegetables, miso, and jarred garlic can be clustered together for quick access during meal prep
3. Meal Plan Around What You Already Have
Once you know what you have on hand, it is much easier to plan your meals around what you already have, reducing waste and additional food cost. Look at the spread of produce, proteins, and dairy in the fridge, along with dried pantry items like grains, beans, sauces, and spices to craft your meals for the week. You may consider using an online meal planning app to help create your healthy meal plan by incorporating what you already have.
4. If It’s About to Go Bad, Cook It!
Rather than throwing out those slightly wrinkled peppers or the pieces of chicken approaching their best-before date, cook them. You can add days onto the edible lifespan of a food by preparing them. As you plan your meals for the week, consider what you can cook in advance (and what you can save from going in the trash by cooking it in advance).
Many healthy meal prep ingredients lend themselves to being cooked in advance, saving you time later in the week when you need some shredded chicken or boiled eggs. Also, some foods are ideal for freezing for use at a later date.
A meal planning app can help incorporate foods you’d like to use up; for instance, PlateJoy offers a simple way to search for recipes by ingredient and craft your menu based on these.
5. Learn How to Store Food Correctly
You can give your ingredients the best fighting chance of staying fresh and edible as long as possible by storing them appropriately. How you choose to store food – including temperature, light exposure, and around what other foods they’re kept – can affect how long food lasts.
Fruits and vegetables
Fresh produce varies in its storage needs and can benefit from being tended to specifically.
Onions and potatoes, for instance, can live in the pantry after they’re first purchased but they should be transferred to the fridge after a week. Potatoes will last longer than onions, and these should not be stored near each other: potatoes release gases that can cause onions to rot.
Tomatoes and apples ripen well at room temperature away from direct sunlight for three to five days and should be transferred to the fridge once ripe.
Aim to store pantry goods between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit in a dry, dark space. When putting new items in, rotate older items to the front and place newer ones at the back. Baking ingredients tend to have long shelf lives, but you can maintain their freshness by transferring to the fridge or freezer after a certain time.
Maximize the shelf life of refrigerated foods by keeping your fridge between 34 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit and storing food in airtight containers or reusable cloth wraps (instead of plastic wrap). Microorganisms already found in food, oxidation, and enzymes can speed up spoilage, so make sure you keep track of what’s in your fridge and use it before it turns.
It goes without saying: your freezer should be set to freezing, at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. While freezing can change the texture and color of certain foods, they will remain safe to consume and easy to pull out when you’re ready to cook them.
6. Invest in Food Storage Containers
Having the right tools on hand to preserve your food in your well-organized kitchen is key to efficiently using your ingredients and sticking with your healthy meal plan. Good quality airtight food storage containers can help prolong the life of your grocery purchases and help save you time and money on shopping trips. In addition to keeping things fresher for longer, containers can help you meal plan. When you’ve separated out prepared ingredients and meals for the week, you’re more likely to consume them, thereby cutting down on cost and reducing food waste.
7. Store Foods with Short Expiration Dates In Sight
Place foods that are likely to spoil sooner in plain sight. You can make the most of the short shelf-life of foods like leafy greens and seafood by placing them in a prominent position in the fridge. That way, each time you open the door, you’ll be reminded of the beautiful ingredients awaiting preparation. Factor these into your healthy meal plan for the week using a meal plan generator or online meal planner to ensure you use them up before they go bad.
8. Don’t Buy It Unless You Need It
Smart grocery shopping is key to reducing food waste. While it can be tempting to stock up on packaged impulse buys at the store, avoiding excessive or unnecessary purchases will help ensure your ingredients are not forgotten or wasted.
Another benefit of a meal planning service that helps you build a custom meal plan is that you’re provided a structure to stick to when you head to the store. This helps reduce extra purchases and means you can use up the healthy ingredients you have on hand before they turn. PlateJoy will help you craft a personalized shopping list and budget portion sizes so you can use things up efficiently.
A little bit of organizing goes a long way when it comes to planning healthy meals and reducing food waste. When you get your space in order and create room to view, store, and prep your ingredients, you will be more likely to use what you have. When you know what you have, you know what you need; and you can buy your groceries with a specific plan while also reducing food waste. PlateJoy can help you organize your meals around what is already in your kitchen and build a shopping list to fill in the gaps. It’s simple to get started: just fill in the ingredients you already have handy and choose from hundreds of recipes to round out your healthy meal plan.