A Kitchen Worth Cooking InPut everything in its place so there's space for you to prepare, cook and enjoy meals year-round
Deciding what to cook for meals is challenging enough without having to fight through an unorganized kitchen. Make this dreaded daily decision a bit easier by whipping the kitchen into cooking and dining shape with helpful tips from chefs, a kitchen designer and a professional organizer.
If your dream walk-in pantry is a nightmare of a mess, divide it into zones. "Put items you don't use often up high, items that are heavy down low and items you regularly use at eye-level," says Marlene Buckner, designer and owner of The Urban Realm in Portland, Ore.
Make rotating items a habit, says Devin Alexander, host of Healthy "Decadence" on FitTV and author of "The Biggest Loser Cookbook" series. "Instead of putting a new can of soup in front of an older can, put it behind," she says. "It takes a little longer, but it's worth it because you'll eat fresher food and throw away less expired food."
To manage the oft-untidy snack cabinet, Lea Schneider, owner of
organizerightnow.com has a solution. "Use an easy-to-reach large basket placed at eye-level to hold opened packages of things, such as cookies, crackers, chips and granola bars," she says. Then, use a labeled area of a top shelf to hold the new, unopened replacement boxes. "Not only does this system encourage family members to eat the already opened packages first, but makes it much easier for you to judge when you need to stock up," she adds.
Remember not all dry goods belong in the pantry, says Dean Zanella, executive chef at Rhapsody restaurant in Chicago. "Some things make more sense if they're closer to where you'll be cooking," he says. "I keep my spices in a cabinet by the stove rather than the pantry, so I can easily reach them when needed." Zanella says this also opens up room in the pantry for bulkier items or appliances you don't always use. "Since I keep some dry goods throughout cabinets in my kitchen, the bottom shelf of my pantry is free for things like my blender."
Stuffed with stuff
Before you begin a mad hunt for the best spot for dishes, glasses, utensils and gadgets, Schneider says take everything out and purge. "Only keep one of each item unless you are sure that you use two at the same time. For instance, keep two ladles if you tend to make two different pots of soup at once," she says. Alexander agrees and says multiple sets of certain things can actually make your life in the kitchen easier. "For things like measuring cups and spoons, if you have dry and wet ingredients, you don't want to extend your cooking time by washing and drying a measuring spoon in-between steps. But, do you really need more than one ice cream maker? Decide what you'll need more of and what you won't."
Once you decide what's staying in the kitchen, Schneider suggests applying the "next-to" rule. "If an item has a companion piece, it should be stored next-to that item. Coffee should go next to mugs, which should be near the coffee maker," she says. Zanella follows this method regularly. "I keep utensils that I'm going to use for certain types of cooking with each other. I have a drawer where my measuring cups and spoons are that I use for baking close to my pans for baking, and my silverware drawer is near my dinner table. while my utensils drawer is closer to my stove."
Stretch your grocery budget and keep your family healthy by organizing your refrigerator weekly, Schneider says. "Before making a week's menu and grocery list, clean out the expired foods, wipe up messes, make a note of leftovers that need to be eaten and incorporate those items into your next week's meal plan," she says. To keep track of leftovers and opened items, Alexander says to mark cooked dishes and opened items by labeling them with the date they were cooked or opened. Then place the stuff that will go bad first near the front of the shelf. "If you have children or multiple people in the house cooking, it's a great way to communicate what needs to be eaten when," she says.
Zanella says to be honest about what will be used. "Think about when you're going to use that condiment again and if you really need it," he says. "There's no point keeping something in the fridge for months for a recipe you've been meaning to get to, but won't." To make space, Zanella recommends cutting up fruits and veggies into small pieces and storing them in containers. "Instead of whole grapefruits taking up my produce bin, I'll cut them up, store them in containers and put them on a shelf," he says. "This way I can't miss them and I can use the produce bin for other things that won't expire as quickly."
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