This post originally appeared on the Project Juice blog, Ritual Wellness.
When we talk about spring cleaning, we think of dusty closets, old clothing and sweeping out those crumbs from behind the fridge. But what about the food pantry? This part of the house is often overlooked when considering spring cleaning, yet it’s a vital part of your day-to-day experience. At New Minimalism, we have worked with many clients to declutter their pantries. It’s definitely not the most-requested category to address, but because of its daily interaction, the results are always the most appreciated.
We would venture to say that regularly tending to your food pantry is even a basic building block of healthy living and eating. It brings attention to the food that you have on-hand, and helps to stimulate ideas of what to cook at home. Contrary to the general assumption, a lean pantry can actually challenge you the most, creatively, because you have to work within constraints.
7 Tips to Refresh Your Pantry
Start fresh — Remove all food items from all the cabinets and drawers and place them on the counters. Use a step-ladder to reach the items hiding at the back of the upper cabinets. This forces you to assess each and every item, like the ones you might glaze over out of habit. Don’t forget about the spice collection and the condiments in the refrigerator.
Consider the planet during this clean out — Compost any food that has expired. Rinse and recycle plastic and glass containers. Warm water and soap works well for cleaning out glass jars and bottles.
Release the need for variety — Follow the lead of zero-waste pioneer, Bea Johnson, and simply keep one variety of food at a time. Choose one type of grain to use at a time and only store this option until you are finished with it. For example, you have a large jar of brown rice. Then, brown rice is your “chosen grain” for the next few recipes, and you don’t buy another grain until you are finished with the rice. This approach keeps your pantry items super fresh, and simplifies your decision-making when it comes to what to cook.
Break the rules — Part of the fun of cooking is to try new things. When following a new recipe, try to use some items you have on hand, rather than run out to buy the exact ingredient that the recipes calls for. If your recipe calls for white vinegar and you only have red, you could try using the red vinegar for a twist on the recipe. This also might create your own version of the recipe with something you typically have on-hand, making it easier to cook this recipes in the future.
Glass storage containers — Using your own glass containers keeps food fresh, longer and just looks nice. When using your own containers, it can take some practice to know the right sized container for the type of food, but don’t be dismayed. Just know this is part of the process. It can be helpful to “set it an forget it” rather than constantly shuffle from one size container to the next. If you normally buy 24 oz. of granola, keep the granola in a jar the correct size for 24 oz, even when there is only 4 oz. left. This will simplify your brain, and will reserve the space for when you re-up on your Project Juice granola. Otherwise you can get into a constant shuffle that isn’t actually all that impactful in the long run.
Aspirational food items, and what to do with them — During your clean sweep, you may be reminded of a food item you brought home at some point to try out a new recipe — let’s call these aspirational food items. But it’s been six months and you still don’t feel like making Aunt Jean’s casserole with the specialty noodles. Give yourself a deadline to use these items. When I did my own pantry clean out, I was reminded of the rice paper I bought to try my hand at homemade spring rolls. Now that they are back in my attention, I’ve pulled the rice paper down to the counter top. If I don’t use them over the next week, it’s time to give up on that food goal and donate or compost.
Sharing is caring — My neighbors love to be the recipients of food that is still good but I, for some reason, personally don’t want to eat. I was avoiding gluten for a time and realized I had two boxes of gluten-filled crackers. My neighbor happily took them off my hands. If I had waited around until I was eating gluten again, they probably would have gone stale.
The change of season from winter to spring is a natural time of renewal — the days grow longer, flowers and trees start to bloom, everything turns green—let’s embrace this change with a pantry spring cleaning of your very own at home!