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May 2, 2011

Spring Clean Your Kitchen, Part One: Purge, Scour, Organize

The Hood Answer Mom, Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D.

I don't know about you, but Spring cleaning my kitchen is one of those annual rituals that renews my enthusiasm for cooking for my family, and for feeding myself right.  And after the winter we've had, I could use some motivation!

It's not like any mom, including this one, has been slacking off in the cleaning department during the long, dark winter months. But there's something special about Spring cleaning. It makes me really want to purge the household of foods that have been lurking in the refrigerator, freezer, and cabinets all winter long, and to stock up on lighter fare that, for me, signals warmer temperatures and more relaxed times to come.

Cleaning the kitchen won't perform miracles for your diet or your family's, but it's a step in the right direction.  Here's the first in a series of two blogs with Spring kitchen makeover tips that will transform your refrigerator and cabinets in no time. 

Purge

I do not like to throw away food. It's costly, and it's wasteful.  However, some food just has to go.

The Easter candy lurking in our cabinets - from 2010 - is not worthy of the space it takes up, or the calories!  Ditto for the half-eaten bag of chips from a party we had last Christmas, and a few onions and potatoes that aren't looking so appetizing either. I have to admit that I probably won't use these foods, so they're good candidates for the trash. If you can't bring yourself to throw away perfectly safe, nutritious canned or boxed foods, like the 12 cans of tuna fish you've accumulated, donate them to your local food bank. 

Dried herbs and spices, such as cinnamon, cumin, and red pepper flakes, expand your palette without extra calories and may decrease the amount of salt, fat, and sugar you use without sacrificing flavor, but only if they are fresh.  Check the "Best By" dates. If your dried herbs and spices are old, throw them away. Store new purchases away from heat, moisture, and direct sunlight.

Some food must go for safety's sake, including the "forgotten" foods in the bowels on your refrigerator. Food kept too long or at improper temperatures can be hotbeds of bacteria capable of making you and your family sick. It's not always possible to tell if a food has spoiled by its smell or appearance, so if you have any doubt about how long you've had the food, throw it out.

While you're thinking about food safety, purchase reliable thermometers for your refrigerator and freezer. Make sure your refrigerator is at 40˚F or less and your freezer is at 0˚F or colder. Check temperatures often because they can fluctuate, especially in warm weather. If temperatures get too high, adjust the controls.

Clean

More than likely, your refrigerator will need a good going-over. Avoid odiferous commercial cleaners; foods can absorb their smell.  Instead, combine two tablespoons baking soda with one quart of warm water and scrub down walls and shelves, using an abrasive sponge. Wipe down cabinet shelves, using the vacuum to pick up food bits. 

Rearrange

Check the use-by dates on canned and boxed foods. Arrange cabinet and refrigerator shelves so that items with sooner use-by dates are at the front. That way, they get used first and are less likely to go to waste. 

Time to Restock

Once you've thrown away old or tasteless food, you'll have more room in your kitchen.  Carefully consider how you'll restock the empty space.  When you have nutritious ingredients on hand to make easy and delicious meals and snacks, it saves you money and keeps you and your family healthier. 

Part two of this Spring Cleaning series offers tips about what to buy for a healthier kitchen. 


Elizabeth M. Ward

Elizabeth M. Ward

Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D., is a writer, nutrition consultant, and mother of three. She is the author of several books, including MyPlate for Moms, How to Feed Yourself & Your Family Better and Expect the Best, Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, & After Pregnancy . Ward is also a contributing writer for Muscle & Fitness Hers and Men's Fitness magazines.

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