Time to Organize for Healthy Eating

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The end of 2020 is the perfect time to organize your eating plan.

Most people start off the New Year with good intentions to take better care of themselves. A big part of the success of taking care of oneself is being organized. It takes time and planning to eat well, and with fewer social engagements this holiday season due to the pandemic lockdowns, most of us will have some extra time.

1. Organize Your Kitchen

Do you have any items you simply do not use because you cannot get at them? Up until recently I rarely used my food processor because it was hard to get at. After reorganizing my cupboards it is now much easier to pull out. I am much more likely to use it. Do you have pots you do not use because you cannot find the matching lid? How about your storage containers?

Being efficient in the kitchen begins with having an organized kitchen. Give every cooking tool a place. Make regularly-used items readily accessible. Store the truly lesser-used items in harder to reach places. Decide if you really need to keep rarely-used items. Put items away when not in use. Less clutter leads to more productivity. It is easier and more enjoyable to work when you have the proper tools available and space to use them.

2. Organize Your Pantry

Keep Common Items in Stock

Organize the sections of your pantry cupboards by commonly used items. When you use up an item, write it on your grocery list so that you remember to re-stock the item. Some examples of standard pantry items include:

  • canned beans
  • canned tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce
  • boxes of chicken, vegetable and beef broth
  • canned soup, jars of pasta sauce
  • rice, grains, dried beans, lentils and pasta
  • cereal and oats
  • condiments such as peanut butter, honey, mustard, salsa
  • baking supplies
  • spices

Check the dates

Go through your pantry and check for any expired items and discard them. It is surprising how many years we can keep an item, thinking we may use it eventually.

While you are at it, also check the expiry dates of the condiments and containers in the fridge.

While it is good to try new items in new recipes, most of the items in your pantry and fridge should be regular items that you use up and replace often. That is the easiest way to keep your stock of supplies fresh and to minimize waste.

First In First Out

First in First out (FIFO) is the rule. When putting away your groceries, place the new items at the back of the shelf, behind whatever items you may still have. For example, if cans of diced tomatoes go on sale, place the new cans at the back behind any remaining old cans of tomatoes. Make sure you use up the old cans first.

3. Organize Your Freezer

How old are those sausages that you froze for that camping trip that never happened last summer? What else is buried in the bottom of your deep freezer?

It is important to label the items with the date on which you froze it. Plan to use up the old items as you freeze any new items. Do you have a frozen turkey from Christmas last year? Ideally you would have used it up during the year before buying more turkeys from this year’s sales. I actually buy 2 – 3 small turkeys each holiday when they are on sale, and I cook one a month to use them up.

4. Make a weekly meal plan

You need a plan so that you know what you are going to eat. It doesn’t have to be fancy. But it should involve real, whole food. The problem is when we forget to plan, we are more likely to resort to ready-made higher-processed foods or fast foods that are often high in fat or sugar and lower in nutritional content.

When making your plan, take into consideration how much time you have available to prepare it. That may help you decide whether you should choose a make-ahead meal, like a casserole or slow-cooker meal, or a quick put-together meal like a stir fry or a soup. Choose a variety of protein sources: vegetarian, fish, beef, poultry, pork, eggs, and rotate them throughout the week. You can also plan your meals according to what is on sale at the grocery store or by what is in your freezer.

5. Block off time for grocery shopping

Plan time into your calendar to shop for groceries. This applies for online shopping as well as in-person shopping. When using online grocery shopping, I like to pick up my groceries on Friday afternoons. That means I block off an hour of my day on Thursday to put my order together and reserve my time slot. If I am doing the shopping in-person, then I block off an hour of my day on Friday to do the shopping. It is in my Google Calendar on a weekly recurring basis.

6. Try new recipes

It is good to try new recipes from time to time. It may take a bit more time to work through a new recipe. Sometimes you get keepers, other times you think of what you would do differently next time, and sometimes you decide the recipe is not worth keeping.

One of the main things I look at when considering a new recipe is the list of ingredients. Are they ingredients that I mostly have on hand or can easily buy? Sometimes I see a list of exotic ingredients that are clearly out of my league. Other times, the recipe calls for an ingredient I simply have not tried before. For example, I made a pot roast that was supposed to have parsnips but I accidentally bought turnips instead. And do you know what? They were very tasty!

Here is a recipe that was recently published on the Government of Canada website: Red Lentil and Mushroom Soup . The only ingredients I would have to buy for this is mushrooms, parsley, and feta cheese. You can leave out the mushrooms if you are not a fan. I tend to have all the other ingredients on hand: onions, carrots, dried lentils, spices, chicken broth. So, for me, this recipe will probably be a winner.

7. Have a system for storing recipes

Whether you decide to organize your recipes in a paper file or a digital file, choose a system that you can easily access and maintain.

If you are starting from scratch, a digital file may work well if you like reading off your device. You can copy and save the recipes as you try them.

Because I started collecting recipes before the age of mobile devices, and because I inherited my mom’s recipe cards, I have stayed with the recipe card system rather than converting everything to digital.  I store my recipe cards in photo pocket pages of photo album books. I have a book for each type of food: salads, soups, vegetarian, poultry, beef, fish, pork/sausage, cookies/cakes, desserts.

8. Maintain your recipe system

My system works, but the problem is that by the end of the year I end up with a pile of recipes I have printed, clipped or written on a piece of paper. The key is maintaining my system. I need to take those loose pieces of paper, transfer them to cue cards and file them in my books. That is the project I am going to take on in the upcoming weeks with my extra time. Do you have loose recipes lying around that you need to file either physically or digitally? Do you do that each time you try a recipe?

With an organized kitchen, a plan for meals, a list for groceries, and a place for your recipes, you will be well-positioned to have a healthy new year!

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