Strategies to clear food clutter in your kitchen

Have you ever tried eating better but still had forbidden foods in the cabinet and refrigerator? You probably thought, “I don’t want that food to go to waste!” I’ve done it every time I’ve recommitted myself to healthier eating … until now.

Now that the college basketball season is over, it’s time to get back on track and eat better. In past attempts, I have left all of my not-so-great food in the cabinets — processed foods, pasta sides, etc. — thinking I’ll want to eat them again someday. In an effort to unclutter my life though, I decided to remove the forbidden foods from the cabinets. And I feel liberated!

I feel calmer and more ready to dedicate myself to a lifetime of healthy eating. When I go into the kitchen, I don’t have to think about the fact that I’ve changed my diet. I just need to eat what I have available. And if I get a craving for something unhealthy? I’ll have to find other options until the craving is satisfied or passes.

So what do you do with all of the undesirable food? You have a few options. First, I tossed all of the junk food. It’s not healthy and I never should have bought it in the first place. Second, I chose to put the not-so-bad foods from my pantry in recycled grocery bags and temporarily stored them on a shelf in a different room. That way, I’ll be able to eat them in moderation once I get into better habits, but I won’t have to think about them until I’m ready. Third, I moved the refrigerated not-so-bad foods to the bottom drawer of the refrigerator and labeled it “NO” with a yellow post-it note. Again, these are foods that will be okay in moderation once I get into healthier eating habits.

You also can donate your not-so-bad food to a local food pantry. This is a great option for those times when you clean out your cabinets and realize you’re never actually going to make anything with those canned artichokes. Good luck to everyone starting on a healthier eating plan!

19 Comments for “Strategies to clear food clutter in your kitchen”

  1. posted by Andy on

    It seems to me the best way to handle the problem is to buy less food. At the same time you need to choose only good one. The main disadvantage is you need to go shopping very often. But these efforts pay back in your health.

  2. posted by Suzyn on

    Chop up the canned artichokes and put them on a Boboli pizza – delish!

  3. posted by Daus on

    You have food clutter if you don’t use all of the food! otherwise, its not clutter. 🙂 Here are some techniques that work for me to reduce food waste:

    – Stock up on foods that do not require refrigeration. I buy Soy Milk in bulk that can be stored in room temperature. All of it gets used and nothing goes to waste.

    – Take your vegetable scraps from cooking or produce that is going bad and put it in a compost bin in the back yard. The bin can be a simple plastic storage container with holes drilled in it. It doesn’t smell, you can use the compost for organic fertilizer and you don’t feel guilty throwing away your produce.

    – Invest in a vacuum food saver. Your food last much longer so there is no waste. My lettuce lasts over two weeks in a vacuum storage container. Since produce last longer, you can eat healthier too.

    – Learn to be a better cook! You develop a lot more respect for the ingredients you use and become much more efficient in your cooking skills and thus reduce your food clutter. Your added skills help you make use of any remaining ingredients to reduce waste.

  4. posted by Ann at One Bag Nation on

    I agree that it’s better not to have junk food (or “trigger food”) around, but I would be careful about labeling food “forbidden” or marking it NO. From my experience, that often leads to feeling deprived, which often leads to eating too much of that food.

    I would suggest you practice moderation. There’s room for all foods – even “junk” sometimes – in a healthy diet. Some people follow an 80/20 system: 80% healthy calories, 20% treat calories.

    If there are foods you know are triggers for you (ie you can’t eat them moderately) avoid those. I have a super sweet tooth, but I’ve found that I can eat a small amount of dark chocolate w/out wanting the whole bar. Give me a candy bar like Snickers and I want two more!

    OK, so that’s my lecture for the day – with absolutely no wisdom on clearing food clutter!

  5. posted by allen on

    the “wasting food” problem is a really hurdle to some of us who want to eat healthier, but dont’ want to have our money gone to waste. Those are some really great ideas on how to hide-away the food till later.

    Question: Why are there eggs in a bowl?

  6. posted by Andy on

    If you don’t try to artificially control your calories, I’m sure you will find that you eat a perfectly reasonable diet. Sure it might not fulfill some sort of no-fat/no-carbs/no-X ideal, but the health benefits of any sort of restrictive diet are speculative at best.

    Even dividing calories into “good” and “bad”, as Ann says, isn’t a good idea. There’s no reason to feel guilty for eating what you want. Normal people aren’t going to eat cake all day, even if they can. Everyone likes to eat a balanced diet.

  7. posted by Thomasina on

    I agree with Daus – the best way to reduce food clutter (and waste) is to buy less food. I got fed up with finding rotting peppers in my crisper so I switched to a dorm size fridge to eliminate the temptation of stocking up my fridge and then not remembering what I had in there. Not an option for a family, perhaps, but it works for me. I plan my meals and buy what I need and it works out well. I’m much happier and spend a lot less too.

  8. posted by Hayden Tompkins on

    That’s why I try to make sure it doesn’t come home in the first place (not that the Swiss Cake Rolls last all that long anyway).

  9. posted by ShopLittleGifts on

    Interesting. I have the challenge of always wanting to stock my fridge up. One trick is to stock it up with healthy things: lots of fruits (for fruit salads), yogurt, soy milk, veggies (for minestrone or quick salads). Although I do have trouble finishing everything, especially when I forget what’s inside. So I keep a list of all the ingredients I have on the fridge door and everytime I finish using something I cross it out. This helps with meal ideas as well – forces you to be creative with new combinations.

  10. posted by Rick Colosimo on

    My problem with food storage is slightly different. How can you optimize in-fridge storage of leftovers to remind you to eat them before they go bad? A GTD approach => GFE (Getting Food Eaten). What I want is something that doesn’t require me to put post-its on each container and that I can get my wife to do as well. Maybe some sort of on-shelf rotation system?

    (more on this question in my post: http://rickcolosimo.blogspot.c.....nning.html)

  11. posted by Cynthia Friedlob, The Thoughtful Consumer on

    I hate to waste food, but sometimes it just happens. So here’s a food safety suggestion for those of us who lose track of what’s in the refrigerator:

    I label food in bottles or containers with the dates I opened them. Just mark ’em with a Sharpie. I also mark my own containers using a piece of tape to write on. That way there’s no risk of eating something that’s been around too long but doesn’t warn you by appearance or odor.

    Also, recently I was amazed to discover that some people believe that the manufacturer’s stamped on “expiration date” still applies after you’ve opened the container. Big mistake!

  12. posted by Stephanie on

    Look for re-usable labels. I found erasable labels at my local storage/organization store. They are microwave and dishwasher safe…once they go on, they don’t come off! All my container lids have a label, and I keep the pen and eraser in the cabinet with the storage containers. It has also been helpful to have a designated shelf for leftovers… ours is the second shelf, since it’s close to eye level.

  13. posted by Lisa on

    I bet the eggs in the bowl are hard boiled. When I buy mine, I boil half. That way they are there when I want them. Easy.

  14. posted by Dee on

    We have a shelf in our pantry dedicated to “snack” foods – if I am feeling the urge to give into a craving I know not to go fishing in that drawer. As far as wasting food because its food that isn’t good for me – I don’t buy it. A weekly menu plan is key to keeping me on course in regards to ensuring that my family is eating right and I’m not buying excess amounts of junk. I also decided a few years back that except for special occassions I don’t buy any baked goods – if I really want a cookie or something sweet I have to make it from scratch . .if I want something bad enough, I’ve got to put in the effort ot make it. . .that really cuts down on having sweets at the ready. Like one of the posters above, I just recently started buying pantry style Silk soymilk and love having that on hand while only having to refridgerate the small open container. About once a month I make pre-make dinners – steak tips, lean meatloaf, stuffed peppers, sliced peppers/onions, chicken dishes and freeze them to ensure that if I run out of steam during certain weeks I always have something healthy to fall back on. I always keep a bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter and every week I make a big container of salad for the fridge so I have grab and go lunches at the ready.

  15. posted by erin on

    Another person agreeing with the thoughts that Ann and Andy already said. There is no morality with eating – food is neutral. Putting ‘good’ and ‘bad’ labels on food is artificial.

    I only buy enough food that I will eat it before the expiry date. I live alone, so I do go to the grocery store a lot, but that’s okay with me. I have recently been trying to eat my way through my cupboards because I had a lot of dried stuff that felt cluttery to me, so for example, instead of buying more pasta when it was on sale, I am eating what I already have.

  16. posted by Mary on

    Stopping by the market on the way home has become a pleasant chore for my husband and I. We eat a lot of fresh produce so we shop more often … I’m not sure this would have worked when we had small children at home but it works well for us now. Our fridge is uncluttered and we are eating better.

  17. posted by lionel on

    Less impulse buying and more planned meals = less fridge and food clutter.

  18. posted by Karyn on

    @ Andy: “Normal people aren’t going to eat cake all day, even if they can. Everyone likes to eat a balanced diet.”

    You’re assuming all of us are normal people. 😉

    Unfortunately, for some of us, some foods do trigger addictive or compulsive eating behavior. I agree that the shaming approach of “bad” or “forbidden” foods is counterproductive, but if I know that having a box of cookies in the house means I will reach for the cookies first–and eat the entire box in one sitting–and have no appetite for vegetables and fruits and other foods that have a better effect on my health and well-being, then it’s only sensible for me to choose not to keep boxes of cookies at home.

    Also, the simple fact is that some foods are healthier to eat in larger quantities than others are. Large amounts of sugar aren’t good for anyone. Even olive oil, which is considered healthy, isn’t something I would consume by the cupful–but I’m not tempted to overeat olive oil. I *am* tempted to overeat cookies and other sugary, refined-flour foods. And I feel better when I don’t overeat them. So I adjust my shopping and storage habits accordingly.

  19. posted by WilliamB on

    Some people respond well to the cold-turkey approach (no swiss rolls!), others to the just-a-little (buy one box of swiss rolls a month). It’s critical to know which applies to you. Frex, my BIL will eat a ton of french fries a year or go cold-turkey, there’s no middle ground for him. I, OTOH, can eat just a few; knowing that I can have more tomorrow practically eliminates any overwhelming desire to have a ton of them today.

    One trick that works for me: if I have a lot of something on hand, I eat a lot of it. If I have only a little, I don’t eat it. So I try to stock a lot of produce and only a little junk food.

    @Rick: try setting aside a “eat now” spot in your fridge, for foods that need to be eaten soon or go bad. It also helps to have an uncluttered fridge, makes keeping track of what’s actually in there much easier.

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