When we struggle with our weight-loss efforts, often our first thought is to find that stash of candy hidden in the back of the kitchen cabinet or the carton of ice cream tucked deep inside the freezer.
But the real culprit could be clutter. According to the new Syracuse Study, spearheaded by Brian Wansink, PhD, director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, and published in the journal Health Education & Behavior, researchers found the combination of stress and a messy kitchen environment can lead to more snacking and therefore to increased calorie consumption.
The good news? A few simple tips, tricks, and techniques to organize your kitchen can help you focus on clean, healthy cooking and put you on the road to weight loss.
First, take a moment to think about what is preventing you from preparing healthy meals. Is your kitchen disorganized? Are your pots and pans easily accessible? Are your kitchen counters so cluttered that food preparation is a major challenge?
No matter what state your kitchen might be in, chances are you can benefit from adopting a few organizational strategies. Some kitchens are very small and have limited space, but even in larger kitchens, space always seems to be at a premium.
Follow these five steps to make sure everything in your kitchen, cabinets and pantry is in the proper PLACE.
• Like with like
Prepare your kitchen for detox. Toss anything that is broken, chipped, expired, rusty, or missing parts. These items are huge space robbers and take up valuable real estate.
Donate never-used small appliances and gadgets, gently used gifts, extra plastic ware, jars, and items you no longer like, want, or need. Your kitchen will feel lighter, and so will you.
Create a meal/shopping station. Lack of menu planning has sunk many a weight-loss plan. Create a space in the kitchen to post grocery lists and menu plans for the week. It doesn’t need to take up much space. For instance, clear a spot on the fridge and hang a small white board where you can post the week’s menu and a shopping list. You can update them as needed. The more you plan, the less likely you’ll be caught off guard when it’s dinnertime.
Like with like
Most people put away the groceries wherever they can find room. But think like a library when organizing your kitchen pantry and cabinets. In a library, all romance novels are shelved together, while all cookbooks are in a separate section. You easily can locate the types of books you’re looking for. Use the same technique in your kitchen and group related items together. All canned goods, all quick-acting sources of carbohydrates, all oils and vinegars, etc. This will make it easy to find all the ingredients you need when preparing a healthy meal and also will help you cut down on duplicate purchasing.
Your most-used items should take center stage and be easily accessible. Move seldom-used items such as holiday dishes or party platters to either a high, out-of-the-way shelf or other location in your home, such as the basement or garage. In the pantry, keep items you use most regularly in your prime real estate—the space between your shoulders and knees.
Put the tools you’ll use the most for healthy cooking in easy-to-reach locations. Make sure you don’t need a step stool or extra set of hands to access your most valuable items.
And that goes for your refrigerator, too. Nutrient-rich food should be front and center. Place fruits and veggies where you can grab them as soon as you open the fridge door. Keep cut-up veggies at eye level so they are always your first choice.
Don’t forget to declutter your countertops. Are you guilty of storing food on your countertops? We all do it, but here’s a reason to put the food back in the pantry. In a study of more than 200 kitchens, people who left a box of breakfast cereal on their countertops weighed 20 pounds more than those who didn’t. Women who kept soda on their counters weighed 24 to 26 pounds more.
However, those who kept a fruit bowl on their counters weighed about 13 pounds less, according to Wansink. “It boils down to the fact that you eat what you see.” He said even with something considered healthy such as cereal, if you eat a handful every time you walk by it, is not going to make you skinny.
Use containers to create space and keep your items together.
An organized kitchen can lead you on the path to healthful cooking. Here are 10 ideas for creating space and organizing the kitchen using different types of containers.
• Place wire shelf expanders on cabinet shelves to double storage capacity.
• Use graduated risers (like mini-steps) in pantries to hold spices and canned goods.
• Go behind closed doors — hang door-mounted racks on the inside of pantry closets or cabinet doors to maximize storage space. This is a great technique for freeing up counter space. For an inexpensive and flexible option, you can hang a clear plastic shoe bag on the inside of your pantry door. Perfect for corralling proportioned snacks or diabetes-testing supplies, a hanging shoe bag lets you grab and go with ease.
• Install sliding baskets under the sink or on a deep shelf to store those hard-to-reach items. This makes those back-of-cabinet items instantly accessible.
• Use air space — mount a ceiling rack for pots and pans. Imagine how much easier it will be to reach for the pan you need when it is hanging from its own hook. You won’t have to rattle through a pile of pans to get to the one you need.
• Install a lazy Susan and plastic turntables in deep or corner cabinets to keep everything at your fingertips.
• Use lid baskets or drying racks as simple solutions for keeping all your pot lids together. This allows you to grab the right size lid in seconds.
• Hang pegboards for a fun and efficient way to maximize space. Hang one by the stove to hold cooking utensils, oven mitts, knives, and other everyday items.
• Purchase a rolling cart with ample storage to house items you use frequently if you are short on space. Store the cart out of the way when not in use. Look for ones with a butcher-block top to give you an additional cutting and chopping surface.
• Use expandable drawer dividers in your silverware, utensil, and even your junk drawer.
Don’t forget that when choosing containers, clear is king. If you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. Don’t make food prep difficult by hiding ingredients in opaque containers. Load the fridge and pantry and line counter tops with transparent canisters that allow you to see what’s inside. Cooking for weight loss shouldn’t turn into a scavenger hunt.
You don’t need to break the bank when purchasing clear containers or any kitchen organizing supplies. Dollar and odd-lot stores can be a treasure trove for containers, bins, and baskets.
Leftovers quickly can get out of hand and become hard to identify if they are not labeled. Designate one shelf or container in your refrigerator just for healthy portion-controlled leftovers; that way, you’ll be able to prevent them from getting lost in a “black hole” in the back. Use masking tape and markers or erasable food storage labels to record the contents and date each food was prepared. Make sure you label the dish before you put it away. Soon you’ll be able to minimize unnecessary waste and keep your refrigerator organized.
Evaluate your systems regularly to make sure they are working for you. Do you need more space for meal prep? For your collection of pots and pans? If you have to sort through a stack of trays, pots, and mixing bowls and rearrange your cupboards every time you want to get a pan out to steam some veggies, chances are you’re going to get frustrated and give up. The answer is just to streamline your kitchen and your cooking options. Whatever system works for you, stay organized so that pots, pans, utensils, and ingredients are easy to pull out when you’re ready to toss together a healthy meal.