The Best Ways to Organize Your Kitchen, According to a Nutritionist

published May 23, 2018
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(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

Your kitchen is kind of like command central for your house. Think about everything that goes on there—not least of which is the preparation of up to three meals a day, practically every day of your life.

Unfortunately, sometimes in the hustle of that life, things can get a little… disorganized. And by that I mean your fridge may sport haphazard piles of random leftovers in unlabeled containers wedged between broccoli that’s seen better days. Your pantry might be a cacophony of half-used packages of food jammed cheek by jowl with no rhyme or reason. And let’s not even talk about that unidentifiable object in the freezer.

Who else is ordering delivery tonight?

How to Design a Kitchen that Supports Your Wellness

We asked registered dietitian nutritionist Marisa Moore some questions about how to make the kitchen—namely the fridge, freezer and pantry—an environment that creates a sense of calm and helps reduce anxiety around mealtimes; helps prevent food waste; and of course, keeps food safe.

Flip “Out of Sight Out of Mind”

You know that old cliché? Moore says it can be helpful to think about it backwards. “If you flip that on its head you’re putting [healthy foods] in front of you so the first thing you see is probably going to help you eat a little better,” she said. “It seems so simple but it will make a difference. Whatever we see we tend to think about it first.”

A peek inside Marisa Moore’s refrigerator. (Image credit: Courtesy of Marisa Moore)

So what does that look like? In the fridge, put fruits and veggies front and center, in clear containers, and at eye level if possible, Moore says. Yeah, we know, some veggies are supposed to be kept in a crisper. But when I started keeping mine on a shelf dedicated to produce, I stopped opening the crisper to find squishy, brown cauliflower rice (those bags from Trader Joe’s are great, but do NOT last!) “The same rules apply for frozen vegetables like broccoli or peas,” she says, “Keep them in a visible spot at eye level so if you open up the freezer you will think, ‘I need to add some vegetables to my pasta sauce.'”

Store shelf stable items like seasonal fruits and veggies on the counter or table, she says. Since they’ll be within reach, you’ll be more likely to grab them when you want a snack.

Also make sure you have water visible, Moore adds. If your fridge has a filter on the outside, great, but it not, either have a water pitcher or your water with an infusion of fruit right in front inside the fridge. Just having cool water readily available can help us keep hydrated. I stash any drinks that aren’t water behind my Brita pitcher so I have to at least consider water before grabbing anything else.

And for your indulgences? Literally keep them out of sight, in the back of the pantry or deep in the freezer, Moore says. Will that stop us from grabbing that treat? Honestly, not likely. But at least they won’t tempt you every time you open the door.

Waste Not, Want Not

We all know food waste is a serious problem—it’s bad for the earth, for our wallets, and really, is just shameful. Yet most of us still do it. One way to reduce that waste is to take the foodservice approach, Moore says, adopting a FIFO rule—first in, first out. That’s just what it sounds like: When you bring home new food, rotate older stuff to the front so it’s what you grab first.

And do your prep work upfront. “If you have your big shop day on Saturday or Sunday go ahead and wash [things like] peppers, slice any hard to get into pieces of produce like melons, and put it in clear containers,” Moore says. “That makes a huge difference during the week when most of us have less time. Knowing I have an onion already chopped or peppers already sliced means it’s an easy quick snack for peppers and hummus, or a quick vegetable omelet.” She advises not to pre-wash things like berries and grapes, because that can make them go bad faster.

Moore also likes to double up when she makes batches of things like soup or pasta. She freezes soups and stews in freezer-safe bags and stores them flat. That’s brilliant: They stack nicely and take up less space than awkward plastic containers. She recommends storing those in the front of the freezer to have your own frozen meals right at hand. Just be sure to label them because no matter how good you think your memory is we all know you’re not going to remember what that mystery stew is in three weeks.

(Food) Safety First

“I can’t not think about food safety,” Moore says. “In the fridge make sure that meats and other things that might contaminate foods are preferably stored inside a container that can catch juices, and below foods that are ready to eat. Keep that in mind to keep the family safe.”

Marisa Moore’s mason jar collection in her pantry. (Image credit: Courtesy of Marisa Moore)

Keep Calm and Organize On

Mason jar fans, unite: Moore likes to store her whole grains in large mason jars in the pantry.

She buys them in bulk, and this way “they’re highly visible and easy to keep organized—and it’s really nice to look at.” Since you can see the contents in each jar, you’ll be able to keep stock of what you have easily and you won’t have to rifle through a drawer full of bunched up bags.

Jars are great for spices too, as well as nuts. But take note: People don’t realize how fast nuts can go bad, Moore says. So if you buy your walnuts by the pound at Costco like I do, keep just what you’ll eat fairly soon in a jar, and stash the rest in the freezer.

Flour, especially whole grain flour, can also go in airtight containers. “It can definitely attract little bugs so it’s not something you want to have hanging out open,” Moore says. Or, if you’re not going to use it quickly, keep it in the freezer in a ziploc bag. Fresh bread you won’t eat right away should also go in the freezer. “The freezer is underutilized,” Moore says. “People need to use their freezers a little more to get more out of the foods they buy.”

Have you tried any of these approaches? How else do you organize your kitchen to make it more conducive to eating better?