A Messy Kitchen Is the Biggest Barrier When It Comes to Making Dinner

published Jul 28, 2023
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While I’ve always known about the benefits of meal prepping, I didn’t fully embrace the habit until recently. Cooking isn’t something I’ve ever truly enjoyed; however, my goal of changing my eating habits and spending more wisely eventually outweighed my aversion to rolling up my sleeves in the kitchen. And, as a professional organizer, I had an advantage on my side when it came to getting started, which is the fact that my space was clutter-free and my meal prep tools were organized.

Still, I was excited when I discovered that chef Catherine McCord of Weelicious recently released her newest cookbook, Meal Prep Magic. I was curious to see if I could learn anything new and save even more time in my process. McCord generously sent me a copy and answered my burning questions that I’d love to share with you, along with tips from her book combined with my own experiences.

Credit: Mary Cornetta

Start by decluttering.

The initial step in getting your kitchen ready so that you can prepare meals with less stress is the same as if I were to help you organize your closet. Decluttering has to happen first because it opens up the space — in this case, clearing counters, cabinets, drawers, the refrigerator, and pantry shelves — so that organizing, cooking, and prepping become much easier to do.

Break it up.

If you find yourself overwhelmed by clutter, McCord recommends breaking it down. “Break your kitchen into different sections and do it over days or even weeks.” In other words, start small and slow. She also suggested starting with your fridge, freezer, pantry, and spice drawer, which I couldn’t agree with more. Expiration dates make for a no-brainer decision to toss, unlike the sentimental spatulas that may have piled up over the years.

Pare down.

After organizing plenty of kitchens in my career, I can tell you the clutter hot spots often include duplicate cooking tools, collections of to-go cups, and mismatched food containers. All of these are essential to meal preparation, so I suggest focusing your efforts on paring down to the amount you need and only keeping what’s functional. Donate unwanted items in good condition and toss or recycle what’s no longer usable. “You need your space to be organized with just what’s necessary so you can cook as fast as possible,” adds McCord. 

Credit: Mary Cornetta

Get everything in its place.

Once you’re left with the tools and ingredients needed to successfully plan your meals for you and/or your family, organization becomes key. According to McCord’s book, she follows the same rule she learned in culinary school: mise en place, which is French for having everything in its place. She recommends (as do I) sorting the kitchen into zones and “when beginning to organize a zone, consider first how you want to interact with the area. Going forward, let that influence the organizational decisions you make to optimize it.”

In other words, store your stuff where it makes the most sense. I like to keep a crock of regularly used tools next to the stove (on the right side, as I’m right-handed), storage containers and food wraps near each other, and dry ingredients and snacks contained by type (and labeled) in the pantry. 

Get creative on storage.

If you’re short on kitchen space, McCord suggests hanging racks behind doors or pegboards on the wall for pots, pans, and other things. I like using simple Command hooks on the inside of cabinet doors to hang pot holders and oven mitts, measuring cups and spoons, or cutting boards and colanders.

When asked what meal prep tool she simply cannot live without, McCord said it’s her mandoline. “Thinly slicing potatoes, cucumbers, carrots, and more into thin pieces cuts down on chopping time.” So now I, realizing that chopping is my least favorite part of meal prepping, find myself calling out, “Alexa, please add a mandoline to my shopping cart.”