Spring is a great time of year to clear out the clutter in your life but that doesn’t need to be limited to your closets, basement and garage.
When is the last time your gave your kitchen or freezer a good spring cleaning? Purging unnecessary belongings has many benefits from saving you time and money to decreasing stress. In regards to your kitchen, purging old food is a great way to check in on your health intentions and to make sure you are not consuming food past their prime which is not so good, eek! Giving your fridge, freezer and cabinets a good scrub every once in awhile is not a bad idea either! Here are some tips on where to start and what needs to be tossed.
Gentle reminder: the fresher a food the more nutrient dense it will be which is the ultimate goal when we nourish our bodies.
Money matters: instead of tossing older food (unless it really needs to go!) plan your weekly menu around those foods that are about to expire. You can do a quick fridge/freezer and pantry inventor
y each week when you menu plan—this cuts down on waste, saves you money and encourages you to use up foods that have been hanging around a bit too long!
One at a time: if the thought of cleaning your entire kitchen feels overwhelming, that is ok! Make a schedule and do one area, drawer or cabinet per day or week or whatever works for you.
Get organized: as you purge and rearrange, store the oldest items in the front so that you remember to use them. When items lurk in the shadows we rarely use them so keep them in view if you are determined to utilize it!
Buy smaller quantities: this may go against your frugal shopping rules but whats the point in buying the gigantic version if you are not going to use it! Make a list of the items you use the most and feel free to buy them in bulk but when it comes to obscure items you are better off buying the little guy!
Make rules: each house has its own set of rules and the kitchen is not different. You can set boundaries for yourself to minimize the number of food items that go to waste. You can also set “when to toss rules”. A good general rule of thumb that will come in handy for your purge is as follows: If you have note used an item in one year (or less) then it gets tossed!
Here are some general rules you can use as a guide. This is conservative but it gives you a great place to start.
- Dried herbs and spices: one year
- Oils (store in a cool dark place—even the fridge if you don’t use them often): 6 months
- Flax oil and nut oils: In the fridge 4 months
- Dried beans and grains: 6 months in your pantry (one year in the fridge)
- Nuts and seeds: 3 to 4 months in the fridge or pantry (6 months in the freezer)
- Flax and chia: 3 months in the fridge
- Dried fruits: 3-6 months
- Frozen items: 6 months
- Condiments like ketchup and mustard: 6 months open (one year closed)
- Salad dressing: one month open
How to Spring Clean the Freezer:
1) Exhale. Any good purge takes time so give yourself an hour, roll up your sleves and take a deep breath. This can be fun and very freeing if you choose to enjoy it.
2) Unload. Step two in your freezer purge is unloading EVERYTHING. You’ll be amazed at what you find tucked into those nooks and crannies.
3) Organize. I recommend making three piles. Keep. Defrost. Toss. The KEEP pile will include anything you plan on putting back in your freezer. You could load them into a cooler to keep them cold. The DEFROST pile will be items you plan to use that week. Put them into the fridge if need be. The TOSS pile contains the items that are old, unidentifiable and unusable. They can go directly into your trash can. Instead of feeling wasteful, look at these items as a lesson learned and let them go.
4) What should you toss?
a. Items that are full of ice crystals are safe to eat but have lost their quality, so preference may mean throwing it out.
b. If something doesn’t have a date, and you can’t remember when it went in the freezer, likely a good idea to get rid of it. When
it doubt, throw it out.
c. If you have no idea what it is or where it came from.
d. Use the reference guide below to know how long your freezer items can be kept
5) Dump the ice. If you have a freezer that makes/holds ice, dump that ice into the sink and store the frozen food items there while you clean out the freezer. You can do this with ice trays as well, as they could probably use a good cleaning, too.
6) Scrub the freezer. Using vinegar/water solution or toxin-free cleaners, sanitize the walls and shelves of the freezer, as well as the ice trays.
7) While all the food is out and chilling on ice in the sink, take this time get rid of items that may have passed their expiration date.
8) When restocking the freezer, ORGANIZE. Keep like items together. This will help you to keep inventory and make meal planning/shopping easier. As you store new items, label and date them so you know when to use them or throw them out. Put items that you need to use first, up front. Place newer items behind them.
Tips for Food Storage:
1) Date and label everything you put in your freezer.
2) Take frozen foods out of their box to make more space (ex. pre-bagged frozen rice packets come in a box of 3, remove the box and store only the bags).
3) Mason jars are freezer friendly and great for holding soups, broths, and sauce in the door of the freezer.
4) Freezer bags can be laid flat on the shelf and can hold ready-made meals.
5) Ice cube trays are great for herb oils, pesto, tomato paste, broths or even nut butters.
6) When batch cooking, freeze the leftovers in single serve portions rather than all together.
Freezer Lifespan Cheat Sheet:
- Processed Meat – Bacon, Sausage, Lunch Meat: 1 – 2 months
- Ground Meat – Beef, Veal, Turkey, Chicken, Pork: 3 – 4 months
- Fresh Meat Cuts – Beef, Veal, Lamb, Pork
Steaks: 4 – 6 months
Chops: 4 – 6 months
Roasts: 4 – 12 months
- Fresh Meat Cuts – Chicken or Turkey
Whole: 1 year
Cuts/Pieces: 9 months
- Fish –
Fresh Lean Fish: 6 months
Fresh Fatty Fish: 2 – 3 months
Cooked Fish: 4 – 6 months
Shrimp, Scallops: 3 – 6 months
- Produce –
Fruits: 1 year
Vegetables: 18 months
- Soups, Stews and Broths – Vegetable and/or with Meat: 2 – 3 months
- Breads and Desserts –
Breads, Cupcakes, Muffins, Pancakes, Waffles: 3 months
Cookies Dough, Bread Dough: 1 month
- Grains and Nuts –
Nuts: 3 months
Pasta: 3 months
Rice: 3 months
By: Katie Cavuto, MS, RD