Cleaning Out and Inventory: Essential to Meal Planning

I spend a lot of time coaching people to help them make more healthy eating decisions on a regular basis.  Most people have a basic grasp on how to eat healthfully.  But, when I delve into their daily habits, I begin to understand the disconnect between their health knowledge and their actual behaviors.  Often, the problem lies in the lack of planning and limited time.  Many of us lead very busy lives: kids’ activities, tough work schedules, caring for others…you name it.  But, as I tell my clients, some simple small changes, done consistently, can really help transform your habits.

One of the most basic habits I recommend adopting in order to consistently plan and make healthy meals is to clean out and organize your fridge, pantry, and freezer on a regular basis.  The pantry and freezer do not necessitate a clean out as frequently as the refrigerator, but all must be inventoried regularly.  I recommend cleaning out the fridge weekly and cleaning out the freezer and pantry every 2-4 weeks.

Why is this step so essential?

  • It helps you see what foods/ingredients you already have
  • It helps you not to waste as much food
  • It helps keep everything clean and organized

When cleaning the fridge, you should purge anything that has gone bad.  I like to wipe the shelves with a clean, warm dish cloth, as I go.  I rearrange the items to make sure the maximum number of containers are visible.  I’ll place taller items towards the back and shorter ones toward the front. After the dirty work is done, I take note of items that need to be used in the near future.  I do my best to integrate those items into the meal plan or alert other family members to be sure to eat them that week.

The freezer is a little more involved.  I find it best to remove most items to assess what you have.  Obviously, you should move quickly to insure nothing melts.  But, this is the best way to see it all.  Once you know what you have, place the items back in your freezer in a logical manner.  For example, place all veggies in one area, stack boxes or containers with labels facing in the same direction, so you can easily read them.  Trash anything that has been in the freezer too long.  Again, take note of foods that should be integrated into meals in the near future.

The process of cleaning and organizing the pantry is similar to that for the freezer.  I recommend removing all items from the pantry to start.  I dump anything that has gone bad.  And, I make a note of foods that I have and ones that should be used soon.  Next, I organize based on category–for example, all canned beans in one section, breakfast cereals in another, and drinks (coffee, tea, etc.) in yet another.  Once the items are organized, they can be placed back into the pantry with taller, bulkier items in the back and smaller shorter items in the front.

A lot of this advice may seem logical, but the key is actually making it happen.  It is not the most exciting task, but it can really help you stay organized and on task with your health goals, as well as help you to save money!  So, start that Netflix show you love to binge watch, and dive in.

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