How Quarantine Made Me Realize My Kitchen Was Organized All Wrong

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Through 120-something home-cooked meals into my coronavirus-mandated home quarantine, I’ve experienced a lot of frustrating moments in my kitchen. But there is one thing that’s made the relentless meal prep much easier—and no, it’s not takeout.

I merely reorganized my kitchen.

While I’d always assumed my kitchen was efficiently put together pre-coronavirus, once I was making three meals a day in this space, it became painfully clear that certain aspects fell short. So I made a few adjustments. And boy, what a difference they made! Suddenly my cooking and cleanup seemed a lot faster and easier—and all in all became a more pleasant experience.

In case you’re facing food prep burnout, here are some of the changes I made to my kitchen organization that really helped streamline my cooking—and that might help you, too.

Clear your counters

Happiness is a clear countertop.M. Heidenry

First up, conquer the clutter on your kitchen counters so that squeezing in a cutting board isn’t the first chore you face at mealtime. The toaster I never use and the stack of clean dishes I let dry for a day—both gone.

And it turns out that organization/cooking experts approve of this move.

“Freeing up space in a kitchen instantly boosts how comfortable you feel,” says Steph Young, founder of CampingCooks.com.

But I didn’t leave the counter completely bare. I used to keep cooking utensils in a drawer and out of sight, which meant digging for a wooden spoon under the microplane and basting brushes I rarely used. So I moved utensils I used frequently—like spoons and spatulas—to a jar by the stove. Now I can easily reach for tools to flip and stir food.

“If everything is easily accessible, you’ll spend a lot less time looking for stuff and more time cooking,” adds Young.

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Rearrange the items in your cabinets

Beans and extra cumin go up high.Inside cabinet

Like many other people who read early articles about buying enough food for two weeks, I dutifully stocked up on staples with a long shelf life. The bags of rice and cans of beans ended up on the bottom cabinet shelf where I had initially shoved them.

When a can of Great Northern beans landed on my foot as I searched for pasta, I heeded Marie Kondo and pulled out every last pantry item. Then I put things I wanted to eat (snacks!) on the bottom shelf, which I see every time I open the cabinet. The beans and rice went up top.

Keeping oft-used items front and center makes sense.

“Organize your cabinets so that you always have a clear view of the most used items you enjoy using,” says cookbook author Matt Moore, whose newest book is “Serial Griller.”

I also put items I’d normally save for company (i.e., fancy olive oil) on the bottom shelf, within easy reach. I realized that, instead of waiting for a special occasion that might be months off, now is the time to eat all the special food!

Keep a trash bowl handy

Those few steps between my cutting board and my trash can started to add up the more I cooked. To solve this problem, I placed a small bowl near my cutting board and designated it for vegetable scraps, eggshells, or other disposable items.

This shortcut became a godsend, and one that the pros use, too.

“I always have a trash bowl nearby while cooking and prepping ingredients,” says trained chef and registered dietitian Michele Sidorenkov of MyMillennialKitchen.com. “Having a bowl you can throw everything into as you cook saves you multiple trips to the trash, improves workflow, and helps you cook more efficiently.”

Mix up the dishes you use frequently

Put the items you use the most on the bottom shelf.M. Heidenry

Before the shelter-in-place order was issued, I kept an orderly tableware cabinet. Glasses were with glasses on one shelf, plates were with plates one shelf up, and mixing bowls were with mixing bowls on the third shelf. But no more.

At some point, I realized that reaching on my tiptoes for the mixing bowls I used to use infrequently—but now use every day—was just too much of a stretch. So I broke up the tyranny of keeping kind with kind.

Now, I keep the glasses, plates, and mixing bowls I use most often on the bottom, easy-to-reach shelf. Mixing bowls now mingle happily with glasses and plates. It may not look as uniform, but when I’m cooking I don’t care how things look.

Purge and organize your spices

Keep your sea salt and za’atar handy.M. Heidenry

Why did I have three containers of cumin crowding my spice drawer? Because I have a habit of forgetting my shopping list and buying the same things.

The unopened spices went up with the beans. Expired spices went in the trash. The sometimes-used spices stayed organized in the drawer.

“But keep all of your most-used spices within easy reach,” says food and home blogger Kait Rubin of SlumberandScones.com.

So the oft-used spices—for me that means sea salt, chile powder, and red pepper flakes—went up on a shelf by the stove. Meanwhile, I added the exotic spices I’d bought but never used (like za’atar) to my collection of special pantry items to reach for when I feel like experimenting. Because if we can’t try a few new recipes during quarantine, then when will we?

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