Spice Cupboard Spring Cleaning

Spice Mix - 2 Spice Mix - 1Sometimes the idea of spring cleaning is just too much. When the weather turns warm I have a hard time staying in the house scrubbing floors and cleaning bathrooms, but there is one spring cleaning chore that I actually enjoy – cleaning out and sprucing up my pantry and cupboards!

Most dried spices start to lose their flavor after about a year or so but they can hide in our cabinets for much longer than that if we don’t make a point of cleaning them out. Once a year I go through all of my spices and either throw out any that are more than a year old or make a point of getting them used up quickly. I often end up with a few containers that still have a fair bit of spice left in them that I don’t want to waste. I combine these spices into one all-purpose seasoning mix that I use for vegetables, meats and even soup seasoning. I tend to have things like thyme, parsley, garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, and poultry seasoning. These are many of the common ingredients in pre-packaged spice mixes. This little spring cleaning tip not only avoids waste, but it also saves me money!

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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How to Organize the Kitchen Pantry

I think of myself as an organized person.  However, I know that I have a problem with clutter.  If you have not gotten to the back of your kitchen pantry in a long time, here is a step by step guide that I used last weekend.

  1. Clear off and clean your countertops.
  2. Take everything out of the pantry including food storage containers and other junk that may have accumulated.
  3. Working from the top shelf down, wash and dry the panty shelves including the corners or cracks, to remove crumbs and food particles.
  4. Evaluate the places you store food.  Food stores best in cool dark spaces. Try to rearrange so that your food is kept in the cool dark spaces in your kitchen. Keep your pots, pans, utensils, and tableware in the cabinets near the oven, stove, hot pipes, or refrigerator exhaust.
  5. Sort your food on the countertop by categories. The ones I used were canned soups and broths, canned fruits, canned vegetables, canned legumes, condiments (catsup, pickles, salad dressing, canned sauces, etc.), canned meat/fish, dried beans, and rice and pasta.
  6. Find a place in the pantry for each category. Check the “used best by dates” on the food before putting them back on the shelves. Next week we will have tips on how to decide which foods should be discarded.  If you are ready to get started, check the University of Nebraska online publication, “Cleaning the Kitchen Cupboard: Toss or Save”.
  7. Use the same principles as we talked about in The Basics of Kitchen Organization last week. Create centers, get rid of what you are not using, and use your prime space for the most used items.
  8. Use bins and baskets for items like dry pudding mixes, sauce mixes, and bags of dry beans.
  9. Before you quit for the day decide what you what to do with the items you removed from your shelves.

What did I gain from this exercise?

  • Oil, vinegars, and syrups were moved from above the stove where it is warm to another cupboard.
  • 4 bottles of balsamic vinegar were found?!? I think part of the problem was I could not see to the back of that cupboard.
  • Expired can of cream soup that said “best used by” 4 years ago was found. The soup is probably safe but I decided not to chance it and threw it away.
  • Canned goods were organized by putting multiples on the shelves and one of a kind on the shelves on the back of the door.
  • Through this process I found some pizza crusts and rice noodles I forgot I had. Menus were made to use them next week.
  • I do not need to buy canned tomatoes, black beans, or canned green beans for a while.

The picture to the right shows some of the things that I am removing from my kitchen:

  • I am throwing away the old food.
  • My niece who has a new apartment is going to check out if she needs any of my utensils or dishes.
  • I am taking the rest to the Free Store which takes household items. They give them to families who are moving out of Children & Families of Iowa’s Domestic Violence Services. Most communities have a center to give away items you don’t need.

Doesn’t it feel good to help someone else AND have a kitchen which is easier to work in?

Declutter and Save Money on Grocery Bills

I am still in my organizing/cleaning frame of mind. I don’t mind when I have multiples of things I use all the time—like canned tomatoes, black beans, yogurt, margarine, fresh fruits and vegetables, etc., but when the pantry is full of partially used items or things I can’t remember how long I have had or why I bought them, it’s time to make a list and clean them out.

First, I make a list of everything I have too many of, partial packages, or specialty items that I have to make an effort to use. Then I make up menus using those items, crossing them off as I go. Sometimes I have to buy a few items to round out a meal or complete a recipe, so I also start a grocery list.

Last week it was my turn to host dinner club.  (Once a month, eight friends and I eat together. When it is your turn, you plan, prepare, and clean up after the meal. Then for 8 months you have great meals for free!)  I decided on a Tex-Mex theme to take advantage of what was in my cupboard. I was able to present a great meal while only buying 1 pound ground beef, 3 avocados, and a bag of carrots.

For the future, I am trying to write the month and year on items when I add them to my pantry. I remember my mom using a magic marker to write dates on the tops of cans and boxes. It was easy to see how long items had been on the shelf.

-pointers by Peggy

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