One key to a less stressful Thanksgiving is having a clean and organized kitchen that’s ready to handle its biggest day of the year. Thanksgiving meal essentials like turkey, produce, baking ingredients and more can take up precious fridge and pantry space — so starting with an organized kitchen will help. Here’s how to actually make it happen:
1. Organize your pantry.
Get organized now and find those spices and ingredients you don’t use as often — we’re looking at you, condensed milk — plus make room for new.
This may seem drastic, but remove the entire contents of your pantry. This is the only way to truly take stock of what your pantry is hiding — especially in those dark corners. As you remove items, organize everything by category on your kitchen table or counters.
Use a handheld vacuum to remove any debris or dust.
With a mixture of warm water and a drop of dish soap, clean the shelves and wipe down any dirty or dusty items.
Check the expiration dates and discard anything that has expired. Plus, make a donation pile for anything that you have extras of.
Give your dried herbs and ground spices a smell. If you can’t smell anything, toss them. Most of these should be replaced every six months.
Reload the pantry utilizing turntables, clear plastic bins and/or reusable, sealable clear containers to organize your food.
Store the items that you use most frequently at eye level and keep kid-friendly items on lower shelves. High shelves and out-of-the-way nooks are great for backstock or items that are rarely used.
2. Clean out the fridge.
This is the fullest your refrigerator will be all year, and you’ll need all the extra space you can get.
In a bowl, combine 2 tablespoons baking soda and 1 quart hot water with a soft cloth. One shelf at a time, move items to a kitchen counter. Use the dampened cloth to wash the shelves, then dry thoroughly with a clean towel before replacing. Continue to wipe out the refrigerator door and all the drawers, and don’t forget to wipe down the door seals, which can collect dirt and crumbs.
Also, take advantage of your refrigerator’s adjustable shelves and start readjusting them to accommodate a larger bird, if necessary.
Intentionally assess the contents of your fridge, salvaging what you can and discarding expired items. Group like items together so they’re easier to locate. Keep the items you know you’ll be using in the next couple weeks in front for easy access.
For items like condiments and salad dressings and pickles, keep them together on the door or use shallow plastic bins on the top shelf that are easy to pull out and slide back in. More perishable items like eggs, meats and fresh juices should be stored on lower shelves in the fridge where it’s colder. Vegetables and fruits should be kept in their proper drawers with the correct setting to assure longer life.
As a reminder, this is what goes in each drawer:
High-Humidity Drawer – things that wilt (like leafy greens, broccoli, cucumbers and green beans). With the vent closed, moisture stays in the drawer and keeps the greens fresher longer. Fruits and vegetables that are sensitive to ethylene gas, like strawberries and raspberries, should be kept in this drawer to keep them away from ethylene producers.
Low-Humidity Drawer – things that tend to rot quickly (like apples, pears, grapes and other high-ethylene gas emitters). With the vent all the way open, those gases can escape and will help fruits and vegetables from rotting prematurely.
And remember to keep leftovers at eye level and not hiding on lower shelves so they’re visible and a constant reminder to use them up! Any leftover vegetables or proteins should be eaten or transformed into new soups, casseroles or grain bowls. Freeze any berries on their way out for future smoothies. That last tablespoon of mustard in a jar can be turned into vinaigrette. You get the idea.
3. Declutter your kitchen counters.
Most people would probably say they don’t have enough counter space in their kitchen. Now’s a great time to take an inventory of what you keep on your counters. If you don’t use it often and won’t need it for holiday cooking, find a place to temporarily store it. Free up your counters for recipe prep, as well as slow cookers, electric pressure cookers or any other tool you’re using to free up the oven and burners.
4. Get ready to shop.
Now, use your organized fridge and pantry to put together your shopping list. Gather all your recipes and create one master shopping list. Now that you’ve organized your pantry and refrigerator, you’ll have a mental note of what you currently have and what you actually need.
Then add items to your shopping list on the Whole Foods Market app, which will organize your items by department for an easier shop. And when you get your groceries home, remember FIFO (First In, First Out) and put newly purchased items toward the back and rotate older items to the front so they can be used first.
Two to three weeks before Thanksgiving, tackle a couple of these areas on your “off days” (what are those?) and don’t leave them until the week prior to Thanksgiving. Reserve that for cleaning the house, cooking any foods that you weren’t able to prep the week(s) before, and most importantly, intentional downtime with your family and friends.
Read this week-by-week and day-by-day guide if you’re craving even more organizational tips.