The temperatures are rising, the snow is melting, and maybe you’re even seeing a few flowers in the garden.
Spring is finally here; for most of us, that means it’s time for a bit of spring cleaning. You may initially think of your closets, basement, or garage when you imagine spring cleaning, but your kitchen pantry should make the to-do list too!
With the warmer weather comes a flood of seasonal fruits and veggies, cravings for lighter food, and lots more outdoor activities (like hiking and swimming!).
You’ll need room for all those different, healthy snacks, and spring cleaning your pantry is a great way to make space.
Here we’ll talk about how sorting through your pantry supports your weight loss efforts, plus give you a guide to cleaning your pantry in three easy steps!
Reasons to Spring Clean Your Pantry
Cleaning is a chore; no one particularly loves undertaking household projects like pantry cleaning.
So, why add this extra task to our to-do lists? Here we’ll give you three compelling reasons why it’s worth your while to spring clean your pantry!
Reduce Unhealthy Temptation
If your goal is weight loss, the most compelling reason to organize your pantry is temptation. Have you ever heard the “out of sight, out of mind”?
Research shows that keeping fruit and other healthy snacks in plain view, and hiding less healthy options like sugary cereal and cookies, help us make healthier choices on a day-to-day basis.
Over time, making these little changes each day leads to significant and maintainable weight loss.
So, one main goal of your upcoming pantry clean-up should involve moving those less-than-healthy foods out of sight. If you live alone or the whole family is getting healthier together, toss (or donate) snacks that don’t fit your new lifestyle (see below for some more specific tips).
Next time you go to the grocery store, avoid replacing these junk foods. Instead, look for healthier, lower-calorie substitutions that can satisfy inevitable cravings.
Have a kid, partner, or parent that insists on keeping those less-than-healthy treats in the house? Move these foods out of your direct line of sight.
If you have an extra cupboard, put all the unhealthy snacks in one cupboard and make a point not to open that door when you’re hankering for a snack.
If you don’t have that extra space, try re-organizing the pantry so that less healthy options are either on the top or bottom shelf. Again, if it’s not in your line of sight, it may be a little easier to avoid reaching for junk food when you’re hungry.
Minimize Food Waste
Did you know that Americans throw away an estimated 38 million tons of food yearly?
That’s more than $218 billion in goods or enough food to feed an extra 109 million adults daily for an entire year! What does that mean for you as an individual? On average, we’re throwing away about ten cents per dollar spent on food.
Population-wide food waste has become such a serious issue in the US that the government is now taking steps to mitigate this problem, and several private organizations have also popped up to reduce food waste on a more local and individual level.
One of the main reasons we throw away so much food at home is because it expires or goes bad before we ever get around to using it.
There’s a whole debate surrounding the expiration date labeling system, but most people still live by the mantra, “when in doubt, throw it out.”
As a result, millions of tons of food go to waste each year. One way to reduce your family’s contribution to food waste is to plan meals before you go shopping and buy only what you need for the week.
So, how does all of this relate to spring cleaning your pantry? We’ve all had that experience at the grocery store… You see ingredient X on the list and realize that you can’t remember if you already have it at home or if you need to buy more now.
If you’re like me, you probably repurchase it just to be safe and save time. Unfortunately, if that item is perishable, this decision usually means that some food goes to waste. That’s bad for the landfills and your wallet.
Regularly organizing your pantry helps you keep tabs on what you already have so that you don’t “double-buy” foods as much.
If you’re really on top of it, consistently taking stock of your pantry’s (and fridge’s) contents also keeps you aware of what’s about to expire so that you can use the food before it goes bad.
Both of these behaviors help you reduce your household’s food waste and save LOTS of grocery money in the long run!
Curtail Pantry Pests
Promises of more weight loss and less waste are not enough to get you in the mood for some pantry cleaning. How about avoiding creepy, crawly visitors?
Lots of the foods we keep in our pantries leave crumbs (think crackers, cereal, cookies, etc.), and unfortunately, pests love to snack on those foods just as much as we do.
So, if you don’t clean off the shelves and containers periodically, household pests like to make themselves at home. Experts recommend scrubbing down the pantry and cupboards at least once a year.
None of us want ants, cockroaches, beetles, or weevils invading our kitchens, so the relatively small task of cleaning the pantry each spring seems like a reasonable trade-off.
Three Steps to a Cleaner, Healthier Pantry
Now that we’ve established that spring cleaning your pantry is useful, here’s a list of three easy steps to sort through the clutter and start your summer off right with a healthier pantry!
1 – Sort Your Food
The first step in spring cleaning your pantry is sorting through the food. Some foods should stay, and some need to go. Here’s our quick guide to deciding which foods fit in which category!
Purge the Processed Snacks
First, eliminate any of the overly-processed snacks sitting in your pantry.
This is the most general category because “too processed” means something different to each person. However, we’re getting at eliminating those snacks or instant meals that are super-high in sodium, often contain lots of artificial colors & flavorings, and provide little nutritional benefit.
Several snacks probably came to mind with those descriptions, but if you’re hoping for a little more concrete direction, consider tossing or donating:
- Chips, cookies, candy
- Instant pasta mixes (e.g., instant mac ‘n’ cheese, ramen noodles)
- High-sodium canned soup, or other high-sodium canned foods (aim for less than 500 mg of sodium per meal)
Some other “processed” foods, like shelf-stable milk, are technically processed but widely considered healthy.
That’s why we say this category is so broad and why it’s so essential for you to need to personally determine which foods should stay and which should go.
Toss the Trans Fats
Trans fats are a type of bad fat. They can either occur naturally in animal products or be produced in a lab (the man-made type are called either trans fatty acids or artificial trans fats).
Manufacturers and restaurants use – or used – trans fats because they’re a cheap substitute for butter or lard and give foods a good texture and flavor.
However, many companies have reduced or eliminated trans fats in their products over the past few decades as evidence emerged against this fat.
Research has shown eating trans fats increases your risk of cardiovascular disease. It does this by lowering HDL (good cholesterol) and raising LDL (bad cholesterol).
A diet high in trans fat is also associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
The most common source of dietary trans fat is “partially hydrogenated oils,” which is an artificial trans fat. Toss any items that contain this ingredient or whose nutrition label reports that the product contains trans fats.
Common pantry foods that often contain trans fats include:
- Potato or corn chips
- Flavored or buttered microwave popcorn
- Commercial baked goods: donuts, pastries, muffins, pie crust, cookies, cakes
- Ready-to-use frosting
Thankfully, the FDA ruled in 2015 that all partially hydrogenated oils (artificial trans fats) must be removed from the human food supply within three years (specifically, by June 18, 2018).
So, it will be much easier to avoid these harmful fats soon!
Scan for Added Sugars
Added sugars should account for no more than 10% of your daily calories, according to current recommendations. In most people, this means not exceeding 150-200 calories from added sugars each day.
Recent data suggests that Americans currently average closer to about 14%.
Common pantry items with lots of added sugar include:
- Drinks: soda, fruit drinks, sports drinks, sweetened tea, energy drinks
- Baked goods: pastries, cake/cake mixes, cookies, donuts, and pies/fruit filling
- Candy and fruit snacks
If you have any of these items in your pantry, it’s advisable to reduce or eliminate them. You may also want to read the nutrition label on other foods like granola bars, cereal, dried fruit, and flavored nuts.
These items sometimes contain high levels of added sugar as well. If there’s no specific “added sugars” line on the nutrition label, look for sugar, nectar, corn syrup, or anything that ends in -one (fructose, dextrose, maltose, etc.) in the ingredients list.
To figure out how many calories of added sugar are contained within one serving of a particular item, find the “added sugar” line on the nutrition label and multiply that number by four (since sugar has 4 calories per gram).
For example, Oats & Honey granola bars from Nature Valley contain 12g of sugar per serving, which equates to 48 calories from added sugar.
Since sugar provides little nutritional benefit (i.e., no vitamins, minerals, or protein), experts recommend minimizing calories from this source.
Eliminate Expired Items
Last but not least, check the remaining items for expiration dates. Much of the debate about expiration versus “use by” versus “sell by” dates stems from consumers’ confusion over what each label means.
Most of us just toss the food if it’s more than a couple of days past whichever date we see first.
While this labeling is voluntary (except for on baby formula/food and dairy in some states), you should still know what the numbers mean.
The date you really need to watch for is “expiration,” which denotes the last day you should use the product. If the expiration date is long past, toss it.
However, other commonly-printed dates do not necessarily mean the product is bad. “Sell by,” for example, indicates when a grocer should pull the product from shelves, while “use by” and “guaranteed fresh” denote when the product is at peak freshness. In most cases, the product is still perfectly edible after these dates.
To learn more about date labeling on food and how long you have to eat your groceries, check out this helpful WebMD article.
2 – Clean the Pantry
Don’t throw everything back into the cupboard just yet! Now that you’ve sorted all of your food into “keep” and “don’t keep” piles, it’s time to clean the pantry itself. I know… Another thing to clean, ugh, but it’s worth it!
You should scrub out your pantry and cupboards at least once per year to avoid unwanted pests.
A natural cleaner works well to scrub away sticky spots or stains since this is a place where you store food. Don’t have a natural/food-safe cleaner on hand?
No worries – warm, soapy water is a great way to remove dirt and grime from pantry shelves (and containers, if necessary).
Once you’ve wiped everything down, dry it with a paper towel or clean cloth and replace all the “keep” food. This is a wonderful opportunity to organize your pantry just the way you like!
3 – Decide Whether Toss or Donate
You’re almost done! Now that you’ve put all of the “keep” pile back in the newly-clean pantry, it’s time to decide on the “don’t keep” pile’s destiny.
Some of the food, including all of the expired food, should go to the trash. However, if you’re getting rid of a lot of packaged food that’s still good and just not in line with your healthy lifestyle goals, consider donating it to those in need!
Many local food banks and food drives accept various unopened items. If you have the time and resources to donate unwanted food, this is a great option instead of simply throwing it in the trash.
What do you think? Are you planning to spring clean your pantry this year? Do you have any great tips to share with the community? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!