January Jumpstart

How to Use 2020 to Make Your Kitchen Better in 2021

updated Jan 18, 2021
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Credit: Photo: Federico Paul, Graphic: Kitchn

Welcome to January Jumpstart, a four-part mini series that’ll help you get your kitchen ready for 2021. It’s the lightest lift you can possibly make while still getting a leaner, more organized kitchen that’s ready to work. We’ll run one story every Friday (with your small assignment for the weekend), and you can see them all here at the end of the month.

When it comes to a smooth-running kitchen, clutter is an important factor for sure — but it’s not the only thing that can get in your way. The other big thing? YOU! More specifically, your kitchen routines. And because your routines likely changed quite a bit in 2020 (when all of us were home and cooking more than ever), now is a good time to reflect on what is going well and what’s in need of a tweak.

For our third assignment of January Jumpstart, we’ve come up with a quick, five-step program to optimize how you shop for food, prep dinner, clean up, and use your kitchen. Follow this checklist and your kitchen will be working like a well-seasoned skillet in no time.

Credit: Kitchn

1. Identify any issues in your pre- and post-grocery shopping routine.

Planning and shopping for meals is the first (and arguably most important) step in the cooking process, so take a moment to assess your current methods.

  • Are you happy with where you shop, or would you like to try something new (like some sort of online ordering option) in 2021?
  • What kind of meals do you most frequently like to cook? Do you have enough go-to recipes that meet your needs?
  • Do you buy duplicates because you can’t see what you have?
  • Do you lack storage space for the new stuff?
  • Does stuff tend to go bad before you can get to it? If so, what sorts of things?
  • What’s one simple thing you could do right away when you bring your groceries in to make cooking easier? (Like portioning out packages of meat, for example.)

2. Rearrange the cabinets closest to your dishwasher.

Are you constantly walking all the way across the kitchen to put plates away while you empty the dishwasher? Think about how you use the whole space and rearrange things accordingly. Same goes for the pantry — there’s no reason to keep the cake flour and cookie sprinkles front and center when what you’re most often reaching for is pasta and beans.

3. Clean as you go for one full meal prep.

Do a big Sunday meal prep and force yourself to remember to clean as you go and put things away as soon as you’re done with them. Notice how it feels, both during and afterwards. If you spot things that could be stored in a more convenient spot, take a few minutes after your meal prep to move stuff around — like shifting food storage containers to the front of the cupboard, or “filing” your cutting boards vertically instead of stacking them. Cleaning as you go is a key step to keeping your kitchen neat. Do it this one time and you’re likely to want to do it again.

4. Put at least one new habit in place.

If you enjoyed the task above, that can totally count as your new habit … assuming you do it! If you want (need) to go with something smaller, that’s okay, too! Allow us to make a few suggestions. Try keeping a scrap bowl beside you while you cook. Start sweeping the floor every night before bed. Or empty the dishwasher every morning while the coffee brews. The point is just to get into the habit of doing one new thing every day. Even if it’s something small (like that scrap bowl), it will have a big impact on your kitchen.

5. Shut down your kitchen every night for a week.

Like making your bed first thing in the morning, shutting down your kitchen at night is a simple way to feel accomplished — and to set the stage for another day of good habits. In a nutshell, a good kitchen shutdown routine includes the usual dish-washing and counter-wiping, plus a quick sink-scrubbing, and floor-cleaning. Do it every night and you’ll get used to it! (It will become habit. We’re big on habits, if you couldn’t tell!)

What’s your favorite hack or tip for a smooth-running kitchen?