The kitchen is Mission Control of most homes, especially during the school year. Getting everyone fed and provided with a lunch before the school bus rolls up is daunting, and dinner needs to be squeezed in around homework, afterschool activities, and bedtime routines. To keep things running smoothly, get your kitchen in tip-top form now … before any “Houston, we have a problem” moments can come up.
And if you need some extra crew on deck for this mission, recruit the kids! They can take some responsibility for their command center, and they may have some creative ideas as well.
Pull everything out. This may sound overwhelming, but if you can summon the will to do it, you’ll love the results! Do three rounds: fridge, freezer, and pantry/food cupboards. Toss everything that is no good, and group remaining items by category (soup, pasta, crackers, etc.). Set aside any edible items that you want to donate to a foodbank.
Wipe down shelves and drawers. Before you put things back, wipe down shelves, drawers, and bins, as well as the outsides of the refrigerator and cabinets. Put down fresh shelf paper if needed.
Organize and inventory. As you put items back, think about who needs to reach them (adults or kids) and how often they’re needed. Put everyday items in easy reach, and make sure kids can grab what they need (and are allowed). Make a list of what items need replenishing or replacing.
Create meal “zones.” Whenever possible, group things together according to how you will use them, so that all refrigerated sandwich items (mayonnaise, cheese, lunchmeat) are in one area, and jars of pasta sauce are near the pasta.
Set up grab-and-go areas. Inevitably, there will be mornings when everyone runs late or lunches didn’t get packed the night before. Designate a refrigerator space and pantry shelf for things that can be eaten (or packed) on the go, like yogurt, string cheese, breakfast bars, fruit, and packaged snack items.
Stock up on supplies. Remember the shopping list you started in step 3? Add things like sandwich bags, reusable food containers, juice boxes, or other lunchbox items that may have been depleted last school year.
Label where things go. Don’t count on everyone in the family immediately grasping your new system. Label shelves, bins, drawers, and cupboards with a list of what belongs in that space. (You can place these inside cabinets and drawers that face the kitchen.) If you have young kids, use pictures next to names so they’re involved too.
Host an orientation. Once you have a place for everything (and everything in its place), walk the family through, and make sure they understand what goes where, as well as how they’ll be expected to maintain the organization. Then give a high five (and maybe a treat) to everyone who helped … including yourself!