Being organized and efficient in the kitchen is a must for stress-free maintenance of a special diet for autism, ADHD or food allergies.
When things get out of control and chaos takes over, it's not pleasant to work in the kitchen. You are more likely to avoid it and make a run for the nearest restaurant, 'fast food drive through' or pre-made processed foods.
When dealing with food restrictions due to allergies or intolerances, those conveniences aren't an option. And when you do have allergen-free options, they are still less healthy than home cooked meals with increased risk of cross-contamination.
Here is my top 5 list of tips to keep your kitchen and pantry organized and clean:
Keep a shelf or place in the pantry, fridge or cabinets designated for allergen-free foods and utensils only. This helps avoid confusion with other members of the household, saves time when looking for items, and prevents cross-contamination with foods that don't belong. *Especially important if living in a household with mixed diets!
Place appliances and utensils where they are most used in the kitchen for convenience. For example, I keep my juicer and blender near my sink for quick and easy clean up. It's easier to use these items for green juices and smoothies when they are already out and ready to go. I have a strainer/basket that hangs in the sink. I rinse off the juicer parts after use, put them in the basket to dry, and simply put the basket in the cabinet to store once dried, while the main juicer unit stays on my counter top. I'm much less likely to use these appliances when they are put away and out of sight.
Put foods you want to eat less of in hard to reach places. Better yet, get rid of them entirely. Not ready to do a complete clean out or have a family member who still eats them? Put things like snack foods and sweets on the highest shelf in the pantry or at the back of the top cabinet. Maybe even move them to a space in the garage! Do what it takes to make healthy MORE convenient.
Label everything. Even if you have a designated storage place for allergen-free foods, it's still a good idea to label everything to avoid mix-ups. If someone absentmindedly puts an item in the wrong place, you can catch the mistake by having the foods labeled. For example, if everyone eats almond butter, but not everyone in the home is gluten free, you will want a jar of almond butter that is dedicated gluten free so that children aren't contaminating the jar with bread crumbs. Keeping it labeled, and teaching everyone in the home what that label means, will prevent accidental food ingestion and keep yourself organized.
Keep it Clean. It's hard to keep up with housework and the kids, I know! But, if you can maintain one thing, I recommend keeping your kitchen clean. As a mom to 4 young children, personally speaking, I can't keep up with it all on my own. But I must keep my kitchen clean. If I walk into a mess, it makes me want to walk right out. You can't cook and prepare food if the counters are cluttered and dirty dishes are everywhere. This is the one place I must hold myself accountable to keeping clean. The only time I leave dishes in the sink overnight is if the dishwasher is full and running and I will be putting them in first thing in the morning.
Try to wash those dishes by hand that don't go in the dishwasher, wipe down all surfaces, and sweep the floor every evening. Taking the time to prep for breakfast or school meals will make the morning much easier as well. You don't have to be Martha Stewart, but a clean, inviting kitchen is great motivation for healthy cooking!
Set aside some time, perhaps a morning while the kids are in school or an evening while they are with Dad or Grandma. Go through and take out what you won't be using anymore and then follow these tips for re-organizing everything that will stay. Once the initial makeover is done, the maintenance is easy. And it will make your life much easier as well!