10 Steps To A More Conscious Kitchen
Updated: Dec 12, 2019
The kitchen is likely the most used room in my home. So naturally it was the first place I started to develop my conscious living style. I found that the easiest way to begin this transformation was to implement values of minimalism. Instead of spending extra time, money, and effort making new purchases or breaking old habits, my first aim was to cut out anything my family didn’t actually need in order to live.
Step 1: Minimize
I used to own an entire cupboard full of mugs. Why? I’m not so sure. I never used them all, not even if I had company over. If I did use more than one mug for myself (of course I had a favorite mug I used every time - the turquoise and brown wide-mouthed one) I only made more dishes for myself to clean, which is a waste of water to boot. My family drinks from mugs occasionally for coffee or tea, but not every day, and certainly not every drink. So I pared down my cupboard of 20ish mugs to only 4, one for each person in the house.
Oh the relief! Less to look at, less to stock, less to clean, less to worry about moving one day. It felt so good that I continued to pare down all my dishes to 4 each. 4 water glasses, 4 large bowls, 4 large plates, 4 large spoons, 4 forks, and 4 butter knives. When did I accumulate so much stuff?
I completely let go of all smaller plates, bowls, drinking glasses and spoons because it seemed to me that the larger items could also hold a small amount of food if necessary. When I finished I could fit all my dishes into one cupboard. Which meant from that day on I could look in the cupboard and know instantly how many dirty dishes my teenage son was trying to avoid washing by hiding them in his room. Ultimately I washed less dishes this way. Everyone in the household became responsible for their own set of dishes, as there weren’t enough to go around more than once. Again, relief!
Step 2: Swap cloth for paper
With so much time spent in the kitchen (prepping, cooking, baking, cleaning, stocking, snacking, dining, the list goes on...) it was definitely the room producing the most household waste. So I took a look at what our trash was made of, and thought about how I could eliminate or reduce what’s inside. The most prevalent items that I found making up about 80% of my trash were (drumroll please...): Disposable items! (mostly paper towels, napkins, tissues and cleaning wipes).
It became clear to me that when I bought disposable items at the grocery store for my own convenience, I was essentially throwing my money straight into my trash can. Now every time I looked in my trash I saw money instead of paper towels. Why did I live this way? Because I had never known another option. I grew up using paper towels for just about everything and never questioned that method. But with one simple switch to a cloth reusable option, and a small lifestyle change, I could literally cut my trash in half AND save money.
So I cut up a few old towels to the size I liked and got some old shop wash rags from my partner’s work. I started out with way too many because I was worried I would run out and have to do laundry more often. I rolled them up neatly, put them in a basket on the counter, swore off paper towels for good, and never looked back.
After a few weeks I figured out the right number of cloth towels for my household. To my surprise the kids were only resistant to using cloth as tissues (probably because my rule was that tissues needed to be rinsed of boogers before put in the dirty laundry), but they actually preferred the cloth to everything else. And so did I. I even began carrying my favorite cloth napkin in my purse and using it wherever I went. I was doing one extra load of laundry every 3-4 days, but it was worth it to never waste money on trash again.
Step 3: Shop smarter
The second most prevalent item I found lurking in my trash can was plastic food packaging. It almost made me sick to see that, again, I was paying for so much trash. I made the decision to start shopping smarter.
Firstly, I choose to shop locally. Farmer’s markets in particular are a great alternative to grocery stores and a easy way to cut down on buying packaged food. At your local open market you can actually engage with the people who grew the food you’re buying. When you pay a farmer directly you cut out the middle men - the packagers, transporters, processors, advertisers. Your dollar holds more value and power because you control where it goes. And as an added bonus, prices are usually lower.
When I do need to shop at a local grocery chain in between Sunday morning markets I follow 4 rules:
1. Stay on the outside of the store - this is usually where you find produce, bulk items, fresh baked goods, and other whole foods. Inside aisles are traps baited with packaged food. More often than not those packages contain unhealthy additives like High Fructose Corn Syrup, aspertame, hydrogenated oils, chemical preservatives and artificial colorings. These are not things I want in my body.
2. Make a list before you go - Meal planning is a great idea, but I’m not great at doing it. At the very least I make a shopping list to prevent impulse buys and overspending.
3. Bring your own bags - Especially bags for produce. This is one of my biggest pet peeves: putting produce inside a plastic bag, then inside another bag just to keep it separated. Why?!? Most fruits and vegetables have their own built in packaging (bananas, avocados, onions) and those that don’t should be washed before using anyways.
4. Buy in bulk - Avoid plastic bags for bulk items too. Bring your own jars or use paper or reusable cloth bags.
With just a little conscious forethought, grocery shopping doesn’t have to be wasteful.
Step 4. Swap glass for plastic
Sometimes packaging is simply unavoidable. So another thing to keep in mind on your trip to the grocery store is that pickled items, jams and sauces usually come in fantastic jars to reuse for food storage. Plastic Tupperware leeches chemicals into your food, stains, breaks easily, and is bad for the environment. I don’t suggest immediately throwing away all your Tupperware, but consider never buying it again. There are so many alternatives!
If you can afford to buy new mason jars or stainless steel containers that’s awesome, but if you’re on a budget like me just clean out old glass jars and use them again for leftovers in the fridge or bulk goods in your pantry. You can even freeze items in glass jars. It’s not a difficult thing to achieve, but it does take some getting used to.
Step 5. Compost
Composting is the only thing I currently don’t do. But oh, how I want to! The third most abundant item I found in my garbage? Food scraps. And since I’m vegan it’s all items that can be composted. I have some research to do about composting before I begin. There are different methods with varying degrees of effort and money required. So how about I make a separate post about the subject when I decide on the best way for me. I have a feeling it’s going to be inexpensive and include worms, but we’ll see.
Until then, I try to eat as much of the food as I can. Meaning, I eat the skin of carrots and potatoes, cores of apples, tops of strawberries (they’re nutritious!), and stalks of broccoli, cauliflower or leafy greens. If I don’t want to eat it then maybe I can juice it, or purée it for sauces and soups, or freeze it till later and boil it down for homemade veggie stock. The idea here is not to make myself feel bad for having food waste, but to think differently about how food can be used. It has cut down on my food waste tremendously, not to mention really upped my cooking game.
Step 6. Grow it yourself
Growing your own food can seem daunting, I know. Especially if you have very little space or experience and are notorious (like me) for producing more dead plants than live ones. But I promise you, it can be done with minimal resources and effort. Gardening is just another habit, like exercise or studying, that can be learned and becomes easier after implementing it into your daily life. Okay, that doesn’t exactly romanticize the act, but it truthfully can be enjoyable and rewarding.
I suggest starting out small. Herbs like basil, rosemary, or mint can be used in a variety of dishes and are extremely easy to grow indoor or outdoor. Veggies like celery, garlic, potatoes and onions can be started just from kitchen scraps being placed in water or soil (green onions were my first successful grow). Growing ready-to-eat sprouts from peas, beans, or seeds is another easy and tasty option. If you have a green thumb then go all out and grow as much of your own food as you can. It‘s better for your body, your bank account, and the earth.
Step 7. Clean without chemicals
To consciously clean is a beautiful thing. I make all my own cleaning products with inexpensive household items. Knowing there is nothing toxic in my kitchen cleaner is wonderful peace of mind to me as a mother. Check my recipe posts for a detailed guide on how to make my favorite household cleaner. But I’ll tell you now that equal parts vinegar and water is the superhero, and baking soda is the trusty sidekick. Try it for yourself and never buy expensive, toxic kitchen cleaning products again.
Step 8. Use energy efficient appliances
When my old tea kettle died I searched high and low for a zero-waste, energy efficient option. Turns out, there isn’t one! So now when I want to make tea, I boil water in a pot. And that’s that. I use a pour over coffee maker and reusable hemp filter for coffee, and honestly I enjoy that coffee so much more.
The main message here is one of minimalism: If you don’t need it, don’t use it. Something I do use (almost every day) is my food processor. I don’t know how energy efficient it is, but it’s multi functionality makes it so. I use it to make smoothies, sauces, and dips. It can chop, mix, blend, and purée. It does tthe job of at least 3 machines which saves me money, time, and kitchen counter space.
Step 9. Home cooking
Embrace your conscious kitchen! It is the heart of your home. Cook with love. Laugh with your family and friends. Truly enjoy your time spent there. Home cooking is healthier for you hands down. It is cheaper too. But most importantly, it is a chance to nurture and develop your relationship with food - a very important relationship indeed!
Take control of your diet. Let food be thy medicine. Use less salt and oil and learn more about spices - spices are your friends. Cooking your own food can be immensely fulfilling for more than just your stomach.
Step 10. Go vegan
If “vegan” sounds too hard, then consider adopting a meatless day of the week. Or just try to eat less meat in general, and learn more about cooking with plant-based foods. Or ditch dairy and try out one of the countless other “milks” now on the market.
Seriously though, go vegan. For your health, for the animals, for the planet. I won’t get too preachy here, but if you are interested in all the reasons why a vegan diet is best then shoot me a message and I’ll be happy to oblige.
That’s all folks! I hope your new conscious kitchen brings you many loving memories and meals for years to come.