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Squeeze more space out of your kitchen

Meal planning and organizing can help maximize space in small kitchens.

A black sink with water coming out of the faucet. A purple flower is in a cup on the back of the sink.
Maximize the space you have by tidying and organizing small kitchens.
Courtesy / Pixabay
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“I’m going to get these super-cute pig canisters that are half off,” my younger daughter texted, along with a link to a picture.

“They are cute!” I replied.

“Where are you going to fit them on your counter?” I thought to myself.

However, I restrained from being the negative influence.

“I think you will need a shelf,” I texted back.

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Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service
Julie Garden-Robinson
Courtesy / NDSU Extension Service

“We’re thinking about it,” she replied.

I am kind of practical.

As we moved our daughter into her first apartment, I carved out some space for food preparation in the fairly small kitchen. I swapped a microwave oven to another part of the kitchen to allow preparation space near the sink.

As long as she and her roommate keep their dishes cleaned and put away, they will have a couple of compact areas to prepare food.

In my younger years, I was not very diligent about doing dishes. Fortunately, they have a dishwasher.

I think she and her roommate will learn much in the coming months as they juggle competing demands on their time.

Life transitions can lead to changes in your daily activities. Whether you are a young adult just starting out or an older adult in the midst of downsizing, you may find yourself living in a smaller space.

Young adults, in particular, are learning how to manage money for food, gas and entertainment. Many are working part-time and going to post-secondary education.

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Current food costs are a concern for all ages. We in the nutrition field often encourage people to use unit pricing, such as the cost per ounce found on grocery store shelves. For example, a 10-pound bag of rice may cost less per unit than a 1-pound bag, but you may not have the storage space. In other cases, you may get tired of the food before you eat all of it. Perishable food can become unsafe, and you may need to toss it. Therefore, sometimes the smaller package is a better deal even though it may cost a bit more.

When preparing food in a smaller space, be sure to consider your cookware needs. You may need a frying pan, sauce pan, pasta pot, measuring cups and spoons, and a spatula. A slow cooker often comes in handy.

Maximize the space you have. Nest all your frying pans and bowls in a stack. Can you place your toaster on top of your microwave oven? Could small appliances that are used now and then go in a closet or upper cupboard?

Be cautious about storing things in the oven. Some unsuspecting cook may preheat the oven and discover it is full of dishes or pots and pans. That is not a good discovery to make.

Planning meals is an effective strategy for all of us. When living in a small space, consider planning meals around what is on sale at the grocery store. Buy groceries for the week based on your plan, depending on your storage space availability.

Make leftovers your friend. Consider leftovers as “planned overs” because you can use them in different ways. For example, chili can be eaten with crackers one day. The next day, chili can top a baked potato. Try to make your planned overs into a “different meal” when possible.

Finally, try to wash dishes after each meal or at least daily. A sink full of dishes can make a small space seem even more cramped.

Here’s an easy recipe that makes tasty leftover sandwiches. It can be prepared in a microwave oven or conventional oven.

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Microwaveable Meatloaf

1/3 cup rolled oats
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 ½ pounds lean ground beef
¼ cup ketchup

Mix oats, egg, garlic, onion and pepper. Crumble ground beef into mixture and blend thoroughly. Press into a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan (microwaveable) and cover loosely with microwavable paper towel. Microwave on high seven minutes, rotate pan and microwave seven more minutes. Rotate once more and microwave five more minutes or until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread with ketchup and cover loosely with paper towel. Microwave at medium (50%) until ketchup is heated, two minutes. You also can bake this at 350 degrees for about 60 minutes, until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 F. Spread the ketchup on top about 10 minutes before the end of cooking.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 140 calories, 4.5 grams fat, 18 grams protein, 7 grams carbohydrate, 1 grams fiber and 140 milligrams sodium.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson.

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