7 Tips For Minimalism In A Real Food Kitchen
On any given day, you could walk into my home, come into my kitchen, and find an array of gadgets, spoons, pots and pans, hand-held appliances, and more — all either in use, about to be used, or waiting to be washed after use.
I have 2 Instant Pots, 2 cast iron Dutch ovens, 5 wooden spoons and 7 (I think?) cutting boards.
Yet, I consider myself a minimalist.
There’s a dichotomy for ya…
Fact: A Real Food kitchen requires more gadgets and gizmos for food preparation and storage than a kitchen full of processed, pre-made foods.
Take beans, for example. In a “conventional” kitchen, the cook uses a can opener to open the beans and then perhaps adds the beans to a pot on the stove or places them in a bowl to microwave.
In a Real Food kitchen, however, the beans don’t come from a can but from a bag or bulk bin, so they must be stored somewhere cool and dry, like a canister. The cook then adds the dry beans to a glass bowl with water and some apple cider vinegar to soak for 24 to 48 hours to reduce phytic acid. The soaked beans are then strained and rinsed in a colander before being added to a pot, Crock Pot, or Instant Pot to cook.
Or how about popcorn?
In a conventional kitchen, the packet of microwaveable popcorn is torn open and cooked in the microwave. Once popped, the popcorn can be eaten straight from the bag. It’s a very hands-free process.
Yet in a Real Food kitchen, the popcorn was likely purchased in bulk, so it requires storage of some sort — more than a box on a shelf. For us, coconut oil is melted in a large pot on the stove, the popcorn added, and a lid placed on the pot. When it’s done, butter is melted in a skillet, then drizzled over the popcorn, followed by a sprinkling of salt or nutritional yeast or cinnamon. Then the popcorn is poured into a bowl because the pot is too hot to eat from.
Same foods… 2 very different processes.
More steps, and therefore more things, are required to cook the same food — depending on the kitchen in which you find yourself.
I could go on and on — but the point is the same: if you find yourself following a path of minimalism but also following a path of cooking and eating whole foods, the paths can converge.
You CAN have both!
Here are my tips for practicing minimalism in a Real Food kitchen!
#1 — Open Shelving
Want to make yourself accountable real quick? Install open shelving!
Because open shelving done right is a beautiful, organized, accessible gift.
And open shelving done wrong (ie. too crowded and unorganized) is a horrible, stress-inducing, breeding ground of mental chaos. (I may have some OCD about clean and organized open shelving. Maybe.)
Seriously, installing open shelving instead of upper cabinets in our recent kitchen remodel was the best. decision. ever. The items I use multiple times a day — my copper French press and white dishes, for example — are at my fingertips. Yet, these are also items that I’m pleased to display.
Furthermore, kitchen shops are my weakness. I walk in a kitchen store, and it’s all over. The shiny gadgets, specialty foods, and kitschy linens just suck me right in.
Before open shelving, it was so easy to buy the things that called out to me.
Having fewer doors to hide things behind means whatever comes into my kitchen must come in with purpose — not just because I gave in to a moment of buying weakness.
If your kitchen isn’t set up for open shelving, then treat your cabinets like open shelves. You want them to look organized when you open them, so set them up that way. Opening your cabinets should give you joy, not cause you to become frustrated because you can’t find what you need or because things are falling out.
You can also turn closed cabinetry into open shelving simply by removing cabinet doors! Check out these gorgeous examples.
For open shelving to work, it must stay organized. There are no doors to conceal the mess. Whatever is on display, for me, must look nice and be functional.
Which leads to my next point…
#2 — Items That Are BOTH Useful & Beautiful
If I have a limited amount of space (and I do), I want all of the items I choose to keep to be both useful and beautiful.
For instance, I don’t have separate decorative bowls and a separate fruit bowl and a separate serving bowl. I have a few bowls that can all be used in any situation requiring a bowl. So, whether I need a spot for 4 pounds of lemons or a pretty bowl to serve a salad, I can use any of my bowls. And I like all of them enough to allow them to take up valuable real estate on my open shelves.
My vintage kitchen scale is another example. I purchased it several years ago with the sole intention of it being a display-only piece. It would live out the remainder of its life on a high shelf, requiring me to dust it and move it, but never to use it.
But it’s a perfectly good scale! So now, yes, it has its own spot of real estate on my open shelves. It collects dust and requires me to move it. And, I actually use it — as a photo prop and to weigh things! See?
I have Mason jars everywhere. But they don’t just sit there. They’re in use, every, single day.
We don’t have drinking glasses; we use Mason jars. I don’t have Tupperware; sauces and soups go in Mason jars. I ferment in Mason jars. Rendered lard and tallow go in Mason jars. Spices are in Mason jars.
A minimalist might say you should only have 1 jar; but I guarantee you that minimalist isn’t fermenting anything or storing much bone broth in his fridge.
Other useful + beautiful items?
The bottom line?
If you’re going to have something sitting on your counter anyway, make sure you actually enjoy looking at it!
These items are just as practical as they are lovely — and I love seeing them out and in use regularly!
#3 — Choose Quality Every Time
“Buy it right; buy it once.” I try to live by those words. In my experience, when you go for the cheap “deal”, you almost always end up having to replace it later. But when you spend a bit more for a higher quality product, it often lasts for years.
Case in point: Pyrex dishes with lids.
These things are like gold and serve sooooooo many purposes.
First and foremost, I always have a safe storage option for leftovers. Our food can go straight from the table to a glass storage container to the fridge to the oven and back to the table without ever touching plastic and without dirtying another dish for reheating.
Yet Pyrex dishes of all shapes and sizes are useful for baking, too. They can also be used to cook inside an Instant Pot. And when I need to soak those bulk beans? I have the perfect vessel at the ready!
In fact, about half of my Pyrex storage was given to me when I got married… almost 15 years ago! And what hasn’t been broken is still just as good as the day I received it!
So, it might not seem minimalist — but it works for me to have lots of Pyrex glass bowls and pans WITH the lids.
Yes, they’re way more expensive than plastic storage… but plastic storage:
- can’t go in the oven,
- shouldn’t be used to heat food in a microwave,
- often melts or becomes misshapen in the dishwasher,
- often isn’t recyclable,
- holds on to food stains and odors.
Oh, the best part about these things? No crazy, annoyingly unorganized Tupperware drawer where you can never find the right lid!
#4 — Choose White
This point is more about decor than function, but I do think it applies to a minimalism in a Real Food kitchen.
White does amazing things to a space, especially a small space. It just makes things feel bigger and cleaner.
So I chose white for my walls, my backsplash, my sink, and my dishes. And in places where color might make the space feel cluttered, I see white space. (Hint: food served on white dishes is more appealing!)
I’m definitely not saying everyone should have an all-white kitchen! As you can see, my kitchen definitely isn’t monotone (however, all-white kitchens are pretty gorgeous).
If you have the capability to change something in your kitchen without spending a fortune, try adding some white and see if it makes a cluttered space feel cleaner, brighter, and larger.
Other places to choose white: cabinets, counter tops, shelves, canisters, and accessories. Add strategic pops of color (like my school bus yellow bar stools!) and pattern and the white makes them standout even more!
#5 — Simplify Your Food
Ohhhh, this one is so hard for a foodie! I just want all the things!
In striving to live a minimalist lifestyle, it’s important that I choose simple, nourishing foods that will sustain us, not just the latest fad foods or proclaimed superfoods.
Barring food allergies, there’s no need for butter and ghee, tapioca and arrowroot, or maple syrup and honey, for example.
When we jumped into gluten-free cooking many years ago, I thought we needed all the GF flours. So my pantry shelves were cluttered with millet flour, sorghum flour, rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, and more. I never knew which flours to combine for the best result, so my gluten-free baking was one big chemistry experiment.
Don’t even get me started on superfoods… One minute I’m reading about turmeric and coconut oil, then it’s kale and goji berries, then avocados and spirulina. I barely buy one before someone on Pinterest tells me that, in fact, I need something else.
Trust me, I LOVE all of those foods. Except, my life is more complicated when I have bags and boxes of stuff I never get around to using because there’s just too much of it.
Finally, keep your meals simple.
Most days, dinner for us is a protein of some sort and a veggie or two on the side.
Typical meals for us: Roasted chicken with carrots and broccoli. BBQ chicken and baked sweet potatoes. Grilled burger patties and roasted veggies. Salmon with zucchini. Grilled chicken and salad. Tikka masala and cauli-rice. Nourishing soups like clam chowder, Zuppa Toscana, and tomato basil.
Simple ingredients, simple meals. And lots of meals happen in 1 skillet or pot! We don’t get sick of any one thing because we eat so much variety — even if it is mostly meat + veggies.
#6 — Eat Seasonally
This goes along with #5, but it will save you some space and make your diet more interesting, too.
Because you don’t actually have to eat all the veggies all the time. For the most part, we choose summer veggies like squash, zucchini, and tomatoes in the summer and spring/fall veggies like kale and lettuces during spring/fall.
Just about the time we’re sick of spring leeks and radishes, it’s time for summer squash! Then, we eat squash until it’s coming out our ears, until thankfully, it’s time for carrots and parsnips and kale.
It’s not rocket science, but it does keep our fridge a little neater and allows us to enjoy an abundance of each season’s produce at its peak.
#7 — Choose Your Skills Carefully
When I first ventured into Real Food, I started with Traditional foods — a lá Weston A. Price. You know, soaking, sprouting, sourdough, fermenting, etc, etc.
(By the way, if you actually do want to learn all of those skills, my friend Wardee at Traditional Cooking School has some awesome eCourses to teach you! Click on each link above for more info!)
Well, guess what? Alllllll the skills require alllllll the equipment.
Not only is it expensive, that stuff takes up lots of space! (Not to mention storing the actual ingredients — grains, milk for cheese, starter cultures, etc.)
Instead of feeling like you have to know everything, pick a skill or two, then find a friend or neighbor to trade with. I’ve traded fermented salsa for sourdough bread and my nourishing no-bake treats for someone else’s homemade herbal tea blends.
I don’t feel it’s necessary to learn all the skills; I simply need to learn a couple of skills and then surround myself with a community of people who know different skills — then we trade!
Less equipment, less money, simpler life.
Love something in my kitchen?
Here’s where I found my favorite pieces:
- Brass faucet
- Yellow counter-height (24″) stools
- Double-bowl farmhouse sink
- Solid brass Lewis Dolin cabinet hardware
- Iron Mason jar drying rack
- Brass mid-century pendants
- Open shelving: custom-made by our contractor
- Custom cabinetry, subway tiles: Menard’s
- Butcher block counters: solid oak from Lumber Liquidators
- Appliances: Best Buy
Do you practice minimalism in a Real Food Kitchen? What does minimalism look like to you?