You wouldn’t think of running a marathon without training beforehand, right? Well, the same principle applies to prepping your workspace for all the extra cooking and baking you’re about to start doing. Think of your kitchen as mission control—the better the setup, the more efficient and happy you’ll be. 

By Caylin Harris 
Photo by Kate Mathis

Write on!

Use dry erase tape and a marker to clearly label food, such as ingredients specifically intended for holiday prep (hands off!) or leftovers, so everyone knows what’s what.


Deep Freeze 

Food blogger and cookbook author Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen fame stocks up on butter whenever it’s on sale so she never runs out. She recommends having a stash of a nice, salty European variety on hand for eating plus plain American unsalted for baking. Wrapped well in plastic, it keeps wonderfully in the freezer. 

Fine-Tune the Fridge

Pre-holiday is the ideal time for a refrigerator reboot. Take everything out, toss anything that really should go and then start fresh.  

  • Wipe down condiments and any bottles or jars with drips. It’s so much easier than trying to scrub shelves later on. 
  • Create zones that make sense so things are easy to find—not just for you but for houseguests too. Group like items together. Use clear bins (HomeGoods and The Container Store have tons of options) to corral smaller or loose items so they don’t get lost in the shuffle. 
  • Get in the habit of packing leftovers into portions that can easily be reheated. Stackable, flat containers take up less space and help ensure that leftovers don’t end up wasting away in the fridge, say Joanna Teplin and Clea Shearer, founders and pro organizers at The Home Edit. Plus: An easy lunch is a thing of beauty.

3 Ways to Keep Counters Uncluttered

1. Relocate as much as humanly possible. Stash whatever you can in drawers, on shelves, in the pantry or even in the basement or garage temporarily. Really, the only appliances that should be out are the ones you use every single day (or that you plan on using for prepping the holiday meal). 

2. Create a designated drop zone that’s not in the kitchen for stuff known to create clutter, like mail. 

3. Purge! This is the perfect time to get rid of duplicates. You know you have extra spatulas lurking.

Cold Truth

Some nuts (such as walnuts and pecans) and seeds (like flax, sunflower and sesame) last much longer

in the fridge. The cold air prevents fats from turning rancid.

Photo by Kate Mathis

Clear Those Cabinets!

  • You don’t need 10 of the same size pan or dozens of mugs. Keep only your favorites and donate the rest if they’re in good enough shape. In other words, rather than overstuff cabinets, ditch what you don’t need, suggest the founders of  The Home Edit.
  • Make use of backs of cabinet doors by installing simple racks. That’s valuable found space.
  • Toss random beat-up plastic tubs in favor of bowls with lids that snap on the bottom when not in use, such as Rubbermaid. Voilà—no more scrambling. 

Top Tip

Missing a lid? Cover with foil or a small cookie sheet instead. 

Test Run

Give not-often-used appliances a whirl before the big day. It would suck to pile a bunch of ingredients into your food processor on Thanksgiving morning only to discover it doesn’t work. 

Keeping It Real 

How easy it is to fall down the rabbit hole of Pinterest-perfect pantries, where everything is pretty and precisely aligned. Be realistic, advise the Home Edit founders. “Forget what constitutes someone else’s perfect pantry and instead focus on what you’ll be able to maintain over time,” says Shearer. Each time you shop, spot-check expiration dates and toss stuff as necessary. 

The Well-Stocked (not OVERstocked!) Kitchen

Bottom line, what do you really need for a fully functional kitchen where you can just do your thing in peace? Deb Perelman created this cheat sheet that offers a little guidance on avoiding #overkill:

  • Tongs
  • Flexible fish spatula
  • Small offset spatula
  • Whisks in a few sizes
  • Hand mixer 
  • Small shaker (for dusting surfaces with flour) 
  • Parchment paper (pre-cut for cake pans if you can find it)
  • Immersion blender (great for soups, stews and mashes, instead of ladling things into a blender) 
  • 9-inch round cake pan
  • 8-inch square pan
  • Two 9 x 13-inch pans (one glass, one metal) 
  • 9½-inch springform pan (works for 9- or 10-inch recipes)
  • Bundt pan
  • Standard cupcake pan
  • 9 x 13-inch quarter sheet pan
  • Extra cooling racks (dishwasher-safe is best)
  • Cast-iron frying pans, in 6-, 9- and 12-inch sizes 
  • Small, medium and large pots 
  • 3-quart Dutch oven
  • 5.5-quart Dutch oven
  • 3-quart sauté pan with a lid 
Photo by Kate Mathis

The Nose Knows

Check flours and spices not just by expiration dates but also by scent. If they smell dusty and lackluster, it might be time to replace.

4 steps to a functional pantry (that you keep that way!) 

  1. Start by going shelf by shelf and taking everything out. Toss packaged goods that are expired or stale. Trash any boxes with crumbled half-cookies or nearly empty bags of chips your teenagers left behind.  
  2. Make a list of tossed items that need to be replaced before the holidays. 
  3. Start putting things back according to how you use them. “I group by type to speed up food prep,” says Kimberly Kimbriel, kitchen buyer at The Container Store. She divides categories by cuisine, like Italian, Chinese, Mexican, whatever. “I even have an entertaining section with all the pantry ingredients for a quick appetizer platter.”   
  4. Figure out your bulk storage needs. Not all clear containers are created equal. Go for options that hermetically seal to keep ingredients fresh. See-through is best so you can easily tell when you’re running low, says Kimbriel. If your pantry is deep, you might want to invest in tiered shelf organizers so you can see items that are way in the back. Turntables are also great for accessibility.

Buy in Bulk

Shopping in a place with bulk bins, such as Whole Foods or a food co-op, is a genius way to avoid

waste, because you can buy only the amount you need. Fun for trying new things too.

Where the Smitten Kitchen Pro Shops Till She Drops

Costco! “It’s a great resource for holiday cooking and baking,” says Deb. “You can buy lots of ingredients in bulk, including raw nuts.” Other faves: Amazon for a variety of flours and more obscure spices, King Arthur’s website for their products, Rancho Gordo for beans in bulk and the local farmers’ market for specialty jams. 

Stock Up! 

Even with a small kitchen, Deb Perelman makes sure to top off her supplies before the holidays. “If the mood strikes to bake cookies, I want to be prepared.” A month or so ahead, make sure you have a good supply of: 

  • Flour 
  • Gluten-free flour (in case you end up baking for someone with a gluten issue) 
  • Sugar (white, light and dark brown) 
  • Cocoa powder
  • Molasses
  • Vanilla extract
  • Neutral oil (for high heat)
  • Cheaper olive oil (for cooking) 
  • A nice olive oil (for a final drizzle)