Home Food Storage for Your Pantry and Freezer
No matter how good a deal you get on something, it's a waste of money if you throw it out because it went bad before you could use it or got damaged somehow.
Organizing and Storing Dry Goods
I have a set of Tupperware containers in my pantry for flour, sugar, oatmeal, brown sugar, and rice. They work great and have lasted for years. Look for containers that are square or rectangular rather than round so they don't waste space on your shelves. When you first buy flour, you can throw it in the freezer for 24 hours to kill any critters that might be ready to hatch out. After that, store it in an airtight container. If you have a lot of freezer space, you can store in there, then keep just enough to bake with in your pantry. Throw a bay leaf in with your rice to keep critters out as well. One shelf of my pantry is dedicated to dry goods so I instantly know where to look for grains, pasta, and dried beans.
Canned Food Storage and Organization
Organize your pantry so that you can quickly find canned food items you're looking for and can see how much you need to buy when you see a good deal. I like to keep extras of sauces and condiments on one shelf, which takes about half my shelf. The other half has soups. On another shelf, roughly half is devoted to beans and the other half to vegetables. A third shelf has about half fruit and the other half cereal. All my pasta is in a large Rubbermaid basket. Another one used to hold my dried beans but now that I'm down to cooking for two, that area can be smaller so I'm transferring those to glass jars so i can more readily see what I have available.
Having the shelves dedicated to certain groups let me quickly see when I'm running out of something. I periodically have to do a quick cleanup as things tend to move around but now that I've got this set up I rarely lose track of what's in the pantry, which is a huge time saver as well as money saver.
If you are planning on having a large supply of can food items, you'll want to make sure you use up the older cans first. You can be casual about this and just make sure you put newer cans in the back of the row or you can use a marker to mark the date of purchase on top of your cans so you know how old things.
If you don't have a pantry or want to store more than what your pantry holds, use the same basic idea and have a plan. If you're storing lots of canned items, make sure you have a good inventory system.
Organizing your Freezer and Refrigerator
Use the same principal of having assigned areas for things in your freezer and refrigerator. If you often make sandwiches, for example, find a small basket or tray that you can put the mayonnaise, mustard, pickles, pepperoncini or whatever else you like on your sandwiches. Just pull the whole basket out when you're ready. This could also include your cold cuts and cheeses, although my refrigerator has a small shallow drawer labeled "Deli" that I use for those, plus tortillas.
Have a shelf dedicated to items that have a short shelf life, like leftovers and dairy items like yogurt and sour cream. I also keep a small magnetic white board on my refrigerator. Half is for a running grocery list. The other half is used to note things that need using up to remind me.
In my freezer, one bin is for chicken and pork, another for beef and fish. One shelf holds frozen vegetables and small drawer holds small bits of leftovers i've frozen for future lunches.
A simple means to keep track of what you have is to create a list of items and make a slash mark for each package. As you use them, slash the other way to make an X. You can quickly see at a glance how many of something you have left. So in the example below, you started with 6 pounds of ground beef and have 4 left. You started with 5 packages of chicken legs (whatever size package makes sense for your family) and have only 2 left. If you see a deal on chicken legs, you might want to buy some more!
ground beef / / / / X X
chicken legs / / X X X
OrganizedHome.com has some nice pretty inventory lists you can download and print if you'd like. Here's their freezer inventory list.
I've collected a variety of containers over the years. I use old yogurt containers to freeze chicken broth in. And I have a big old margarine tub that holds the vegetable odds and ends for stock in my freezer. I used to try to re-use food containers for leftovers in the refrigerator but invariably I wouldn't use stuff up because I wouldn't "see" it and would think the container was really holding sour cream or yogurt or whatever. I wanted something clear and something rectangular. Round containers waste too much space. A fe years ago I found some square clear containers and they have worked great. I can see what I have in the frig and the containers stack nicely in the cupboard when they're not in use. I tried to find a link for them at Target but evidently they're not selling them anymore. I'll try to update this when I find some similar ones.
Storage Tips for Produce
Lemons: Slice and freeze extra to use in drinks. Or squeeze them and freeze the juice in ice cube trays. If you're juicing them, microwave for 15 seconds and you'll get more juice.
Lettuce. Wash the lettuce the day you use it. Leaves will stay fresher if they're dry. You can buy special containers to store lettuce (and some really do seem to work) or you can roll them up in a kitchen towel or paper towel. The idea is to keep excess moisture off but not let it dry up either.
Mushrooms. Buy fresh mushrooms before the open up. That means they're still really fresh. Use them up fairly quickly.
Apples: If you're slicing apples for lunches, dip them in a bit of water and lemon juice to keep them from discoloring.
Long Term Food Storage Sites
If you're interested in long term food storage for emergencies or just general preparedness, here a few sites I've found that might be useful. Please let me know if you have other favorites:
- North Dakota State University's Food Storage Guide
- Food storage calculator from About.Com to help calculate how much you should have for your family
- USDA's food storage section
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