Why Your Cluttered Pantry is Costing You Money – And How To Fix it

Small PantryIs your pantry a hodge-podge of items in disarray? Could you quickly grab key ingredients to make a pasta dish or aren’t you sure you have any tomato sauce on the shelves? For me there is nothing more frustrating that not being able to locate certain items to make a meal when I know that I just purchased them. I also feel badly when I clean my pantry and discover that I have 5 bottles of oregano, all stuffed into different little corners. It costs money to keep buying ingredients only to have them become lost in the pantry abyss. Since I cook almost all our meals at home, I’ve had to be diligent on keeping my pantry in tip top shape and in making sure I can easily find what I’ve intended to cook.

I’ve used a simple organizational method for my pantry for a while now. It is not high tech and doesn’t cost a lot of money. So with the thought that an organized pantry will allow you to stretch your food dollar even further, here are some ideas that have worked for me:

1. Remove everything out of the pantry. I mean pull out all the stuff, even if you can’t tell what it is. I usually pull out everything and put it on the kitchen table. The next step involves checking expiration dates, spoiled items, etc.

2. Discard items that are out of date. Check every single expiration date and items that obviously look like they can’t be eaten. Canned goods usually have a very long shelf life. However, opened bags of cereal and chips may have gone stale. Likewise, if you have items that you know you are not going to eat but the expiration dates are still good, arrange to donate them to a local food bank who will gladly take them.

3. Before returning items to the panty, make a plan where they will go based on use. Either sketch it out on a sheet of paper or make a mental map of locations. I keep all the items I use the most on the shelf that is at eye level. These are the flours, spices, pasta noodles, etc. Cereals go up on the top shelf while snacks that the kids like go on the lowest shelf so everyone can reach them. On the very bottom of the pantry is where I store baggies, foil, paper plates, etc.

4. Group like items together. I don’t have labels on the shelves, although I do think that is a good idea. As I return items to the pantry based on the plan I developed, I place all like items together. Canned goods are located on one shelf, but grouped by type (i.e. canned vegetables are together, soups, tomato sauces). Breads and rolls are on another shelf. As I mentioned before, all cereals are on the top shelf. Staple items are on the middle shelf since I use them the most. I have all the flours together in one area, cooking oils in another, spices placed together in a clear bin which allows me to easily see what spices I have. This makes for a very visual pantry and it’s easy to see what ingredients you have for any given meal.

5. Train everyone who will be responsible for replacing or removing items where they should go. With my system of locating like items together, everyone knows where grocery items go. In fact, the kids help to put the groceries away after my weekly trip.

6. Perform periodic maintenance. I’ve found that about every 2 months I need to do a maintenance check that everything is where it needs to be. With a very busy family, sometimes things are not returned to their proper place so we really need that periodic maintenance.

Tricks and Tips For Using Up Leftovers

Soup Made From LeftoversIf you are trying to prepare meals on a budget, leftovers can be a blessing or a curse. Having leftovers can make it much easier to prepare the next meal, but we both know that sometimes leftovers are not looked upon so favorably, especially with the younger crowds. Finding a way to help your family enjoy leftovers can definitely be a challenge. If you’re tired of the groans at your dining room table, you may be ready to try some new methods to make leftovers fun. Here are some of the tricks we’ve tried in our household:

Give leftovers a makeover.
The kids won’t necessarily know that the chicken salad they are enjoying in their lunches today started life out as the baked chicken breast you served at dinner last night. Even leftover mashed potatoes can be fun if you fry them into fun little potato cakes. Anytime you can add a little something extra to a leftover item and make it seem like new, you can bet your family will be happy. Another tip – Do not call the dinner “leftovers”.

Let the kids “cook.”
If you have little ones who are itching to cook dinner but aren’t quite old enough to be turned loose with the stove, this is a great way to use up leftovers and let them practice. We have a kids “cooking” night. Anything in the refrigerator is fair game, as long as they don’t need the stove or oven. They pillage through the leftovers, heat things up in the microwave, and dress their meals up in festive dishes. Having dinner served to me is a nice treat and it uses up plenty of leftovers.

Just freeze it.
When all else fails, your family may just need a short break from a particular leftover before they’re ready to try it again. Maybe you made a casserole and had way too much left after your dinner. Perhaps you baked little muffins for breakfast but didn’t realize you’d end up with forty-eight of them after you finished the recipe. These are both examples of foods that would benefit from being frozen. Then, they are ready to be thawed and served later when you’re ready to eat them again.

Have a buffet night.
Sometimes leftovers accumulate in the fridge. You may not have enough of any one thing to feed your entire family a meal, but you probably don’t want to just throw the food out, either. On these occasions, you may create your own mini-buffet on your dining room table. Simply spread the options out on the table and let your family choose the foods that appeal to them.

So what are your tips for using up leftovers in your household?