So, our lovely Mrs. S. or as I call her, Rachelle, is my cousin. Our mothers are sisters and we grew up in a very large extended family seeing each other at massive Thanksgiving meals, family reunions in the summertime and our Aunt Kay's gigantor gift-givings at the annual Christmas parties. I love staying in touch with her and reading about all her adventures here on her blog and on Facebook. So, I was honored to be given the chance to do a guest-blog post and hope you like it. My family blog is Merrill Family Deep Thoughts, where I document the goings-on in my family and crazy mind.
My life is busy. I am a wife, which can keep you busy. Last year, I became a mother, which can keep you even busier. I am a mother to 15-month old TWIN boys, which undoubtedly keeps me busier than I could ever imagine.
Since I stay home with my boys now, I have taken on the task of becoming more domestic, especially in the kitchen. I wanted to start meal-planning, sticking to a grocery budget, start contributing to food storage and have fun with trying new meals. The tricky part was achieving all of that within money and time constraints. When you add two more mouths to feed and take away a full-time salary, the grocery budget gets a bit tighter. As you can also imagine, I don't have all day long to tend to the affairs of the kitchen. So, I started developing ways I could save money, save time and most of all save my SANITY, when it comes to food and organizing my kitchen.
I would never claim to be an expert in this arena. I am not reinventing the wheel here and some of you probably do some of these very things that I have only recently discovered and you probably do it better. I am an admitted Google-junky and much of what I do now was found by doing an online search. But, I wanted to share my strategies that I have come up with to help me and my family. Here we go!
Knowing what you have in your kitchen can be invaluable knowledge. It helps you on a daily basis, when you need to throw a meal together quickly. It also is great when meal-planning and making a grocery list. I used to get so mad at myself for buying something at the grocery store, only to get home and realize I already had plenty of it. Keep track of what you have on hand in your pantry, refrigerator(s) and freezer(s). Post it in a convenient place and update accordingly, as you use items. I taped my lists directly onto my freezer or the inside of my cupboards. When you use up an item entirely, put it on your re-stocking shopping list.
Online Resource: Organized Home Checklists
This is a website that has checklists for your entire house, but in my case, I mainly use the kitchen inventory sheets. It has inventory sheets for your freezer and pantry, shopping checklists and weekly menu planners.
Buy Fresh Produce
This is the only food group that I am going to mention specifically, but I think it is the most important. It’s healthy for you and your husband and your kids and your grandkids and for everybody! When you buy produce that is in season and on sale, you will not spend as much as you think. You reap the immediate benefits of fresh and yummy produce, but also the long-term benefits of healthier eating. I get most of my produce from a food co-op that has weekly baskets of produce to buy. There are food co-ops, farmer's markets and grocery store ads that can give you great produce buys. Research what your options are in your area and see what you can find.
Co-op Directory Listing
This is a great website to discover where food co-ops are in your area. Food co-ops are usually ran by volunteers and pool resources together to get everyone the best produce at the lowest prices.
This is the food co-op that I belong to. I have fallen in love with this organization and anybody who is friends with me on Facebook will see my weekly pictures of all the goodies I get. Baskets start at only $15/week and they operate in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
This can be easier said than done. Everybody has their own methods. I prefer to wait until I get my produce basket for the week and then plan what we will eat that following week. You might want to use the weekly grocery ads and see what is on sale first. Any way you want to start out, follow that up by using your pantry/freezer items and your fresh produce to plan 5-6 meals for the week. I like to leave at least one day open for leftovers or special occasions, if needed. Get ideas from everywhere: a recipe book, a website or your own mind.
I know that we all have our favorite recipe websites. Allrecipes.com is on the top of my list. Besides having great user reviews, the ability to customize recipes for your family sizes and pictures of almost every recipe, it has a great feature called, Ingredient Search. You can quickly type in asparagus and that chicken breast you have in the fridge and find a delectable recipe to make! I just typed those two items in and got a result of 41 recipes. It is genius.
This website takes the idea of an ingredient search and kicks it up a notch. You can enter EVERYTHING in your kitchen and it will automatically find online recipes that you can make. The more you add, the more specific the recipes can be. It even tells you which recipes you can make right now, because you have all the ingredients in your kitchen already.
I found this cute printable meal planner and loved the idea of using it on a weekly basis. Just print it out, laminate it and use dry-erase markers to keep track of your weekly meals. If you don't like this meal planner, find one you do like and hang it in your kitchen somewhere. It helps you and everyone else in your house stay on track and know "what's for dinner?".
I break down my shopping into three categories:
- Staples-whatever your needs are on a weekly/bi-weekly basis. For example, in our house we get lots of whole milk, bananas and Cheerios as our weekly staples.
- Meal Needs-whatever you need to make your dinners for that week.
- Re-stocking/Food Storage Needs- items that have run out in your pantry, refrigerator or freezer. Also a good way to regular build your food storage.
Depending on my budget, I can choose to buy from one, two or all three categories. Some weeks, I only buy the staples and fresh produce and make meals with only what I have in my kitchen. Other times, I may buy a few items to complement my meals. When I have extra money in the budget, I will focus on re-stocking those items I have run out of or even building on my food storage. My next goal is to start setting aside a little money each week to put towards a food storage plan.
Food Storage for $5 a Week
This is just one of the countless plans you can find online for food storage. It is easy and only uses $5 or less, on a weekly basis, to build your food storage. It's a good beginner's stage, which is definitely where I am at.
When I get home from grocery shopping, I make sure to not only organize and store food in a way that makes life easier, but that can also save money in the long run. If you bought a big package of meat, break it down into separate freezer bags to make it last for several different meals. If you have a lot of produce, wash it, cut it and store it in the way to make it last longer. For example, I have noticed that if I just stick a head of celery in my fridge as it came, it wilts quickly. But if I take the time to wash it, cut and trim the ends and store it in a re-sealable bag, it lasts much longer.
Produce Freshness Chart
I follow this chart religiously. I have it posted on my fridge and store every piece of produce accordingly. I never knew that cantaloupes should be kept in the fridge or that cucumbers should be kept out on the counter. Since I started following this chart, my produce lasts SO much longer. It is even color-coded for added convenience.
Try to not waste ANY food if possible. If it comes to the end of the week and you just don’t have a use for a food item, try to use it in a recipe that you can freeze for later or even give away to a neighbor. Use those overripe bananas to make banana bread for your neighbors. Squeeze those oranges and freeze the juice for recipes later. Try a new recipe with the odds and ends you are left with at the end of the week and you may be pleasantly surprised. At the end of the week, I will even start googling my leftover foods to see what I can freeze. I have orange zest, green onions and turkey stock in my freezer, because I didn't want to throw anything away! I was surprised when I discovered how much I could actually freeze, if I did it right. Another great way to be resourceful is canning your food. This is an area that I have just starting scratching the surface of, but am excited for the possibilities.
So, there you have it. My (not really) secrets to having an organized kitchen and meal plan that can save you money, time and sanity. As you can see, there aren't really any new concepts here. Just a pooling together of strategies and ideas to help us all out. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at skrd116 at gmail dot com.
Thanks again to Rachelle for asking me to do this. Hope you enjoyed it!