Many times, when we think of meal planning we think of it as a way to save time. For some, meal planning may to a way to stick to a diet or come up with foods their children will enjoy eating. And while these are great reasons to practice meal planning, many of us practice meal planning as a way to save money on food and groceries.
Meal planning can go a long way in helping you stick with a food budget. But taking just a little time to organize your food storage is a meal planner hack that saves money!
In my house, organizing my food storage means having a simple way of knowing what we have on hand to cook with.
Let’s face it. We all need to eat and the cost of groceries keeps going up every year. Add in the cost of eating out, entertaining at home, and holiday cooking, and you could be looking at a pretty hefty monthly nut – just to feed everyone!
So where do you start with food organization for meal planning to save money?
The best way to start food organization is to look at which foods you already have at home. Start with your pantry and dry food cabinets. What do you have on hand for pasta, beans, canned vegetables, soups, and condiments?
Do you have basic ingredients like flour, breadcrumbs, sugar, baking powder and yeast packets to make food from scratch with?
Once you have a good handle on what you have, check all the expiration dates and discard anything that’s out of date. This is particularly important with cake mixes and other dry baking mixes as they can become toxic after expiration.
Once you’ve discarded expired food, stack similar food items together. For instance, canned broths and soups can be stored on one side of a shelf and assorted kinds of pasta on the other side.
Next, store basic ingredients together such as flour and sugars on another shelf. Or, what I like to do is store all of my baking goods together, including canned pie filling and baking chips, for when I want to bake cookies or other sweet goodies.
Many of us have deep cabinets or corner cabinets that seem to go on for miles, and that’s kind of a big black hole where things get lost. It sounds funny but that’s where you’ll find the canned pears from 2001 from a store you haven’t been to in over ten years!
Storage cabinets like these are ideal for adding a two-tiered lazy-Susan, so that you see all your food items and also can get to everything that you have. If you happen to be short like me, adding a lazy-Susan into those deep cabinets can save you a lot of hassle.
As you get into the habit of organizing your food storage, you’ll begin to realize how much easier it is to plan meals.
For instance, if you want to make a casserole, you can quickly see what you have for noodles and canned vegetables to put your meal together. You can also quickly see what you have run out of, without rummaging through several shelves.
Just like your dry goods if you want to save money with meal planning, your freezer foods need to be organized as well. Frozen beef, poultry, and fish can be organized on one shelf, while frozen vegetables and side dishes can be organized on another.
If you pre-assemble meals or casseroles, they should be labeled with a description and a date to ensure freshness. If you are making freeze ahead meals, why not make a few lunch-sized portions that can easily be microwaved for a hot lunch.
This is far cheaper than eating lunch out or even buying frozen microwavable lunches at the grocery store. Plus, they are sure to contain a lot less salt, taste better and are most likely healthier for you. So, it pays to freeze lunch-sized portions whenever you can.
While sorting through your freezer, there’s bound to many miscellaneous foods in there, which is why labels and dates are so important to use.
Also keep in mind that organizing food to save money includes portioning. Bulk packages of meat can be broken up into heavy duty freezer bags, while soups and sauces stack well in sealable bowls.
I have also found that even when I purchase meat in a smaller package, it still pays to re-wrap it in a freezer bag or heavy plastic wrap to keep it fresher longer.
If you have ice cream in your freezer, be sure it’s stored up front or on the door so it can easily be taken out without disrupting the organization of your shelves. The same goes for cookies or other baked goods that you freeze. Put them in sight and in reach so they’re easy to get to and won’t be forgotten.
Remember, your freezer should not be used as a place to store food until it’s ready to be thrown out, but instead be used to organize food and plan great meals.
Once you have your pantry, cabinets, and freezer organized, figuring out which meals you can make, based on what you have becomes easier.
I know from experience that organizing what you have on hand and using it to plan your meals is the best way to save money on your food budget!
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How do you organize your food storage to help plan meals?