The Eat Well, Spend Less series has become a monthly feature, back by popular demand.
No one will ever accuse me of being an organizing blogger, that’s for sure. One peek at my cupboards or pantry or basement will assure you of that. However, I get all my food to fit and at least I know where everything is. If I die, no one will know what to eat…but then again, they wouldn’t anyway without me to make a list and check it twice.
This week’s topic, tackled by nine noteworthy ladies, is long-term and bulk food storage. And yes, I was tickled to find that it meshed so perfectly with my already-planned series this month on preparedness.
The main focus isn’t exactly on storing emergency foods, but on spending less on bulk purchases so your family can truly eat well…and then making sure you don’t waste your bulk foods because they were improperly stored or unorganized and got so old you had to pitch them.
While others are meticulously organizing their cupboards and pantries or posting beautiful pictures of their Type A storage systems, I’m taking the alternative route and showing you some ways I use what I have and watch for strange and unusual storage solutions.
When we got these ridiculously large (probably 5-gallon or more) tins at a blog retreat last spring, most people had no clue what to do with them. I immediately saw them overflowing with amber waves of grain and begged a few extras off my colleagues. They now hold my bulk whole grain stores, which I mostly try to leave in the original bags as well for extra protection from the elements and because I wasn’t positive what these containers were made of.
Reuse What You Have
Here are some ways I use old containers for new purposes:
- oatmeal canisters (the big ones): used for storing homemade crackers or croutons and sprouted grains, but mostly for separating my 25-pound bags of oatmeal into usable portions. I have a dozen canisters stacked in my basement, all full, and at about one quarter the cost of buying them individually at Save-a-Lot. Pour out of the massive 25-pound bag into as many canisters as you have, all at one time. Then you only have to sweep up your inevitable mess one time.
- glass jars (from everything from spaghetti sauce to olives): I store dehydrated peppers and tomatoes, homemade granola, nuts and seeds, home-dried fruit, and more in glass jars, “free” (repurposed) as much as possible. I also freeze food in glass jars regularly – click HERE to learn what I do on the rare occasion that I get a broken one!
- paper sacks: no good for long-term storage, you’re probably thinking. The sacks serve as my organizational dividers on the floor underneath wall shelving in my laundry room (aka “extra pantry”). One bag holds the remainder of the 60 pounds of almonds I bought in the fall when they were $2.99/lb., another holds bags of dried beans, still another boxes of pasta. They provide categories and containment.
- spice jars: if you buy spices in bulk, chances are you need an easy way to access them while cooking. I save almost every size and shape of spice jar I empty, just to be sure I’m ready if I need a small container. See my attractively organized stash of random containers?
- regular grocery bags: in the freezer, I end up with lots of zipper bags of various things. In order to keep them all from falling on my feet when I open the door, I’ll group by category: smoothie ingredients, baby food, “stuff to add to sauces so husband doesn’t know” (the chopped liver, beef heart, pureed sweet potato…). Each category has its own plastic bag. It’s not pretty, but at least it’s still not heavy enough to break my toe when they fall out anyway, and it keeps me sane because there are ultimately fewer things to look through when I need something.
- popcorn tins: I don’t get the Boy Scout tins of popcorn for Christmas anymore (people know better), but people I know do. I always ask if I can have them when they’re empty when family members open great containers at Christmastime. These hold some of my smaller (5-pound) grain purchases.
- buckets: I haven’t figured out what I’m putting in the large plastic bucket my frozen cherries came in this year, but food-grade buckets are a really popular option for storing bulk foods. You can often get them at bakeries for free – check out the conversation in the comments here for more information, or this article from a serious prepper on long-term storage in buckets.
But Where to Put it All?
I’m fortunate that even though our house is small, we have a rather large portion of unfinished basement that is perfect for storage. I’m able to tuck quite a bit away in my basement. If you don’t have this option, here are some creative ways to think about where to stash bulk purchases, both for reasons of emergency preparedness and simple bulk frugality:
- Under beds – for low, flat things like canned goods, large bags of bulk grains, etc.
- Bottom or top shelf of a linen closet, at the back
- Laundry room – wherever there’s space.
- Corner of a bathroom or rear of bathroom cabinets (who can reach back there, anyway) for bottles/jugs of water for toilet flushing
- On top of your cupboards – if you have that space between cupboard and ceiling, don’t bother with decorations that will get dusty anyway. Try pretty glass jars full of beans and grains instead – functional, and still attractive.
- That corner behind the couch/chair – if you have an angled piece of furniture, stick large tubs (or tins like mine) in that space.
- The garage or rafters, but ONLY if that food or water is really, really secured from animals and moisture and not susceptible to temperature changes. Also shouldn’t be something you need to use very often.
If you have a blank wall or half of one in any of the out-of-the-way rooms, simple shelves and brackets are very inexpensive and easy to install. Think “up.” Just be sure that if you’re going to store glass jars or heavy items that everything is reinforced well enough. No one wants to wake up in the night to the crashing down of your summer produce, breaking all over the floor.
If you just don’t think you have the space to store bulk purchases, I encourage you to take a walk through your house and imagine needing to stash a quart jar or gallon bag of something somewhere. How many nooks and crannies can you discover?
Keep a List
If you do end up stuffing random food items in every room, do yourself a favor and keep a master list somewhere so you don’t forget where the black beans are and end up either (a) buying 5 bags of them because you always think you’re out or (b) having no black beans to eat for dinner because you just can’t find them.
What creative (and cheap!) ideas do you have for storage containers or finding space in your house?
Eat Well, Spend Less Ladies Share
How to Store Pantry Food for Maximum Shelf Life by Aimee of Simple Bites
Yes, this is one of those with the beautiful pictures of perfectly organized cabinets. You will be inspired…or overwhelmed! But bugs and moisture won’t get this girl’s bulk foods, that’s for sure.
The Power of an Organized Pantry by Mandi of Food…Your Way
A super organizer gives 7 tips to working with what you have. I could learn a lot from this post (as I search for the raisins I just KNOW I bought!).
Life Without a Deep Freezer by Carrie of Denver Bargains
Excellent tips for making the most of your freezer space and keeping your brain on while making purchases; good for you no matter how many freezers you have!
How NOT to organize your Pantry (and confessions) by Alyssa at Kingdom First Mom (I do nos. 1, 2, 7 and 9).
Extreme Cupboard Makeover (plus 5 steps to achieving your own) by Katie of Good Life Eats and another Cupboard Makeover from Jessica of Life as Mom.
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