For food-lovers and homemakers alike, autumn is a recipe for dishes like pot pie, hearty soups, roasts, and other meals that make our homes smell like heaven when the day is through.
But if you’re anything like me, your kitchen’s in disarray and it’s time to take stock of what you got, what you need, and what’s really gotta go.
Here are some tips to get your cupboards cleaned up, your menu plan in place, and your budget under control.
Old spice? not so nice
“Old Spice” may have some of the best viral marketing of recent years, but old spices in your kitchen are doing you no favors on the flavor patrol.
Cooks in the know will tell you not to keep spices around longer than 6 months. The average palate can handle a year. But that four-year-old super-sized container of oregano really needs to go. Now.
Clean out your spice cabinet and stop buying super-sized jars. They’re stale by the time you hit bottom, and you’re the one who needs to eat that. If you at least make new spices an annual activity, you’ll enjoy a flavorful year ahead. Sure, you might be looking at spending up to $100 to make that happen, but keep reading for a plan that’ll whip your kitchen in shape while stretching your budget.
It’s easy to think you’re on top of it when cleaning out your cupboards, but let’s face it, in a week you’ll forget everything you organized and soon you’ll come home with what’s now your fourth can of chickpeas because you forgot you had three dying to get used.
Instead, make a quick list of the things you’ve got plenty of and need to use. For me, that’s all kinds of beans, tomatoes, and coconut milk. I see many soups and curries in my future.
This approach is especially useful for your freezer. Is it packed with veggies and meats you can’t keep straight in your head? Time to make a master list of what you’ve got in the freezer, tape it to your fridge door, and scratch items off as they get used. It makes meal-planning way easier and it keeps the bucks in your wallet.
It’s gotta go-go-go
Other things have a six-month to one-year shelf-life too, like dried beans, pastas, flour, and more. The longer you keep things around, the less likely you’ll ever use it. Who ever said “Hey, you know what I’m excited about? I’m making supper with two-year-old navy beans! Come on over, gang!”
But if it’s been a year, it’s still edible and probably still tasty, so it’s best to go through and find all these items that need to be used, and prioritize which things to use right away. Once you stop thinking of it as “old food” and instead as “money I’ll be throwing out,” it really kicks your motivation in gear.
Maybe you have some food kicking around you’re not wild about, like a particular brand of beans or something. If you’re not going to use it, just be honest. I’m sure there’s a food bank who’ll dole it out or a soup kitchen more than happy to turn it into a community meal.
Make a plan
Offset the cost of springing for all new herbs and spices by using up your dried, canned, and frozen goods with a smart cooking plan. Set aside a day to get cracking and make a few dishes all at once. That backlog of beans and frozen meats and canned goods that need to be used is a gift for your budget.
Do your research and Google ingredients. “Best recipes for chickpeas” should get you a list of different things to make, for instance. Look for items you can freeze so your due diligence pays off with easy meals for weeks to come. Maybe the recipe won’t tell you, so just do another search — “Can I freeze hummus?” will give you all kinds of hobby and pro chefs telling you “Sure can!”
With a proper plan of attack, you’ll have freezer meals for busy weeknights, ditch all your soon-to-be-stale food, while being able to afford replacing all your spices for a well-seasoned winter ahead of you, and hey, you’ll even have big pots of homecooking for weekends of Netflix binge-watching as storms roll in.