Would you like paper or plastic?
That supermarket question forms the basis of kitchen organization for the holidays. Follow along and you will find it is the key to less kitchen stress.
By mid-November, your kitchen is bound to be as stuffed as you are following a big holiday meal. During the holiday season, also known as the season of perpetual cooking and dishwashing, part of the time crunch and frustration is being able to put your hands on the ingredients you need. Every time you turn around, you are preparing a special dish to take to relatives, having a crowd into your home, making a potluck for the office, making an appetizer to take to book club and cookies for the neighbors.
Even if your kitchen is very organized and running smoothly, by the time you haul in extra staples, from bags of flour and sugar to a case of canned chicken broth, you will suddenly feel the kitchen is too small. Since you are doing a lot more food preparation than normal, that is to be expected.
Getting organized in the kitchen for the season means a couple of things. It means having on hand what you need, having a home for those items and being able to find them in a hurry. Here are some tips that can really make things run smoothly:
Start to make room by doing a quick “clean sweep” of your pantry. Restore order by sorting like items together – fruits, vegetables, staples and so on. Discard anything stale or out of date. List any item that comes to mind that you need to buy.
Spend a few minutes sorting your freezer and refrigerator. You will need more room in those areas over the next weeks. Think about what items in the freezer and refrigerator that you could use up soon. Add those meal ideas to your meal planner. This way, you will not just add more food to a crowded freezer but actually make some room for make-ahead dishes and ingredients.
Take a few moments to go over your staples. There is nothing more frustrating than having half of the ingredients in a bowl and realizing something is missing. Running to the store usually means running late. Check now for all your staples: flour, sugars (of various types), cornstarch, cooking spray, cooking oils, vanilla extract, salt, pepper, spices, vinegars, rice, pastas, chicken broth or bouillon cubes, corn syrup, lemon juice, Worcestershire, soy sauce and cooking wine. If you are not a year-round baker, be sure to purchase new baking powder, baking soda and yeast. These items get old and fail to perform and can ruin your efforts.
But what about the paper and plastic part of this?
By the time you have made a menu to cover Thanksgiving or holiday parties or baking, you will find you have a lengthy shopping list. Coming home from the store, even if you have cleared out pantry space, storing away all those items takes time.
Our usual method is to open the grocery bags and sort the items into the pantry using or usual method of storage. That works for the staples. But, when it comes time to make those special dishes or appetizers, you are later in the pantry hunting for each item. There is a way to make the preparation time easier.
Upon returning from the store, while your shopping list/menu is fresh in your mind, sort your non-refrigerated items by use. Here are some examples: Put the items for cake baking in one grocery bag and cookie baking in another. Have several different appetizers to prepare and take different places? Put the crackers and ingredients for each dish in their own bag. Put the ingredients for Thanksgiving pies in a bag and the ingredients for homemade Christmas gift goodies in another. Close the bags and label each with a bright marker.
Now, when you rush in from work and need to make an appetizer, you can just grab that bag and go to refrigerator for the cold ingredients. This is also great if you have other family members who will be helping during the holidays. It is so much easier to have them select the bag with the correct ingredients, rather than take the time to tell them where each item is located.
If you have pulled out recipes or clipped recipes for the holidays, these can be attached to the bags to make cooking even easier.
Sorting the ingredients into bags and labeling them only takes a few minutes but saves a ton of time later. Once sorted, you might need to get creative on storage. Our pantries will not often hold all of the holiday extras. At my house, I clear a shelf in the laundry room to hold the bags. A clean, large plastic tote will also work. Stack in the bags in the tote and snap on the lid. Another trick is to find a shelf or cabinet that holds items not used during the holiday. Store those items in some boxes and use that shelf for extra pantry space. Placed the stored items with your holiday decoration boxes so that you will be reminded to return them to their proper home.
At my house, cold foods have often presented a problem. Before you can blink, a family member will have eaten those mini-sausages or broke into the cheese spread. If that can happen in your home, bag the cold food that is especially for your holiday recipes or entertaining. Place it in the far back of the fridge and label the bag so that there is not a misunderstanding.
Author Lea Schneider, a columnist for What’s Cooking America, is a freelance writer and organizational expert whose organizing ideas have been published in many magazines including Woman’s Day, Better Homes and Gardens Kitchen and Bath Ideas, Family Circle, Parents Magazine, as well as numerous newspapers and websites. She is a member of the Association of Food Journalists.
Getting organized is all about living simpler and making things easier. The bonus is it often leads to saving money. Lea Schneider’s kitchen organizing columns tell you how to organize the many things that relate to kitchens, menus, meals, and special food events.
Check out all of Lea Schneider’s helpful home and kitchen columns at Organizing Kitchens, Pantries, Menus and Meals.