This blog is probably different from most Thanksgiving/Holiday blogs you’ll see from now until the December holidays. Why? Because it doesn’t contain recipes, a meal planning checklist, or even centerpiece ideas. Instead, I’m focusing on what you should do before all that! It’s about what you need to do to your refrigerator, freezer, and food pantry/cabinets BEFORE you make that first recipe. It’s the thing that some people avoid at all costs. Call it what you want— planning, inventory, purging, etc. Regardless of the word you use, it’s an essential part of the holiday prep process that shouldn’t be skipped whether you’re cooking for one or one hundred.
I could lie and tell you that planning/inventory/purging is fun for everyone but I cannot tell a lie. You may not consider it fun but I do. For me, it’s a cleansing process— out with the old and in with the new. It’s a rebirth of sorts like Spring. So I’d love for you to take this journey with me before the craziness of the holidays sets in. Throw your old mindset out the window and consider this one. Let’s have some fun cleaning out!
I’m all about solving problems. So what issues will these steps remedy? Here are just a few. You’re about to create a recipe and realize that:
- you can’t quickly/easily find the expiration date on a food item in your kitchen
- you’re completely out of a required ingredient and don’t have a backup
- your required ingredient has expired and can’t be used
- you can’t find the ingredient you need in your kitchen
Before I get into the “meat” (LOL) of the steps, I want to share a great resource I use. Foodkeeper is the US government’s website/app for food shelf life. It helps you understand food/ beverage storage to maximize the freshness and quality of items. While there may be other websites/apps out there, I haven’t checked them out yet. That may be the topic of a blog for another month.
You should also be familiar with the terminology used when it comes to food dating. According to the USDA, there are no uniform or universally accepted descriptions for food labels. Below are examples of the phrases commonly used to describe quality dates:
- Best if Used By/Before: when a product will be of the best flavor or quality. It is NOT a purchase or safety date.
- Sell-By: tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is NOT a safety date.
- Use-By: the last date recommended for product use while at peak quality. It is NOT a safety date except when used on infant formula.
- Freeze-By: indicates when a product should be frozen by to maintain peak quality. It is NOT a purchase or safety date
- Identify the recipe(s) you either make regularly or plan to make for the holidays. Knowing this will help you plan which ingredients you’ll need to have on hand for the immediate future.
- Working one shelf at a time, remove one food item at a time. While it’s still in your hand, you must complete the next critical step— find the expiration date. Why? So you know if it’s usable or if it needs to be purged and possibly replaced.
- If the item HASN’T yet expired, document the date. You can do it old-school by writing the date on the package.
- If there’s plenty of empty space where it will be easy to spot, write it in permanent maker.
- If not, write it on a small piece of paper and adhere it to the package is it’s easily visible or create a label. This way, you don’t have to waste precious moments of your life searching for it later (which many food manufacturers have you do). Another option is new-school by adding it to a digital app or logging it on a spreadsheet (local or cloud-based for access anytime/anywhere). Again, this will probably be a topic for a future blog.
- If it HAS expired, and if it’s something you’ll need for a recipe you plan to make soon, add it to your shopping list (paper or cloud-based) immediately! I’ve used the Shopping Pro app for years and the common saying applies— “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It works well for me so why switch? One of the things I love about this app is that when I add items to my food shopping list, I can identify their buying priority (3= High/Essential; 2= Medium/Needed; 1= Low/Optional; 0=No/Not Needed). I depend on this option all the time. I never wait until I’m out of something before I add it to my shopping list. I simply add it early and apply the appropriate buying priority of 1 (low), 2 (medium), or 3 (high). Once my inventory is too low for my need/comfort level, I’ll change the priority to 3 (high) and will purchase it on my next shopping trip.
If it’s something you never/rarely use, there’s no need to replace it if until that time comes.
What if you can’t find/understand the date on the label? My first step is to search the web. If that doesn’t answer my questions, I call the company’s customer service number. For example, when I had a question on my McCormick spices and I called, I was told that they have a shelf life of approximately 36 months after the “best buy” date on the label.
3. Of course, I can’t wrap this blog up without mentioning just a few reorganizing tips. Use this as an opportunity to overhaul your items/space so everything works better for you.
- Consolidate/Sort/Categorize/Label like/similar items together (spices together, condiments together, etc.)
- Place similar items together (in containers if you have them) to form easily identifiable categories (spices, etc.). Because I’m a visual learner, I love clear bins because it’s easier to see things even if they’re labelled.
- Maximize functionality/use of space. If the system you used didn’t work for you, do something different. And if that doesn’t work, you can always try something new later.
4. Before you put the items back and if you haven’t done this recently, use this as an opportunity to clean/wipe down the shelves. There’s nothing like knowing something is clean & fresh!
5. Apply these steps to your fridge and freezer.
I hope these holiday prep tips have helped you not only plan and execute your recipes but also helped you create more order in your refrigerator, freezer food pantry/cabinets. One of my favorite times to do this cleanup (particularly for the fridge) is right before I go on vacation. Why? Because I know that as soon as I come back, one of the first things I’ll have to do is restock the fridge. I can’t even begin to tell you how wonderful it feels to arrive home from that food shopping run and be able to quickly and easily put things away in a fridge that’s clean, neat, and organized.
I don’t know what’s worse— going food shopping or putting it all away when you get home.Emma Tringali, my beloved Mom
LET ME HELP YOU:
What’s your greatest organizing/efficiency challenge when it comes to holiday prep? Please let me know. I’m sure you’re not alone and perhaps I can offer some words of advice that will help you and others get unstuck. My wish for you is that you’re successful… with or without my hands-on help!
Brenda Tringali, CPO® (Certified Professional Organizer)
Organizing | Productivity | Speaker
At Your Fingertips Organizing
Serving Greater Myrtle Beach, SC or “virtually” anywhere via video
Brenda Tringali is the owner of At Your Fingertips Organizing. She provides Speaking, Organizing & Productivity services to Workplace/Residential clients both in person in the greater Myrtle Beach, SC area & “virtually” anywhere else via video, phone, etc. Brenda is an active member of NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing professionals) and the former Chair of NAPOCares, NAPO’s Social Responsibility Committee.