Day 7 of the Organize Your Pantry Challenge (continued)

Filed under :Organize Your Pantry, Pantry, ZIPLOCK Bags and Containers

I decided to take this post and go a little further into detail on food “packaging”.  Like I said in my last post, some foods were just not meant to be stored in the packaging that we purchase them in.  Some of this food packaging doesn’t hardly even stand up to the handling it receives in shipment to your local grocery store.

One item in particular that comes to mind is dried beans…. I don’t know how many of you include at least one meal of dried beans for your family per week, but it’s a staple at our dinner table.  Beans are good for you and they are loaded with protein.  For those who feel like you need to have a “meat” – easy, just add some sausage and you’re good to go.   But back to the subject of the packaging that dried beans are in… this plastic just doesn’t stand up well at all.  And, beans are NOT something that you should put into your pantry without re-packaging first.

Let’s take an example — these are a package of dried red kidney beans that I recently purchased at the grocery store.  I always check the beans WELL at the store before I put them into my buggy.  I am checking for worms or weevils.    Your first line of defense is to make sure that you do not bring bugs home in the food you purchase from the grocery store.   The packaging for these beans is a thin, plastic bag.  It’s not open anywhere (how many times have you seen open bags of beans in the grocery store along with dried beans all over the floor?)     It doesn’t have any visible bugs in the bag either so I place it in my buggy along with my other grocery purchases.   This type of packaging used on dried beans is NOT sufficient for long-term storage in your pantry.  Why?

First, it is easy enough to tell that the packaging is not “air tight”…. and, if you look very closely at this closeup pic, you’ll see that there is a tiny hole in the bag.   Anytime a package isn’t sealed and air can get out, bugs can also get in!  Dried beans are #1 on my list to re-package before they go into my pantry!!   Also, while I’m re-packaging them, it gives me a chance to give them the “once over” just to double check and make sure there are not any bugs that I missed when I inspected them at the store prior to purchase.   So, just how do I “re-package” them for my pantry?  Remember those ZipLocks I told you about?

I love using ZipLocks for food storage in my pantry.  They are airtight, keep my food fresh and keep bugs out.  Sometimes they also keep bugs IN…. I’ll explain.  Remember what I said, it’s important to protect your foods even if you are “bug free” because you could very easily bring some home with you on your next grocery trip!   As I transferred the beans from the original package and into the ZipLock, I tried to check them well to make sure there were not any bugs in them.  They could have easily have picked up bugs in bulk storage bins, at the packaging facility, in transit or even at the grocery store.    Everything looked fine with the beans :-)    But, just in case I did miss something, these beans are now sealed up, air-tight in this ZipLock.  If there were a weevil that I might have missed, he’s in this ZipLock and he can’t get out!  So, I’m doing 2 things here – I’m protecting these beans from bugs and, I’m protecting all of the other foods in my pantry from bugs just in case these beans had bugs in them when I purchased the package at the grocery store.  If I would have left the beans in the original packaging, and…. if these beans had bugs in them, then the bugs could have migrated and infested other foods in my pantry.

Now, storing beans in ZipLocks in your pantry could be hard to organize and keep in order.  Those ZipLocks can sure be slippery when you’re trying to stack them up.  So, here’s a solution that I found (and love!) for organizing items in my pantry.  They are plastic “shoe boxes” that I found at Wally World.  They are 97 cents each and they do come with a lid as well.   These are great containers to store food items in.  They hold a good bit of items (in this case, I have 6 bags of beans).  Also, because of the shape of the lid, these plastic storage containers are great to stack!

I purchase dried pinto beans in bulk at Sams Club.  But, we only eat about 2 cups for a meal.  What I like to do is measure out 2 cups of beans into a ZipLock bag, write the date on the bag, and place them  into these plastic shoe boxes for pantry storage.  Writing the date on the front of the ZipLock helps me to use the oldest items first :-)

Another item I repackage is Jello…. the outside box is fine but the thin paper “bag” inside would be just too easy for a bug to get into in my opinion LOL.    So,  I remove the paper bag from the box, write the expiration date at the top, and place all of the same flavor of Jello into one large ZipLock.   By taking the package out of the box, it gives me a chance to inspect it to make sure that there are no holes or bugs in the product.   You do not have to do this if you do not want to – you could just place the boxes directly into the gallon-sized ZipLock.  I find this brand on sale quite often at Walgreens and I like to stock up when it is cheap.   I place these ZipLocks into one of the plastic shoe box storage containers – I have one labeled “Jello Dessert” in my pantry.

One food item that I’m always paranoid about having bugs in is CEREAL.  I think it has to do with the time when I was a child that I was eating cereal out of the box for a snack.  First of all, let me say that my mom has the cleanest house of anyone I know!!  Got to get that said LOL   Well, a huge wood roach ran out of the box just as I put my hand in about the 4th time.  Still to this day, it makes me sick if I think about it too long LOL   Now, when I purchase cereal at the grocery store, when I get home, I like to open the box up and check to make sure that the inside package is air tight.  That’s my assurance that the cereal is fresh and hopefully has no bugs in it.  I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to take a box of cereal back to the grocery store if the inside bag wasn’t air tight LOL!   Once I open the package though, I like to transfer the cereal into a freezer ZipLock gallon-size bag if it will be going back into the pantry.   Then the ZipLock bag goes back into the original cereal box.

But, sometimes, instead of returning the opened cereal to the pantry (maybe because I’m out of gallon sized ZipLocks LOL), I will fold the cereal bag over a few times, place a clip on it and put it in the refrigerator.  But I would never place a “clipped” cereal bag back into the pantry….   As a matter of fact, there are quite a few items that I do store in the refrigerator in ZipLock freezer bags:

On my bottom shelf, I have two boxes of cereal, a box of grits and a box of pancake mix.   ZipLocks work really great inside of the refrigerator for items like pancake batter or grits because they keep the foods inside the boxes from becoming “stale” or tasting like the refrigerator.  And one thing that is SO IMPORTANT….. YOU CAN RE-USE THESE ZIPLOCKS over and over again!  For me, they are a necessary and important expense in helping me to keep my food safe, fresh and bug free.

Now there are quite a few items that I have in my pantry that I do not transfer over into ZipLocks.  These are items that I feel like the packaging is adequate for storage in the pantry until we consume them.  Take a look at the photo and you’ll get an idea of the items I’m talking about.     But since it is hard to keep these items organized in the pantry (because of their packaging), I like to store them in the plastic shoe boxes.  You can really fit a good many of these type sauces and gravy mixes in just one of the plastic shoe boxes.

I hope that this information helps you to store food in your pantry so that it is protected and will stay fresh for a long time.

Get Creative In The KITCHEN!

Filed under :Challenges, Freezer, Organize Your Pantry, Pantry

How many times do you find yourself in the “couple more days till payday” situation?  Well, today is August 29th and that’s where I am….  It’s a couple more days until we’re paid our salary (we’re paid on the 15th and the last day of the month).  I usually do my shopping on the day of or the day after payday.  I’m out of a couple of main ingredients in the pantry (milk & butter, etc) so many items that I could have prepared in the kitchen are “off the list”.  But that doesn’t mean that our pantry and freezer doesn’t still have plenty of food stored.  It does –  it’s just the items that I don’t usually cook, items we don’t usually eat, or items that take a little more “preparation” time and effort.  Do you know what that means?  Instead of going to the grocery store and buying more food, we’re going to MAKE DUE WITH WHAT WE HAVE.  It’s time to get creative in the kitchen!

The  best way to start is to RAID the pantry and the freezer.  You’ll be surprised at just what you have lurking or hidden in your food storage.  Today I found a package of split green peas, some frozen sausage patties, some frozen bacon, spiral pasta, a package of Italian dressing seasoning, some frozen shredded cheddar cheese, and frozen scallops.  So, for dinner, I’m going to get a bit creative with these items and make my family a gourmet meal!  Also, there are a couple of fresh produce items that I have and they need to be used ASAP so they do not go bad – I have two Roma tomatoes and two zucchini.  We always have plenty of tea bags – so just 2 tea bags and 1/2 cup of sugar will make a 1/2 gallon of tea.

Tonight’s dinner menu is:

  • Pan-fried marinated sea scallops in a zesty Italian sauce
  • Pasta salad with tomatoes and zucchini (sprinkled with shredded cheese)
  • Split pea soup with sausage and bacon bits (sprinkled with shredded cheese)
  • Sweet Tea
  • Jello for dessert

How does that sound?  Just imagine what this dinner will look like on the plate – green pea soup, white scallops with Italian dressing seasoning, multi-colored pasta salad with red tomatoes, green zucchini and orange shredded cheddar sprinkled on top, and for dessert – orange Jello :-)

Sometimes when you are forced to make it work and you are forced to be “creative”, you’ll find that those can be some of the best dinners you’ll ever prepare.  Don’t give in to the ease of going to the grocery store, buying more food and “breaking” your shopping schedule as well as your budget – stick to your guns and MAKE DUE WITH WHAT YOU HAVE .

If you are going to be joining us for the ORGANIZE YOUR PANTRY CHALLENGE (coming up Sept 15th), then using the items NOW that you have in your pantry will help you to get it cleaned out before the challenge begins in mid-September.  My plans are to only purchase the grocery items that absolutely have to have between now and Sept 15th and try to use up what I already have in my pantry.  So, for the next 2 weeks, I’ll be posting the meals that I’m creating from my pantry and freezer storage.  Hopefully, this will get you motivated and give you ideas for your dinners.

UPDATE:  Dinner was wonderful!  Because it was items that we don’t normally eat, the taste was especially good :-)   Also, the split pea soup was a complete hit!