Learning your way around the kitchen is a great way to save money and eat healthily. Learning to cook is probably the single easiest way to save money on your grocery and eating out budget, as you will find that buying ingredients instead of ready-packaged foods is much, much cheaper – not to mention better for you.
But in order to save money in the kitchen, the cooking part of things is only half the battle. The other thing to be aware of is that incorrect storage of food will cost you time and money in the long run. Having your food stored and organised also means you avoid doubling-up and wasting food that goes off because you’ve forgotten about it. It can also be dangerous to eat food that has been incorrectly stored, so I have put together the following guide for the correct storage of food and ingredients.
A well stocked larder is the secret weapon of any thrifty cook. And being able to rustle up healthy meals without leaving the house is the secret weapon of anyone who is too lazy to venture outdoors on a chilly Sunday evening. The biggest challenge with store cupboard storage is to ensure your food is kept in air-tight containers, and that the cupboard is cool and dry.
For things that come in non-resealable containers, like flour, sugars, lentils, etc, invest in a set of good quality glass or plastic containers. I bought a bunch of these canisters below from John Lewis (£2.50 ea), that I like because they are glass so you can easily see when you are running low on things without having to open them, and they have a little spot on the front for a label, so you know exactly what’s inside. And I like the old-fashioned style, they look very pretty filled with different grains and sugars.
I also bought a bunch of these ones below (£9 ea 1.7L) that are great for throwing smaller individual opened bags of nuts, chocolate bits, etc in together so they will stay fresh and keep the pests out. They also work for bigger ingredients, like pasta, cereal and cookies. You can find cheaper versions of these everywhere, in pound shops, Ikea, and even the supermarket.
These clips below (£7 for 4) are also great for clipping shut plastic and paper bags and keeping things fresh in the cupboard. You can find similar ones all over the place – even a clean clothes peg will do!
A good thrifty cook also knows the importance of cooking in bulk every now and then in order to stock up the freezer with meals for those days you can’t be bothered cooking; as well as for keeping stocked with uncooked meat and fish.
The guidelines for freezing meat can vary between products, so if you’re unsure, you can check the Food Standards Agency UK guidelines here. In general, freeze uncooked meat on the day of purchase (before the use-by date); and defrost on the day you want to cook it, either in the fridge or in the microwave if you are going to cook it as soon as it’s been defrosted. Always ensure the meat is cooked thoroughly and is piping hot before serving. With leftovers, freeze and re-heat until piping hot, and freshen up by adding extra fresh ingredients in the last few minutes. Remember to never reheat food more than once.
For practicality sake, I tend to store things in the freezer either in clear plastic bags, or in tuperware containers. Plastic bags are great because you just write in black market the date you are freezing it on, instructions for re-heating and any fresh ingredients to add at the end (to save getting the recipe book out). I also always freeze things in single servings, because the days I want to eat frozen leftovers are usually when I’m cooking for one, and having to defrost a double serving, heat it and throw half of it away is a huge waste; but you can always grab two single servings out if you are cooking for two.
The fridge is potentially the most dangerous breeding ground for bacteria in the whole kitchen, so start by keeping the inside clean, and wash the shelves and crisper trays regularly in warm soapy water. Also make sure the fridge is set to a cold enough setting to prevent bacteria growing.
When storing food in the fridge, store according to packaging instructions for the recommended time (I tend to take used-by dates with a grain of salt though; if something smells bad, don’t eat it, but use your common sense otherwise you will be throwing away perfectly fine food!) Keep raw meat in sealed containers on the bottom shelf and cook within a couple of days. When putting leftovers in the fridge, cool the food quickly before refrigerating.
Fruit & veg
Your fruit and vegetables should be kept in a cool, dry spot. I tend to put most vegetables and salad in the crisper draw in the fridge, except potatoes, which should be ideally kept somewhere dark. The only problem with the drawer is that I often forget what’s in there and end up throwing a lot away – having a scrounge around once a week and making a big stew with all the things that are a little too old to be eaten raw is a great way to use them all up.