50 Food Storage Tips to Help Save Money and Cut Waste
Frugal consumers are always looking for tips and tricks to help cut food costs and waste, and many of these come down to smart storage. Storing food properly allows budget-minded shoppers to purchase items in bulk at a lower cost, for example. Keeping fresh produce in good condition for as long as possible is also a key to stretching food dollars and making fewer trips to the store. These 50 food storage tips are designed to help consumers spend less and enjoy more.
Related: 10 Pantry and Freezer Staples Worth Buying in Bulk
Many foods stay fresh longer when not stored in the original packaging. Keeping an assortment of sizes of food-grade plastic or glass containers (style and prices vary) provides an easy way to store all kinds of bulk food -- from grains and flours to dehydrated meals and dried legumes, as well as spices and other powders.
Instead of throwing away the ends of onions, carrots, and celery, toss them in a freezer bag along with mushroom stems, stray garlic cloves, and herb stems. When the bag is full, use it to make a flavorful broth or stock from ingredients that otherwise would've wound up in the garbage.
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Having access to small amounts of homemade stock and broth can be a real timesaver. If stored in one big container, it's difficult to add just a cup or a few tablespoons to a recipe. Instead, freeze stock in ice cube trays and store in plastic storage bags for easy use anytime, no matter how much or how little the recipe calls for.
Related: 10 Cheap and Easy Soup Recipes
Sheets sold under the label Fenugreen FreshPaper are designed to line produce drawers in the fridge and help keep fruits and vegetables fresh up to four times longer. Many consumers reviewing the product on Amazon confirm that the sheets help extend the life of produce, significantly reducing waste. Shoppers must decide if that's worth a price of $9 for eight sheets.
Although most Americans store butter in the fridge, keeping butter on the counter is typical in many parts of the world. Room-temperature butter is easier to spread on toast, meaning less could be used overall, saving more. Just be sure to use within a few days and keep stored properly -- for instance, in a French butter bell.
Basements tend to be one of the most temperature-stable spaces in the house, because they lie mostly underground. Use a dark and cool corner of the basement to store root vegetables purchased on sale. Store produce in mesh bags to allow air circulate and reduce the risk of unwanted pests.
Use food storage bags or other containers to stay organized; avoid spills and waste from open bags of staples, such as flour, sugar, and tea; and keep bugs out of food.
If you can't find an ingredient, you are likely spend money on something you already have. Keep like items together and store things with a common purpose together. For example, keep tea and honey in the same cupboard, and keep baking ingredients together in the pantry.
Storing food in jars has a lot of benefits that translate into savings. Use old jars that once contained sauce, pickles, jam, or other foods. Most are clear, which allows the contents to be seen clearly, and they protect food without fear of leaching harmful chemicals.
It may be tempting to throw the one remaining portion of casserole in the garbage after eating it for a few meals in a row, but that's money in the trash. Freeze leftovers for later, when that same meal that seems boring now will make a tasty lunch.
Related: 11 Ways to Spice Up Leftovers
Busy schedules often make the temptation of takeout or delivery too convenient to avoid. You can be one step ahead by making pre-made meals like lasagna, chicken casserole, or rice and beans that just need a quick reheat in the oven. These convenient meals are much cheaper than prepared meals or dinner out.
Related: 21 Takeout Meals Made Cheaper at Home
Rather than keeping cooking oil in the large container it's sold in, keep a small bottle for each type that can be refilled. Store the larger bottles of oil in a cool, dark place away from the kitchen's heat to help extend shelf life.
Whole wheat flour contains wheat germ, which spoils easily in warm temperatures. Keep it fresh and prevent it from going rancid by storing it in the fridge.
Heat and sunlight damage spices, causing them to lose flavor and pick up stale flavors. If a spice rack is used, keep it away from the heat of the stove and out of natural light. Even a refrigerator is a better alternative to a hot, sunny countertop.
Greens are difficult to store for longer than a few days, and once they start to go bad it can be challenging to pick out spoiled leaves from the rest. Storing greens with paper towels helps maintain a healthy level of moisture, keeping them crisp and unwithered.
Certain fruits keep better in the fridge, while others do better at room temperature, and storing them properly reduces waste. Citrus, tomatoes, and avocados, for example, are better left unrefrigerated, but cucumbers, peppers, and carrots are better stored in the fridge. Certain foods like apples and pears can handle either.
Once an avocado is sliced apart it oxidizes and turns brown quickly, making it less appetizing. Keeping the pit in the piece of avocado to be saved slow the process and keeps it fresher longer. Stash the pit in a large batch of guacamole to help it stay green and fresh looking.
Most chocolate has a high fat content, which tends to spoil quickly and pick up other unwanted flavors. Keeping chocolate in the fridge properly wrapped will keep it fresh for months at a time, extending the life and preserving the flavor of this sometimes costly ingredient.
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Nuts have a naturally high fat content and can spoil within a few days if exposed to heat and sunlight. Rancid nuts are destined for the garbage, which is a shame, especially since they can be a pricey item. Storing nuts in the freezer allows for the purchase of larger packages at a discount and keeps them in good condition for up to a few months.
Labeling containers is essential to staying organized and efficiently finding food that's been stored. Arrange food storage containers so that the label can be seen at a glance to avoid digging through shelves or boxes.
Soggy celery can be used to make stock and broth and doesn't need to be thrown out. But if it's for snacking, crunch matters. Keep celery stalks crisp by wrapping them in aluminum foil before stashing in the fridge.
Breadboxes have largely gone the way of rotary telephones, leaving many households to store bread in the fridge. But that's no place for bread; the cold temperature causes loaves to go stale faster. The best place to keep bread is in a cool dark place, like a breadbox (from about $13 on Amazon), or even the microwave (when not in use, of course).
Having freezer bags on hand makes it easy to preserve an unexpected peck of fresh produce or leftovers from a generous meal. Nearly all foods -- from soup to nuts -- can be frozen easily using freezer bags, which are slightly thicker than regular plastic storage bags to help prevent freezer burn.
Food storage bags are used for so many different things, and many times they can be rinsed, dried, and reused. Stick to bags that aren't heavily soiled and haven't contained fatty foods, since the residue is difficult to wash out, or raw meat.
Rather than accumulate a hodgepodge of different shapes of storage containers, look for containers that fit together. Being able to stack containers and/or nest the inside each other when empty will maximize the space and help keep everything feeling and looking organized.
A vacuum sealer (from about $30 on Amazon) is a one-time investment that can pay for itself time and again in the long run. If you routinely purchase large cuts of meat, whole animals, or other bulk proteins, a vacuum sealer helps store individual portions safely for a long time.
Save money by buying several packages of butter when on sale and storing extras in the freezer. Butter freezes well with no change to flavor or texture if used within a few months.
Boost savings by maximizing overall space used for food storage. Install shelves on empty walls to create more space to stack and store staples. If the shelves are exposed, store food in attractive containers that complement the decor.
When brown sugar dries out, it turns hard and unusable and may wind up in the garbage. To maintain moisture, store bagged brown sugar with a marshmallow or two and place in a sealed container.
Wine goes bad when exposed to oxygen, but storing leftover wine in smaller bottles or jars with less air space can help keep oxygen from destroying the flavor and structure of the wine. While not as aesthetically pleasing, storing leftover wine in a mason jar will keep it fresh for days longer.
Bananas tend to ripen fast and all at once. To slow the process, wrap the banana stem in plastic wrap. To slow it down even more, break the bananas apart and wrap each individual stem. This keeps the gas the stems give off from ripening the fruit too fast.
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The best way to keep mushrooms firm and dry is in a paper bag in the fridge, a method that provides the proper balance of humidity and moisture and allows air to circulate. Stored in this way, mushrooms can last up to 10 days without getting soggy, funky, or spoiled.
If the fridge is too cold, it may actually freeze food, especially items in drawers or in the rear of the unit. Conversely, if it's too warm, other items will spoil faster. The ideal temperature is 35 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit, cold enough to keep foods fresh without freezing.
The best way to store fresh herbs is in a tall glass or vase with water in the bottom for the roots to soak up. Place a plastic bag over the top, unsealed, and store in the fridge. Treating them like fresh flowers with new water each day will keep them healthy and vibrant for up to 10 days.
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Crystallized honey is safe to use, but it can be hard and unsightly and may wind up in the garbage. To avoid crystals, store honey in a cupboard, not the fridge. To get rid of crystals, warm the jar of honey in a pan of warm water.
Wash strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and other berries in a 10-to-1 ratio of water and vinegar to help keep them plump and fresh for up to twice as long, while also ridding them of any pests that might be lurking in the package.
Many recipe call for just a small amount of tomato paste or sauce, leaving a mostly full container that will only last a few days in the fridge. Rather than watch it spoil, place it in a flat layer in a freezer bag so you can break off pieces to use in future recipes without wasting any.
Dense dairy products like yogurt, cottage cheese, and sour cream create a seal just under the lid when turned upside down. The seal will prevent oxygen from getting into the container and spoiling the contents and extend product life.
Fresh herbs are one of the trickiest items to store properly, and even then their shelf life is short. Storing fresh herbs in oil infuses the oil, and extends the life and flavor of the herbs well beyond the few days they would otherwise stay fresh in the fridge or on the countertop.
If you have a fairly extensive supply of stored food, it's a good idea to keep a list of what's on hand. You can reference it to see if you have something in stock, rather than waste time sifting through shelves of containers.
Freezing wet produce can result in unusable food in some cases. Freezer burn can adhere to the fruits and veggies and cause unwanted flavors and a mushy texture, making the frozen food unappetizing.