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One thing that recent events have led to is the realization that the kitchen and pantry cannot continue to be set up the same way. I always felt that my small kitchen could be organized better and have really tried to make some improvements but I have to admit I have never really been satisfied with how it is organized. Both Matt and I are always rummaging to find a specific thing. Now that we are eating more bulk foods and have stopped stocking some items in our kitchen, it has really gotten out of hand.
Opening up vacuum-sealed bags and mylar so that we can rotate our preps means having bags open and clipped. You cannot just glance in the cabinet and see exactly what we have. There is also the issue of bags always falling over which can lead to spillage if you are not careful how you clip it.
I really love my kitchen but it is small compared to what a lot of people have. I have quite a few cabinets but I am low on counter space at least in part due to buying an electric toaster oven and a hotplate to help reduce our propane consumption during the pandemic and have a back up if the propane runs out at some point.
Pantry Organization and Designing a SHTF Kitchen Layout
Eventually, the plan is to have a small table near the kitchen that will provide additional counter space rather than sometimes using the dining table which is not that far from the kitchen. No matter what size kitchen you have, if you are making enough food products at home, there may be times when it feels a little cramped.
You can get small carts and other things that can help add counter and prep space to your kitchen but I think Matt is just going to make mine out of wood we have on hand so that it matches the rest of the house. Never underestimate just how much a little extra counter space can help in a kitchen. Of course, the downside to that is that it is more space to get cluttered too.
Finding containers to fit your space can be challenging.
I did a lot of research on different containers. For starters, I didn’t want to buy something that was not durable. I don’t like buying things again and again. We have a cast iron sink that is notorious for causing breakage of glass items that slip out of your hands. I love my sink but here lately with so many things stored in mason jars, there have been a few incidents. Once time just the lid broke but I lost about 4 oz of bread yeast and I found out the hard way that yeast will not just wash down the drain. It will clog your sink quite badly. I had to use oxygen cleaner to clear the line out. I was just thankful that the pipes didn’t have to be taken apart and cleaned out that way.
Rubbermaid Brilliance System
I found this system after doing a lot of research. There are a variety of appealing features when it comes to this system. For starters, they come in a variety of sizes and shapes that are made to easily stack on each other. Sizes range from 0.5 cups to 19 cups. All containers are airtight and leak-proof and have easy to lock down handles.
The pantry sized containers are a much better deal if bought in a set. The same goes for the smaller containers if you are just getting started. Of course, you can pick up multi-packs of a certain size if you decide that you need more or a certain size meets your particular pantry needs.
Considering I have never really bought anything except a few baskets and pan racks, I didn’t feel too terrible about spending around $160 on containers, especially something from Rubbermaid. I have never bought a Rubbermaid product that was not of superior quality and exceptionally tough. For those of us that are making even more of an effort to buy US-made products, Rubbermaid makes sense for a lot of household needs.
How COVID-19 has changed my kitchen.
We are eating more foods that come in bulk and we have less garbage.
Purchasing larger amounts of one thing we use a lot of and then repackaging into smaller sealed containers has made a lot of sense for us and reduced how much garbage we produce. It is amazing. We have actually had to start reminding each other about taking the trash out occasionally even when it is not full sometimes because it will sit too long. In order to avoid wasting bags, we just look around the house for anything that needs thrown out and empty all the waste bins into the one bag.
We are opening up some of our older stored foods and using them in our cooking.
It was time to rotate some food. It is very easy to put back food thinking it is for your 5-10 year food supply. That is that it will stay good for that long. Some things will and there are still other foods that may stay good for decades if sealed properly.
That being said, it is a good idea to use some stock and replace it with newly purchased preps. For example, if you find a mylar bag that seems to have a little too much air in it and it is a few years old, it is a good candidate to open and use up if it is still palatable and bug-free.
Remember that flour doesn’t keep as long as you might think. We opened some up that was 5 years old and sealed in mylar and it was pretty stale tasting. This is why so many choose to put back whole grains that have not been ground if they want something that will last for a very long time without tasting weird after a few years.
We have mostly just opened up some beans, grits, and mashed potatoes. After a few years, they all seem fine.
The refrigerator is mostly used for storing leftovers, unthawing meats, condiments, waxed cheese, opened canned goods and fresh pickled and fermented products. Oh and fresh yogurt and yogurt cheese!
Any really fresh stuff is coming in from the garden or from our Shiitake mushroom logs. We don’t have as much space taken up by canned beverages as we used to since we are making a lot of our beverages and kegging them. Seltzer and beer are on tap rather than in a can.
We are better about not leaving dried goods open for extended periods of time. We find creative ways to use them.
Let’s be honest. How much did you actually eat dried beans, rice, potatoes, etc before the pandemic? Maybe I am wrong but I think a lot of people didn’t eat some of these foods except occasionally because they take a little bit of time to cook and they need to be combined with other things to be tasty and not bland.
This is one of the reasons I asked James to do his article on recipes with beans and rice as well as a post on using oats. Even seasoned preppers that have been putting back those types of foods for years, don’t necessarily have a ton of ideas off the top of their head as to how to use them for meals they will actually enjoy. Here are the links to James’ posts if you are struggling with recipe ideas.
Our selection of spices has increased and we have been better about storing them and keeping them in more convenient containers.
Spices are really important when you are cooking from scratch. We have stocked up on some that we use often. Basically none of the ingredients we are using to cook are already seasoned so a good selection of spices to cook a lot of different cuisine is essential. Once you start cooking from scratch you realize just how much salt and other spices it takes to create a meal. When you are buying everything at least partially made already, it is easy to not know that.
Here is a link to an article on what spices and seasonings are good to have on hand. Remember that some spices are only grown in certain areas so the ongoing pandemic situation could lead to some not being as readily available. I didn’t realize that the basic black peppercorn that graces practically every table in the USA is mostly grown in India.
We cook from powdered foods more. Items like powdered whole milk and buttermilk, cheese powder, and more.
There was a time that I would have been a little appalled at the idea of using so many dried powders for cooking but that was years ago when I wasn’t aware of the variety and quality that was available. For example, if I had to make every cheese sauce with cheese powder that was full of artificial colors or flavors, I wouldn’t be as enthusiastic as I am when using a powder with real food ingredients. Yes, it costs more to get better quality dried goods but it is worth it.
Impulse Items and Treat Management
I have found that limiting the number of snacks and the types of snacks offered in the kitchen pantry help us both eat better and not blow through the convenient and easy to reach items quite so fast. During this time I have bought a few foods that before the pandemic I rarely bought but I figured I would buy a bulk pack of 2 oz bags of potato chips for example. I stashed half of the little bags in the more long term preps and have no plans to bring up more for quite some time. At least part of this is due to the fact that when they are too easy to get too they get consumed more than they should.
We don’t have kids so we are just having to practice food self-control ourselves. Those of you with kids are probably having to figure out some ways to keep them from eating up a lot of the snack foods and such. I have heard more than a few parents talking about how they are going to have to start rationing some items more because people being at home more has resulted in some things getting consumed way to fast and other more healthy options getting set aside.
The containers I bought are going to be a big help with rationing things out. Instead of having 4 lbs of one type of dried fruit or nuts out, we have had a single pound or even less of some items. When there is a huge container of something, it is easier to eat more in a single session.
It is important to have items stored where you use them the most.
For example, the dried items like chives, vegetable broth powder, minced garlic, and onion, are above the stove where we can get to them ins seconds when preparing meals.
Consider your kitchen layout and the flow of things.
It may take some time to get it set up the way that is best overall. It is one of those cases where you learn by doing and even if you have lived in your house for quite a while, you may not have spent that much time actually using your kitchen and pantry if you are like a lot of people in the USA. More time at home means more time preparing meals and eating at home too.
Other Food Storage Container Systems
Vacuum Sealer Lid Accessory and Containers
These are often sold under the Foodsaver brand and they require a vacuum sealer that has an accessory port and hose. Even some of the inexpensive vacuum sealers have these on them. Of course, the seal is broken every time you open the jar but this would work well for sealing up a larger container or maintaining the freshness and quality of a product that you simply don’t use that often.
You can buy a lid that will seal standard Mason jar lids and one for Wide Mouth jars too. This is a good way to use standard lids and rings to keep dry food in regular jars. If you are trying to save money and have a lot of Mason jars anyway, this might be a good choice.
These look impressive and they are in the same price range as Rubbermaid Brilliance. I kind of wish I had got a few of these just to see how well they perform. I may have to do that if I need some more really big containers. One of the negative aspects of the Rubbermaid Brilliance System is that it was sometimes hard to find packages of large containers for a reasonable cost. Regardless of the brand, it seems that you can do a lot better by getting a package of assorted size containers rather than buying individually. The downside is getting some smaller bins that you might not find as useful.
Generic Plastic Bins
I saw a lot of these on Amazon and eBay but I was a little concerned about buying just random plastic bins for our food. I am going to include a few that I found that people seem to be satisfied with. Most of these are made with the same style of heavy-duty plastic that you see in Rubbermaid containers but I cannot personally testify to the quality of any of these.
Amazon has their own brand that is similar to the Rubbermaid Brilliance System. These seem to lock down on 4 sides. To me, these would be a little annoying to open and close for that very reason but I have to say the price is alright and despite the shortcomings of Amazon, they do have an excellent return policy.
This is a big set that might be all you need to get your pantry organized. They appear to be similar to the Oxo brand and they include labels.
These are very similar to the Rubbermaid Brilliance containers. If I had not already bought a lot of containers I would be tempted to try these out because they have a solid rubber seal that is airtight and the size and shape of each container are appealing for a variety of dried foods.
Has the pandemic situation changed your kitchen and pantry? Have you found the need to organize things differently? Have you found that you would rather cook at home rather than go out to eat or get take out?