Food Storage Tips
The best way to save money on food is to buy food when it’s on sale. That means that you have to buy enough when it’s on sale to last until it’s on sale again. And that means you have to be able to store it without it going bad. This process is called “stockpiling.” It’s not about hoarding or buying things you don’t need or won’t use. It’s just about not paying full price for things you don’t absolutely have to.
- Designate one or multiple areas of your home as food storage. This can be part of your kitchen, a storeroom, or any other area. You can store food in bins under your bed, in the ‘attic’ of a bathroom drop ceiling if accessible (make sure to protect from humidity), in closets, even in baskets tucked into your Ikea bookcases. If you, like many people living in Greece, have a small kitchen with a tiny refrigerator, don’t despair – many, many foods can be stored at room temperature over the long term with a few precautions.
- What are good foods to stockpile? There are a few categories to go by:
- Dry staple foods: pasta (white and whole wheat, spaghetti and shapes – the cheapest whole wheat pasta is AB’s store brand), rice (white, parboiled, basmati, and whole grain – the cheapest rice is the parboiled and basmati at Lidl when on sale), dried legumes (chickpeas, navy beans, lentils, yellow split peas [i.e., Greek fava / φάβα], black eyed peas; others if you can find them, like black beans (can be found at Bahar on Evripidou St. in Athens), kidney beans, green split peas), bulgur (a parboiled wheat product that can be added to salads or cooked with sauces, called pligouri / πληγούρι in Greek – best purchased from the laiki, as it’s very overpriced at supermarkets), unmilled wheat (if you have a grain grinder; even if you don’t, there are recipes you can make with this, but I grind it to make cheap and much more tasty whole wheat flour), oats.
- Flours: all purpose flour, bread (hard) flour, whole wheat flour (if you don’t grind your own), cornmeal (the cheapest is AB’s store brand), cornstarch, almond flour. Note on flours: Put each package of flour into the freezer and leave it there for at least 48 hours, then store it normally in your pantry. This helps kill bug eggs that were in the package coming from the factory, which is extremely common and if left alone can lead to bugs in your flour!
- Baking Supplies (some of these obviously can be in very small quantities, and others may not interest you at all): baking powder, baking soda, salt (table and coarse), spices and herbs (whatever you use), white granulated sugar, (cheapest at Lidl) dark brown sugar (cheapest at AB), molasses, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, chocolate chips, chocolate sprinkles, food coloring, vegetable shortening, gelatin sheets, citric acid, cocoa powder, etc.
- Canned Goods: corn, kidney beans, tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, whole tomatoes, tomato paste, cranberry sauce – whole berry and jellied (only sold at AB and only around the holidays), jalapenos (canned at Carrefour, jarred at AB), pineapple, sour cherries, peaches, sweetened condensed milk, condensed milk. As a general rule, I avoid buying canned goods that are available dry, because they are usually cheaper dry, but I have never seen kidney beans cheaper dry than canned in Greece. I buy the Kyknos brand of kidney beans for €0.67/can.
- Jarred Goods: pickles, olives (usually best to get at the farmers’ market), capers (unless you live somewhere where you can collect your own!), jalapenos (AB), etc.
- Sauces and Oils: olive oil, other cooking oils (Lidl sells peanut oil), vinegars (red, white, balsamic, apple), dijon mustard, ketchup, soy sauce, mayonnaise, etc.
- Bread Products: factory sealed tortillas (Lidl has the best price when they have Mexican food on sale), breadsticks, paximadia (rusks); hamburger buns and sliced sandwich bread can be stored in the freezer.
- Coffees and Teas: Greek coffee, filter coffees, espresso, instant coffees, tea bags, coffee whitener, coffee filters.
- Beverages: soda water, seltzer, juices, wine, liquor, UHT milk, hot chocolate mix.
- Nuts and Dried Produce: raisins, almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios, sundried tomatoes. Once you open a package of nuts, keep it in the freezer.
- Frozen Foods: beef, ground beef, pork, ground pork, turkey, chicken, fish, frozen vegetables of all kinds, frozen berries, anything you find at the farmers’ market and buy too much of that freezes well (okra, mushrooms, spinach, pumpkin, green beans, brussels sprouts, sliced peppers, sliced zucchini, sliced eggplant), shredded cheese (the cheapest ‘parmesan’ copycat in Greece is shredded myzithra – trimmeni myzithra / τριμμένη μυζήθρα).
Refrigerator Foods: eggs (fresh eggs kept in the fridge can last up to 3 months), ultra-high pasteurized milk (will last until exp. date; or can be frozen indefinitely).
How to protect your stockpile: buy a bunch of dried bay leaves (dafni / δάφνη) and lay them out or tape them to your pantry shelves. Cheaper option: find a friend with a laurel tree and dry the leaves yourself!) Put a couple into each large flour jar. The bay leaves give off a smell that bugs hate, but which doesn’t get into the food and change the taste. These are a good additional insurance policy combined with freezing flours. Dried fruit are another good item for freezing for the same reason.
Always write the expiration date on the front of a can / package in clearly visible print. Store like items together in reverse order of expiration, so that the item first to expire is in front. As you add items, add to the back.
Your refrigerator foods are your first priority in terms of using them up, because they will go bad first. If you begin to suspect you cannot use up items in your fridge before they go bad, either freeze them as they are, prepare them in some way for freezing (chopping), or cook them and freeze the meals. Even just cooking and refrigerating the food will buy you a week usually, when the ingredient probably wouldn’t have lasted that long on its own! Never let anything go bad on you – that is money dumped straight into the trash can.
Your freezer foods are your second priority in terms of using them up. We all have limited freezer space, so making sure that we have room in there for the next great sale is a good idea.
It’s okay if your pantry stockpile keeps getting bigger and bigger – as long as things aren’t going bad, you’re just providing your family with increased food security.
Store bread in the freezer until it’s been opened; then store it in the fridge. Never store bread in a bread box or on the counter or any other place, because it will get stale and not only do you risk throwing it away, but it’s less filling when the moisture is gone, causing you to consume more of it.
In my next Frugal Tips post, I’ll address the Greek-crisis-specific issues that we need to keep in mind, especially the “will Greece leave the Eurozone” question.