There’s a term in the manufacturing industry called “just-in-time.” We’re betting that not everyone reading The Budget Ecoist is a manufacturing enthusiast, so we’ll quickly give you Wikipedia’s definition and put you out of the misery of not being in the know of such exciting language. Just-in-time (also known as JIT) “is an inventory strategy implemented to improve the return on investment of a business by reducing in-process inventory and its connected carrying costs.” In other words, the longer you hold onto inventory, the more it costs you.

Remember this next time you shop at Costco.

We have to say we’ve never been big fans of stores that sell toilet paper rolls in packs of 48, or ten pound bags of lettuce. How many people are eating that salad, anyway? And who really needs 4 extra-large bags of tortilla chips? Isn’t it bad enough we can’t stop at just one? We’ve seen one too many overcrowded refrigerators, bursting at the seams with food, to be comfortable with this waste any longer. If you’re dollar is stretched, like most of us these days, we’ve got an easy way for you to cut back, and it starts in your kitchen.

Over the next three weeks we will be posting tips on Mondays, on how to properly store food in a manner that is both eco-friendly, as well as budget-friendly. Together we can stop the waste, and save some cash. Are you in? If so, let’s start at the beginning! Today we will cover your kitchen evaluation. Next Monday, March 9, you can look forward to how to properly buy and store bulk food. Finally, on Monday, March 16, we’ll cover tips on easily growing and storing your own food (the simple stuff – no need to get overwhelmed!).

Your Kitchen Evaluation

If you’re someone who loves to grocery shop and keep your fridge stocked to the hilt, this is going to hurt. But it’s necessary. Just pretend it’s a band aid and rip it off. Now let’s get moving! Start with your refrigerator, as well as an empty sink and trash can. Quickly review everything inside. Toss out leftovers that are no longer good, or that you know you’ll never eat. Put expired foods (think milk, yogurts, etc) down the disposal and rinse/recycle the packaging. Go through your veggie drawers. If you have a compost pile, toss in anything that is past its prime, otherwise throw it away (unless you have a neighbor who has a compost pile – those crunchy neighbors will love your scraps!). Take a look at what’s clogging up your refrigerator doors. Are you one of those people who have ten different types of salad dressings? Are you really going to use them? If not, dispose of the contents and recycle the packaging.

When you’ve gotten your refrigerator down to the bare minimum of what you will truly be using, it’s time to move onto the freezer. A lot of people seem to prescribe to the rule that freezing means the food can stay in there forever. Trust us – if you’ve ever had frost-bitten shrimp a year later, you would know that’s not the case. Pull the food out of the freezer. This will allow you to do two things: 1) make yourself re-acquainted with food you’ve totally forgotten about, and 2) see what is actually still good, versus what’s been thrown in haphazardly, and certainly in no condition to ever be thawed and eaten unless under desperate circumstances. For any food that has not been properly stored in the freezer (i.e. in freezer-type bags or containers, or still unopened), you’re most likely going to want to throw it away. Is it compostable? Can the containers be recycled? Once you’ve reviewed all the food and pared it down to the minimum, you will want to put everything back into the freezer in a logical manner. Food that will be used frequently (say frozen fruits if you make daily smoothies, or meats you plan to cook over the next several weeks) should be front and center, while food that is stored over longer periods of time and used less often (think cubes of fresh pesto you froze, in season, and now use throughout the year when a recipe calls for it) can be stored in the back. Once completed, do a quick inventory and write down what you have left so you’re aware of the frozen fruits you have, as well as the salad dressings and condiments.

Now that your fridge and freezer are cleaned, it’s time to go through your cabinets. You’ll use the same methodology here: pull the food out so you can review what you actually have, dispose of anything past its prime, donate food that is edible but that you honestly won’t be using, whenever tossing food determine if there is any opportunity to compost or recycle. Once you’ve pared your cupboards to the minimum, do an inventory. This is an especially important step for your cupboards since this is where most people keep things like cornstarch, flour, sugar and the like. And not remembering what you have is a major culprit in causing one to buy what one does not need! And thus, the cycle of waste continues…

So, that was probably a good afternoon’s work of work – but what an accomplishment, eh? And now for a bit of homework (don’t worry, it’s fun!): Before next Monday’s post, take some time to think about your favorite meals. Are you a cereal and fruit for breakfast kind-of person, or do you prefer oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar? Maybe you like smoothies, or yogurt with granola and berries mixed in. Do you cook with fresh veggies and always have fruit around for snacking? Or do you prefer to throw some canned tomatoes and thawed chicken breasts, along with some seasoning, into a crock pot and come home to dinner ready to be served? Think about how and what you like to eat so that come next Monday, you will know what makes sense for you to buy and store in bulk. For now, enjoy the feeling of being able to see what the back of your refrigerator looks like!