It's the most wonderful time of the year...
I've been softly singing that tune for the past two weeks in anticipation of my three teenage sons and me going back to school. Yes, I love my boys and have loads of fun home with them in the summer, but it's time. I look forward to the weeknights that everyone is home by 9 p.m. (no more late baseball games!) and fast asleep before 11--mom, too. My days will soon be filled with bright-eyed budding chefs to be learning how to hold a knife properly, fillet a fish, and shop for the best quality foods.
With school just around the corner, my family, much like yours, needs to get its act together. Early fall is a perfect time of year to get organized for school and home. Even if you are not sending anyone off to school this list will help you gain control of your home before the holidays are upon us and it really gets crazy.
Take advantage of back-to-school supply sales
Clean and de-clutter your pantry, refrigerator and freezer
- Pick up note cards and a note card box to create a "guest box." Each time you have a guest in your home make a note of what you served and their favorite foods or any allergies. You will soon become the hostess of the year! This is especially helpful when you host play dates.
- Buy a ruler and compass. Plastic or metal rulers are great for marking pastry dough or sizing up baked dishes filled with homemade protein bars or savory lasagna for equal portions. The compass will make life easy when you want a perfect circle shape for a meringue or pie crust. (Add a pencil and some parchment paper to the cart, too.)
- Add an extra accordion folder to your back-to-school list. Instead of English, Math, and Science on the tabs, label with Poultry, Fish, Beef/Pork, Vegetarian, Breakfast, Dessert, and Snacks. Whenever you see a recipe you might want to try, slip it into the folder. Consult your recipes folder when you make your weekly shopping list.
- Pick up a paper protector with a plastic removable spine. This is a great two-for-one deal. Use the sheet protector to keep your recipes free from liquids or food. The plastic spine will work great as a small knife protector. Simply measure the length of your knife blade and snip the plastic spine to the required length. Carefully slide the knife into the plastic spine for storage. Your knives will stay sharper longer and little fingers won't be in danger in kitchen drawers.
Fall clean-and-food prep ideas
- I've been on a mission the past two weeks trying to use up all the odds and ends in my freezer and pantry. It actually has been kind of fun, believe it or not. Check expiration dates on all canned and jar goods. Use the first in, first out method to cook with items that expire the earliest. Check frozen foods for freezer burn or packed ice crystals. Most frozen foods will only stay at their peak for 3-6 months.
- Instead of tossing used glass food jars, wash and reuse. Peanut butter jars with just one tablespoon left in the jar become a fun school lunch container. Wash and trim celery to fit just within the jar. Place the celery into the jar using the peanut butter on bottom to "glue" the celery in place. Bring the jar home to reuse or dispose in recycling at school.
- Salad in a jar is another way to use up larger glass jars. Pour a tablespoon of your favorite salad dressing into the bottom of a large jar. Layer vegetables (cucumbers, carrots, and tomatoes hold up well), chicken or canned beans, and salad greens. You will be the envy of the work or school lunchroom. By keeping the dressing on bottom your lettuce, which is on top, will stay crisp until lunchtime. Just shake and eat.
- Set up freezer according to meals. I like to put all breakfast and snack items in one area, right at eye level. Pre-teens can make a selection by themselves on busy days. For dinner, group recipe ingredients close to each other so it's an easy grab and go at night.
Following these simple and easy ideas will earn you an A+ for all your efforts in the kitchen.
- Mix up a batch of fruit spray wash. Combine 3 parts water with 1 part white vinegar into a spray bottle. Just mist fruit with spray, then rinse. Give a good scrub to remove waxy coatings.
- Detail clean your kitchen sink. Think about it...you rinse dirty dishes, soiled cutting boards, raw meats, and dirty hands in your kitchen sink. Give it a good once over with a solution of 1 tablespoon of bleach in 1 quart of water. Make sure you hit the faucet and handle since it can be just as germ ridden. And don't forget the drain catchers--run them through the dishwasher occasionally since they catch the worst of the food remnants day after day.
- If you use sponges in the kitchen, replace any that have seen better days. You can sterilize them by microwaving wet sponges for 30 seconds or running them through the dishwasher.
What is your best fall organizing tip?
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