Now that Halloween is over, the holiday season is truly right around the corner. Before the mayhem begins, set aside some time to take stock of your pantry, refrigerator and freezer to ensure you have all the essentials on hand, for day-to-day use and for entertaining. Take inventory of what you have, clear out expired and unneeded items, and make a list of what you need to buy. Yes, this requires time and energy, but the stress it will save you later will make it worth it. I promise.
First stop: the dreaded spice cabinet, where deciding what to keep and what to toss can be confusing. Take everything out of the cabinet or off your spice rack so you can see all of it at once — and so you can clean those surfaces. Bottles that are almost empty should be recycled, as should any that are well past their expiration date. If there is no expiration date on the bottle and you think you’ve had it for more than a year, go ahead and toss it. Martha Stewart advises that spices remain potent for about a year, if stored properly. Check your supply of salt and pepper, too, and start your shopping list with spices you need to replace.
A paper list still works well for many people, but if you’re more technically inclined, you could try one of several popular grocery list apps such as Out of Milk, OurGroceries, Grocery Pal, Grocery IQ (all available for Android or iOS) or AnyList (available for iOS). Some of these apps allow you to collaborate with family members on shopping lists, some search for coupons at nearby stores, and some let you save recipes and integrate the ingredients into your shopping list.
Next stop: baking essentials. My list of must-haves includes flour, sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla extract (why do they sell it in such tiny bottles?), chocolate chips, cornstarch and vegetable oil. I store flour and sugar in airtight containers that are easy to scoop from. It’s a good idea to top off those containers now. Then add any missing items or things you’re running low on to your shopping list. If you are planning to do any cookie baking, don’t forget to check your stock of holiday sprinkles and other decorating items.
This list will vary from person to person and family to family, but here’s a basic list of things that are good to have on hand — and to possibly buy more of — if you’re entertaining for the holidays: olive oil and another basic cooking oil; soy sauce; canned tomatoes and beans; spaghetti or other pasta; vegetable, chicken or beef stock; assorted rice options; boxed cereal or oatmeal; crackers, including a fancy box for a last-minute cheese plate; honey, peanut butter, jam or jelly; syrup; garlic, potatoes and onions. The folks at Bon Appétit recommend you store those last three items in your pantry, not your refrigerator.
Other things to take stock of are tinfoil, plastic wrap, plastic storage bags, and plastic or glass storage containers. And last, but certainly not least, don’t forget to make sure you have a variety of tea and plenty of coffee on hand.
Cleaning the refrigerator and freezer is at the top of the list of least fun chores, but it’s also near the top of most satisfying ones. And because it has to be done once in a while, why not now, before guests arrive? Take everything out; wipe off the walls, shelves and drawers; and toss all expired and nearly empty bottles. Replace the baking soda box that keeps your refrigerated food fresh, and stock up on butter (buy multiple boxes and put a few in the freezer), eggs, Parmesan, mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise and lemons. Also buy some extra loaves of bread (they can be stored in your freezer) and some frozen vegetables. And while you’re at it, change the filter in your refrigerator’s water dispenser, if you have one, and empty the ice bin or trays, wash them out and start fresh.
Now that you’ve taken inventory of what you need, cleaned out what you don’t and made a shopping list, there are just a few remaining items you’ll want to pick up at the store before the holiday rush. Get a few extra packages of paper napkins and cocktail napkins, plastic utensils to use in a crunch, and some wine and beer to have on hand. You can always add to your supply later, but if friends or neighbors stop by unexpectedly, you’ll want to be able to offer them a drink. I like to keep a few wine bags on hand, too, in case I bring wine as a hostess gift.
There will be more than enough errands to run and activities to keep you fully booked in the coming weeks, so now is a great time to take a few things off your to-do list and save yourself from last-minute trips to the store. Plus, a well-stocked, clean kitchen makes a perfect early holiday gift to yourself.