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Kitchen Organization Quick-Tip: Sort by Use

A quick tip for kitchen organization: Sort your kitchen by how you use things. Don’t get trapped into the idea that specific cabinets must contain specific items. Sort things in your kitchen and pantry based on how you use them and what you use together.

For example, I have one drawer that contains attachments for my mixer, silicone cupcake liners, frosting tips and bags, pastry blender, and all my measuring cups and spoons. This is my baking drawer. Conventional wisdom may say these things should be put away differently (utensils together, appliance attachments with other appliances etc.) but this works well for my kitchen. Because I bake 4-6 times a week (especially for breaksfasts), having all the needed baking supplies right in one spot is super handy. Plus that drawer is under the counter where my mixer sits and where I can roll dough. So everything I need is all in one spot and I don’t have to walk around the kitchen to grab anything.

Another example is our kid cabinet. We keep all kid dishes, cups, water bottles, and other plasticware together in one lower cabinet. This way the kids can easily get to their dishes for snacks and drinks (and the plasticware when it is their turn to clear the table). No sense in keeping the kid plates in the upper cabinet with other dishes. The people who need to use them can’t get to them.

Roasting a Chicken & Making Your Own Stock

When I tell people that I make my own chicken stock, they look at me like I am crazy. But this is actually an easy and affordable thing to do. Every two weeks (pay week) I buy a set of chickens from Sam’s Club (they have them at Costco too). I can usually get 2 good-sized chickens for $8-$10 total. The meat from these will make 3-4 meals for my family of 5. Every time you see a recipe on this site that calls for chicken I have used meat from a whole chicken that I roasted and made stock from. Using a whole chicken and making our own stock saves us a ton of money ($15-30 per week depending on what is on the menu).

The process here is simple and thanks to my slow cooker, does not require much work. I make one chicken and a set of stock each week.

  1. Defrost chicken (overnight in the sink or several days in the fridge works fine)
  2. Line the bottom of slow cooker with carrots, celery, garlic, onion, seasonings (we use oregano, thyme, and a touch of rosemary), salt, and pepper
  3. Rinse chicken
  4. Place chicken in slow cooker over veggies and seasonings
  5. Fill slow cooker with water to about 1 inch below top of the crock
  6. Set on high and leave it alone for 8-10 hours
  7. At the end of the day take the chicken out of the crock and allow it to cool. Separate into meal-sized servings and freeze. Put the slow cooker in the fridge overnight to allow the fat to rise to the surface and solidify.
  8. In the morning skim off all the fat
  9. Pour the liquid through a sieve to collect all the veggies and any chicken pieces or bones and collect in a large bowl.
  10. Strain stock again through cheese-cloth to get all the small solid pieces out. Sore in the fridge (we use coffee creamer bottles) for use throughout the week. Freeze if you don’t expect to use the stock in the coming week. (TIP: Freeze in ice cube trays then store in a zipper bag for easy adding to recipes.
UPDATE: To get a second batch of stock put the bones, skin and any chicken “remnants” you aren’t setting aside for future use in meals back into the slow cooker with carrots and celery and seasonings. Cover with water and cook all day again. You will get a 2nd batch of stock this way. Freeze it for later use.

For a true roasted chicken ball foil in the bottom of your slow cooker and don’t cover with water. Rub the skin of the chicken with butter and seasonings. You won’t get stock this way, but you will get a nicely roasted chicken with browned skin just like it was done in the oven. We don’t eat the skin so it works well to make stock and cook the chicken in water for us.

Saturday Project: Magnetic Kitchen Towel

We never have a good place to hang a dishtowel in the kitchen. It almost makes me miss the great towels of the 1970’s that were made with a strap that could go around the fridge handle and button to keep it handy. As I got to thinking about that I saw an ad for a dishtowel with a magnet in it…for $35! I could make that! And so can you. Here are the easy steps:

  1. Select a dishtowel
  2. Buy small round magnets at the craft or hardware store (they are often cheaper at the hardware store). These need to heavy enough to hold your towel up. (I took my towel to the hardware store and tried them out on a display fridge.)
  3. Wash towels
  4. In the corner of one towel place the magnet. Be sure that there is enough fabric so that you can fold it over and sew a pouch to hold the magnet.
  5. Sew the magnet closed in the folded-over corner.

It is that simple. Now we can “attach” the towels to the oven or fridge doors, keeping them handy. Why didn’t I think of this before?!

Labeling Leftovers

Leftovers are a fact of life in most families. We can’t afford to let this food go to waste! But when you look in the fridge and cannot easily tell what is in a container, do you skip using them and move on to something else? Do the kids spill containers trying to open them to see what is in there? That was happening a lot around our house until it dawned on me that we could use dry erase markers to label the tops of plastic and Corningware containers. Now kids don’t have to open a container to know what is in it (which means they are spilling things as much) and we can easily identify and group leftovers for later use.

The best part – the dry erase marker doesn’t wipe off too easily by little hands when on the plastic lids, but it washes right off with a damp cloth.

Re-Use Idea: Yogurt Containers

We eat a lot of yogurt in our house and the yogurt containers, both small 8 oz. size and the larger bulk sizes, are filling the trash. So I got to thinking…how can we reuse them? Here are some of my ideas…

#1. Measuring Cup -8 oz. yogurt container is 1 cup. Mark off half and quarter cup lines and you have an instant measuring cup. This is especially good for times when kids will be in the kitchen with you so that each kid can have their own “tools”.

#2. Popsicle Molds – fill with Kool-Aid or other drink mix and add a popsicle stick or straw and freeze for great summer popsicle treats.

#3. Food storage (large ones with lids) – Use the bulk sizes that come with lids to store leftovers. You can even use these to freeze leftover foods for future use.

#4. Stackable toys for toddlers – clean 10-12 (or more) and let your toddler or preschooler build away.

#5. Office, Workshop, or Craft storage –  use the individual serving sizes to store small office, workshop, or craft items (staples, screws, beads, etc). Or set a few on a desk for pen, pencil, crayon, or marker storage. You can cover these with scrapbook paper or fabric to match your decor.

#6. Sand Toys – Let your kids use various size containers to scoop and mold sand or for sand and water play.

#7. Seedlings – Fill with soil and use the small containers to start plants for your garden.

#8. Paint – Use the small ones for older kids who are less likely to spill for paint. Use any with a lid for younger kids. Simply cut a X in the top for them to stick their paintbrush through.

#9. Bathroom – Use them to hold toothbrushes and other bathroom items or as drinking cups. Cover them with fabric to match your decor.

#10. Camera – Use a yogurt container over the flash of your camera to diffuse the light or limit the flash from actually spreading light over your image while still causing the shutter to quickly open and close.

How do you reuse yogurt containers? Share your ideas in the comments section!

Pantry Essentials

An essential part of home organization is having the right items on hand and knowing where they are when you need them. People waste money buying things they already own but cannot find because of clutter and disorganization. In order to be responsible with the management of household finances, we must eliminate this habit.

The first step to reducing this waste in your kitchen is to keep a well-stocked pantry that is organized so that you can easily find what you need. Here is a list of my kitchen Pantry Essentials.

Before you run out and buy everything on this list, shop your pantry! Take everything out of your pantry, spice, and supply cabinets and go through what you have. Mark off whatever you already have. The goal here is to figure out what you have and then buy the rest. In the next post we will talk about organizing everything so that you can easily see what you have and get to it.

Do you have a pantry essential item that isn’t on the list? Share it with us by commenting on this post below!

The Landing Strip

We all do it. We walk into the house with keys, wallets, purses, diapers bags, that cute picture your kid made a church, the diaper bag, a book you want to read, bills, catalogs, junk mail….etc…and set in down on the counter or table. Do this for a week and you will be able to send in an audition tape for Hoarders. So you have to have all that stuff. How do you deal with it when you walk in the door? Solution: The Landing Strip.

The Landing Strip is set up on your path between the door and the kitchen, because that is the room you most likely will head toward when you come home. The closer to the door you usually use to enter your home, the better. The idea here is that, when you come in the door, this is where you stop and “land” or unload. The trick to making this work is that you (and your husband) have to commit to adding landing here first to your routine.

Step #1. Select your furniture – This can be a console table, dresser, sideboard, shelf floating on the wall, whatever fits your style. At our house, we use a cool old Hoosier cabinet because it has space for bookshelves (for our Bibles, Kindle and the books we take with us when we go out) and space for my purse, and drawers for bills, filing, etc. It doesn’t have to be a big piece of furniture and if space is a premium, think vertical instead of a horozontal “strip”. Some closed storage is probably good as you may not want your purse, diaper bag, or bills on display. You can get cool furniture pieces at second hand stores, garage sales, and on places like www.craigslist.org. A couple cans of primer and spray paint and you can give a piece new life with a color that fits your decor. Personally, I like the “distressed” look for a landing strip, mainly because this is in a high-traffic area and will see a lot of use. If it starts out destressed, you don’t have to worry about keys scratching it, or a kid banging thier giant rolling backpack into it. Be creative! This is a great place to add an unexpected piece to your decor. A pop of bright color in a mainly neutral color scheme, an older piece in a sleek, modern home – this is a great way to have some fun.

Step #2. Determine your needs – Do you need hooks for backpacks or keys? Do you need a place to charge you phone, iPod, or other devices? Do you want a bowl to collect loose change? Where will you put receipts? Coupons? Bills? There are endless ways to organize these things. Add a charging station for phones and other devices. Hooks or a bowl for keys. Be sure to put at the least an inbox for bills, coupons, receipts, etc to be dealt with later. Or if you want to get all that paper out of the way now, set up 3 boxes/bins/drawers (financial, filing, frugal – see Organizing with Threes for more information on thishttp://wp.me/p27sz7-5H ).

Step #3. Go over the process – For everyone who will use the landing strip, go over where they put their bags, keys, phones etc. Each person needs to know exactly where to put things they deal with.

Step #4. Start Landing! Begin using your new Landing Strip. Tweak the system as you go to make sure it works for your family.

Pantry Essentials – The Next Steps

So now you have purchased all those great pantry essential items and have them home and what do you do with them? Whether you have a small cabinet, large walk-in, or something in between, it is possible to have an organized pantry.

First of all, think like a grocery store. Separate your pantry items into “departments” like your favorite grocery store. Group items together based on use, as well as proximity when shopping. This will help you find things now and plan for shopping later.

Second, use your letters and numbers! Organize alphabetically and by expiration date. Get rid of anything that has expired and put the things that will expire soon in the front sot hat they get used. If you have something that is about to expire, you can flag it with a brightly colors sticky note to help make sure that you use it and won’t need to throw it away.

Third, front and center! Place items you use most often in front at eye-level.  If you want the kids to get their own breakfasts or snack, put those foods on the bottom shelf. Keep things you don’t want the kids to have on the higher shelves.

Lastly, re-evaluate regularly! If you find yourself having to clean up after kids spilling crackers, move that section higher. If you hate bending to get the pasta, more them to eye level. If you always have to get a step stool to reach the flour, move it down a shelf. If you continually miss seeing something, move it to the front. Make sure to put new items behind older ones so that everything gets used at its freshest point.

Take Out Menus – An important part of the well organized home

So we all like to have the world think that we cook and bake and perfect things in the kitchen, but the truth is that some days, we just need good take-out. Today was like that in our house. I don’t cook on Sundays so we needed a fill-in for lunch and ended up with Chinese take-out. Since we are new to our area, we are still trying to figure out the best foods and we seem to be amassing a bunch of take-out menus. In our last house, we had a drawer full of them. This got me thinking, how can we organize the take out menus. And it has to be cheap – under $5. So here is my plan:

Get a 3 ring binder (you probably have one around the house someplace) and expandable protective sleeves, and a pack of Post It durable tabs or binder dividers (again, you may have these things in your office or school area or they are available at your favorite ‘Mart or office supply store). Sort your menus into 2 main categories:

1. Pick Up                                 2. Delivery

Under each of these categories, sort by food type – pizza, Chinese, subs, Italian, burgers, home-style etc. In the binder, separate pick-up and delivery sections with a binder divider. Place all menus from each type of food in one protective sleeve and label it with a tab. Presto! All that clutter of the take out menus is now organized and easy to find the one you want when you just don’t feel like cooking!

What is your system for take-out menus? Post a comment below to share how you keep this organized!

The Family Calendar – or How to make sure someone else knows what the heck goes on around here!

I believe that the family calendar (FC)  is a must-have tool for any well managed household. The calendar must be in a central location (ours is on the door of the kitchen pantry.)  Dry-erase works well for us but I know families who use pen and paper and post it on a centrally located corkboard. The medium isn’t as important as the location and ease of deciphering.

My suggestion is to invest in a good dry-erase calendar board. You can get them now that have pretty frame boarders or decorative accents but a plain one with a metal boarder works fine too.If you are really ambitious you can make your own using a frame and vinyl letters or a blank white board and mark it out yourself  (which is what I did when we lived in Taiwan and you couldn’t by calendar dry erase boards).

Once you have selected your calendar you need to establish a note system for your family. Some people use initials of each person. I prefer a color coded system. I assign each person a color (usually their favorite color). It is important to select a color that you can get a dry-erase marker in. Stick with the basics. This color becomes their family identifier. (This will become important in other areas of organization, so be sure it is a color you and they can live with for a while!) Also choose a color that represets you and your husband together, (We call this group “Couple”. Clever, I know.), one that represents just the children (“kids”), and as needed one that represents sub-sets of the kids. For example we have a color for school-aged kids because activities often overlap. Until everyone becomes familiar with the color system, you will probably want to make a legend to keep with the calendar.

In addition to the calendar, it is great to have a space for notes. This can be used to list things that are needed for an activity or for a “To Do” or “Grocery” list. Because m\our calendar is on the pantry door in the kitchen, we use the notes area for a grocery list. This allows anyone to write down needed items as soon as they notice something has run out, which makes creating a grocery list much easier.

To start using your calendar, write in the month and dates. Then together with Dad and any of the kids who keep their own calendar, get everything on this calendar. If kids work, put their schedule on. If Mom or Dad’s work schedule is not the same every day, put that on it. Include sports practices and games, music or other lessons, family and church activities, playdates, doctor and other appointments, date nights, family birthdays or important dates, and anything else that requires family participation. Do not include extended family or friend’s birthdays or anniversaries unless you are recording that you will be at a party or other celebration. You will have another place to keep track of all those birthday and anniversary cards needed. The FC is not the place for that information.

Remember to review and update your FC regulary. As activities get added to the schedule, write them on the calendar. It is also a good idea for Mom and Dad to set a time before the week begins and go over the upcoming week. I suggest doing this on Sunday afternoon or evening. Go though what is coming up that week and who will be expected to take care of transportation and other responsibilities relating to each activity.

On the last week of the current month, begin the calendar for the next month, leaving the current week on the calendar. This will help you make sure everyone knows what is coming up.

Remember, the FC does not replace your Outlook, iCalendar,  gmail, smartphone etc. personal calendar. This is just a tool to keep everyone’s information together so that at a glance anyone can easily see what is going on around your house. I recommend using the same color categorizing system in your electronic calendar as well. This will also help keep things well organized in your life and simplify viewing of your calendar.

Do you have a family calendar system that works in your house? Share your ideas by posting a comment!