The holidays sneak up on all of us. Before we know it, the fireworks are over, fall smells hit the stores while we’re all planning on being in the pool, and tinsel fights the Halloween candy for shelf room. Pretty soon, everyone has the shopping doldrums, money is tight and the season hasn’t started yet. One way to beat those holiday blues and trim your food budget is to shop ahead and spread out those purchases over several months instead of cramming everything ‘extra’ into the last few paychecks of the year. Sure you might miss a few discounts if you buy in July and not November, but you’ll make up for it in other ways. Many foods are shelf stable for months and can be purchased at sale prices or with coupons and stored until they are needed. A cool dry place is optimal for pantry goods, while freezer foods should obviously be kept, well, frozen! Here’s a handy list of items you can purchase ahead of time for big winter meals, company that will be staying for a few days, or in preparation for layoffs. For your convenience, pin any of these handy labels:
Fresh fruit: Don’t play the waiting game with winter produce or settle for over priced super-syrupy canned fillings for holiday pies. This summer staple can easily be bought at rock bottom prices, frozen whole (think berries) or sliced and preserved (peaches or other stone fruit) in containers or freezer bags pre-portioned for fruit salads, pancake toppings, pies, cobblers, crisps, and crumbles. Making freezer jam is a bonus- and makes a great last minute gift, too!
Dairy: June is dairy month. Items like butter, margarine, and shredded and sliced cheeses may be on sale at this time. These can all be frozen and used at a later date. Some you might find at a lower price point near the holidays (butter, for example) but having it ahead of time means you can make things throughout the fall to save yourself time later. This may be more handy next year, so keep an eye out for low prices no matter when you’re shopping!
Tomato based products: Chili, pasta sauces, pizza sauce, barbeque sauce, taco soup, and so on can be prepared from fresh tomatoes or any canned ingredients and frozen several months in advance. It’s a great use up for the abundance of summer tomatoes you may find in your garden or cheaply available in the market right now. Freeze in a container or portioned freezer bags (flattened for easy storage) for easy thawing and eating by hungry guests!
Mashed potato casseroles: While baking potatoes do last a long time, wait too long and they’ll start to sprout or spoil in your pantry. One great way to salvage a large amount that’s already headed that way or give yourself some extra time is to make and freeze a mashed potato casserole. Can’t use it all up? Stick it in the freezer! Most casseroles last 2-3 months tightly wrapped in the freezer, and this refrigerator dish that can be pre-made and sit there for a week before baking and still be good to go. Great for holiday time when you’re prepping a huge turkey the same day, too.
Pie crusts, pizza doughs, noodles, breads and muffins: Yeast items that have already gone through proofing (think pizza dough that has risen, baked cinnamon rolls) or baking powder/soda based items like banana breads are great for the freezer. Pie crusts are little more than fat and flour and you can make multiple at once to the stage just before rolling out and stack them high in your freezer in one big bag separated by parchment paper or in sandwich size bags for individual portioning. Let them thaw while your fruit or filling is being prepped and it will be ready to roll! Pizza dough is the same way and pre-baked muffins or breads simply need to come to room temp or be warmed through before becoming someone’s breakfast! Even homemade noodles can be prepared, dried, and put into packages. Simply add broth and meat and you’re all set for a hearty meal!
Other staples to freeze: bread either in loaves or cube it yourself (if loaves, freeze upside down, thaw right side up!) for stuffing/dressing, pita or tortillas for quick breakfasts on the go, leftovers wrap style, or throw together meals buffet style (taco bar, fajitas, mini pizzas). You can often find these on big discount as they near their sell by date, since they’re fresh items-but they freeze very well.
Sweet Treats: Cookies, fudge, cupcakes, barks and the like can be made in advance and kept in the freezer. It’s a great shortcut for desserts, last minute party planning, forgotten potlucks and more!
Other items that hit rock bottom before Labor Day: Grilling favorites can also be used in the winter, so get your grocery flyers primed for what you can buy in bulk and store for those holiday blues. Check prices on ketchup and mustard, varieties of mayo, relish and pickles, family packs of meat, hot dogs, sausages, and other pricier cuts of meat. Whether you prep freezer meals ahead of time or just freeze the meat to be used later, you’ll still save over waiting until November to stock up!
Anytime items: Things like flour, yeast, baking soda and powder, sugar, and so on don’t really fluctuate all that much in cost. If you have room, spread the purchase of these items out over the course of the fall. You’ll be ready to make just about anything that’s super impressive to your guests at the last minute (doughs, biscuits, cookies.)
Things to wait on: Broth, pre-packaged stuffing mixes, canned veggies, and the like all go on sale closer to holiday time. Save your pantry space and pennies to take advantage of these loss leaders when they’re of the most use and at the lowest prices. Fresh produce you won’t cook is also a big negative. Raw veggies really need to come into your house close to the holiday.
Last year my husband received a free turkey through work. Since we were hosting Thanksgiving, we were thrilled to save a little money. Too bad it was a small bird and we have a huge family. We were able to supplement with a small ham I bought on sale that week.
And you know I wish I had a freezer!