Eat Well, Spend Less: How to store food from Costco (and other bulk storage solutions!)
I love shopping at Costco! After moving to the Seattle area and living quite close to Costco, I'm really hooked on their quality products, return policy, and competitive pricing. I don't buy everything at Costco, but I have been doing the vast majority of my grocery shopping at Costco for the past 2+ years.
During this time, our family of 5 (and then 6!) has lived in a 2-bedroom apartment (for 2 years) and now a rental house. While my storage space has significantly increased since our move from the apartment, I don't really do a lot differently aside from no longer having our master bedroom closet packed full of food buckets. ;)
Here are some of my methods for storing bulk purchases, like the food I buy from Costco:
#1: Avoid clutter or unnecessary things in your kitchen and home.
If your kitchen cupboards, fridge, and freezer are already packed with food, condiments, old food you keep planning to use but never do, and stuff you like but rarely use, then trying to fit bulk food purchases into your kitchen won't be easy. I really recommend going through your pantry, fridge, and freezer, and eliminating unnecessary items. If something is outdated or no longer good, you can toss it. Otherwise, I like to set things aside in a box or container so I can remember to use them -- and making a menu plan that includes those things helps a lot, too! :)
For specific ideas or to see what my kitchen cupboards look like, my kitchen tour video includes a look into each cupboard. Your "essentials" will look different from mine, but sometimes showing is easier than explaining. :)
Here's a look into what I had in my kitchen cupboards when we lived in the apartment. Admittedly the cupboards were packed fuller, but still accessible and user-friendly. ;)
Tips for storing bulk items in the fridge
Adjust shelves if possible. In our small(er) apartment fridge, the shelves were fixed and it was a challenge to fit enough fresh food there for our family. Now, our fridge has adjustable shelves and it's so much easier to adjust for certain large sizes (like the 5-dozen carton of eggs, the 6-pack of Romaine lettuce, or the many gallons of milk we buy).
Don't open too many things at once. Plan ahead to use an ingredient in several recipes, so none of it goes to waste. Or, as soon as you open the package, freeze some for later. It's better to freeze when it's fresh, anyway! :) Planning a menu may be your greatest help in the area of food waste and bulk purchases.
Be creative! Our milk comes in the rectangular jugs (flat on top), and I've found I can put containers on top of the milk jugs in the fridge. Our eggs from Costco are packaged as 5 dozen eggs, on two flat (stacked) cardboard trays. This is fairly space-efficient when full, but when it's half-empty there's a lot of wasted space. I cut down two of the trays and when we have 2-3 dozen eggs used from our carton, I ask one of the boys to carefully transfer the remaining eggs to smaller trays. They love that job and I appreciate the extra space I have in the fridge then! :)
Tips for storing bulk items in the freezer
If you're short on freezer space, limit the amount of frozen prepared foods you buy. The frozen dinners or meals that come in a big box in Costco's freezer section are huge if you have just a small freezer (like we did until very recently).
Take frozen foods out of the boxes to maximize freezer space (leave all plastic packaging intact). Save the directions from the box if you do this, though! Either tape the directions (cut out from the box) onto the item, or store the directions where you'll be able to find them when needed. (If you have strong magnets, you might be able to put them on the side of the fridge.)
If you do have plenty of freezer space, that will make shopping at Costco even easier. Many things can be frozen to either save space in your fridge or help reduce food waste.
Some of the foods I've successfully frozen include: Milk (in the jug), butter, cheese (shredded or blocks or sliced), tortillas (flour or corn), breads (for a few weeks), nuts, dry yeast, turkey bacon, and lunchmeat.
Tips for storing bulk items in the pantry
When possible, I leave things in their original containers. I'm not at home right now and can't take pictures of my pantry -- so you'll have to peer around Moshe (above) to see the Costco items in my "pantry" (or watch the kitchen tour video for a look into my pantry cupboard). :)
I like to use glass jars for short term food storage. Glass jars can be used long-term (a year or more) provided they seal tightly and are stored in a dark location. See this post for tips about using glass jars for food storage.
I use glass pickle jars, and even a few other large glass jars from things like artichoke hearts from Costco. I recently got a 25-pound bag of salt at Costco and put it into glass jars to keep it dry until it is used. (That salt will be used from in my everyday cooking, but the large amount is part of my long-term food storage supply. I don't want to have to eat lots of my beloved pinto beans without salt!) ;)
Table salt stored in glass pickle and artichoke heart jars (see this post for tips on removing the smell from the lids first!) --yes, I finally put away the bag of salt in this messy-kitchen video!
Other things to store in glass jars: grains, flours, beans, oatmeal, rice, honey, molasses, or sugars.
For long-term food storage or high-volume items, I use plastic buckets. Go here for more info about obtaining and using buckets for food storage.
Some of the things I buy at Costco and store in plastic buckets are: bread flour, all-purpose flour, pinto beans, black beans, lentils, rolled oats, and rice.
Buckets are especially nice for food storage because they can be easily stashed on the floor in a closet, or stacked in the kitchen, in a garage, or in an enclosed porch.
Costco has great prices on a lot of their spices and seasonings! They come in large shaker bottles, so if it's an ingredient I use regularly (like cinnamon or garlic), I just leave it in the bottle. Otherwise, I have a smaller spice bottle that I refill from the larger one.
I love to experiment in the kitchen, and often try a new recipe that calls for ingredients not on our normal menu -- like the Kalamata olives in Greek Spinach Orzo Salad, the sun-dried tomatoes on Mediterranean Herb Chicken Pizza, or the artichoke hearts on Thin-Crust Chicken Bacon Artichoke Pizza. Costco also has delicious specialty cheeses!
When needed, I buy those special ingredients at Costco (if possible), and then incorporate them into our meals until used up. I don't always have all those ingredients on hand, however, and certainly not all in opened jars in the fridge at once. :) It's fun to try new things, and I love variety! But I've found that limiting the number of things in the fridge at one time helps me use what's already open and avoid unintentionally letting food spoil.
I like Costco's environmentally friendly dishwashing liquid -- but it comes in a huge bottle! I refill a hand soap pump bottle at the kitchen sink with the dishwashing liquid and use from that small pump bottle rather than the big bottle.
Costco's frozen seafood aisle in Toledo, Ohio
I'm writing this post from my parents' house in Ohio. (Still another 10 days to go on our visit here -- yay!) Aside from battling colds all week, we're having a great time.
My brother took us to "his" Costco in Toledo, Ohio last week. Many items were the same price as "my" Costco in Seattle, but most of the produce was significantly higher priced, much to my surprise! It was also a smaller Costco than "ours". My mom stocked up on bread flour, dry yeast, cinnamon, granulated garlic, and some cheese.
Of course, I had to check out the seafood aisle. :) It looks nearly identical to what Costco in Seattle carries. My parents got a bag of Trident Ultimate Fish Sticks to try. (They're great if you like fish sticks!) :)
Those of you who shop at Costco, Sam's, BJ's, or just buy in bulk -- what tips do you have to share about storing and using from your purchases? I'd love to hear! :)
More about Costco: