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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. ;)

Costco produce section

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 If something is outdated or no longer good, you can toss it.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 in glass jars
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 frozen seafood
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:

Is Costco Frugal?

Why I love shopping at Costco!

Poll: Do you shop at Costco?

Comments

Great post!

We love Costco too and this subject has been bouncing around in my head all year. We are in the process of creating some storage for our Costco/bulk/long-term food right now.
I came across this blog post a few months back and knew it was the perfect solution to our food storage conundrum.
http://www.younghouselove.com/2008/02/over-our-heads/
They put two big (expensive) Ikea units on either side of their bed and made them look like built ins. I loved how it looked but couldn't afford the cost. My husband and I are not super handy so building something structural wasn't an option either. We ended up purchasing two steel shelving units from Costco for $50 each (they look kind of like these ones, but I think ours are nicer/heavier and they're bigger too--48"x18"x72" http://content.costco.com/Images/Content/Product/248247b.jpg). We put one on each side of the bed and I'm working on the 'finishing' part of the project this weekend, hemming & hanging the Ikea curtains, etc. I'll be happy to post some photos when I get it finished if anyone wants to see, it's not as elegant as theirs but it does make putting piles of food in your bedroom less obnoxious to look at, and the whole project cost $150.

Costco

I'm going to Costco for the first time ever tomorrow! :) What should I look for? The dishwashing liquid you mentioned is going on my list, and I want to keep an eye out for organic staple foods like beans, rice, oats, etc if they have that. Anything else I should add to my list? (especially organic or eco friendly stuff?)

What to Buy

Somethings that really save me money at Costco are: shredded mozzarella, shredded cheddar, those whole wheat flat buns, eggs, lettuce, salsa, frozen ground beef, boneless chicken, ziploc bags, & lots of the fruits & veggies.

I divide things like the cheeses and buns into ziploc bags in the quantity that I will use them. Write what it is, how many, & when it went to the freezer for best results. I just use a sharpie marker. I save a lot of money & have the ease of convenience.

Enjoy your trip!

Costco Price List

The Thrifty Mama has compiled a great price list for natural/organic products at costco.

http://www.thethriftymama.com/2011/01/costco-organic-price-list.html

I would buy some bread; I

I would buy some bread; I know it's cheap to make your own, but I'm a working mom and can't always, but they have a great deal on bread!!

Here are the results of my

Here are the results of my trip- I'm converted! lol

http://onelittlewordsheknew.blogspot.com/2011/05/costco.html

They have great prices on

They have great prices on organic frozen produce if you have room in your freezer, it's usually cheaper than sale prices at my local grocery store on regular frozen veggies.

I love this series. We have

I love this series. We have a BJs membership and mostly just buy milk, eggs, butter, frozen chicken breasts, lunchmeat, and ground turkey there. We buy 2 lbs of lunchmeat at a time and freeze most of it because it's usually $3/lb cheaper than at Safeway. That's a HUGE difference.

I vote for organic frozen

I vote for organic frozen vegetables & fruit and the Kirkland brand organic salsa is fabulous:)

kalamata olives

I love kalamata olives! The costco ones will last forever in the fridge--just make sure there is enough brine to cover the olives. I usually transfer them to a glass jar with a tight seal--they come in a plastic tub that doesn't seal super tight. Same goes for the artichoke hearts but they come in a nice glass jar.

I recently purchased cinnamon at costco--at Tammy's recommendation!--and it is a million times better than what I was purchasing in the bulk bins at Sprouts and still super inexpensive. Thanks for the tip! (are we the only people who use tons on cinnamon?)

Kirkland Signature

I was happy to learn also that most of Costco's private label "Kirkland Signature" is Made in the USA! We love their KS stuff, the quality is right up there with the name brand items.

super couponing

What is your opinion on Super Couponing? You know, where you gather and organize enough coupons to pay only 10% of retail price? I see those who do it on TV and am amazed at the volume of stuff they get, but then I get scared off by the time it takes them to pull it off. Also, do I want to eat 100 Lunchables? LOL

Just curious what your opinion is!

~Heatherj

Love bulk shopping :)

I store my bulk food and produce in Tupperware...Love it :)

Freezing milk

Hi Tammy,

I recently bought milk at Costco when it was on sale (usually they don't have sales, but this was 50% off!).

I haven't had luck with freezing. Each gallon comes out of the freezer and separates and has an off flavor. Have you experienced this in freezing Costco milk?

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