Posts Tagged Food

Your Complete Guide to Dehydrating Food

Your Complete Guide to Dehydrating Food

I wanted to do a post about dehydrating food—a topic several readers have asked about regarding food preservation and storage—but one problem, I’ve never dehydrated food before!

Undaunted, I decided the best way to teach was to learn about it myself. So I interviewed my pal Jennifer who’s an expert at the process of food dehydration and made this great video to share. Unfortunately, when I got home, I discovered the video was garbled, so instead, I went through my notes and created a step-by-step guide and getting started video for you guys. (Check out my video on food dehydrating below…)

 

Dehydrating food is a great way to preserve food and enjoy it for weeks and even months. To dehydrate foods, they’re simply heated at a low temperature with plenty of air circulation. Using a professional dehydrator is an easier method but you can also dry food in the oven, as I’ll explain.

When it comes to food preservation, I think a lot of people immediately bring up canning. I’ll break down and compare the two methods below, but when you weigh the equipment and cost, dehydrating is a cheaper, easier way, especially for those starting out.

Are you ready to get started? Here’s what you need to know about dehydrating food!

Dehydrating vs. Canning

The aspect of dehydrating that appeals to most homesteaders is the simplicity. Both canning and dehydrating have their strengths, but when it comes to dehydrating, less equipment is required (and it’s a simpler process.) Canning, as you will learn from our video is often a more involved process. While canning gives you a longer shelf-life (1-2 years), there’s a greater risk of serious issues like botulism.

For beginners, here’s the breakdown.

Cost

A food dehydrator is hardly pricier than the initial investment of canning. Most food basic dehydrators start at $40 and some are priced much higher. For fruits and veggies, a simple model should work. You can also dehydrate in your oven but it’s a less exacting process. (Some people even dehydrate food in their car—but let’s leave that to the pros!) In an oven it also takes a long time, during which you’re stuck at home. A food dehydrator requires less supervision.

bannana chips low cost

For newbies using a dehydrator is often the way to go. It does require electricity, so if you’re off the grid, that’s also a consideration. Fortunately most dehydrators don’t require a lot of energy. For a breakdown on dehydrator electricity usage check out this chart. Aside from your food dehydrator, you need knife and a cutting board.

Canning on the other hand requires more gear (depending on your method). If you use the water bath method, you’re looking at an investment in the pot, the jars, lids and tongs. A pressure canner on the other hand costs between $60-$300. So canning ends up being almost the same, if not higher cost than dehydration.

Food Safety

Again, canning and food dehydration are both safe methods of preservation if done correctly. With dehydration you’re removing 90-95% of the water content of food, making it an unwelcoming environment for bacteria and mold. With canning, food is heated to a bacteria-killing temperature and the sterile food is sealed in jars using heat and pressure.

With both processes, you need to follow proper procedures and use common sense. The benefit of canning is you know a jar is sealed by listening for the telltale “pop.” That said, when canning goes bad, it goes really bad (like food poisoning bad). Yes, everyone has a story of their grandparents eating canned food over a decade old, but don’t risk it. Canned food is good for 1-2 years, but you must use an exact, proper method.

food saver bags holding dehydrated fruit

With food dehydration, you check for doneness simply by testing the food. With most fruits and vegetables, they will feel completely dry to the touch. When your food feels dry it’s ready to store for a few weeks or for months in a FoodSaver bag or container. If you’re making jerky on the other hand, you don’t want to play around. That’s when it’s important to test for correct temperatures and follow dehydration procedures.

Taste & Ease of Cooking

Again, people love the taste of dehydrated food and the variety of possibilities. You can make cookies, fruit leather and even bread and crackers with a dehydrator! Many foods like vegetables and fruits are regularly enjoyed in their dehydrated form. Other foods are rehydrated by soaking in water or boiling.

With canning, the contents of the jar are completely cooked. Anyone who’s eaten cold beans out of can knows while they aren’t delicious, they’re certainly edible even without heating. Because of the chemical requirements of safe canning, you need to balance the salt and acid content in the food. This means certain foods are a little saltier or sweeter than your preference. Canned food also has a distinctive texture and taste some people don’t like.

Nutrition

Proponents of dehydrating foods often cite the nutritional benefits of raw food. When food is dehydrated it isn’t cooked. The dehydrating happens at a very low temperature, which means it’s an appealing solution for those who follow a raw food diet.

sun dried tomatoes taste amazing

With canning the food is cooked. However, it is often preserved right from the garden—much fresher than if it had to travel miles from harvest to processing plant. Food preserved in it’s peak state, whether dehydrated or canned often has the same or better nutrition than food stored in the fridge for a while. In both methods of preservation, plenty of good nutrition remains.

Canning or Dehydration: Which Method Wins?

So, which is best? Canning or dehydration? It really depends on the food. Both methods are excellent and serve a purpose.

For storage in a small space, however, dehydration certainly has benefits. After all, when food has been dehydrated, it’s often smaller and “shrunken down” from the original state (think of a raisin versus a grape). Dehydrated food can also be stored in vacuum seal bags or airtight containers—boxes or even reused jars. Canned food is stored in well, cans (or Mason jars) which take up a fair amount of space.

Your dehydrator also requires storage, which is a consideration before you invest. But many dehydrators are fairly compact. Again, the dehydration process also works in your oven (and yes, even in the sun).

What Can be Dehydrated?

You can dehydrate all kinds of different foods. The most common of course are fruits and vegetables and people often think of jerky as well.

Did you know you can also dehydrate breads and baked goods? Make crackers, naan and flatbreads right in your food dehydrator. It’s not difficult, but most require you “flip” them part way through the process to dry both sides. Many people love making cookies and bars in their food dehydrator. You can create fruit leather and even yogurt in some dehydrators.

Most foods need to be cut into small chunks to dehydrate properly. Here are the typical drying times and process to get you started.

Fruits

To start dehydrating fruits, it’s best to begin with the simple basics. Sliced apples, pineapple, apricots and mangos are all great dried fruit for first-time dehydrators.  Banana chips are another common dehydrator-friendly food. Slice the fruit into bite-sized pieces, 1/4 to 1/8 inch thick.

fruit leather

Fruit puree results in easy, delicious and portable fruit leather. Puree three cups of cooked fruit (frozen or fresh) and add water as needed so it’s spreadable. Pour it 1/8-inch-thick into parchment lined trays of your dehydrator or a lined baking sheet. Dehydrate fruit or fruit leather at 140 for 6-12 hours. Test for tackiness as you go. Use honey or syrup to sweeten.

Vegetables

With vegetables, you’ll want to blanch or steam the vegetable first (particularly if it’s a veggie you’d eat cooked normally like green beans). Mushrooms, onions and other “raw-friendly” vegetables don’t need pre-cooking. As with fruit, slice the vegetables into bite-sized pieces, 1/4 to 1/8 inch thick.

The method for drying vegetables is very similar to fruit. The drying often concentrates the natural sweetness in the vegetables and with a little salt and seasoning they turn into great chips. Try tomatoes and peppers for a chewier snack too. Depending on the moisture content in the food, it will take anywhere from 6-12 hours.

dried corn for cooking

Once dried, store your dehydrated food in airtight containers, jars or FoodSaver-type vacuum seal bags. Once opened or exposed to air, the food should be enjoyed within two-weeks. The shelf-stability will depend on the amount of moisture left in the food, so use common sense. Obviously, if you see signs of mold or spoiling, discard the food.

Meats

To make jerky in a dehydrator, you’ll need to heat it higher. Meat needs to be cooked to a temperature of at least 160 degrees, so preheat your oven or dehydrator first for at least thirty minutes, before you start. Marinate meat ahead of time, using your favorite flavoring.

The internal temperature of the meat must reach 160 during the cooking process to remain food safe. You can do this by either drying your jerky for 4-6 hours in the dehydrator and then cooking for 10 minutes in a 275-degree oven OR steam or roast the meat to an internal temperature of 160 degrees before dehydrating for 4-6 hours.

When it comes to meat, remember you aren’t limited to just beef jerky either. Try pre-sliced ham, beef or turkey for a great, different flavor (following the same method). You can also dry fish, such as salmon!

Methods for Dehydrating

There are several methods for dehydrating foods. The oven is probably the most convenient (since most people own an oven), but if you enjoy dehydrating often and like the convenience of “setting and forgetting it,” a dehydrator is a worthwhile investment.

Oven

Using the oven to dehydrate your food is easy. Simply preheat your oven to 145 degrees for fruits and vegetables and 160 degrees for meat (following the jerky process outlined above). Using a wire rack on a cookie sheet will help air circulate, but food dries well on a silicone baking sheet also. You may want to use parchment too. Parchment works especially for fruit leather– easily peel, cut and roll the leather before you enjoy.

Smoking/Salting

preserve food with salt

If you want to cure and preserve meat the old-fashioned way, smoking and salting are tried and true methods. Because the objective is to remove all moisture from the food before preserving these methods work well and add great flavor. There are a number of food safety guidelines to follow if you decide to cure, smoke or salt your own food. For the best guidelines I recommend visiting the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s site on Smoking and Curing.  The internal temperature and sanitation guidelines are critical especially when working with raw meat.

Dehydrator

You can purchase a basic food dehydrator for $60 on up to deluxe models costing in the thousands. If you frequently preserve food, investing in a dehydrator may be worth it. This is especially helpful for hunters, gardeners or those who rely on food storage during the winter months (or if you simply enjoy dehydrated and dried foods). Dehydrating is a great way to extend your food storage capacity and safely prepare food to enjoy later.

food dehydrator excalibur

The Nesco and the Excalibur brand food dehydrators are the most popular and well-reviewed. There are also models from Presto, NutriChef and Cuisinart. For simple, small space dehydrators Nesco offers both a small square dehydrator and small round version for well under $100. Watch second-hand stores or Craigslist to score a dehydrator on the cheap.

If you’re interested in preserving food for storage or simply for delicious snacks, food dehydration is a great way to go. It’s easy and fun. You’ll end up with plenty of delicious foods to enjoy for months. After talking to Jennifer about dehydrating, I’ve definitely decided to give it a shot. Even if you’re a beginner, dehydrating is a great way to preserve food!

5 Easiest Vegetables To Grow For Beginner Gardeners

I’ve been there, the seed catalogues come in January and you get all excited about what to grow this year in your garden.  It can be hard to figure out where to start, so I thought I’d share my recommendations on five easy vegetables to grow in your garden in your first year.  The biggest mistake new gardeners make is not starting small:  They have too big of a garden, they try to grow too many things, and in the end they get burnt out.

what to grow for begginers gardening

My advice after teaching people how to start gardening for years is to only start with a few things.  Three to five types of vegetables in a single variety of each.  This will give you a really good foundation to start your gardening journey.

Grow What You Eat

grow the vegies that you like to eat basketA very common this that I see newbie gardeners do is get excited by what they could grow, but they may not really like things or they try new stuff before they find out if they really like them.  If you were to look in your kitchen right now, what vegetables are you purchasing from the store?  Many of those could be good contenders for your first year’s short list.

There will be some things that you buy that aren’t in season or are more complicated to grow, but many of what most people like will be on our list below.  So consider what you eat, choose the easier ones to grow and let’s stack the deck in our favor!

Get Your Garden Prepared

It’s important to not just think about the vegetables that you’re going to grow, but to also think about growing good soil.  Have good soil is really what makes a garden go from okay to amazing, so don’t skimp on this step.  If you have never gardened before, check out our post on how to prepare your soil for a vegetable garden.

From Seeds Or From Seedlings

There are some things that do really well from seeds and some things that starting with a seedling is the way to go for first time gardeners.  Seedlings are simply very young plants that have been started ahead of time indoors, that you later transfer outdoors into your garden.

seedlingsIt can be tempting in your first year or two to in addition of starting a garden to also raising seedlings indoors, but my advice is to avoid this.  Your first few years to learn gardening is a lot, to add learning to start seeds into seedlings is too much and you’ll just burn out.

 

Below I’ll mention which ones I’d start from seed and which ones I’d start from seedlings.

What Plants To Start With?

Here are a few of my favorite plants to start with.  These are pretty easy, widely available and you can find lots of knowledge from local people and online. Start with three to five of these in a single variety.  It will be tempting to choose a bunch of types of vegitables and a few varieties of each, but doing so will bring complexity, stress and a greater chance of failure.  We don’t want that!

Zucchini

zucchnis from gardenThere is an old joke that I like to tell.  In the city people lock their doors so people don’t steal their stuff, in the country they lock their cars so someone doesn’t leave them a bag of zucchini and squash in their front seat.  What is really great about this plant is that it grows really fast, its very simple and it produces a ton of vegetables.

I’d suggest starting out with three plants of zucchini if you have a family.  There will come a point where you can’t eat anymore (trust me), at that point I usually just pull the plants out of my garden and compost them. For your first year I’d start these from seedlings, they’re easy to find, cheap and makes it easy to start.

One piece of advice that I give is I’ve found that there comes a point when I start to see squash bugs on my plants.  When I see more than 2 or 3 of them on a plant, I pull that plant right then and there.  New gardeners will often be hesitant to prune or pull out plants, you can’t be afraid to.  Squash bugs are very difficult to combat, every trick I’ve read online doesn’t do anything for my garden.  So I plant a few extra than I need and then just pull the plants as soon as I see the bugs and am content with whatever squash I got to that point, usually I’m sick of it by then anyways!

Tomatoes

These are a favorite for most people and a garden tomato can’t be beat.  I would absolutely use seedlings for tomatoes.  The two varieties I suggest are “Early Girls” or “Roma”.  If you have short growing season I’d suggest Early Girls because they produce pretty quickly and earlier than most tomatoes.

tomatoes just picked

A few notes about tomatoes:  If you find that you are getting a lot of flowers, but they’re not really translating into tomatoes it’s often because they aren’t pollinating well enough.  This could be because they’re aren’t enough natural pollinators like bees or Humidity is binding up the pollen.  Tomatoes will often stop fruiting when it gets really hot, then start back up when summer temperatures start to wind down.

If you live in a very hot and humid area and Early Girls aren’t working for you, consider the variety “Pink Brandywine”.  They produce great tomatoes that are huge and tend to fair a bit better in higher heat.

Finally know that you will need to support the tomatoes in some manner.  This could be a cage, it could be a be a steak or string.  My favorite way to stake these is get a 6 foot pole that is durable metal coated in plastic and then use the rolls of twist ties you can buy at the store.  I find other options just don’t hold up over the years or are too cumbersome.

Radishes

I’ll be the first to say these aren’t my personal favorite, but they are super easy to grow and they open up the soil some as they grow.  I’ll plant these for the chickens to peck out of the dirt and for friends who like them.  Radishes take between 14 and 21 days to grow full which is very fast and they are a cooler weather crop so early spring or fall is a great time for these.

radishes from garden

These are very easy to grow from seeds and they’re very cheap to buy a lot of seeds.  The seeds are very small, so what I will do is prep my bed nice and even, then just scratch the surface a little bit with the back of a garden rake.  The rule of thumb for seed depth is 3 times the length of the longest dimension of the seed.

In the case of radishes this means you barley cover them if at all, just make sure you keep them nice and moist with a fine mist (not a spray).  It can be easy for these to dry out, but since we plant in the cooler parts of the year it’s a little easier.  For spacing I follow the same approach I use with lettuce, so read below to find out how I do it.

Lettuce

There are a million varieties of lettuce so it can get overwhelming.  Ask around locally to see if people have favorites that do well in your area.  I often just get a lettuce seed mix which is several kinds all mixed together.   You loosely broadcast the seeds over a smoothed and prepared bed and lightly water.

leafy greens

Since we are starting from seeds, we need to know how to space them so they’re not so close that they crowd the others, but not too far that we allow for weeds or wasted space.  For lettuce I typically just shake the seeds out over the entire bed as evenly as I can, then when they start to grow up to about 2 inches, I go in and pluck out some of them to make enough space.  I typically go for about four inches apart from other plants, but I also try to choose the strongest ones.  It doesn’t have to be perfect!

Lettuce is grown in cooler weather, so spring or fall, the heat of the summer is often too much for most varieties, but there are some options for those who live in hot climates.  From seeding to harvest is about 3 weeks and you often can cut the leaves right above the soil about an inch and the lettuce will grow back another two times or so.

Beans

green beansThe two main types are “bush” or “pole” beans, the only difference really is that the pole beans need something to climb.  I often just stick with bush beans because it’s less poles and structures I have to deal with. These are a great plant to start out with in your first garden.

Beans are easily started from seed and are a larger seed.  Because we know the rule of thumb: plant three times the longest part of the seed, they typically get buried about an inch or so below the soil.  I usually take my rake and with the handle side make a little divot, drop the seeds about 6 inches apart and then lightly brush the soil of the trough back over the seeds.  Again, we don’t need to get out our ruler here!

So those are my recommendations on how to start a garden the easy way, to stack the deck in your favor and keep it all fun.  In the comments let me know what you’re going to try.

Your Turn!

  • What’s on your list to plant this year?
  • What tips do you have for first time gardeners?

 

How To Prepare Soil For Vegetable Gardens

Having taught people to garden for years, many people want to know how to prepare their soil so they can start a vegetable garden.  If you talk to people who have been growing for years, you’ll notice they spend a lot of time building the soil in their garden beds.

how-to-prepare-soil-vegetable-gardens

 

For first time gardeners I always recommend to start small and because each patch of dirt is different, I recommend starting with a raised beds, which is nothing more than building a bed of soil on top of the ground instead of in it.  You can add sides made out of wood, edging or other materials as a side wall, but it isn’t required, mounded dirt works just as well if you’re on a budget.

Building A Raised Bed Frame

For most people they want to have the tidy look of a wooden frame and it can be done quickly for little money.  Start with three 2×6’s and cut one of them in half.  This will form the four sides of the bed and create a bed that is 4 feet wide by 8 feet long.

raised bed garden

This is an ideal size because it minimizes the number of cuts (pro tip: big box stores will cut it for free for you) and at four feet, you can reach to the middle from either side without having to stretch too much.  A few screws will make a solid frame for you to fill in the dirt with.

Turn The Soil Below

turn soil with pitchforkEven though we are going to build a bed above the ground, we want to break up the soil below it so that our plant’s roots have an easier time of penetrating the ground as they grow.  Ideally you would shovel off the top layer if it is grass, but I’ve done it both ways.  Removing the grass below will help reduce weeds coming up later, so it’s often worth the effort.

If the soil is pretty bare, what I’ll do is rake the top then go buy a gallon jug of white vinegar to douse the little bits of weeds or grass with the vinegar to kill a few days before I build my bed.  White vinegar will work well to kill the weeds in spot treatments, but if you have more than 10% coverage, I’d just scrape the top off completely.

The last part is take a “digging fork” and just break up the top few inches of soil, it can be pretty chunky because we’re going to cover it all with our soil bed mix soon anyway.  Don’t get too tied up in making it perfect, this is a really a rough pass that we do quickly and move on.

Mixing The Perfect Soil To Grow In

First off, there are many different options here and if you ask 100 people you’ll get 101 recommendations.  So understand that if someone uses something different, that’s fine.  For most people just starting out I try to make it really simple and we can get into more of the nuances later.  So use this mix to start and in a few years, start to try different things.  We want to get you to gardening as quickly as we can and if you get caught up in what mix is the best, you’ll never actually start gardening.

raised bed soil mixture for good growing a garden

So I use a mix of compost, vermiculite, and peat moss. Typically I buy for a single 4 foot by 8 foot bed that’s around 6 inches deep the following:

  • 10 bags of compost (one cubic foot size bags)
  • 1 bale of compressed peat moss (three cubic feet size)
  • 1 bag of vermiculite (4 cubic foot sized bags).
  • 1 small bag of Bone Meal
  • 1 small bag of Blood Meal

If you don’t know what these are, just print this post off and bring it with you to any big box store, they’ll know exactly what you need from this list.  If the employee doesn’t know these items, it’s best to find someone else because these are gardening 101 supplies.

Compost

mushroom compsting mixFor compost you’ll find a lot of different options, my favorite is “mushroom compost” which you can find bags at any big box hardware store.  A close second is “Black Kow” compost.  I’ll often grab a few of each to make up my 10 bags for my bed.

If you can’t find these specific ones, it really isn’t a big deal, use whatever compost you can find at your local store or garden center.  Compost provides a lot of nutrients to your plants and serves as the base for seeds to root into.

Vermiculite

bag of vermiculiteVermiculite is essentially rock dust crushed up, it provides a lot of minerals for your plants, but it’s main function is to act like a sponge for water.  Be sure not to get confused with perlite, it’s not the same.  This one might take some calling around to find, if there is a local gardening group they might have some good leads.

I will also add a note here that if you start searching around about vermiculite, you’ll inevitably run into an old timer that will make the point about asbestos in vermiculite.  This is something that we had to worry about 40 years ago, but today there is no source allowed in the USA or Canada that doesn’t carefully screen and test for this.  The myth still persists today, but you should have zero concerns because the industry has long made changes to prevent this.

Often garden centers or seed/farm supply places carry it.  I’ve even seen it in small bags at your big box hardware stores.  If you can’t find it consider purchasing a few bags off of Amazon, while it’s a bit more expensive locally, you can buy a few of these bags of vermiculite and be good for a 4×8 bed.

Peat Moss

package of peat moss or spagnum mossThe last part of the soil mix.  This fluffs up the soil, allows for good oxygen infiltration and also acts like a sponge to hold in moisture until plants need it.  This can be found anywhere and they type or brand doesn’t matter.  The only thing I’ll suggest is make sure you get it from the soils section where you’d find your bags of compost or near the bags of mulch section.  Sometimes they sell small bags that are meant for growing orchids, these are often expensive, but the ones in the bagged compost section is usually sold “compressed” for very cheap ($10-$20 for 3 cubic feet compressed).

A common question that comes up around peat moss are concerns about if peat moss is sustainable.  It is true that 10 years ago peat moss was harvested from natural wet lands, but today it is done in a manner that is regenerative.  If you are still concerned, consider sourcing coconut coir which is a material similar to peat moss but made from the waste product of coconut husks.  In the end, I suggest you don’t get too caught up in your first year or so, just get your first year under your belt and then work on improving in later years.

Bone And Blood Meal

I prefer to use bone meal and blood meal, but there are many options.  Obviously from their names, they are a animal sourced product.  Those wanting a non-animal source can try seaweed meal or fertilize, you can buy seaweed fertilizer here.  Bone and blood meal are organic sources of the major nutrient (NPK: Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium).

bone meal and blood meal in bags

Since we are starting out with such good ingredients, we don’t need much of these.  If we were starting with the soil in ground, there may be need for more as directed from a soil test, but since we are building our own soil we don’t need a soil test for our first year or two.  I start out with one large handful of each, mixed evenly across the whole 4×8 raised bed.

Mixing It All Together

Some people will use a tarp to mix the soil together, I just skip that and dump everything in a pile in the framed bed, then mix with my hands or a shovel.  If you choose compost that is moist, but not sopping wet it will mix easier.  Sometimes this means pulling off the top few bags at the garden supply place so you get to a lower layer of bags that haven’t soaked up any recent rain.

Here is my basic approach:

  • Take your peat moss bale and place it in the bed
  • With a shovel stab the plastic in a line to break open the bale
  • Turn it over to dump the peat on the ground and remove the plastic
  • Shake out half your vermiculite on top of the peat moss, set the rest aside
  • Grab one large handful each of bone meal and blood meal, sprinkle across the bed
  • Place a bag of compost in the bed, stab with shovel to dump on the pile
  • Repeat with compost about half your bags
  • Using the shovel and hands, mix it all up until it’s well mixed
  • Add remaining materials and mix it all up
  • smooth out the top and give the soil a brief water

How To Water Your Garden

You want to water it a few days before you plant if you can, this will let all the water to absorb into the peat moss and vermiculite.  Water for a count of five and then stop.  Again, counting to five, if the water fully absorbs into the soil so there is no sheen on the dirt from the water, water again for a count of five. repeat counting to five until the water doesn’t absorb all the way in five seconds.  This is a good indicator that the soil is nicely saturated with moisture, but not soaking.

how to water your garden and vegitables

In the end building your soil will set you up for success for years to come.  Following this formula and starting small, you will have a better drastically easier time because we’re not trying to fix our existing soil or battle weeds.  Start with one 4×8 bed, then next year go a little bigger.  The number one thing I see is new gardeners burning out their first year because they took on too big of a garden.

Your Turn!

  • What are your garden plans this year?
  • What tips have you learned?

How To Stock Your Minimalist Kitchen + List: 16 Pantry Staples

How To Stock Your Minimalist Kitchen + List: 16 Pantry Staples

The term “minimalist kitchen” is a bit of an oxymoron, isn’t it? After all, many of us love cooking and the kitchen is one of the most complex areas of our home. Even with a tiny house, my kitchen is my “command center.” I like cooking. I keep my kitchen organized and clean it every day–it’s small and orderly…but does mean it’s a “minimalist kitchen?”

kitchen staples

At the heart of it, minimalism is all about embracing simplicity. When we have a bunch of expired ingredients on hand and storage for a small army we’ll never need to feed, it gets stressful. Rather than working through a cluttered kitchen and sorting through expired jars of who-knows-what, a minimalist kitchen list consists of items you use regularly for meals you enjoy. Stock your minimalist kitchen with the equipment you’ll use and the items needed to prepare your favorite foods. That’s it.

When it comes down to it, all you really need to store in your pantry or kitchen are the ingredients to tide you over until your next trip to the store. Now, that said, there are a few staples that are helpful to keep on hand. This is especially true if the weather gets bad or life gets busy and you need the components of a meal, fast.

So what items should go on your minimalist kitchen list? What are the basic guidelines for stocking a minimalist pantry and what ingredients will maximize your meals in a minimal amount of space, clutter, and stress? This is what I’ve discovered when it comes to keeping a small, but useful kitchen and pantry.

Guidelines for Stocking a Minimalist Pantry

If you’re ready to start cutting out pantry clutter, especially if you have a small storage space, there are a few guidelines you should follow:

1. Buy only what you like

buy food you like

One of the biggest mistakes people make when they stock a small pantry is storing extra food for special meals or occasions—from cake mix to cranberry sauce. Some people get a “food storage list” and assume they should buy every item on it. Only buy foods you like to eat and eat regularly. If you don’t bake, then don’t keep baking supplies on hand. If you aren’t a fan of beans, don’t feel like you should buy beans for your storage. This is especially applicable if your space is at a minimum.

2. Watch for items that go with many different meals

Ingredients like broth or canned tomatoes go with all sorts of dishes. It’s a good idea to keep a few cans on hand. The same goes for items like pasta, oil, spices, and rice. Look for simple ingredients that work into many of your favorite meals.

3. Stick to a meal routine

taco tuesday food planningJust like wearing similar outfits every day, sticking with a regular meal routine cuts out a lot of stress. If you know you’re always going to enjoy Taco Tuesday or fish on Friday, then you don’t need to spend time planning and ensuring you’ve purchased a bunch of different ingredients. Treat yourself by going out when you want to enjoy a meal out of the routine or plan a dinner at home for a special occasion. The rest of the time, stick with foods you enjoy and put them in a regular rotation.

4. Purchase shelf-stable items

Stocking a pantry, whether big or small, calls for shelf-stable items. When you purchase foods requiring cold storage like freezing or refrigeration, it takes up a lot of room. This is a problem if you don’t have a much fridge or freezer space. I have a very small fridge (a 4.4 cu ft bar fridge), which I use to house the basics: milk, meat, cheese and fresh vegetables. Many items (like eggs, butter and produce) are easily and safely stored right on the counter or on shelves rather than in your fridge.

5. Watch expiration dates

If you’re decluttering and organizing your pantry, watch your expiration dates! Anything past the “best by” date, get rid of! If you don’t plan to eat it (but it’s still good) consider donating it to a food bank. Don’t keep items you don’t like or won’t eat before their expiration date. Chalk it up to a good life lesson and toss it out.

when do food expire chart

6. Store only what you’ll need until your next trip to the market

You don’t need to store weeks or months of food in your pantry, especially if you’re applying a minimalist approach. Store only what you’ll use before your next trip to the market. Keep a few basic ingredients on hand to pull together meals you enjoy.

Minimalist Kitchen List: 16 Pantry Basics You Need on Hand

Obeying the guidelines above, these are pantry basics most people like to store. Again—follow your own preferences and habits. If you don’t bake, skip baking supplies. If you’re a vegetarian, then you won’t have much use for canned meat or jerky. Keep one or two weeks’ worth of each item on hand.

1. Beans

beans for pantry

Beans are inexpensive, easy store and a great source of protein. If your storage space is limited, beans give you a great shelf-stable option to dress up or dress down. Dried beans and chickpeas are typically softened by soaking overnight. Lentils and split peas will soften as they cook (no need to soak). Beans provide a nice, simple base for many dishes.

2. Rice

rice as pantry staple

Rice is another great, simple item to keep on-hand, especially if you don’t have much space. Store it easily—any dry spot will do. There are tons of meal options using rice as the base. Mexican food, Middle Eastern dishes and Asian meals all work well with rice. There are many different types of rice: Jasmine, Basmati, sushi…but buy basic white or brown rice (white takes less time to cook) if you only have room to store one type.

3. Baking Supplies

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If you’re a regular baker, you may want to purchase baking supplies (flour, sugar, baking soda, etc.). Buy only the basics you need in between your trips to the store and watch for items like Bisquick or cake mix which are used to bake several different dishes. When space is limited, baking supplies take up a lot of room, but for those who use them often it’s well worth the sacrifice of space. I personally prefer to buy a few pre-made baked goods, so I don’t need to store ingredients like big bags of flour.

4. Spices

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Spices are an area where many people tend to go overboard. After all, they don’t require much space, they’re inexpensive and add flavor, so why not stock up on every spice, right? Well, spices actually have a very short shelf-life. Many ground spices only stay potent and flavorful for a year or two after opening. Dried herbs tend to last even less time. It’s better to buy small quantities you’ll use up quickly and regularly. Salt and pepper are exceptions of course. I keep my grinders along with Texas Pete (the best hot sauce ever–sorry Tabasco) right on hand at all times.

5. Pasta

keep dry pasta in pantry

Pasta is a fast, easy meal to enjoy all kinds of ways. Add peanut butter and soy sauce for Asian peanut noodles. Use pasta as a base for spaghetti or enjoy plain noodles with a little olive oil, cheese and egg. Dried pasta is easy to store, so it’s smart to keep a box or two ready for meals.

6. Canned Tomatoes

cans of tomatoes

Canned tomatoes can be pureed to make tomato sauce. Use them as a base for soup, stir them into pasta, or use them in chili. Canned tomatoes are another versatile and easy to store ingredient, even in the smallest pantry. They add a lot of flavor and stretch many different meals.

7. Oil

olive oil for cooking

There are many oil options. I tent to prefer olive oil because it’s shelf-stable and easy to use in almost any dish. Coconut oil is another good option because it’s used in both cooking and baking. Whichever type you choose, oil is a must-have for your minimalist kitchen list, especially if you’re looking for ingredients you’ll use all the time. Use oil to brown meat, keep vegetables from sticking or in pasta dishes. You can use olive oil as a swap for butter to dip bread. Add lemon juice or vinegar to oil and make instant salad dressing.

8. Dried Fruit

dried fruits

Dried fruit is one of those like it or hate it foods. Some people think raisins are the worst ever while others love them. As far as pantry foods go, dried fruit is pretty versatile. Use it in trail mix, add it to baked goods for sweetness, keep dried fruits on hand for snacking or adding into salads and sandwiches. If you like oatmeal or hot cereal, dried fruit is a nice addition. Again—choose only the type you like.

9. Cereal & Oats

dried oats and oatmeal

Basic cereals like Chex, corn flakes or Rice Krispies are great to keep on hand because you can use them as a coating for chicken or fish. Use them in rice crispy treats or snack mix. Then, of course, you can also enjoy them as a breakfast or snack with milk. You may also want to keep oats in your pantry too. Oatmeal is a great hot cereal and oats are often used in cookies and other baked treats.

10. Canned Vegetables & Soups

canned soups in pantry

As far as canned vegetables go, some people love them, while others can’t stand them. They’re certainly easy to store, especially if you’re living in a small space. Keeping a few cans of corn or another basic vegetable is smart, in case you need a quick meal or side dish. Similarly, soups are used for all sorts of meals, so storing a few cans of broth or soup makes a lot of sense for most people. To take up even less space, buy concentrated bullion cubes or paste, then just add water.

11. Peanut Butter & Nuts

peanut butter and nuts

Peanut butter is a great high protein snack and it’s also an ingredient in all kinds of meals. Peanut butter is used in Asian or African cooking. Peanut butter’s easy to store and almost everyone loves a PB&J when you need a fast, easy meal. Keeping nuts like cashews or almonds in your pantry is a good idea too. Add them in cereal, use them to top salads, add them to stir-fry and in other dishes.

12. Canned Meat/Fish

chicken for meals

Having a few packets or cans of tuna fish on hand is a basic for most pantries. If you need an easy way to add protein to your meals: just open a can of tuna and stir it into pasta or make a tuna fish sandwich. Canned chicken is also a good option to put together a chicken salad, use in soups, casseroles or pasta dishes.

13. Shelf-Stable Dairy & Sauces

shelf stable sauces

Parmesan cheese is shelf-stable and can be stored unopened in your pantry for a very long time. Soy or powdered milk is also a good idea if you only venture to the store occasionally and run out of regular milk between trips. It’s also used as an ingredient in many dishes. Most salad dressings, mayonnaise and sauces are shelf-stable until they’re opened. If you go through these items fast, it makes sense to add one extra bottle to your minimalist kitchen list.

14. Jerky

beef jerky lasts long in storage

Jerky is easy to store. It doesn’t take up much room and it’s great to keep on hand for a quick snack. Look for individually packaged sticks as well as different flavors and types. There’s turkey jerky, salmon jerky and even jerky with caffeine in it (a.k.a. Perky Jerky). If you need a high protein snack that doesn’t need to be refrigerated, jerky is a good option.

15. Bread & Crackers

crackers

Keeping bread and crackers on hand is a smart plan. Bread doesn’t last a long time though, so only store what you will eat within a week or two. Crackers are more shelf-stable and will last for months unopened. Tortillas are another option to keep on hand. If your space is small or if you’re looking for less clutter in your pantry, pick one type of bread you will use in several different ways.

16. Snacks

cookies

When it comes to snacks we all have our own preferences. Keep a few snacks on hand, but don’t go overboard. Cookies or chips are easy to store and don’t usually take up much room. Again, the best rule of thumb is to only store what you’ll eat within a week or two (between trips to the store). Most snacks aren’t used as ingredients for another meal, so there’s no reason to keep more than you need (unless you anticipate a snack emergency).

Your food storage is a lifesaver (literally!) if the weather is bad, if you live in a remote area or if you can’t get to the store for whatever reason. Keeping a minimalist kitchen should help make your life and meal planning less stressful. If you store only the basic ingredients you need for your favorite meals, you’ll always be prepared, even if you’re stuck at home or don’t have time to fix something big. Cut out the clutter and unnecessary items in your pantry today!

 Your turn!

  • What are your must-have minimalist pantry items?
  • Do you stick to a meal routine or mix it up?

Ten Essential Kitchen Solutions for Tiny Houses

We demand a lot from our kitchens, no matter what size house they’re in. This fact is magnified even more in a tiny house, where storage and surface area are at a premium. But if you live in a tiny house, you don’t have to give up your cooking dreams just yet! Luckily for you, the Internet is a magical place with space-saving solutions to be found left and right. I gathered my ten favorite kitchen solutions in this post to share with you today. Links and images will take you to the web pages where you can buy each item. Here they are, in no particular order.

  1. Slide-out Trash & Recycling Bins

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I know that I always forget to add in space for trash and recycling when I’m drawing up tiny house plans. It’s so easy to forget! Take advantage of the full depth of counter space in your tiny house kitchen with a slide-out cabinet for your bins.

2. A Hanging Rail for Utensils6f28eac04d33428d14818b984029f083

Everyone has a crock on their kitchen counter stuffed with cooking utensils – save some real estate by hanging them from a rail with S-hooks. The Grundtal, while being a great name for a disgruntled bridge troll, is actually a rail system from IKEA that is affordable and very popular in tiny houses.

3. A Hanging Dish Rack and Paper Towel Holder

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Continuing the vertical storage theme, we have a wall-mounted dish rack and matching paper towel holder. The dish rack can hang right above your sink for drainage, and is pretty enough to store your plates and cups on all the time. Plus, I’m of the mindset that a touch of gold here and there makes any space better.

4. Over-the-Sink Cutting Board with Strainer

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I think this one is just so cool. Not only does the cutting board extend your counter space over your sink, you can slide your vegetables right into the strainer for rinsing. Genius!

5. Vertical Dividers for Flat Items

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Even if you rarely cook, you know the pure misery of stacking and re-stacking cookie sheets, muffin tins, or cutting boards to find the one you want. Storing them on their sides with vertical dividers solves this problem handily. The photo above shows how you can use simple tension curtain rods as dividers, or you can buy a divider made just for this purpose.

6. Square-Shaped Storage Containers

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Circular objects are a space-saver’s nightmare. These square-based storage containers, however, come in all sizes and stack up neatly in your pantry or fridge. Very important if your fridge is particularly tiny!

7. Collapsible Silicone Measuring Cups and Spoons

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I have these in my own kitchen and I love them. I can store four measuring cups on their sides in my drawer in about 2 inches of space. They’re easy to clean too. There are all sorts of other gadgets that collapse as well – colanders, washing buckets, top hats, and more. Okay, so no one really needs a collapsible top hat in their kitchen.

(Note: it appears that the cups pictured above are discontinued, so the link will take you to a similar item you can buy from Amazon.)

8. Adjustable Measuring Spoons

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I personally like having multiple measuring cups and spoons if I’m measuring several ingredients at once. But if you think having too many gadgets is a hassle, this adjustable measuring spoon could be just the thing for you. Three of these can take the place of eight or nine measuring cups and spoons, which means more space saved in your kitchen drawers.

9. Wire Under-Shelf Baskets

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In your kitchen cabinets, there’s often a lot of unused space hovering above your stacked dishes and mugs. Put it to good use and avoid precariously-stacked cups, plates, and bowls with an under-shelf basket. You can find these at the Container Store and other organization specialty stores.

10. Magnetic Spice Containers

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These are the best. You can decant your spices into these magnetic tins, and eliminate the mismatched jumble of spice jars cluttering up your pantry. The transparent lids also show you when it’s time to buy more turmeric or tarragon. Line these up on the front of your tiny fridge to put some otherwise unused space to work!

Your Turn!

  • What are some of your favorite space-saving kitchen gadgets?
  • What’s the one kitchen essential that you can’t live without?
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