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Power shopping: There's always something for dinner

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Power shopping for the kitchen

It's almost dinnertime, your family is starving and you need to whip up something fast. You open the cupboard -- thinking that spaghetti is quick... except you're out of pasta and sauce. Chili? Great, except you have no beans. You just went to the store, where's all the food? You wish there was a better way as you dig out the number for the local pizza place again. There is a better way, but you need to change your mindset about the way you shop.

Start by planning ahead

Instead of frantically running through the store grabbing this and that while juggling coupons and dealing with children, take a few minutes to make a plan to have enough food on hand for two weeks and then "Power Shop. " Maria Gracia, creator of Get Organized Now! (getorganizednow.com) breaks it down into three easy steps.

1) To start Power Shopping, come up with a list of staples that you want to always have available in your house -- canned goods (soups, tuna, veggies, etc.), dried goods (brown rice or white rice, pasta, etc.) and frozen goods (such as meats, chicken, fish and frozen entrees and veggies).2) Once you have your list, determine the minimum number of each you want to have on hand (i.e. 6 cans of tuna, 7 cans of soup, etc.) Write this number next to the item on your power shopping list.3) Prior to each of your shopping trips, check your list against your inventory. Replenish as much as needed to get your staples up to the original minimum number you set.

How do you figure out how much you need?

Watch your family's eating habits for a couple of weeks. In our house, weekday breakfasts are usually cereal and on the weekends we have more elaborate meals. I buy two weeks' worth of groceries at a time. Therefore, I buy a couple boxes of cereal, three pounds of bacon and a couple packages of biscuits and gravy mix. We have pasta and sauce dishes (spaghetti, lasagna, etc) two or three times a week, so I buy at least four jars of sauce and three or four kinds of pasta.You can also plan specific meals a couple of weeks at a time and buy groceries accordingly. Scheduling your meals eliminates the late afternoon "What the heck can I make for dinner tonight" stresses. If you schedule your meals, post them on the fridge every week and ask your family to check them so no one ends up having meatloaf twice in one day.

Clean the fridge

Before you do your Power Shopping, give the refrigerator a good cleaning, both to make sure you have room for perishables and to see what's about to go bad. The FlyLady, a.k.a. Marla Cilley, does hers midweek. "Every Wednesday we clean out the fridge, see what we need and what's going to go bad so you can build meals around that." A bunch of vegetables that need to be used quickly just beg to be made into soup or stew.

Store the stuff from the store

If you don't have tons of cabinet space or a roomy pantry, don't worry. You may have to be creative, but you'll be able to find room to stash your extra groceries. Metal utility shelves in your basement are inexpensive and allow you to see everything at a glance. If mice are a concern, store jars and cans in the basement and boxes upstairs. Don't store items in plastic containers, such as Tupperware, because mice can make a snack of them too.No basement? No problem! Cilley suggests taking a second look at the closets in your home. "Most of us don't need linen closets. We have closets that are filled with junk and everything is shoved in there. Go through it one shelf at a time -- but don't throw everything on the floor. We have a tendency to look at all of it and get overwhelmed."Declutter your space and use it to store nonperishables. Don't store groceries in an unheated garage or shed if you live in cold climates or the first hard freeze could bring a nasty surprise of broken containers and splattered food. On the flipside, don't store groceries in a hot garage -- they will spoil very quickly. (Even diet sodas with nutrasweet will loose their sweet flavor after time in the heat.)

There's always something to eat

Power Shopping has benefits besides always having something to eat in the house. Maybe a blizzard is on its way, but you won't have to be one of those frantic shoppers who fill the stores after work, buying supplies like mad. If the bank account looks a bit small one week, you won't have to worry about feeding your family.Best of all, you won't have to hear those words every parent dreads -- "Ma, there's nothing to eat in this house!"Get more kitchen advice & mealtime tips:

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