It's hard enough to come home from vacation.
What's even harder is taking that first tentative look inside your fridge once you're home. The cumulative relaxing effects of vacation evaporate instantly when you see that your vegetables have become mush and your cheese has turned into a science experiment. You're hungry and you have nothing to cook. You think about how much money has been wasted. And you realize you'll be spending the Sunday night before you return to work scrubbing the vegetable crisper and taking out the garbage.
Don't despair! With a little planning and preparation, you can avoid these particular post-trip blues by vacation-proofing your kitchen. Not only will you prevent mess and save money; if you plan just right, you'll also have all of the fixings for a homemade meal ready to toss together upon your return. Coming home and peeking in the fridge won't be so scary after all.
Here's what you need to know to vacation-proof your kitchen:
Vacation-proofing your kitchen can be easier and faster than you think. The amount of time you'll need depends on how many items you're salvaging, how quickly you work, and how much prep work you've done before you start chopping. Speed up the process by having Ziploc bags (quart and gallon size), plastic freezer-safe containers, labels, and a permanent marker on hand. Other handy items include kitchen twine (or sewing thread) and scissors.
Work by category. Start with vegetables and herbs, for example, and then move on to dairy. You'll deal with items in categories similarly, so tackle in-category items simultaneously to improve efficiency and minimize mess. We explain how to handle each category below.
Label everything. What clearly looks like sofrito when you're storing it in a container will be indistinguishable when you pull it out of the freezer two weeks from now. Put the name of the item and the date you made it on a label that gets affixed to the container.
Think ahead. If you have a trusted neighbor, friend, or family member who's taking care of your home for you while you're away, leave instructions for them to pull that pizza crust and pasta sauce out of the freezer on the morning you're scheduled to return. When you arrive, your meal will require little preparation.
Next, how to tackle each food category to maximize time and savings while minimizing waste.