What to Stock Up on Before the Holidays

Get a head start on the crowds and hit the supermarket weeks — even months — before the busy season.

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Get a Head Start

Just like wrapping paper and tree lights, holiday cooking staples such as sugar, flour and canned pie filling tend to be deeply discounted after the holiday shopping season. Other standbys, including cooking oil and nuts, go on sale throughout the year. If you’ve ever been tempted to stock up on some of these seldom-used holiday must-haves, read on for our definitive guide to how early you can safely shop for some of the most commonly used items, and find out how to store them properly to ensure they’ll make it to your next holiday feast.

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Canned Goods

Buy Them: Up to five years in advance. Holiday staples such as canned pie fillings that contain fruit are typically safe for up to 18 months. Canned broth and stock retain peak quality for up to five years.

Store Them: In a cool, clean and dry place, such as a cupboard. Never store canned goods outdoors or in spots where they’ll be exposed to heat, such as over the stove, or in damp surroundings similar to a basement or under the sink. All could compromise the integrity of the can and cause foods to spoil prematurely.

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Culinary Oils

Buy Them: Up to two years in advance. Shelf-stable oils that are lower in saturated fat — such as olive and vegetable oil — are safe indefinitely, but that doesn’t mean they’ll retain peak freshness. Most manufacturers include a best-by date, which you should follow for optimal quality. Some even include a harvest or pressing date. Cooking oils run the risk of turning rancid over time. Sealed, they should last at least two years, but keep in mind that less common varieties, such as hazelnut or pistachio oil, tend to spend more time on store shelves, so be doubly sure to check their dates. Can't find a date? Buy them within a few months of when you'll need them.

Store Them: In a cool, dry spot and out of direct sunlight.


Buy It: Up to 12 months ahead, depending on how you’ll store it. Frozen, butter or margarine can survive up to one year. Milk can make it three months in the freezer, so long as you safely defrost it in the fridge. Eggs should never be frozen, but they last up to five weeks in the refrigerator in their shells. If you’re planning to crack and separate eggs for baking, or you are making a batch of eggnog, then limit their fridge time (sans shell) to no more than four days.

Store It: In the refrigerator or freezer, as appropriate, and always in the original container so you can reference sell-by dates. Egg containers, in particular, are designed to keep spills contained if an egg cracks, and they include essential information in the event of a recall.

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Onions, Garlic and Potatoes

Buy Them: Up to four months ahead. Tubers and some vegetables are ideal for long-term storage, but bear in mind that there’s no way to know how long they’ve spent at the store, or in transit. Potatoes typically start to sprout 30 to 140 days after they’re picked. Onions and garlic vary with variety, but most last up to two months.

Store Them: In a cool, dry spot with good airflow. These veggies fare best in temperatures between 42 to 50 degrees F, slightly warmer than a fridge and slightly cooler than a kitchen cupboard. Dry basements, attics and garages are all good options, just make sure to keep the vegetables loose — sealing them in a plastic bag will restrict airflow and cause moisture to collect. If you chop onions or garlic in advance, they'll be fine in sealed containers in the fridge for up to seven days.

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Buy Them: Up to three years in advance, depending on the variety (see below). The one lone exception is chestnuts, which should be consumed within three weeks of purchase, as they behave more like a tuber than a tree nut and can spoil faster.

Store It: Nuts are made up of fragile oils that can go rancid quickly, so they fare best in sealed packaging with minimal airflow. Here's a quick reference guide on how to store some popular shelled varieties:

Almonds:Up to two weeks at room temp.; up to nine months in the refrigerator; up to one year in the freezer

Pecans: Up to two weeks at room temp.; up to nine months in the refrigerator; up to two years in the freezer

Walnuts: Up to two weeks at room temp.; up to six months in the refrigerator; up to one year in the freezer

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Flours and Sugars

Buy It: Up to one year in advance. Wheat-flour varieties are shelf-stable, but they may have a best-by date. Sugar will last indefinitely.

Store It: White flour will last for eight months in an airtight container in a cool spot and up to one year in the refrigerator. Whole-wheat flour is good for eight months in the fridge. Freeze both varieties and they'll last two years, plus, keeping them out of the cupboard is also a good way to ensure bags aren’t infiltrated by pests. Sugar can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

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Buy It: At the last minute. Even hearty veggies such as cauliflower and squash that typically hold up well are seasonal; supermarkets get frequent shipments of fresher goods throughout the growing season. Waiting to shop until just before the holiday means your produce will taste better too.

Store It: In the refrigerator in dedicated produce drawers for up to one week.

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