Is your pantry a hodge-podge of items in disarray? Could you quickly grab key ingredients to make a pasta dish or aren’t you sure you have any tomato sauce on the shelves? For me there is nothing more frustrating that not being able to locate certain items to make a meal when I know that I just purchased them. I also feel badly when I clean my pantry and discover that I have 5 bottles of oregano, all stuffed into different little corners. It costs money to keep buying ingredients only to have them become lost in the pantry abyss. Since I cook almost all our meals at home, I’ve had to be diligent on keeping my pantry in tip top shape and in making sure I can easily find what I’ve intended to cook.
I’ve used a simple organizational method for my pantry for a while now. It is not high tech and doesn’t cost a lot of money. So with the thought that an organized pantry will allow you to stretch your food dollar even further, here are some ideas that have worked for me:
1. Remove everything out of the pantry. I mean pull out all the stuff, even if you can’t tell what it is. I usually pull out everything and put it on the kitchen table. The next step involves checking expiration dates, spoiled items, etc.
2. Discard items that are out of date. Check every single expiration date and items that obviously look like they can’t be eaten. Canned goods usually have a very long shelf life. However, opened bags of cereal and chips may have gone stale. Likewise, if you have items that you know you are not going to eat but the expiration dates are still good, arrange to donate them to a local food bank who will gladly take them.
3. Before returning items to the panty, make a plan where they will go based on use. Either sketch it out on a sheet of paper or make a mental map of locations. I keep all the items I use the most on the shelf that is at eye level. These are the flours, spices, pasta noodles, etc. Cereals go up on the top shelf while snacks that the kids like go on the lowest shelf so everyone can reach them. On the very bottom of the pantry is where I store baggies, foil, paper plates, etc.
4. Group like items together. I don’t have labels on the shelves, although I do think that is a good idea. As I return items to the pantry based on the plan I developed, I place all like items together. Canned goods are located on one shelf, but grouped by type (i.e. canned vegetables are together, soups, tomato sauces). Breads and rolls are on another shelf. As I mentioned before, all cereals are on the top shelf. Staple items are on the middle shelf since I use them the most. I have all the flours together in one area, cooking oils in another, spices placed together in a clear bin which allows me to easily see what spices I have. This makes for a very visual pantry and it’s easy to see what ingredients you have for any given meal.
5. Train everyone who will be responsible for replacing or removing items where they should go. With my system of locating like items together, everyone knows where grocery items go. In fact, the kids help to put the groceries away after my weekly trip.
6. Perform periodic maintenance. I’ve found that about every 2 months I need to do a maintenance check that everything is where it needs to be. With a very busy family, sometimes things are not returned to their proper place so we really need that periodic maintenance.