An organized pantry helps you save time and eat better. If you want to make quick, healthy meals for your family, taking time to organize your pantry will be time well spent.
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Today is the final part in a three-part series about spring cleaning the food in your kitchen. We’ve covered both the fridge and the freezer, so today we’re tackling the pantry.
A big part of living a healthy lifestyle is cooking most of your meals at home. And the only way you can do that is if you keep a well-stocked pantry. But if your pantry is in disarray and you can’t really find what you’re looking for in a timely manner, guess what? You are eventually going to get fed up and stop trying so hard to be healthy. Maybe you’ll return to your habit of ordering takeout or buying ultra-processed freezer meals or convenience foods. Either way, the short-term and long-term effects of keeping a disorganized pantry are going to get you in the end.
Why Should You Organize Your Pantry?
If you’re fed up with a disorganized pantry, now’s the time to roll up your sleeves and organize it. There are at least 4 solid benefits, which we talk more about below.
Cooking Is Faster
A huge part of cooking quick meals is being able to grab your ingredients just as quickly and easily. If you need several ingredients from your pantry, and your pantry is not organized, you are going to spend more time searching for what you need. And, maybe, you won’t even find what you’re looking for. Which could cause you to run to the grocery store last minute to get that missing ingredient. And then you really didn’t save any time or money by cooking at home. And the worst part is later learning that you actually did have that very ingredient; it was just lost in the sea of stuff in your pantry.
My pantry is tiny, so you would think it wouldn’t be that hard to find ingredients even if it is disorganized. But you wouldn’t believe the number of times I used to put an ingredient on my shopping list because I thought I needed it, only to find out that it was actually hiding in my pantry behind something.
When your pantry is set-up in an organized way, you will be able to cook much more quickly. You will find what you’re looking for in a matter of seconds versus a couple of minutes, which can really add up.
Grocery Shopping Is Faster
When your pantry is disorganized and you need to write out your shopping list, the last thing you want to do is rummage through everything to make sure you actually need certain ingredients, right? But if you don’t take the time to check, it’s a huge waste of your time at the grocery store. Imagine you have 10 items on your grocery list that you already have at home. That’s at least 10-20 minutes wasted at the grocery store looking for those items!
Do yourself a favor and keep an organized pantry so you can always easily know what you have and don’t have before you write it on your shopping list.
Eating Healthy Is Easier
I’m betting that the biggest reason you want to eat at home is that it’s healthier. If it’s hard to find things in your mess of a pantry, though, you won’t want to cook, now will you? If it’s hard to eat healthy because you are spending too much time looking for ingredients when you need them, you are going to give up a whole lot faster. Keep an organized pantry so you can reach your goal of feeding you and your family the healthiest food possible.
Food Waste Is Minimized
Probably one of the biggest benefits of all is wasting less food. I actually didn’t include this one in either the fridge or freezer organization posts, but I updated them because it’s just that important.
Food waste is a huge issue, especially here in the United States. According to one article:
Americans waste about a pound of food per person each day, with people who have healthier diets rich in fruit and vegetables the most wasteful, research has found…Fruit and vegetables were the most likely to be thrown out, followed by dairy and then meat.
Now, even if you don’t store fresh fruits and veggies in your pantry, you still store food there that can easily expire if you never touch it. So whether it’s a can of corn or a package of raisins, you need to be diligent about using it before it goes bad and you have to throw it out.
If you go through your pantry every quarter or every six months to organize it, you should be able to easily rotate through the food you have and waste less food overall.
Last year, when I outlined this post and made the video for it, I organized my pantry for the first time in a long while. I ended up throwing out quite a bit of food. This time, nearly a year later, I threw out a box of cereal and some Asian-style noodles that we never ate. It was a lot better than the first time.
How Often Should You Organize Your Pantry?
This is really up to you, but I find that every 6 months works well for our family. If I go much longer, things start to get really disorganized.
You could do it every 3 months or even just once a year.
How to Organize Your Pantry
Let’s get down to business!
Step 1: Clear off a counter and/or table
Before you can even start, get a few surfaces cleared off in your kitchen so you have a place to put your food. I used two tables, so if your pantry is quite large, you may need to use your countertop as well.
Step 2: Take everything out
Now you can take all your food out and put it on your cleared surfaces. You can start the organization with this step by putting your food together into like categories. For example, put all your baking items together and, in a separate area, put all your snack items.
Step 3: Clean the pantry
Once everything is out, you can clean off all the shelves and walls of your pantry. If you have a large pantry, sweep or vacuum once you’ve cleaned the shelves.
There’s definitely nothing wrong with employing the little munchkins that live in your house, especially if they can’t wait to help! My 5-year-old daughter happily volunteered to clean some shelves for me while I took pictures. Ha!
Step 4: Throw away anything questionable or expired
This step may take a while if you have to look at every single expiration date. You could just look at items you’ve had for a while since most things in the pantry have a long shelf life compared to those in the fridge. If something is about to expire, like a can of food, take note (actually write it down) and remember to use it in a meal in the near future.
Step 5: Take inventory
When we take inventory for the fridge and the freezer, the food we list needs to be used within a few days or a few months, depending on what it is and where it’s stored. But food that is stored in the pantry lasts longer, for the most part. Thus, the inventory we take for the pantry will be used mostly to help when meal planning. If you keep up with it, you can easily see at a glance what you have in your pantry and what you need. There are so many other reasons to use a pantry inventory list that you can read about HERE.
Step 6: Put everything back by category
Now you’ll want to decide where everything will go in your pantry.
Put heavier items on the bottom shelves with lighter items up on top. Since I have a pantry that is easily accessible to my children, I actually have a lot of heavy items on the top shelf. I don’t want my toddler to be able to grab these items whenever he wants. It is dangerous, however, because in the event of an earthquake my pantry could fall down (even though it is secured to the wall) and injure someone if they are near it. Once my toddler grows out of this stage, I should be able to put my heavy items down low again.
This is how I have chosen to organize my own pantry, but you should organize yours the way that’s easiest for you:
- Snack items, including dried fruits, fruit cups, popcorn kernels, nut butter, Nutella, pretzels, sunflower seeds, etc.
- Baking items, including baking powder, baking soda, cocoa powder, sugar, powdered sugar, brown sugar, extracts, shredded coconut, chia seeds, yeast, marshmallows, etc.
- One shelf has things like rice, lentils, beans, flaxseed, cornmeal, panko breadcrumbs, and hot cocoa
- One shelf has things like pasta, ramen noodles, flour (it didn’t fit on my baking shelf), bouillon cubes, sesame seed oil, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, etc.
- Random stuff like nuts, trail mix, spices, and storage bags
- More random stuff like oats, vanilla, unopened jam/applesauce/peanut butter, and storage bags
I keep all my cans and most of my spices in separate containers because there’s just no room to put them in my pantry with how small it is.
As you can see, it’s really not hyper-organized, like it would be if I cared about appearances, but it works well for me and my family.
How Much Time Can I Expect to Spend Organizing My Pantry?
The answer to this is going to largely depend on the size of your pantry. My pantry is relatively small, and it took about an hour to organize it. If you have a pretty big pantry, give yourself at least 2-3 hours from start to finish.
Unique Storage Solutions
I think there are probably a lot of great storage solutions out there to help you maintain your organized pantry. I avoid most of these solutions only because it can get pretty expensive. But there are several ways I have incorporated unique storage solutions in my small pantry.
When I organized my pantry last year, I started using mason jars for things like beans, lentils, flaxseed, chia seeds, and unsweetened coconut flakes. Turns out, this storage system worked well for me, so I added a few more mason jars this year and put brown rice and white rice in them.
I really love the container I bought over 5 years ago for storing white sugar. It’s super air-tight. We have an ant problem, and last summer the ants found their way to our pantry, unfortunately. There was an applesauce pouch in our pantry that had been leaking, and I didn’t know it until I cleared out some stuff after I saw the ant invasion. Luckily, the ants were nowhere to be found in the sugar. They couldn’t get in that container! But they were in my brown sugar, which was just in its original packaging. When I finally move, I plan to buy more of those containers, maybe in smaller sizes, for other sugars (powdered and brown), as well as flour. You can find the same container I have HERE (this is an affiliate link).
Another storage solution that is pretty helpful is keeping spices in baskets. I already mentioned that I keep most of my spices in a separate container somewhere else in my kitchen. But I keep the large bottles of spices in my pantry. I have been using this yellow basket, pictured below, for a while and it keeps the spices from slip-sliding around. It’s also a good solution if you want to just grab your spice basket when you are cooking and bring it closer to where you are.
Watch the Video About How to Organize Your Pantry
I actually made this video in March of 2018. Yep, one whole year ago. That’s why things look a lot different in the video compared to the pictures in this post.
Although I organized it a bit different both times, the principles are still the same. I am able to save time, money, and eat better when I can easily find food in my pantry.
Is the finished product Pinterest-worthy? Not really. It works for me, though, and I don’t really care if my pantry “looks good” when I open it up.
When you keep your pantry organized, you can truly work so much faster in your kitchen and stick to your healthy eating goals a lot easier. Set aside some time this coming week to get your pantry organized if you haven’t done that lately.
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