Expert Tips on Pantry Organization

A woman unpacking her groceries.
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Organizing your pantry does not need to be a difficult task. Having an organized pantry can hep reduce food waste as well as make meal preparation or entertaining a more enjoyable experience. Being able to quickly identify available ingredients required for a recipe, or the items that need to be purchased simplifies the entire preparation process. Below are some simple steps that can have your pantry in top shape, before your morning coffee becomes cold.

Disorganized Pantry

Create distinct pantry zones. Depending upon the size of your pantry, these zones can be based upon the frequency of item use, ease of access, size of product, or even task based. While there is no one best method as everyone’s circumstances of different, I prefer a task-based zone system as it puts everything associated with a certain task in one place. This helps to minimize searching for or moving products around to get to what you need, while also making it easier to store products after purchase. Plus, if items are always stored in the same place, all family members will be able to easily find or store items, helping to keep the pantry neat and tidy.

To implement a tasked based zone system, start by identifying areas in your pantry for tasks you complete most often. If you frequently bake, items associated with baking will be a zone. If the size of your pantry allows, include the “hardware” that baking requires in the same area. This includes all the equipment required to get the baking jobs done, including mixers, sheet pans and assorted foils and parchment papers. Consider placing frequently used, heavier items (large mixers, etc.) in an easy to maneuver/handle locations instead of out of the way more hidden area. Store sheet pans vertically so that you can quickly spot the one perfect for the task, instead of digging through a stack of them when placed under the stove or some other cabinet. While there are many organizers out there for purchase (they certainly can help!), with a little ingenuity you can keep all this within budget.

Keep the ingredients used together and situated so that you can keep a quick glance tab on levels so that you know when you are running low.

A tasked based system should also be designed in such a way that guests should be able to find items easily if need be, without having to rummage throughout the entire pantry. As examples, if you entertain frequently, ensure that the layout includes a cocktail or entertaining zone that makes it easy to locate any bottle openers, mixers, or even another wine glass.

The most used zone for many of us will be the meal planning zone. There can be plenty of variation in this zone depending upon individual circumstances. Common methods include grouping all ingredients for a specific meal together (assemble in a bin), to organizing by placing all ingredients of a certain type together to a hybridized approach using both methods.

When implementing any pantry organization plan, it is also a good idea to follow some helpful underlying strategies to keep food fresh and to simplify use.

Use the first in, first out (FIFO) method. Doing so will certainly help to maintain food quality and freshness by rotating through stored items based upon when they were purchased/best by date. Initially, simply review the best by date of each similar item and put the earliest expiration date in front - to be used first. Follow by placing the remaining items behind it sequentially, with the earlier expiration dates in front of the dates farther out. When completing this task if you come across food with dates close to expiration that you will not be able to use, please pack them up and donate to a food pantry where they will be put to good use quickly.

Comparison of Best By Dates

Invest in clear containers, or reuse glass jars or plastic containers. Utilize clear containers to allow visualization of ingredients as well as par levels. If purchasing containers, ensure the are stackable to help conserve vital shelf or counter space. This method is great for large bulk purchase items and can help prevent having multiple instances of a single product open. By easily visualizing remaining quantity, you will be able to quickly and effortless understand if an ingredient needs to go on the purchase list or not.

Make sure the containers can be identified via a labeling system that can be updated if necessary (removable labels, etc.). If the budget is tight, a simple piece of masking tape and black magic marker will certainly work!

Unlabeled Glass Storage Containers

Use items that you have around the house to help you keep things in their place. Magazine racks, pencil holders, crates and baskets and more can all find a place to help keep items together in their place. Plus, they can be helpful for keeping accidental spells contained for easier cleanup.

Lastly, make it a point to assess your pantry on a consistent basis. This can be done prior to the weekly shopping trip as one suggestion. This can help you prepare the shopping list based upon inventories as well as allow you to properly place items that may have be returned to the wrong spot helping to keep your pantry properly organized.

Robert Warns, MS, RD
Guest columnist Robert Warns, MS, RD
Clinical Dietitian AdventHealth Wellness Center Celebration Lifestyle Clinic and
Executive Health Program

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