Posts Tagged ‘pantry’

Today I want to conclude my short series on the pantry. So far you’ve learned how to save some time by creatively stocking your pantry and yesterday you read about three money-saving tips you can adopt while doing the stocking. All that’s left now is to take all your stocked food and organize it in the space you have. It doesn’t matter if you have an official pantry or if you use kitchen cupboards; these spaces are much better off organized in such a way to maximize your efficiency in meal preparation and to prevent food waste.

I’ve broken down the pantry organization process into 8 steps. You may already be past the first few steps, and that’s great! But if you desire to start from square one, then these tips will be just what you need to begin. So let’s organize our pantries!

Step 1: Empty your shelves

Find a large surface nearby (like your kitchen counter and/or table) and empty your pantry’s contents onto it. Yes, that’s all. This first step is easy!

Step 2: Toss and combine

This second step might be easy for some and hard for others because it involves throwing things away and consolidating. I happen to enjoy these practices because they make me feel like I am accomplishing something (instant gratification!) and I ultimately can free up much-needed space in the process. So what you need to do is go through all your food and assess what needs to be pitched and what needs to be consolidated. Do you have popcorn that expired 3 years ago and likely won’t even pop in the microwave anymore? Toss it. Do you have 3 different containers of garlic? Combine them into one and get rid of the other two containers. Don’t be wasteful, but be realistic and diligent…you want to start with a nice clean slate.

Step 3: Figure out which food items go together

What you do next is something that is useful with anything you organize—categorizing. Don’t think about your space yet, just think about the food for now. Which foods naturally go with others? Here are some examples of categories that I used: baking ingredients (like flour, sugar, baking soda, vanilla, chocolate chips, etc.), cooking ingredients (like spices, broths, oils, bottles of marinades or sauces), snacks (like chips, popcorn, or candy), breakfast foods (like cereal and oatmeal), beverages (like coffee, tea, hot chocolate, etc.), and stand-alone foods (like boxed pastas, rice soups, peanut butter, etc.). After you are done arranging everything into nice tidy categories, it’s time to take a deep breath.

Step 4: Assess your shelf space

Look at your nicely arranged categories of food all over your kitchen. Smile. Now look at your pantry or cupboards. Don’t panic! While you probably won’t be able to keep the exact arrangements you’ve chosen for your food due to space limitations, you can still get it close. Re-evaluate your categories now with this new information. Above you saw that my food separated into (mostly) nice, organized groups. But the shelves in my cupboards are an assortment of sizes so I needed to make a few adjustments. Each of you will have to make the necessary adjustments that suit the layout of your space. Here’s a breakdown of how I arranged the food I listed earlier onto my shelves (keep in mind that I don’t have an official pantry, so I need to use regular kitchen cupboards):

  • Cupboard 1 (2 shelves): baking (shelf 1 & 2)
  • Cupboard 2 (3 shelves): spices (shelf 1), canned ingredients (shelf 2), bottled ingredients (shelf 3)
  • Cupboard 3 (3 shelves): pastas (shelf 1), sauces & soups (shelf 2), stand-alone foods (shelf 3)
  • Cupboard 4 (2 shelves): cereal (shelf 1), oatmeal & breakfast bars (shelf 2)
  • Cupboard 5 (2 shelves): salty snacks (shelf 1), sweet snacks (shelf 2)
  • Cupboard 6 (1 shelf): beverages
  • Cupboard 7 (1 shelf): oils, potatoes, and rice (shelf 1)

So as you can see, even though I had to split some categories up, I was still able to keep them near each other. And for certain illogical cases, I just had to deal with it. For example, I don’t see any rhyme or reason to how oils, rice, and potatoes go together, but these large items (I buy all these in bulk) only fit in this particular cupboard! When you tackle this challenging step in your own kitchen, you might find that it is a lot of trial and error. But don’t be discouraged—you’ll discover a good system if you put your mind to it!

Step 5: Arrange your food onto your shelves

Now that you’ve decided where you will put everything, you need to find an efficient way to arrange it all on the shelf. Keep three goals in mind as you do this: (1) maximize use of space (i.e. can items be stacked, or placed in a different order?), (2) keep arrangements logical and efficient (i.e. which food items do you use more often?—keep them near the front) and (3) minimize chances of food items being forgotten about and expiring (i.e. is everything visible and reachable?)

Step 6: Consider improvements

Here’s a chance for you to get creative. How did step 5 go? Do you still need more room? After a few weeks of meal preparation do you find that certain items are not in logical or convenient places? Don’t be afraid to make changes to improve your system. For example, do you love containers that you can label? Things like flour, sugar, and other baking items are perfect for this type of storage. The great thing about special containers is that they are stackable and they seal and keep food for longer. Another idea to consider is changing shelf heights in your cupboards to better fit items or buying special racks that can add an additional surface to any given space. Experiment!

Step 7: Stick to your system

There’s no point in having a great system if you don’t stick to it. Be careful not to allow all your great new arrangements to turn into chaos again! Put items in the EXACT place you found them. When you buy new items, remember your system and arrange them accordingly. Every once and while take a look at the bigger picture and make sure you aren’t slipping in any areas. If you stick to it now, you won’t have to go through this arduous process all over again in the future (unless you move!).

Step 8: Rejoice!

You’ve gotten a major area in your house organized…so celebrate! There’s nothing wrong with enjoying your accomplishment and feeling good about yourself. So go on and give yourself a pat on the back.

Reader Reflection

Do you have any creative pantry organizing ideas you’d like to share?


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Yesterday I talked at length about the art of stocking your pantry. Today I want to offer three quick and easy tips to help you save money while you stock. As long as you’re buying ahead, you should look for ways to save a few bucks, right?

Consider generic brands

Maybe you notice a taste difference with stand-alone products like soda or salad dressing, but can you really tell the difference when it comes to ingredients like chicken broth or baking powder? Generic brands offer some real savings since they run at sometimes a fraction of the cost of name brands. I said it before when speaking about hair-care products, and I’ll say it again here: if you can’t tell the difference, why not make the switch? Believe me, you won’t be sorry.

Buy in bulk

In addition to switching to generic brands, you might think about the money saving possibilities involved with buying in bulk. If space allows, purchasing a larger size of any given food product usually results in savings. Some stores display the price per ounce for various products and you can use this data to decide which size is most cost-effective. For example, when I buy olive oil, I try to buy the largest size even though the upfront cost is rather high. After studying the price per volume of all the available sizes, it’s really a no-brainer. Olive oil lasts a long time, it doesn’t need to be refrigerated, and I use it constantly…so why not buy big! And of course an added benefit of buying in bulk is that larger items last longer, meaning you won’t have to re-stock them as often!

Buy on sale

Since you’ll be buying ahead anyway, you might as well watch for sales at your local grocery stores and buy when prices are low. I have particular items I watch for in my weekly sale flyers, like meat, fruit and vegetable produce, ice cream, frozen juice concentrate, or cereal. I buy them only when they go on sale, making sure to purchase enough quantity so they last until the next time a sale occurs. If you study the habits of your grocery stores, you’ll begin to see patterns in how often various foods go on sale.

Reader Reflection

Do you have any tricks of the trade to share when it comes to saving money in stocking your pantry?

Coming up…

So far in this series we’ve looked at how stocking your pantry saves time and how creative buying habits can save money. Tomorrow we’ll explore one final facet of the pantry…how to organize it!

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This week I’d like to do a series on the pantry. We all have some kind of space in our kitchen where we store food. Whether you have an actual pantry or just utilize various cupboards like I do, there are definitely ways to better organize it. Today I specifically want to talk about creative ways to stock your pantry so you can save time when you need it the most and have more flexible meal options.

Why stock your pantry?

A while back, I wrote up an illustration about two starkly different scenarios with regards to meal preparation. One instance in each scenario involved going to your pantry and seeing if you had the ingredients you needed for the recipe you chose. In the chaotic scenario, you were missing some ingredients and had to make a run to the grocery store, while in the organized scenario, you had what you needed and were able to get started right away. The key here is saving time by avoiding inefficient and inconvenient trips to the store when all you really want to be doing is getting that meal cooked. Let’s face it, evenings especially can be busy and stressful with meetings, kid’s activities, and generally everyone running in different directions. Furthermore, if you’re like me and live well out into the country, a trip into town to just go to the store for a couple of items is a real time killer and gas waster. Finally, stocking your pantry certain ways can offer your family more flexibility in cooking–who wants to eat the same thing every night?!

What about meal planning?

Some people are meal planners. In other words, they map out their days or even weeks and decide what they will cook each night. This makes grocery shopping easier and stocking your pantry a little less important because you know exactly what you will need and can buy it in advance. However, if you aren’t really much of a meal planner week to week (I tend to decide what I’m going to cook right before I cook it), keeping your pantry adequately stocked will accommodate this lifestyle beautifully. So let’s take a look at how we can do it!

Assessing what you need

The first thing you should do is figure out what you need in your pantry so you can maximize its usefulness. This involves a little analysis, but you only have to do it once and it’s definitely worth it in the end.

  • Skim your recipes. However you organize your recipes (we’ll talk about that later!), you most likely have a set of recipes that you make regularly. Take a look at those recipes and see if you can spot common ingredients. For example, when I look over some of my regular recipes, I repeatedly see ingredients like pasta, rice, onions, chicken broth, cream of mushroom soup, french fried onions, soy sauce, white cooking wine, flour, sugar, baking powder, and various spices to name a few. If you stock up on these common ingredients, you are much more likely to have what you need to make a complete recipe on any given night.
  • Think about how you improvise. Admit it, we don’t have time to cook everything from a recipe, now do we?! Sometimes I just throw things together quickly so I definitely want to make sure I have those ingredients on hand. In fact, just last night I made a quick batch of spaghetti before our meeting and all I had to do was go over to the pantry and grab a box of pasta, a can of tomato sauce, a can of diced tomatoes, an onion, and some spices. What do you improvise with? Do you have the ingredients to get by?
  • Walk through a typical day. What do you eat for breakfast or lunch each day? Do you have to prepare meals for your kids, yourself, or your spouse for school or work? We always make sure we have plenty of things like cereal, oatmeal, peanut butter, bread, crackers, chips, pudding, macaroni and cheese, canned soup, etc. on hand. Even though these meals don’t take as much prep time, they are still necessary and you don’t want to be milling around the kitchen 10 minutes before school starts trying to figure out what to make for your kids in their lunches.

Assessing how much you need

This step is a little trickier and really takes some trial and error to get it down to a science. I avoid just having one of any given ingredient because you have no idea how much or when you will need it between stops at the grocery store if you don’t plan ahead. So I usually end up getting a minimum of two, but with extremely common things, I often try to have several on hand. To illustrate, let’s look at two examples, cream of mushroom soup and chicken broth. I use cream of mushroom soup in casseroles a lot, but I don’t tend to make casseroles that often. Therefore I keep two cans on hand at all times because when I peruse my recipes, I see that the most any given recipe calls for is two cans. However, I cook with chicken broth a lot more regularly, especially if I am just throwing something together (it makes great additions to improvised soups, sauces, and sautés). So in that case, I keep about 5 cans on hand. You will need to keep track of your own cooking habits to decide how much of any given ingredient to keep around. Just don’t forget to consider the ultimate goal at all times: having what you need when you need it so you don’t have to go to store or change your plans.

What about perishable foods?

I’ve really only mentioned non-perishable foods in your pantry up to this point. As far as perishable foods go, I take the same approach, but with moderation due to the fact that these foods don’t keep as long. I also rely heavily on my freezer to keep foods like meat on hand. I always try to have chicken, hamburger, Italian sausage, and pork available to cook with. You just have to be careful not to forget about these items to avoid freezer burn and spoilage. Furthermore, I also use my pantry to store back-ups of ‘refrigerate-after-opening’ items like salad dressing, BBQ sauce, lemon juice, parmesan cheese, etc. That way when the item in your fridge runs out, you have another one available in the cupboard.

Keeping on top of stocking

So you’ve stocked your pantry once, but when items start disappearing how do you keep on top of re-stocking? I keep a grocery list magnet on my refrigerator and whenever I take an item out of my pantry, I add it to the list. It’s like keeping an inventory and always making sure you replace what you use.

Reader Reflection

How do you stock your pantry and keep track of how much you use? I’d love to learn creative ideas from people with different lifestyles.

Coming up…

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at a few money-saving tips in your pantry because if we’re going to buy ahead, we might as well try to save money too!

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