The Organized Pantry: A Beginner's Guide to Pantry Pride
It's the secret weapon of a well-organized kitchen: a working pantry. A planned reserve of foodstuffs and sundries used in the home, a pantry saves time, money and stress in the kitchen.
Tap the pantry for unexpected meals and reduce trips to the supermarket. Stock it with frugal finds to lower grocery costs. Set aside a supply of food and sundries for a rainy day and protect your family against weather emergencies or financial dislocation.
Properly managed, the pantry is an integral part of an organized home. Polish your pantry pride with our best hints and tips:
A pantry's not a place, it's an attitude
"Oh, I'd love to have a pantry," writes a reader, "but my house doesn't have one!" Sure it does! If there's so much as a spare roll of toilet paper tucked underneath a sink, the household boasts a pantry.
Don't confuse storage space with the reality of the pantry principle. Certainly, it's helpful to have designated cabinet space for pantry goods--but that's not the pantry. Think of the pantry as a reservoir of consumable goods which may be stored in any area of the home.
Tiny urban apartment or spacious rural farmhouse, all homes can include a pantry. That some houses may or may not feature a specific storage area labeled "pantry" is beside the point. A pantry's not a place, it's an attitude!
Eyes on the goal
What's the goal of establishing and maintaining a pantry? It's two-fold: household convenience and protection against unexpected events. A well-planned pantry means that the household will never run out of commonly used products such as toilet paper.
More important, a pantry is a reserve against hard times. Whether it's job loss, illness, or natural disaster, a pantry ensures that the family will continue to be fed, clean, and comfortable in the face of adversity.
A beginner's pantry focuses on convenience and contains back-up products for each storable item used in the home. The standard is simple: for each open bag, box or carton in the household, the pantry contains a second, back-up product, toothbrushes to tortellini. A good first goal: a three-day supply of food and hygiene supplies adequate to support your family plus one additional person.
More robust pantries serve additional goals. A mid-range pantry can feed a family for a period of two weeks to a month in case of emergency. This pantry includes substitutes for fresh foods, such as powdered milk, dried fruits and vegetables, and protein products. A mid-range pantry offers convenience and basic protection.
The most comprehensive home pantries are designed to meet long-term food storage needs. For instance, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) are taught to maintain a one-year supply of food and clothing for their families. To do so, these premier pantry managers stock versatile foodstuffs with long shelf life, such as whole wheat berries, together with a variety of preserved and dried foods. LDS home managers learn pantry-specific cooking techniques to enhance nutrition and appeal of long-keeping foods.
Inside the well-stocked pantry
Traditional home organization advice often specifies long lists of "recommended pantry items", idea being that you buy them and voila! you've got pantry. Eighteen months later, you're hauling dusty cans of apricot halves to the Food Bank and wondering what ever possessed you to purchase them in the first place.
Reality check! Each family's pantry will vary according to their own tastes, needs and standard of living. Storage space and financial constraints also affect pantry contents.
For instance, single-income households with young children will build pantries replete with cold cereal, formula, disposable diapers and child-friendly snack foods--all purchased on sale with coupons. Empty-nesters with an active social life and his-and-hers diets will lean toward pickled asparagus, cocktail crackers and tiny jars of caviar for pick-up appetizers and hostess gifts.
Dedicated home bakers include specialty flours, gluten, and dried buttermilk powder in their pantries, while non-cooks rely heavily on microwave entrees and freezer pizza. And just about every family can stockpile basics for kitchen and bath: toilet paper, toothpaste, laundry and dishwasher detergent, disposable diapers and feminine hygiene products, paper napkins and food storage bags.
Where's the best place to discover your family's pantry preferences? A grocery list! If you buy it, use it, and it can be stored, it's a pantry candidate. Building a pantry from the grocery list is also a powerful antidote to Pantry Mania: the indiscriminate purchase of case lots of canned turkey chili or house-brand soups that no one in the household will eat. Hello, Food Bank!
An expansive view of the pantry principle encompasses more than the traditional dry storage of canned foods and baking staples. Manage your pantry to include freezer storage and a limited amount of refrigerator real estate. Carrots, potatoes, oranges and apples enter the pantry zone when bought on sale and tucked into corners of the vegetable bin, while freezer convenience entrees qualify, too.
Bottom line: build a pantry to suit your family. Whether it's Chef Boy-ar-dee brand ravioli or Wolfgang Puck's upscale condensed soups, feature your family's favorites on the pantry shelves.