The Organized Pantry: A Beginner's Guide to Pantry Pride
Organization and inventory tips
To work the pantry principle, you've gotta get organized! Maximum pantry power requires that you know what you have, how long it will keep, and how to store it safely. Good organization and inventory techniques will keep your pantry cycling smoothly.
Beginning pantries are relatively simple, and don't require complex organization systems. Create them by buying twice as many of each item as required for weekly use, then storing the extras. Use the last smidge of mayo making today's tuna salad? Retrieve the back-up jar from the pantry, and add "mayo" to the week's shopping list to replace the pantry jar.
Often, the beginner's pantry can be stored side-by-side with opened or in-use items. For example, stack the open box of detergent on top of the pantry box or line up cans of chicken noodle soup front to back on the canned goods shelf. Remember to rotate! Add newly-purchased items to the back of the stack or row; use the front items first.
Even for beginners, a dedicated pantry area can be a big help. Set aside a cabinet or shelf to hold pantry items. Organize them by category, stacking cans and boxes. Flat-bottomed plastic baskets support and contain bags of dried beans, rice, or pasta.
One exception to the "store by category" rule: complete pantry meals. On a section of pantry shelf, assemble all the makings for three to five pantry meals: a family-sized can of clam chowder, extra can of chopped clams, and the box of oyster crackers shelved together make it easy to replace these items after use. Check your "pantry meals" area before shopping day. Empty spaces will remind you to stock up on the clam chowder as needed.
More comprehensive pantries call for a more organized approach. Larger pantries require more storage space, often sited away from the kitchen.In this situation, a written pantry inventory can remind forgetful cooks of the existence and location of pantry items.
To inventory the pantry, use a clipboard, steno pad, laptop computer or a free printable pantry inventory form from our Household Notebook Forms Library. Record pantry contents, amount and location for easy reference.
Before grocery shopping, check the pantry; will you need to replace any items that have been used? Include them on the weekly shopping list.
Larger pantries may be stored in multiple locations around the house, so pay attention to food storage guidelines as you store. A cool, dry basement room is a good storage environment for root vegetables, apples, or baking staples; canned goods and dried beans can be safely stored in areas with greater temperature variation.
Long-term storage pantries require a thorough approach to selection, storage, maintenance and use of stored foods. Families storing a year's supply of food and water must pay close attention to storage guidelines, safe packaging, and integration of pantry supplies into the daily diet.
Building a pantry on a budget
Investing in the pantry principle pays off in savings of time and money, but it does involve an up-front cost. Even a beginner's pantry--a back-up product for each item used in the home, plus ingredients for three to five pantry meals--represents a significant financial outlay. Try these tips to spread the load:
- "Tithe" for the pantry: set aside a regular percentage of each week's grocery budget for pantry-building. Even a few dollars a week will start the process of stocking and maintaining pantry reserves.
- Buy on sale: take advantage of supermarket loss leaders to stock up. Supermarkets routinely offer tuna, tomato sauce, canned soup and canned beans at drop-dead prices to get shoppers in the door. If it's a pantry candidate and it's on sale, buy multiples!
- Buy in bulk: bulk-buying for the pantry really pays off. Using the pantry "tithe", buy the 25-pound sack of bread flour for $3.89 at the warehouse store, rather than spend $1.39 for the supermarket's five-pound bag. You'll save and stock up at the same time!
Storage tips for small spaces
Even beginner's pantries may have a hard time finding a home in small houses or apartments. Try these storage ideas to tuck away a pantry in the tiniest home:
- Break the mold: look beyond the kitchen to store pantry items in a small home. Provided that temperature and moisture are not issues, any room in the house is a candidate for pantry storage. Who says cans can't live in the coat closet?
- Disguise it: integrate pantry goods into the home. For example, stack two large bulk-food storage containers and top with a plywood circle and round tablecloth. Who can tell this attractive end table is really storage space for 50 pounds of flour?
- Look high and low: make use of storage space under or over furniture. Fill shallow under-bed storage boxes with canned food, labels up, and push them beneath the bed. Similarly, cover cardboard records boxes with gift wrap or fabric, fill them with bags of pasta, beans and rice, and stash them away on top of tall bookcases.