As parents, we spend so much time feeding our families that there is a constant pressure to lifehack our kitchens. I’d love to present you with a magical formula which makes your pantry a Pinterest dream, but in all honesty, the prettiest pantries aren’t the ones that work well.
Here’s how to reclaim control of your pantry in five steps:
Pull everything out of the pantry and clean the shelves. This is a yucky job, but necessary at least once per year. Throw away expired items, including your expired spices.
2. Group items
Put things back in grouped order, starting with the largest items. For example, all cereals go on the tallest shelf. You’ll have to close the lids because children are incapable of closing box tops. All pastas go together, all canned items are grouped and stacked, etc.
Bags are the hardest items to store, so sometimes I keep them together in a very shallow, large bowl. The goal is to keep as much in your sight as possible.
3. Prioritize the commonly eaten items
“Line of sight” items are the most-used ingredients. For instance, oatmeal should be within easy reaching distance, but corn syrup can be in a back corner. Magazine pantry photos suggest everything should be in glass canisters.
Take a close look at those pictures; who needs a two-year supply of beans? You’ll spend $20 on a canister to fit a $2 bag of black beans and only 75 percent of it will fit. Also, these canisters are often stacked on top of each other. It’s a huge waste of cooking time to move ingredients around every time you need something.
I keep flour, sugar, baking mix, and brown sugar in containers. I also keep trail mix in a glass container so I can throw in nuts leftover from baking. Add M&Ms and my family will eat it. Figure out what it makes sense for your family to keep in containers.
4. Stash the back-ups
Keep a backup of your most-used non-perishables like vegetable oil, baking powder, etc. on the hardest to reach shelf. When I open my backup to use, the item goes on the grocery list, so I’m never out of staple ingredients.
Bulk purchases take up a lot of space and lose their freshness before I need them, so I don’t buy large quantities of ingredients. My lowest shelf and the pantry floor is for appliances, where I keep our toaster on a plastic tray so the crumbs don’t scatter.
5. Implement minimal storage tools
The only storage items I recommend are a few canisters and a spice drawer. Over-the-door spice racks make too much noise and wired shelving is a balancing nightmare. Alternatively, you can label the spice lids so you don’t have to lift jars when looking for a particular spice.
The last item I recommend is lighting. I’ve installed everything from a cheap strip light hung vertically to recessed lighting. Lighting will save you money because you’ll be able to see what you have.
This method might uncover some problems. I once helped a client who discovered she owned 15 half-eaten boxes of Oreos. When I married, my husband I realized he moved the same jar of expired garlic powder across the country, twice. I promise every time you work this method, you’ll throw away less and less food and you’ll be able to create a dinner plan with a shorter shopping list. Whether or not you consider Oreos a backup item is dealer’s choice.