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    You are in: Home / Community Forums / Canning, Preserving and Dehydrating / Organizing Your Pantry
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    Organizing Your Pantry

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    Fri Dec 30, 2011 1:54 pm
    Forum Host

    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. (All text highlighted in red are clickable links).


    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.

    Shop your pantry for unexpected meals and reduce trips to the supermarket. Stock it with frugal finds from the grocery store to lower grocery costs. Set aside a supply of food and sundries for a rainy day and protect your family from the emergencies that will inevitably crop up in everybody's life.

    PANTRY BASICS (These are just suggestions. Your family's basics may be different)

    A messy kitchen pantry may flourish for months, even years before grabbing our attention. It is often hidden behind a door allowing the "out of sight, out of mind" reflex to kick in, and we move onto to something more visually urgent like dishes piling up in the sink. Consider making pantry organization and maintenance your New Year's resolution!

    Reasons to clear the pantry:
    1. Saves money by identifying what you're using, what you're not using and what you've bought in duplicate (or in same cases, triplicate).
    2. Allows you to take stock of your cooking habits.
    3. Tells you what you should and should not buy in bulk.

    The first step in pantry organization after deciding to get organized is to clean out your pantry to see what you have on hand and to thoroughly clean the shelves.
    1. Take everything out of the pantry including food, food storage containers and junk/trash that may have accumulated.
    2. Dust the pantry, starting with the highest shelf, and then wipe down each shelf one at a time. Be sure to cover the tops of doors and check the ceiling for cob webs.
    3. Sprinkle a little diatomaceous earth (non-toxic to people and pets) or boric acid (minimally toxic to people and pets) in any crevices to deter insect pests from gaining a foothold.
    4. Line up the food items in one space so you can see absolutely everything at once. Suggestions: kitchen table, dining room table, or even the floor. This way you'll be able to spot duplicates, spoiled foods and get a general sense of how much space each type of item will need.

    Assess each item one-by-one and ask yourself these questions:
    •Has this expired? If yes, throw it out.
    •Do I use this? If no, throw it out.
    •Do I like this? If no, throw it out.

    Then, group items together by type. As an example, a vinegar group might include: champagne, apple cider, white, balsamic, wine. Also in that mix might be wines for cooking, olive or vegetable oil, and an olive oil spray. If you wish to make a salad dressing, everything is occupying the same space in the pantry.

    Here are some common groupings:
    •Jars of jams/jellies and condiments
    •Cans/jars of meats (chicken, beef, pork or game)
    •Cans/jars of vegetables
    •Cans/jars of fruits
    •Cans/jars of beans and soups
    •Jars of spices
    •Baking needs (flours, sugars, cornmeal)
    •Jars/packages of mixes and convenience foods (cake/cookie mix, meals in a jar mixes, etc)
    •Bottles of oils and vinegars
    •Containers of bulk items such as dried legumes, pastas, cereals, grains and dried fruit


    Maintain your new organizing scheme by regularly going through your pantry and decluttering. If you do this, you won't have to repeat the entire ordeal of emptying, cleaning and organizing the pantry all over again.

    The Twelve Commandments of the Pantry:
    1. Keep whole wheat rolls, pasta, and brown rice on hand for a quick and healthy side dish for any type of meal. Couscous and polenta are also easy to store and easy to fix staples that fulfill the grain “wedge” of the plate.
    2. Avoid storing non-food items, like cleaners, light bulbs, plastic storage containers, in the pantry. If you must, assign them their own shelf. These items just become clutter, and you really want to see your foods clearly so you can prepare them easily.
    3. Store all food items together in a pantry or in cabinets that are close to the food prep area.
    4. Keep similar items together. By doing this, you are more likely to use items before they expire. You’ll also be less likely to over buy the same items at the store.
    5. When putting groceries away, put newer items behind older items of the same type. Use the FIFO (first in, first out) rule.
    6. Eat down to the shelves twice a year. Do the same with the freezer. See how creative you can be with your combinations. Stop buying items you never actually eat, regardless of their health claims.
    7. Store small quantities of opened items or small items like sauce packets in clear containers, jars, or baskets. Re-use empty glass jars, like those from spaghetti sauce, to store small quantities of crackers, nuts, seasonings, dried beans, and rice.
    8. Use risers to allow visibility to cans near the back of the shelf. Canned beans are a great way to introduce vegetable-based protein into your diet. Canned meats can be an economical source of protein for use in soups and vegetable-based dishes.
    9. Use rolling carts to make items on the floor easier to corral and access.
    10.Adjust shelf positions if needed, and add rolling shelves for too-deep or hard-to-access shelves.
    11. Use lazy-susans to make full use of corners or high shelves.
    12. If you want the family to help in the kitchen, label shelves so they know where items should go. Have them help you put items away, and you’ll likely learn what they prefer.


    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 adequate to support your family plus one additional person.

    A more ambitious pantry pantry can feed a family for a period of two weeks to a month in case of emergency. This pantry will include substitutes for fresh foods, such as canned or powdered milk, canned/dried fruits and vegetables, and protein products.

    The most comprehensive pantry is designed to meet long-term food storage needs. For instance, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) are encouraged to maintain a one-year supply of food for their families. To do so, they 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.

    Manage your pantry to include: FREEZER STORAGE and a limited amount of refrigerator storage. Carrots, potatoes, oranges and apples enter the pantry zone when bought on sale and stored in the ROOT CELLAR (if you have one) or tucked into corners of the vegetable bin of the refrigerator, while frozen convenience entrees qualify, too.

    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 initial financial outlay.

    Try these tips to spread the load:
    •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: 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.
    •Can/bottle/preserve your own meat, produce and convenience foods.

    Take a look at some terrific

    Even if you don't can your own jams/jellies, syrups or pickles, here are some GREAT ideas for convenience foods(these are all clickable links to recipes in our database):

    Storage tips for small spaces


    Even people with small 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:
    •Think outside the box: 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. Canned goods live quite happily in the coat closet, stacked neatly behind the sofa or under the bed.
    •Conceal 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?
    •Utilize vertical space: make use of storage space under or over furniture. Over-the-door shoe caddies work just great for small items. 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.

    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. A terrific tip: keep a shopping list/inventory list hanging on the inside of the pantry door. Here's a
    SAMPLE LIST as an example. You may wish to customize your own.

    It's an unpleasant reality that food contains bacteria and mold spores; most food contains insect eggs. Given the right environment, these microorganisms will start to grow and destroy the food. The main conditions that can cause insects and microorganisms to grow are moisture and heat.



    The following tips may be useful:
    •Use older packages before newer ones and opened packages before unopened ones.
    •When purchasing packaged foods, be certain containers are not damaged and seals are intact.
    •Three or four days in the freezer will kill any hitch-hikers on packages from the store.
    •Store dried foods in pest-proof containers such as screw-top glass, heavy plastic or metal containers. This will prevent entry or escape of insectsor rodents. Cardboard, paper or plastic wrapping will not prevent pest infestations.
    •Keep food storage areas clean and do not allow crumbs or food particles to accumulate, as exposed food will attract insects. Cleanliness is especially important in areas where pet foods and birdseed are stored.

    Books you may enjoy reading (many of them are at your local library):

    Ideas and How-To: Storage and Organizing (Better Homes & Gardens Do It Yourself) by Better Homes & Gardens

    The Modern Kitchen Pantry: How to Design, Create and Use Your Pantry by Kev Williams
    "If you've ever wanted a pantry for your home kitchen - or to make better use of the one you have - this booklet is for you. You'll discover
    •the different types of pantry and how to choose the one that will suit you
    •how to squeeze a pantry into your home, even if your kitchen is small
    •how to choose pantry shelving and other fittings
    •how to stock and organize your pantry to make best use of it
    •how to get rid of pantry pests like flour moths"

    Urban Pantry: Tips and Recipes for a Thrifty, Sustainable and Seasonal Kitchen by Amy Pennington
    "Urban Pantry is a smart, concise guide to creating a full and delicious larder in your own home. It covers kitchen essentials, like what basics to keep on hand for quick, tasty meals without a trip to the store, and features recipes that adapt old-fashioned pantry cooking for a modern audience."

    Please feel free to add a comment, make a suggestion, share a story or post before/after pictures of your pantry organization. icon_smile.gif

    How to Organize a Pantry by Elizabeth Larkin, Guide
    The Organized Home
    UNL Extension-Lancaster County, Nebraska

    Last edited by Molly53 on Sat Jan 28, 2012 11:42 am, edited 1 time in total
    Mon Jan 02, 2012 8:01 pm
    Forum Host
    I am so jealous. Those are wonderful pantries. Only one place I lived in had a real pantry, and I have always known that my dream house, if I were to ever have one, would have a pantry.

    If you use canisters to store flours, pastas, grains, etc., get some of those erasable markers - the type used on white boards. You can clearly mark your canisters, and the marker wipes off easily if you use it for some other products. I also put on some directions for some products, for example 1 1/2 c milk and 2/3 cup oats on the steel-cut oats canister.
    Mon Jan 02, 2012 8:48 pm Groupie
    Knowing what you have is key: I keep an inventory of what's in the freezer. I use it when planning the week's meals (yes, I plan dinners a week or more in advance. Helps to have more balanced meals, and reduces weeknight stress levels)

    And DH and I came up with a nifty, space-saving way to store spices. ( I have a lot of spices) We used short lengths of PVC sprinkler pipe glued together to create a rack very much like a miniature wine rack. Labeled the top of the jars, so I can see what they are. I can store 50 or so spices in the rack. Commonly used leafy herbs are in the large jars in front, easily moved to access the spices behind them.

    Netgirl's Healthy Cookbook
    Mon Jan 02, 2012 8:53 pm Groupie
    Ditto on the jealousy. I wish I had a pantry. Since I only have cabinets, my favorite organizational tool is empty Amy's burrito boxes. They're the perfect length for standard kitchen cabinets. I cover them in brown kraft paper and label them. They're especially helpful on the top shelves, so you pull the box down to get something instead of climbing up on a stool to root around the shelf.
    Mon Jan 02, 2012 9:33 pm
    Forum Host
    dianegrapegrower wrote:
    Knowing what you have is key: I keep an inventory of what's in the freezer. I use it when planning the week's meals (yes, I plan dinners a week or more in advance. Helps to have more balanced meals, and reduces weeknight stress levels)

    And DH and I came up with a nifty, space-saving way to store spices. ( I have a lot of spices) We used short lengths of PVC sprinkler pipe glued together to create a rack very much like a miniature wine rack. Labeled the top of the jars, so I can see what they are. I can store 50 or so spices in the rack. Commonly used leafy herbs are in the large jars in front, easily moved to access the spices behind them.

    That spice storage idea is just tremendous, Diane! icon_smile.gif
    Dienia B.
    Tue Jan 03, 2012 9:09 am Groupie
    im lusting in my heart right now , it used to be cute guys now its the pantry lol great idea on the spice rack and great idea on the marker when i put things in glass, (the mice here in nebraska EAT plastic) i think that i will remember whats inside icon_rolleyes.gif not so much , im getting the memory of a flea icon_evil.gif i stock up when things are on sale for example pumpin after christmas and dry milk for baking it works fine put some real lemon in it it works great
    mums the word
    Tue Jan 03, 2012 11:03 am Groupie
    There are some awesome ideas here and the photos of the pantries are to die for....jealousy is setting in.
    I have a tiny pantry cupboard that is about 16" wide by about 6 1/2ft tall. It has glass doors so I have to keep it relatively neat.

    My best tips would be keeping like items together on a shelf (crackers, teas/coffee etc) and I have two ongoing lists. One is stuck to my fridge and I write down any ingredients that I am running low on. The other list is inside of my spice cupboard and it is a list of extra spices that I have on hand. You know how you buy a bag of spices but the jar only holds about 1/3 of the bag? Well, I keep a list of the extras that I have on hand so that I don't go buy more of a spice I already have.

    My pantry is not impressive but I have a tiny kitchen and space is at a premium.

    My dream kitchen would be one with an island and a butler's pantry. Hmmmmmm, what a dream that would be! icon_smile.gif
    mums the word
    Tue Jan 03, 2012 11:33 am Groupie


    Okay, I managed to get two photos of my tiny pantry to show you. So, as you can see, I mounted shelves to the side which hold my spices, and some cooking utensils, aprons, towels etc.

    When you have a tiny kitchen, you have to use every bit of space. icon_wink.gif
    Tue Jan 03, 2012 1:34 pm
    Forum Host
    I love those pictures, Mums! I think that's a great use of limited space.
    Nancy's Pantry
    Tue Jan 03, 2012 6:00 pm Groupie
    Hi Everyone,

    Well, as much as I hate to admit it, I'm your poster child for the most disorganized pantry.

    It just so happens that my hubby offered to help me clean my pantry out this week and next and then I found all these wonderful ideas and helpful hints!!! icon_smile.gif Thanks so much!

    The three biggest problems with my pantry are:

    1. ME, first of all, because I buy things and then forget they are there!
    2. My pantry has deep shelves and everything gets lost.
    3. It is dark and has no light which I plan to remedy very soon.

    So with that in mind, and all of the wonderful tips (keep them coming), I hope to have a well-organized pantry very soon!!

    My first plan is to go by the dollar store this week and pick up some cute multi-colored plastic bins so I can color-code my dry goods, etc. Then I plan to separate my selves into categories such as baking, staples, etc.

    If anyone has any other ideas, I am very open to suggestions!!!

    Thanks again for all this wonderful and valuable info.

    Tue Jan 03, 2012 8:52 pm
    Forum Host
    Nancy, here's a printable pantry inventory list to help you keep track of what you've got:

    Consider a "cansolidator" (link) for horizontal storage of your canned goods:

    I like it because as you use up the older stuff from the bottom, you re-load new stuff at the top. It can rotate up to 40 cans at a time. They're on sale for under $40 at the link above, but you might be able to find them elsewhere for less. They're also carried at Costco, I believe.

    Here's another pic for you:
    Pantry Savvy
    Thu Jan 05, 2012 11:19 am
    Newbie "Fry Cook" Poster
    I found this article really good and the emphasize on the storage areas for your pantry and other signficiant areas.

    I have always believed that if you can become organized in your kitchen, or even other areas of your home, it makes a big different. You can plan ahead, use your imagination for healthy meal planning, or at arms length.

    Fri Jan 06, 2012 1:46 am Groupie
    What a great forum but I daren't show anyone my food cupboard - it is every man for himself when they open it !!!
    Timothy J Higgins Eva
    Fri Jan 06, 2012 7:24 am Groupie
    I own a building that was built in 1859, my office is down stairs and I live on the upper 2 floors.It has a very nice sized walk in pantry for storage of any food items. In the mid to late 1800's canning was the way to keep food for the later months use! So I can around 80 - 90 quarts, mostly tomatoes for juice,tomato sauce,Bloody Mary juice,salsa and BBQ Sauce in the fall.I have pictures but I do not know how to put them on this page.
    Fri Jan 06, 2012 10:00 am
    Forum Host
    Timothy J Higgins Eva wrote:
    I have pictures but I do not know how to put them on this page.
    From Kathy:

    How to post pictures in forum threads.

    To post pictures into a forum you must upload it
    to a website that allows linking to it. Either by getting a free hosting site or a paying account with one. Free sites are great but they only allow you to upload a certain number of pictures and only allow you a certain amount of bandwidth per day. Consider bandwidth as viewing. The more your picture is viewed the more bandwidth you use. When your bandwidth is used up your picture turns into the little box with a Red X in it until the next day when you start over again fresh. If you do a lot of picture posting, you can always use more than just one free site though. (I use three). You have to register in all of them but that's no problem. Just remember to keep track of your user name and password.

    Below I've put some links to some of the free sites. You can check them out to see which one, or more, suits your needs. Each one has a different limit as to the amount of pics, bandwidth, size, etc in its free section.
    You'll want to look closely at the FAQ's to get an idea as to how the site operates. I also advise you to have a graphics editor program, or use MSPaint, in order to resize your picture if need be. Each site has a limit as to the bytes you can d/l per picture. This must be done before you can Upload. Several will do this automatically for you.

    Once you have choosen your website to use, the rest is
    pretty easy to do to post your pic to a thread. Pictures must be in .jpg or .gif format to post to

    If you are on a website and like a picture or a graphics just Right click on it and click on Save Picture As and d/l it to a special place on your pc. If you already have a picture on your pc your all set as well.

    Most of the sites above work the same way. You log in and go to your photos or album and then:

    1. Locate the link to Upload A Picture and click on it.
    2. Click on Browse and locate the picture on your pc.
    3. Double click on it and then click Upload.
    4. Each site will vary a bit but you want to find the picture you uploaded and find it's URL. Some may have more than one type.
    If so look for the one that says to use with forums, boards, ebay, etc.
    If they show [ ], { }, or whatever, choose the one with the [ ] brackets.
    Some will have a link to Copy URL with the picture, if so click on that.
    That copies it to your clipboard to use on Others you may have to Highlight and Copy the URL under the picture, once again saving it to your clipboard.
    5. Once you have the URL copied go the thread you want to insert the picture at.
    6. Click on Reply or Quote, whichever is appropriate, and at the top of the message box Click on Image. This will put [img] in the message box.
    7. Now Click just after [img] and paste in your URL. Be sure there is no space.
    8. Now Click the Image button again. This will put [/img] after your URL. Again make sure you have no spaces from start to finish. A space will break the link and it won't work.
    9. You can now type anything you wish on a new line down.
    10. Click on Post to send it, or Click on Preview to see how your picture will look on the thread. After a Preview, Click on Post.
    11. You are now done and can go back to the thread.

    TIP: When you are in and wish to post a picture you have on a website, it's easier to do if you have TWO windows open. While you are in hit
    Control+N, or click on File/New/Window and open one. Use that window to go to the website with your picture. This way you are able to work between the
    two sites by clicking in the task bar at the bottom to switch back and forth. It's far easier to keep track of what you are doing and a lot faster.
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