Editor’s Note: As the weather cools down in our neck of the woods, many of us are finding ourselves cooking at home with more frequency. This article, originally published in May 2020, is full of pantry organization tips to help you make the most of the ingredients you have on hand.
When I think about the kind of cook I want to be, I imagine myself effortlessly moving through the kitchen, surveying what I have on hand, and then whipping up some kind of original recipe simply because the greens were about to wilt. There is something so satisfying about using all the food you bring into your house, and being a good enough cook to make your grocery bill stretch further isn’t as difficult as it might seem. We might not be floating through the kitchen like we’re Padma from Top Chef but we can set ourselves up for success.
Wipe down the drawers, cabinets, everything. A pantry isn’t a one size fits all kind of place in the home. It can be a cupboard, a shelf—wherever you keep the items that you refer back to again and again when cooking at home. Throw away anything that has moved way beyond the expiration date.
I keep canned goods together, spices together, and baking ingredients in one spot. Then I have a designated spot for oils and vinegars, beans and rice, and pasta.
Half the battle when it comes to a well-organized pantry is that you know where everything is and where to put each item when you are done cooking. Creating a visually appealing pantry is a great motivator for some, but it may only keep you motivated until the newness wears off.
Think about organizing items so it’s as easy as possible to spot what you need, retrieve the ingredient, and put it back. Some people take this as an opportunity to repurpose old jars they’ve been saving and to start with a fresh bulk system, which I recommend. We use OXO POP containers to store our pantry items and love how easy they are to stack and how well they keep food fresh. If you are storing food in separate containers, I’d recommend writing down the date you add ingredients to your jars (and expiration dates when applicable), so you can know when it’s time to toss old ingredients.
Below, I’m sharing a list of everything we keep in our pantry. Yes, the list includes items you’ll store in your fridge and freezer, too. I realize “pantry” cooking is more about keeping a running inventory of items that don’t need to be replaced weekly like fresh veggies and meat, but I like to keep track of every ingredient I regularly use when cooking. Restocking the kitchen becomes a lot less complicated when you know you already have a baseline list of ingredients you can rely on when you’re about to be over budget OR can’t get to the market.
When thinking about how to stock your pantry, keep in mind that you don’t need (and may not want) every ingredient on our list, especially if you are just starting out. Think about the ingredients you use the most, begin using your newly organized pantry, make it a habit to put things back where you found them, slowly add in more ingredients as you begin to expand your base knowledge of cooking, and pick recipes that help you build your pantry as you go.
Keeping an inventory of what you have on hand is THE secret to cutting your grocery bill down and avoiding food waste. Here are a couple of tips for knowing what you have, how much you have of it, and what you need when it comes time to restock.
When you run low on an ingredient, check the box next to the said ingredient.
You can clip the coupon directly to the list or keep an envelope on your desk to stuff them in so they’re easy to grab when you head to the store.
Make note of the extra stock with a different colored marker next to the ingredient. Wipe it clean when you’ve used the last box, can, or serving so you know to buy more.
This is a relatively easy task when you keep up with it. It is also a great opportunity to take note of the number of items like frozen meats and veggies that you’ve kept stashed in the freezer. Always keep dates on these items so you can use them within the freezing window and avoid wasting food.
Do you have any advice to add for me and our fellow pantry cooks? I’m all ears.
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Kate is currently learning to play the Ukulele, much to the despair of her husband, kids, and dogs. Follow her on Instagram at @witanddelight_.
BY Kate Arends - October 13, 2022
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Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.
Love the flour container on your wooden shelf. Who makes it?
Thanks for your comment, Liz! You can find the containers online here!
Where are the plastic containers from? Are you happy with them? (Have been looking online to find a good airtight set!!)
Hi Sarah! They’re the OXO POP Containers and we love them. The airtight seal works great (just don’t overfill them). Hope that helps!
Lovely article, but you have five vinegars and only one liquid oil? I have five: olive, sunflower, sesame, toasted sesame, and avocado. At least one that withstand high heat, and toasted sesame oil is every bit as essential as coconut milk and fresh ginger. (And I keep all my foods in glass, never plastic except lids. Just sayin.) And I love those speckled ceramic canister!
Friendly reminder that food comes in containers and all these plastic decanters will not break down in the landfill. Our pantries are not retail stores; they don’t need to look that way. This trend makes my skin itch. Please, for the love of our planet and our children’s future, rethink our plastic consumption. I recommend Broken on Netflix to view what plastic is doing to our planet. Great show—gives pause.