Whether you have a walk-in pantry with built-in shelves or a roomy cabinet for storing dry goods, a well-organized pantry can speed up meal prep and help you stay on track with your nutritional goals.
According to Leigh Merotto, R.D., MHSc, there are two significant challenges to organizing a pantry:
- Minimizing clutter
- Maximizing space
“The key is to have a pantry that works best for you,” says Merotto.
Here’s how to turn your pantry into a working part of your kitchen, not a dusty place for dry goods to go forgotten or unused.
1. Start fresh
“It’s good once a year to just empty your pantry, dust off the shelves, and make sure that everything is tightly sealed and stored well,” says Sharon Palmer, M.S.F.S., R.D.N.
Check expiration dates and make sure everything is free of pests or mold.
Since pantry items tend to have long shelf lives, you can have a bug situation without realizing it, especially with open items that have been hanging out for a few months.
To organize a deep pantry, allow approximately two hours, and for a small pantry, around an hour, recommends Merotto.
2. Create zones
One of the best strategies for how to organize your pantry is creating zones.
“Group similar items together, such as putting all of your spices in one section, all of your canned goods in one section, and all of your grains in one section,” says Palmer.
The main types of items you typically keep in your pantry are grains, beans and pulses, teas and coffee, and oils. (Pro tip: It’s also a prime spot for stashing your Shakeology bags!)
If your pantry has an area that is dark and cool, you can also store potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, winter squashes, and other perishables that don’t require refrigeration, says Merotto.
3. Take inventory and rotate
One problem with pantries is continually restocking without taking note of what you already have or can’t see (hello, 10 cans of chickpeas).
“If you have double of something, make sure to use up the oldest version first,” says Merotto, “This prevents food waste and can help you save money.”
Rotate items with FIFO (“first in, first out”) in mind and use up older items.
Your pantry cleanup could inspire this week’s meal plan to avoid food waste.
4. Stack and label
Storage bins, stackable containers, and lazy Susan organizers can turn a deep pantry into an Instagram-worthy space for sparking joy.
Clear containers are helpful because you can see inside, but you should label similar-looking grains and other staples.
“I use a washable marker to write dates and items on jars and containers,” says Palmer.
5. Assess your space
“With deep pantries, the goal is to avoid things getting lost or unseen in the back, which leads to overbuying or things going bad,” says Merotto.
One simple fix is putting tall items in the back, such as on-deck bottles of olive oil, vinegar, or stacked cans so you can quickly see what you have.
For how to organize a small pantry, you need to think more strategically.
“You can’t stock as many items, so it requires more vigilance,” says Palmer. “For example, you may decide to stock your favorite spice blend instead of five different spice jars.”
6. Organize your snacks
Let’s be honest, one of our favorite reasons to head to the pantry is snacks.
Instead of “hiding” treats in the back, Palmer recommends prioritizing healthier items, such as:
- whole-grain crackers
- trail mixes
- nutrition bars
There are plenty of crave-worthy healthy snacks for post-conference call munchies you can store in your pantry (or fridge).
If you shop in bulk, portion out your healthy snacks into smaller, easy-to-grab containers and store large jars behind them.
“My approach with nutrition is balance, so I suggest stocking a pantry with healthy snacks, and if a couple treats make their way in, enjoy them mindfully,” recommends Merotto.