Making Room...in the Pantry

Next up in the Making Room series, we’re taking a stroll over to the pantry. Even if you don’t have a separate physical pantry area, the ideas here can apply to any space that serves as one.

What’s in the pantry? Is it home to small kitchen appliances or overflow paper goods as well as food? Are the rarely-if-ever-used brandy snifters taking up precious real estate? The pantry needs a vision as much as any other room or space in the house. A clear idea of how that area should function will guide your decisions of what will ultimately live there.

The pantry is very often depicted in Pinterest-worthy photos. Clear containers, Mason jars and woven baskets are popular choices to keep foodstuff decanted, neatly stacked and clearly labeled. These are great choices and pretty to look at, but they aren’t the only options when organizing your pantry.

One of the first recommendations you might expect to hear is to get rid of expired food. The expiration date stamped on packaged food is generally regarded as the last date the food should be eaten. However, the labeling system is voluntary with baby foods and formula the only items required by federal law to be stamped with expiration dates. I have been in many a home where packaged food is kept and used long after the printed date, so this is clearly a personal preference. Proceed with caution. At the very least, rotate these foods on the shelf so that those closing in on the expiration date get used first.

Many of the same recommendations for kitchen organization apply to the pantry. Create categories or zones and group like items accordingly. Keep breakfast foods, baking supplies and snacks together for instance so there’s no mistaking where to find them, and importantly where they need to be put away. As with other organizing advice, it needs to make sense to you. So, if your canned goods include vegetables and pie filling, think about whether they should be grouped together as canned goods or more specifically placed in separate cooking and baking categories. You may want to group items according to meal planning. Creating a pantry that works efficiently for you is the most important ingredient, and that may have nothing to do with arranging your spices by alphabetical order.

In general, it’s best to put everything in a container. Here is where you can have some fun creating the pantry’s look and feel.  Even if you choose to not decant, settling individual packages together in some type of container makes it easy to keep the category corralled, and therefore, easy to find, easy to put away. If you do decide to decant, clear containers are clear choices for clear reasons – you can see exactly what it is, how much is there, and when it’s time for a refill. You may think labeling is not required on clear containers. It does help to know which one holds sugar and which one holds salt. (Just ask my husband.) Decanting from a cardboard box into an airtight vessel is also useful to keep pests at bay, and square or rectangular versus round, works best at maximizing shelf space.

There are lots of organizing tools that are handy in the pantry. Lazy Susans are especially good to place in the corners where that space is often home to forgotten items. Hooks are helpful for long-handled utensils (think BBQ) that are just too long to fit nicely anywhere else. And mount a notepad on an inside wall or cabinet door to jot down what’s needed in the next grocery run.

Bonus points for attaching a pen or pencil to the notepad!