Is your pantry a mess of sticky jam jars, stale half-finished potato chips, expired breakfast cereal and long forgotten cracker boxes? Sounds like time for some intensive pantry therapy. This seven-step guide will bring order to your kitchen pantry and freshness to your dinner plate.
Pantry image from Shutterstock
#1 Let’s Be Clear About This
When you look in your pantry, are you faced with a random hodge-podge of opened, half-used packets and boxes? It's time to bring some order to the chaos.
First things first: invest in an assortment of clear, airtight plastic or glass storage containers, in various shapes and sizes. Make sure that the containers can be stacked neatly so you can optimize space when you arrange them on your pantry shelves.
Avoid the temptation to use colourful, designer containers — they might look nice, but you need to be able to see what’s inside. As the old saying goes: out of sight, out of mind. By storing your food in neatly stacked clear containers, you can see what you have in stock and when your stocks are low.
In a commercial kitchen, everything needs to be strategically organised in order for things to run smoothly during food service. If you’ve ever been behind-the-scenes in a restaurant, you will have noticed that every ingredient has a designated place.
That same approach is very practical for domestic kitchens too. To introduce more order to your pantry, divide the available space into different compartments. Label each compartment so that everyone in the house can stick to the system.
The different compartments may vary according to your dietary regime. In my pantry, I have separate sections for breakfast items, pasta and grains, sauces, canned goods, snacks, beverages, and baking ingredients. I also have an ‘Almost Expired’ section, where I keep all items that are approaching expiry.
#3 Stock Rotation
Have you ever noticed how supermarkets arrange milk and other perishables? New stock is placed out of sight while the items that expire soonest are placed at the front of the shelves so that consumers will reach for them first.
This simple rule of stock rotation ensures that food is sold and consumed before it expires. In your home pantry, the same rule should apply. When you stock up on your favourite curry sauce, don’t just pop it in its designated pantry compartment. Make sure that it is arranged so that the oldest jar is at the front.
When you rotate your stock, if you notice that any of your items are close to expiry, set them aside in your special ‘Almost Expired’ compartment. When you decide on your weekly menu plan, try to include foods from this compartment.
#4 Regular Cleanout
When it comes to chaotic pantries, hoarded obsolete food items are a main offender. Ever found an unusual ingredient, stashed away and forgotten at the back of your pantry? Don’t let your pantry overflow with unnecessary items.
Sometimes we keep food items for way longer than we should. Nobody likes to see food go to waste. But if you didn’t need that exotic spice in the last three years, you probably won’t need it in the next three years.
Commit to a regular pantry cleanout schedule – and be vigilant. Once a week, sort through any opened packets and containers to check for freshness - anything that’s stale or perishing has to go! And go through your sealed foods once a month to check expiry dates and find items that you don’t need. Don’t feel bad about turfing unused foods. Donate them to a nearby charity that can make good use of them.
#5 Get In The Christmas Spirit of Giving
If you need a motivation to regularly clear out your pantry, just think of the people who can benefit from your discarded food items. Every day, Australian children go to school without breakfast; families struggle to put food on the table; and homeless people miss out on essential nutrients.
Find a local charity or shelter that will accept food donations. Donating food is a great way to help your community. When you do your monthly pantry cleanout, be uncompromising. If there’s the slightest chance you won’t be using a food item any time soon, pass it on to someone who doesn’t have that luxury of choice.
Your donation can make a big difference. It’s estimated that Australians throw away up to 20 percent of the food that they purchase – that’s like buying five bags of groceries and throwing one away. Food donations also reduce the millions of tons of food waste that ends up in landfill each year.
#6 Keep A Lid Under It
We all like to indulge in take-away food from time to time. But when dinner is served in not-so-sustainable plastic packaging, it can weigh on your conscience.
But there’s good news: your takeaway packaging can be put to good use in the pantry. Those plastic containers can often be cleaned and repurposed to store other items. And plastic lids of all shapes and sizes can solve a common pantry problem.
Don’t you hate it when your sticky jam jars and cooking oil leave greasy, sticky smudges on your kitchen shelves? Or how about those naughty aerosol cans that leave stubborn rusty marks?
To protect your pantry surfaces, place clean, clear plastic lids underneath all of your messy oil bottles and aerosols. When the time comes to clean out the pantry, you won’t have to contend with the usual grime and filth.
#7 Christmas Cook-up
As the festive season approaches, the usual invitations for parties and BBQs will start to roll in. Use the season as an opportunity to run down some of your older pantry supplies and create space for newer, fresher food.
Don’t spend hours pouring over cookbooks trying to find a recipe that will use all of your obscure ingredients. Just visit a recipe website like supercook.com, where you can simply type in your various ingredients to find a matching recipe.
If you’ve been making regular donations to your local charity or shelter throughout the year, why not make a special Christmas donation. I like to use up my baking supplies to make cookies or cupcakes to accompany my final annual food donation. Nothing says “Happy New Year” better than home-baked treats!
Jeremy F. works with All Storage Systems, a family owned business involved in the storage and materials handling industry for over 20 years.