A Pantry Makeover

One of the biggest hurdles that I often hear about from families when it comes to cooking at home is simply not knowing where to begin — not having the proper ingredients, not knowing what to cook and of course the task of fitting it into a busy schedule. I often recommend that families start with the basics and a pantry touch-up or a full makeover is great place to start. It allows you to see what you actually have (I’m sure I’m not the only one who has several bags of partially filled rice tucked in the corners of the pantry!). Creating a system for being able to clearly see your supply of ingredients not only keeps you from running out of things but also can help to inspire your weekly meals and make quick work of getting lunch boxes and dinner ready.

If you are doing a full-on pantry makeover, make sure to give yourself enough time. The first time I undertook this effort, it took me the better part of a day to complete. It may sound like a lot of time, but the initial investment was well worth the effort. If your kids have any degree of excitement, it could be fun to include them but this was a solo project for me. If you don’t have the time to tackle the whole thing, you could certainly do it shelf by shelf. There is, however, a certain degree of satisfaction in getting the thing done all at once.

Suggested supplies:
mason jars, baskets and/or storage containers
shelf liners (optional)
label maker (preferred but not mandatory)
enthusiasm & patience

  1. The “storm before the calm”. Push up your sleeves and clear off any free space in your kitchen. Take EVERYTHING out of your pantry (or kitchen cabinets). I found it helpful to organize the piles according to the type of food — grains, beans, spices, nuts, etc.
  2. Prep your space. This is a great time to wipe down your shelves, sweep the pantry floor and even line the shelves.
  3. Go shopping!  You could do this step initially, but I found that clearing out the pantry first helped me to determine what kinds of storage containers I needed and how many. As much as possible, we try to use reusable containers to cut down on waste. I like using simple, clear containers like glass mason jars. I found everything I needed at my local Target store. I love the 1/2 gallon Ball mason jars for “larger” items like rice, oatmeal or beans bought in bulk. I bought 3 additional sizes (32 oz, 24 oz and 8 oz) but you could get more or less depending on your preference. Don’t spend too much time worrying about getting the exact size and number of jars. Keep your receipt so you can return unused items and you can always go back if you need additional ones.
  4. Wash and thoroughly dry all the jars. This is my least favorite step. I hate doing the dishes. Put on some good music and just get through it. I ended up doing this in batches. It broke it up a bit and also allowed me to figure out which jars I needed for which task.
  5. Think about your space. What items do you use most? Which foods do you want to see more of in your meals? These are the things I would put at eye-level. Lesser used items went on higher and lower shelves.
  6. Group and fill jars/storage containers. Consolidate multiple bags of the same items, throw out expired and empty bags. Baskets are a nice way to store snacks such as granola bars as well as onions and potatoes. I used larger jars for bulk items and tried to keep the shelves/jars clustered by categories of food. If you have a label maker, dust it off and put it to work. Also, if you have a grain or bean that has specific cooking instructions that you want to hang on to, cut out the relevant instructions and slip it into the back of the jar so you have it on hand but out of site. You could also clip the label of the specific item (long grain brown rice) and slip it in the jar instead of making a label for it. Some items are obvious and may not call for a label. For me, I find that keeping things visually uncluttered, is calming and helps me to see what I have.
  7. Restock your pantry. Place items back into your pantry. You may need to play around with things a bit so that things are arranged conveniently for your use.
  8. Sit with it. See how your new pantry is working out. You may need to get additional containers or rearrange things after you have put your pantry to use.
  9. Keep it up! Let’s face it,  it’s going to be virtually impossible for your pantry to remain clutter-free. If you notice things getting a bit messy or overflowing, get in there for a tune-up. I find it helpful to do this right before a market trip so that I can easily restock.

Organizing the pantry may seem like a small and silly thing but it’s amazing how much it can help to organize your kitchen and inspire you to cook. I hope you found these tips to be helpful.

Much love,