No matter the size of your pantry, organization is the key to spending less money and minimizing food waste. Allowing food to expire simply because it got lost in the clutter, or you forgot you bought it in the first place, is totally avoidable — it all starts with a bit of tidying up. Before you go on your next grocery run, try sorting out your food storage to avoid buying the third jar of mustard you could have sworn you were out of! Read on for organization tips, container ideas and more.
Organize Your Way
Depending on your lifestyle, your pantry should reflect your unique needs. For example, keeping desirable snacks (chips, cookies, etc.) out of reach might be ideal for homes with little ones. However, in order to make the most out of perishable snacks, keep them accessible at eye level for grazing adults to find and enjoy before the food turns.
Figure out what categories of dry and canned goods work for you, and go from there. If you are an avid baker and have stockpiles of chocolate chips and flours, group these items on the same shelf. If you like to keep ready-to-eat meals like soups and noodles in stock, group them together on a higher shelf, so they’re out of the way until you need them. Keep items that last for a long time (canned vegetables, backup condiments, jarred sauces, etc.) on the bottom shelf. Affix a circular sticker labeled with permanent marker on the tops of cans so they can be easily identified from above.
Labels and Containers
Clear containers are the most effective for easily identifying what foods are currently in your pantry. Larger boxes or bags can be organized into their own bins, allowing for quick visual cues to help decide what to buy at the grocery store. If the bin is full, move on to the next item on your shopping list. Labeling boxes and jars is definitely a smart move, but don’t get locked into permanent categories. As your pantry needs and culinary tastes evolve, your organization strategies should do the same.
Air-tight glass jars are great for storing dry goods. Plus, their universal screw-top lids can be easily replaced if they are lost or damaged. Display colorful beans, unique pasta shapes and whole grains on an open shelf, making your storage solutions do double duty as decoration. Don’t have a label maker? No problem! Use permanent markers to indicate the type of food and the date it was opened on the surface of the jar. When it comes time to change out the contents, run the jar through the dishwasher and/or wipe with a rubbing alcohol pad to remove the writing.
To go the extra mile, cut out packages’ cooking instructions for quinoa, couscous, oats and more, and place them directly in their respective jars for future use. A quick Google search will let you know how much water it takes to cook a cup of brown rice, but having the information at hand is always ideal. Just make sure to remove the slip of paper or plastic before cooking!
And remember, your pantry will be disorganized at times. Life doesn’t allow us to constantly have Pinterest-worthy shelves! Sometimes, you’ll end up with three open boxes of spaghetti, and that’s totally okay. Give yourself the grace of mess, find whatever system works best for you and work within those means. As for the rest, your local food pantry will gladly accept those unopened, unexpired goods that you might not need anymore.
How Long Can I Keep It?
Spices: Two to three years for ground spices, three to four years for whole spices and one to three years for dried herbs, depending on the variety. If you’re unsure how long you’ve had a certain spice, see if it still has a strong odor and bright color, both of which indicate freshness. To boost the flavor of a spice before incorporating it into a recipe, try heating it gently in a dry skillet to “bloom” the aroma and flavor.
Dry Grains: Six months to a year. Keeping grains and dry goods in labeled glass jars can help you keep track of how long they are stored. Consider keeping grains in the freezer to extend their life. Protecting grains from temperature, moisture and humidity is key!
Flour: Six months to a year. Shelf-stable flour should be kept in airtight containers to block moisture and potential pests. Freshly milled whole wheat flours and nut flours should be kept in the fridge or freezer due to their tendency to spoil quickly.
Sugar: Two years. Granulated white sugar can technically last indefinitely, but brown and powdered sugars should be used within a couple of years.
Baking Soda/Powder: Toss six months after opening. When exposed to air, these leavening agents will lose potency over time and could potentially ruin a recipe. Unopened containers can last one to two years.
By Rachel Johnson