13 things nobody tells you about organizing your pantry

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Adriana Urbina is an In The Know cooking contributor. Follow her on Instagram and visit her website for more.

Pantries come in all shapes and sizes: big, small, walk-in, drawers, shelves, roll-out compartments, the list goes on. How to make the most of your pantry, though — whatever the arrangement is — comes down to organization.

Making the most out of your kitchen involves having a plan, taking advantage of every inch of spare space and maximizing your storage. An organized pantry will not only make cooking dinner easier, but it will also save you from buying groceries that you already have hidden amongst the mess!

Credit: Adriana Urbina

Follow these 13 steps to get the pantry of your dreams:

1. Invest in good storage containers

By placing produce in airtight containers, you will help keep them fresher than you would by leaving them in their box/bag. In contact with ambient air, food can become ripe or sometimes unusable if you wait too long to use it. By having it secured in an airtight container, its freshness lasts longer.

Shazo 28 Piece Airtight Food Storage Containers With Lids, $40.35 (Orig. $99.98)

Credit: Amazon

2. Clean and start fresh

Take everything out of your pantry first and deep clean the entire area. 

3. Measure your storage space

Next, measure your shelves (or drawers) before buying containers to ensure you’re getting the right sizes to maximize the space.

4. Take inventory before you buy

Make a list of the items you’re planning to store in your clear storage containers, as well as the quantity you’d like to keep on hand. This helps ensure that you get containers that are the right fit. There’s nothing as annoying as filling up a container with three-quarters of a box of spaghetti noodles and not knowing what to do with the remainder. (Note: Clear storage containers stored next to nearly empty boxes do not make for a pretty, organized-looking pantry.)

5. Take stock of everything

Take inventory of your fridge and pantry. Toss expired foods and repackage leftovers. Rearrange the oldest food in your pantry to be more visible.

6. Work with what you already have

Before spending a big amount of money on a new set of containers, look at what containers you already have and decide how you can make them work. For example, my apartment is overflowing with Mason jars and containers from mustards and jams. Not only are all of these jars glass (making them extra sturdy and able to wash up well in the dishwasher), but they also come in a variety of sizes, and you can pick up a set for about $10 or less. 

7. Wash your containers regularly

Don’t forget to wash and dry your containers regularly, especially if you’re reaching for them often. Hands touching the containers and lids can easily introduce germs to whatever food is inside. Most containers are dishwasher safe, but take care to let them air dry completely before adding anything inside. 

8. The importance of using clear containers

To make the most of your pantry space and to keep food fresh for longer, use clear containers to store all your food items. Pick containers that stack well and are large enough to fit everything so that you don’t end up with excess food and nowhere to store it.

9. Invest in a label maker and make labels visible 

Unload your shopping bags into your bins, slap on your newly made labels and store foods with the labels facing forward. It will help you easily see what you have.

Organized kitchens are full of labels, labels and more labels. They are ideal for keeping track of when food was cooked, opened or repackaged. Create your own system that works for you!

DYMO Embossing Label Maker 12966, $9.99 (Orig. $16.59)

Credit: Amazon

10. Get organized

I follow a grouping method to keep things separate according to category: 

  • Cereals & Grains
  • Baking Items 
  • Canned Food  
  • Spices 

11. F.I.F.O. 

F.I.F.O. — meaning First In, First Out — is a rule that all restaurants follow, and it’s what keeps them on budget and organized. It takes only a few minutes to master, but it can save you from forgetting about all sorts of foods before they go bad (not to mention a ton of cash, too!). 

In other words, use foods in the order that they were purchased (first in), meaning that you should use the oldest items soonest (first out). Following F.I.F.O. can help eliminate food waste and save money! 

12. Make storage containers visible

Once you open something — whether it’s a bag of rice or a can of tomatoes — put any unused portion in clear, reusable containers, so you can easily see what’s inside. Use your new labeling system to date when it was opened, so you know when to use it by.

13. Open foods one at a time

Variety is the spice of life, but often having too many similar foods open at once can lead to unnecessary waste. If you have two similar items, like shredded sharp cheese, open one first and use it completely before opening the other.

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