If you can’t see what you have in your pantry, does it even exist? We all have those hidden boxes of pasta on the very back of the shelf, or the cans of soup hiding behind a large bag of chips. A few tips can help you better organize your kitchen nook to help you see what you actually have to work with (and cut out the thought that there’s “nothing to eat” for dinner). That translates to more than a few dollars saved by skipping the take out.
Doing so will not only help save you money by using everything you have on hand, but will also help eliminate food waste, which has become a significant issue in America. According to Recycle Track Systems (RTS), the U.S. is the biggest contributor to global food waste, discarding 80 billion tons every year. And it’s not just dairy products and produce — dry goods have expiration dates, too, and add to this total.
In fact, some blogs and manufacturers often host “pantry challenges” based around eating up what you have before buying more shelf-stable goods. Popular blogger Jessica Fisher, behind Good Cheap Eats, said she’s done a pantry challenge every year since 2009 — and it’s helped her family save a ton of money while also helping them refine their shopping habits.
That’s an important asset as food prices continue to skyrocket due to 40-year-high rates of inflation. According to the latest Consumer Price Index information, “food at home” prices (grocery prices) are up 13% versus this time last year.
The beauty of pantry goods is that they can last a while, and the items you store there are generally cheaper than perishables. So, stocking up your pantry and knowing what you have to work with are great ways to save money on food.
Here’s how you can organize your pantry to use up everything you have in it — and be sustainable and economical in the process.
Unbox items and store in clear jars with labels
One of the easiest ways to get a full view of what you have on hand in your pantry is to take items like rice, pasta, cereal, flour, etc. out of their packaging and place them into a set of clear jars with labels that clarify what’s inside. The other reason this is a great tip is because you can see how much supply you have left. You can also place similar jarred items near each other to get instant ideas of how to use them together.
Organize shelves by food expiration dates
Just like you might do in your refrigerator, organizing foods in order of when they will expire is a smart idea for your pantry. A top-down method can be helpful — for example, place foods that are going bad first on the top shelf, the ones that have a little more time on the next shelf, and foods that you just purchased or that never go bad (looking at you, Twinkies) on the bottom. Getting into the habit of going to the top shelf first will help you use up foods rather than wasting them.
Only buy the foods your family will eat
Because shelf-stable products have a longer shelf life, it can be tempting to stock up on items when they are on sale. For example, if cans of tuna are 10 for $10, it would make sense to get a bunch and have them on hand. But if your kids hate tuna, there’s no point in doing so as you’ll likely just throw it away eventually. Stick to foods your family always and unanimously loves and stock up on those instead.
Keep an inventory list
Depending on the size, some pantries can be a never-ending abyss, which can make it overwhelming. But keeping an inventory list close by (such as, taped on the inside door) can help you see all at once what you have “in stock,” and it can help you see where there are gaps, too. Using a chalkboard or dry erase board makes it easier to make changes to the list.
Add in extra accessories for organization
There are plenty of helpful accessories that can keep everything in order, such as a Lazy Susan for spices, roller shelves to wheel out individual tiers and see what’s hiding in the back, shelf dividers to keep like items compartmentalized, etc. You can also mount some shelves on side doors of your pantry to expand your storage space.
Keep items you use most at shoulder height
Your go-to items should be easy to reach and grab — and that way, you can also see how much you have left in your supply. Think coffee, bread, olive oil, etc.
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