Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Room by Room: Pantry

The pantry is a natural extension of keeping your kitchen organized. It holds non-perishable canned or packaged goods that you want to keep on hand for common recipes.

Not everyone has the luxury of a pantry closet or extra cabinet space. You might have to create a space: shelves in the basement or on the stairway to the basement, a rack in a somewhat climate controlled garage, or even in part of a hutch or other piece of furniture in your dining room. We converted part of a hallway coat closet by adding shelving, and then hung a coat rack in our foyer for coats.

Here's a snapshot of what my pantry looked like after a quick organizing and before I went to the store to replenish stuff that was low or used up. (In other words, it looks better here than on the average day.)

The top shelf holds a real mishmash of items. Some are too big for other shelves, but there is no real rhyme or reason. The next shelf down has baking supplies. Then we move down to kid food and soups. Then pasta and tomatoes, then sauces, beans and other miscellaneous staples. The bottom shelf has PB&J supplies and at this point in time was a temporary storage place for another container. (One of the things I realized when I organized the pantry was that I had five jars of jam! Another good reason to keep things grouped by type.)

There is no magical way to organize your pantry, except for two basic principles: (1) keep similar items together so that they are easier to find, and (2) practice first in, first out rotation. In other words, use up the oldest stuff in the pantry before you open the newer packages. Refer to the "best by" or "use by" dates on most items if you aren't sure what's oldest.

A few other ideas to make sure that you have a well-stocked but not oversupplied pantry:
  1. If you aren't sure how often you will need to replenish an item (baking soda, for instance) write the date on the bottom of the box in Sharpie marker when you open it. If you find you use only one box a year or less, don't bother purchasing another box until the current one is empty. On the other hand, if you find you are going through something often, stock up when there is a sale.
  2. Refer to the cool grocery checklist that I pictured in a previous post. Going through this list jogged my memory about some things (beans, broth) I would need for fall/winter cooking.
  3. Don't be afraid to buy a large quantity of something if it's offered at a good price. I had a coupon for my favorite cereal in addition to it being on sale. So I bought five boxes. When I need to, I use the floor of the pantry or rearrange other shelves so the purchases fit.
  4. If you have more items than you will realistically use before they pass their date, set them aside for upcoming holiday food drives. I always put out a really interesting combination of things, though I am sure to include some of the suggested items on the list!

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