Over the last few decades, but especially during COVID-19, many of us are shopping less and buying more in bulk to last us longer.
“There’s definitely been a decrease in the amount of time spent purchasing food, meal prepping/planning and cooking meals,” said Julie Lammers, a registered dietitian at Banner Health. “Our culture wants tasty meals in 30 minutes or less. This in turn has led to more processed and pre-packaged foods in our pantry.”
Pre-packaged or canned foods won’t go bad as fast, but they can easily get lost and forgotten and create chaos in the pantry. Besides, you only have so much space! It also means some fresh foods can go to waste as well. We’ve all had an unplanned science fair project in the back of our fridge.
If you’re like most people, cleaning and organizing your pantry (and fridge) probably isn’t at the top of your to-do list right now. But there are many reasons to do so, including your health and your bank account.
Benefits of Having an Organized Pantry (and Fridge)
- Saves money: If you know what foods you already have, you won’t accidently purchase more.
- Reduces waste: You won’t have to throw out expired goods, because you’ll use them before they go bad.
- Saves time: When you make a grocery list, you can easily see what you really need to purchase at the store as well as find ingredients to cook with.
- Reduces stress: It can be frustrating when you’re looking through your pantry, moving things around and you still can’t find something you swore you bought the other day.
- Encourages healthy eating: If you chop up fresh fruits and vegetables and put them toward the front of the fridge, your family will more likely grab them for a snack. In the pantry, you can create easy access to healthy snacks like unsalted nuts, seeds and unsweetened dried fruits.
“Reorganizing can help you really ‘see’ what foods you’re providing to your family,” Simpson said. “If your pantry is full of chips, crackers and cookies, it can be eye-opening. By organizing, you can create more access to certain foods you want your kids (and yourself) to eat more of and less access to every once in a while foods.”
Whether you tackle it one weekend or one shelf at a time, Simpson shared these helpful tips to help optimize space and keep a tidy and organized pantry and fridge.
Getting Started: Things to Help You Stay Organized
The hardest part is getting started, but it’ll go a long way to making meal prep faster and not waste food. Here are some things that you’ll need to get started:
Bins and baskets: Add bins, baskets, racks and Tupperware to help organize your items on the shelves. From wire baskets to plastic bins, there are plenty of inexpensive items you can find around your house or local box store to add more storage. If everything has a home, you’ll be less likely to “mess it up” when looking for what you need later.
These are also helpful in the fridge. You can prep and store fresh, chopped fruit and veggies in containers, so your family has quick, easy to find snacks.
Helpful hint: Measure your shelves first to make sure your storage containers actually fit! That can be an unwelcome surprise and headache if you have to return things.
Labeler or pre-made labels: Purchase labels or a label maker to identify items on bins, containers and shelves so everyone can quickly locate items.
Mini whiteboard: This is a great tool to write down meals for the week. Plan what meals you’re going to make every day of the week and write it down. This way it makes grocery shopping easier. Or you can use the whiteboard to write down when you’ve run out of food, so you can add it to the grocery list instead of guessing.
Taking Action: Organizing Your Pantry (And Keeping It That Way)
Step 1: Pull everything out
Pull everything out of your pantry and clean the pantry before you start organizing. Toss anything expired.
Step 2: Group like items together
Once you have everything out of your pantry, group products by categories, like baking, pastas and snacks. The goal is to group things you typically use together, such as pasta and pasta sauce and sugar and flour.
Step 3: Make a list
Make a list of all the items you have and keep that list in your pantry. You can add to it/take away from it as you move forward.
Step 4: First in, first out storage
Place newer items in the back and the older items at the front to ensure you’ll use older items first and get through them before they spoil. Same goes with your fridge. Prep and store your fresh fruits and veggies toward the front of the fridge for quick, easy access.
Step 5: Put everyday items at eye level
Place foods that you use every day at eye level and other items you use less often toward the top or lower shelves. If you have kiddos, place healthy snack options near the bottom for quick access and the once in a while snacks on the top shelf.
Step 6: Label and date
Once you have your containers in place, label and date them. Dating can be especially important for large packaged items like flour and pasta in your pantry and for items in your freezer and fridge. You always tell yourself you’ll remember, but you may not remember a month after the fact.
Step 7: Check in once a week
We all know out-of-sight, out-of-mind, right? Our pantries, fridges and closets—really anything with a door—are easy places to let things slip and collect. Check in once a week to make sure things are still where they belong and to take an inventory of what you have and might need more of. It’ll take a few minutes, but it’ll help you in the long run.