Forget the beautiful but impractical pantries you've seen on Pinterest. Today I'm sharing the best and proper way to organize your cupboards. Sure, that's a bold claim, but I'm that confident in my method. A well-stocked and orderly pantry is fundamental to any well-appointed home and the pride of mine.
Our home was built in 1929. It had been empty for 20 years when we bought it. And we paid about $10 per square foot. I remember our first showing, my husband and I had only seen the living room, the dining room, and were standing in the breakfast room when a realtor opened a closet door with a key marked china closet. I turned to my husband, eyes wide and mouthed, "I want this house!"
When we married I did what was typical of my generation and chose everyday pottery instead of fine china, so I didn't need the storage space for dishes-- what I saw as I peered into the empty fabric lined closet, was its potential for canned goods.
But in the beginning, I went about stocking the shelves all wrong. It was an embarrassing mess, and food went to waste. At one point I thought I'd finally solved the issue, organizing the food by meal, but that was time and space-consuming and needed attention weekly. What I needed was a plan that would take care of itself with little effort. I remembered something a relative said to me once as she put groceries away for me, "I'm just going to turn these boxes like this. You know, like in a grocery store."
Grocery stores are MASSIVE pantries. What's more, they have throngs of people pawing through them each day, and still, they remain orderly with comparatively little upkeep.
TEN THINGS ABOUT MY PANTRY
1) I consider myself to have four pantries each for a different function (plus a place to store root vegetables and apples). Even with limited space, you can organize your pantry into four different areas based on function:
*One Serving/Individual Use Items (i.e., Canned goods, mixes, snacks)
*Decanted Items (i.e., Flour, sugar, cereal)
*Several Use Items (i.e., Mustard, Jarred Olives, Spices)
*Frozen Foods (i.e., pantry staples like powdered milk and crackers.)
This post is going to focus on my pantry space for Individual use items, which are opened and used up in one serving/meal. If you've stocked in proportion with how you eat, these items should take up the bulk of your pantry. (We'll revisit my other pantries in future posts.)
2) Organizing your pantry like a grocery store is just like it sounds. It is rows of jars, cans, and boxed goods that use all the space available to them-- stacked all the way up to the shelf above them. And each row of food contains only one type of food. I do not spend any time at all hunting for items anymore, everything is in plain sight. For example, I have 21 cans of creamed corn in one row, stacked three high-- and so on. Some foods we consume so often that they have more than one row, like our jars of spaghetti sauce. (On top of the sauce, I keep the amount of noodles I will need to use the sauce in stock.) We need less of some foods than we do of others, so less-frequently eaten canned goods share a row with similar foods. For instance, on the bottom of one row, I have seven cans of baked beans, on top of that I keep seven ranch style beans, and stacked onto them, is seven cans of chili w/ beans. But even though there are only seven of each, it will take us quite some time to get through that one row as opposed to the row containing 21 cans of black beans which I use often and for several recipes.
You may have shallower and fewer shelves than I do. That's okay. Some grocery stores are smaller than others. JUST WORK WITH THE SPACE YOU HAVE, and your pantry will be more efficient than it ever has before.
Be sure to add newly acquired food to the back of the row when restocking and buy the same size packaging every time.
Before my first shopping trip, I considered our eating habits. I drug out my menus and cookbooks and thought about the recipes I make the most often. Let's take a Robin Miller's Mexican Chicken Casserole for instance. It calls for a can of green chilis. While I usually have the rest of the ingredients on hand, those green chilis always had to be added to my grocery list because they weren't regularly used in other recipes. It would have been nice to have the chilis on hand so that this could be a recipe I whipped up without a trip to the store. I easily make Mexican Chicken Casserole 4-6 times a year, and canned food is good for years after you purchase it. Now that I knew how many cans of chilis I would need to last a year, I considered the space I could allot for them and decided that I'm fully stocked with seven cans.
Note to the wise-- Do not stock canned goods brands you haven't tried and do not stock canned goods for recipes you haven't tried unless you're certain to use them for other meals. Thinking I may use a few cans of carrots yearly for last minute stews, I went ahead and picked up twenty-one of them, reasoning that I could use them up in a creamed carrot soup that had caught my eye in one of my recipe books. The carrot soup never got made, the carrots were donated. Learn from my oops and only stock items you're sure to use up. (In the beginning, I also stocked up on 21 cans of an inferior creamed corn, and refried beans containing lard after sales caught my eye.)
One of my goals was to be able to make several complete meals from my pantry supposing I had nothing else in the house. Even if you eat mostly fresh food, having full meal options in your pantry is wise for many reasons. We've relied solely on what was in our pantry during power outages, and also when life was hectic, and I hadn't been to the store. Our stocked pantry has spared our health and our wallets countless fast food meals. But there are other reasons a stocked pantry is a responsible choice. In the event of an unexpected financial hardship, or catastrophic political event, I know that I could feed my family for several months-- without being a burden to already stressed community food pantries. Sure the meals might not be what we're used to, but no one is going to go hungry or lack nutrition.
I've further organized my pantry by grouping like rows of food with like rows of food. Try to put in easiest reach what you use the most often. For example, on the top shelf of my pantry, I keep boxes and cans of stock and broth. Next to them, I keep creamed soups for cooking. Then comes regular canned soups, which we do not eat often and so a variety share one row. Next to that, we have tomato soup, which we eat every two or three months. Then come stewed tomatoes. Then a sloppy joe mix. And finally our spaghetti sauce. See? My top shelf goes from soup bases to tomato products. Half of the next shelf is beans, then green beans, then other green vegetables, then items like corn and carrots. The third shelf contains bread mixes, fruits, pasta mixes, dry potatoes, and canned tuna. In the limited space next to my microwave, I keep snacks such as popcorn, hot chocolate, ramen noodles, and fruit cups. The floor of our pantry is flexible space kept clear for occasional use-- such as stocking up on special items for company or a dinner party. During harvests, I keep extra food storage containers for carrying meals out to the men here.
Please note that the photos I've shared in this post show the pantry about 30% stocked. They are older photos from when I stocked the pantry yearly and not a little at a time as I do now. The photos were taken with 2 or 3 shopping trips left to do. I've used these as opposed to photos showing the pantry fully stocked so that you can see the sides of some rows. Fully stocked photos just look like a wall of canned goods! Nevertheless I will be sharing current photos on our Facebook page.
Even though we rely mostly on fresh and frozen vegetables, it is amazing the speed at which we empty our pantry. (We restock each item at least once per year.) You can put a lot of effort into planning and shopping for healthy meals for your family and then blow it on a busy week by filling their bellies with takeout and fast food. It is good to be reasonable and not rigid in our food belief systems. Please do not ignore the wisdom of stocking a pantry because you cannot afford to stock it with high dollar labels. Please do not ignore the wisdom of stocking a pantry because you're worried about the effects of canned food on your health. (As I like to say-- starvation will kill you faster.) Please do not ignore the wisdom of stocking a pantry because you're waiting until you can do it perfectly by canning all the food yourself. Don't be a slave to guilt laden, clever 'health food' marketing. Do what you can to eat right daily, and have on hand moderately nutritious backups. It breaks my heart to see young mothers twisted up inside over food choices, only to toss their hands up and hit a drive-thru more often than they care to admit.
Depending on the size of your pantry and how often you plan on eating from it-- it may cost a pretty penny to stock. We're farmers and for ages relied on two paydays a year at the completion of harvests; so filling my pantry with a few big trips to the store did not send me into sticker shock. Now, several years later we pay ourselves monthly, and I understand getting it done in one fell swoop may not work for everyone. So, over the last year, I've begun to keep a running list on my phone of what pantry items I need. Each time I am at the store I pick a few things to restock. This method also allows me to take advantage of sales when I happen across them.
Our small town's only grocery store offers a discount on items when purchased by the case. They'll also have your order ready and waiting for you at the door. Check with your local market for similar offers. This is a fantastic way to shop for your pantry while getting the freshest cans available-- but it only works if you have enough room for an entire case of one item. Please do not overbuy and find yourself with wasted food, or with cans stuffed in nonsensical spaces.
In the beginning, we shopped at stores like Aldi's and Sam's, and I am thankful for the discounts that helped us get started. But Aldi's and Sam's are a long drive for us, and we've decided that shopping locally at a slight increase is the way to go for now.
Occasionally I find myself overstocked with a can or two. Maybe I bought a case of canned goods for the deal-- that left me with a surplus. Or maybe we tried a new item no one was fond of-- or that didn't fit into my rotation as planned. These extras go into a bin at the bottom of my pantry, and whenever there is a community food drive, I add them to whatever we're contributing. I once read an article written by a Christian minimalist and loved her perspective on how pantries were not the place to practice hard-line minimalism. They should always have enough for sharing.
If ever we find ourselves building a house-- you can bet I will design my pantry with this method of organization in mind. In which case, my pantry will be located near where I park my car. My pantry will have access from the front AND THE BACK. I will stock it from the mudroom with my most recent purchases, while items I've had the longest will be within easy reach from the kitchen.
The reason I'll never organize my pantry in any other way? I set up my pantry using the grocery store method in 2011 after years of trial and error, and it has not had to be reorganized or tidied since. Not once in seven years have I had to clean out my pantry and start fresh. Properly ordered spaces need very little upkeep, even when you utilize them often.
One final note: The number one mission of The Decorum Diaries is a return to femininity and etiquette. With that in mind, here are some things for us to remember as we shop for pantry staples:
- Be mindful of the needs of others and never clear a store of an item-- even if they have exactly the amount you need. I try to always leave three or four of a kind when I am shopping.
- Be aware of potentially blocking others as you load your cart with stocked items-- doing so takes longer than what's customary.
- Try to shop at times during the day when the store is empty. Five-thirty in the evening with a line of hungry people behind you anxious for their dinners, is not the time to be paying for canned spinach you'll eat six months from now.
- Try to leave the grocery shelves as orderly as you found them-- scooting the remaining cans back into easy reach of other customers.
- Wear clothing that leaves you feeling put together, and that makes bending and stooping easy.
- Try not to use your phone while shopping, if in a pinch, pull your cart over in a light traffic area (do not continue shopping or checking out!) talk in a low voice, and make it brief.
- And of course, smile pleasantly at the people you meet, taking the time to greet clerks before asking their help.