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Organizing Your Pantry: Start with Cans

Ready to get your kitchen organized and want to know how make your pantry look good? 

The first thing you will organize is the can section. I recommend as a first step in organizing your pantry is to purchase refrigerator bins or even a few shoe boxes to hold cans. In my pantry I have simple plastic 12×12 refrigerator bins. They have a lip on them so I can pull them out like a drawer. I have labeled them simply with a permanent marker. This is the secret to how to make your pantry look good. I have seven sections of cans: 

  1. This week’s ingredients (keep this front and center)
  2. Canned meats (tuna, chicken, etc)
  3. Fruits and veggies
  4. Tomatoes
  5. Beans
  6. Soups (includes boxes of chicken/beef broth)
  7. Specialty (coconut milk, pumpkin pie mix, evaporated milk, etc)

If you have loads of canned food in the event they are needed for a zombie apocalypse, you may consider moving your food storage to a different closet and keeping your pantry reserved for the food you eat and use on a regular basis. You won’t ever know how to make your pantry look good if it is stuffed too full to see all of the bottles and boxes. The Eat Well program encourages shopping for fresh meats and vegetables on a weekly basis, and not storing food in bulk and eating from cans or frozen foods. 

Organize your BottlesOrganize your Bottles to Make your Pantry Look Good

After organizing your cans, the next step in how to make your pantry look good is to organize all of your opened bottles and jars stored in your pantry. Leave dried goods and everything else for the next step. Create a section in your pantry dedicated just to opened bottles: 

  • Vinegars
  • Oils
  • Honey
  • Molasses
  • Cooking wine
  • Corn syrup

Place them all in a bin or on a shelf dedicated just to opened bottles and jars. You will use these almost on a daily basis, so you may consider moving these from the pantry to a cupboard shelf if desired. I have quite a collection of different types of vinegars and oils, so my collection takes up two 12×12 bins. 

organizing your pantryHow to Make your Pantry Look Good: The Grocery Store Section

I like to keep a spare of all ingredients I frequently use while cooking. I keep a back-up of  bottles of unopened condiments with unopened bottles of oils and vinegars. I think of this shelf as my grocery store. Everything is unopened and unused. I suggest keeping dry goods on another shelf, so you don’t need to tackle that quite yet. This step is less about how to make your pantry look good, and more about convenience as you cook. 

Take all of your unopened condiments and bundle them together. My stash includes extra: 

  • Mayonnaise
  • Honey
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Bottles of olives
  • Spice bottles
  • Extra olive oil
  • Extra vegetable oil

Used Dry GoodsNext Organize your Pantry Used Dry Goods

The next organizing your pantry project that answers the question of how to make your pantry look good is a little more involved. We are going to sort your half-used, opened dry goods. Don’t worry about all of the pre-packaged foods in your pantry for now. Just focus on the basic dry goods that you use while cooking: 

  1. Baking ingredients: Flour, sugar, baking powder, etc
  2. Carbs on a shelf: Pasta, rice, couscous, etc
  3. Proteins on a shelf: Packaged nuts and raisins

I suggest organizing your pantry by purchasing clear, plastic containers with lids for your opened dry ingredients in several different sizes. I keep my baking ingredients in plastic containers in a cupboard, and I keep my pasta and rice with nuts and raisins, stacking them  in plastic containers in my pantry. 

To give you an example, these are the containers I used: 

  • 6 large bins for baking: flour, sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, baking soda, baking powder
  • 6 large bins for pasta/rice: elbow macaroni, penne pasta, spaghetti, lasagna noodles, white rice, brown rice
  • 6 medium bins for other: couscous, grits, lentils, basmati rice, bow tie pasta, etc
  • 6 small bins for nuts and such: almonds, walnuts, onion sprinkles, raisins, figs, etc

I recommend labelling  each bin when organizing your pantry  by writing on it with a dry erase marker. I frequently run out of some of the specialty items, and choose to put something else in the bin so I don’t recommend permanently labeling these containers. This is another key to how to make your pantry look good: use good handwriting! 

When I buy a new box of rice or pasta, I keep it in its original box until it is opened. Once it is opened, I dump the remainder into an empty bin and label it. I also recommend writing the date you dumped it into the bin. 

Now Organize your Unused Dry Goods

Still going? The next step is to simply going to sort all of the unopened boxes of dry goods you have in your pantry. Don’t worry about all of the pre-packaged foods in your pantry for now. Just focus on the basics that you use while cooking: 

  1. Baking ingredients: Flour, sugar, baking powder, etc
  2. Carbs on a shelf: Pasta, rice, couscous, etc
  3. Proteins on a shelf: Packaged nuts and raisins

Throw out anything that is expired. Throw out anything you won’t use. Like that terrible high-protein pancake mix that is almost inedible. 

Unused Dry GoodsHow to Make your Pantry Look Good: Throw out food you don’t eat

After following the Eat Well program for a few months you will notice that you no longer eat some of your previous go-to foods. When I made the big switch from eating whatever convenient foods were around me to meal planning and cooking real foods, I noticed my pantry was full of foods I no longer wanted to put into my body. This step might be more important than the question of how to make your pantry look good because it is your health!

  • Crackers, pretzels, cookies
  • Hostess anything
  • Protein bars from a misguided diet attempt
  • Protein shakes from a misguided diet attempt
  • Quick oatmeal from a misguided attempt at providing a “warm breakfast” for my kids
  • Jello and pudding boxes
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Ramen noodles
  • Cup-o-Mystery-Soup

When you are ready, and only when you are ready, throw out all of the foods that you no longer eat or no longer want to eat. Notice I said WANT TO EAT. If you still want to eat them, keep them in your pantry. This is not about limiting yourself. It is about training your body to crave the good stuff, so you naturally won’t want to eat the chemical-infused, dried, powdered stuff anymore. You want to follow your body with this principle. Only throw it out if you are ready to. 

When I cleaned out my pantry, I held onto protein shakes because I loved the idea of the convenience of just throwing a container in my purse for lunch. After cooking for a few months, my body no longer found chemical-tasting liquids appealing. I eventually threw out the entire box. 

If you are throwing out food that your family enjoys, take a little more consideration. If you are a parent, I have no issue whatsoever with eliminating foods that aren’t good for them. If your family includes other adults, however, consider keeping a bin of foods that is just for them. My husband has his own bin in our pantry and he restocks it at will with whatever he wants.

After you complete all of these steps, you will be well on your way to being an expert on organizing your pantry and knowing how to make your pantry look good.

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