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Eat Well, Spend Less: The Power of an Organized Pantry

organizing your pantry
our baking drawer

As you know, I participated in the three-week Eat Well, Spend Less series in April. Well, the feedback to that series was so great — and the nine of us participating had so much fun! — that we’ve decided to continue with monthly posts for the forseeable future.

When someone suggested food storage tips for this month’s topic, I was excited. Finally, something I’m actually, truly good at…organizing!

Saving money on food is a good thing, but when that food goes to waste because you can’t find it — or when you have to make a special trip to the store for a key ingredient that you thought you had but don’t — then that money is wasted, whether you scored a great deal or not.

In short, having an organized pantry (and fridge and freezer) is a really important part of lowering your grocery budget!

Here are 7 strategies for organizing your food storage. Although I am going to say pantry a lot, most of these principles apply to your refrigerator and freezer as well!

1. Respect your space restrictions.

Have you ever seen pictures of Martha Stewart’s kitchens? The ones I have seen are amazing with tons and tons of space for kitchen tools and food. Or maybe you’ve drooled over Pioneer Woman’s very cool custom flour/sugar drawers?

I would venture to guess that most of us don’t have as much space in our kitchens as these two women do. But really, it doesn’t matter if you have a 80-square-foot kitchen or a 500-square-foot kitchen, this first tip is the same for everyone: respect your space restrictions.

If you live in a tiny apartment, you’re not going to have space for tons of bulk purchases unless you want to live among clutter. If you have a small pantry, like we do, you are either going to have to buy less food or give up some of your drawer and cabinet space to store food rather than kitchen appliances.

Rather than trying to shove everything you buy into the space you have, make your purchases based on the storage space available. You’ll learn to prioritize to make room for the killer deals, and I’m willing to bet that you’ll enjoy your kitchen more without the chaos of stuff falling out of cabinets every time you open them!

2. Storage solutions don’t have to be expensive.

There are lots and lots of beautiful storage products available, and I’m not saying that you shouldn’t buy them if you can afford them. But don’t think that you must have matching canisters or beautiful baskets in order to organize your pantry.

Instead, reuse glass jars from sauces & spreads for storage. Make your own inserts with a couple pieces of scrap wood. I even have a little box that holds all of our chip clips in one of my drawers that was made from an old cardboard snack box. And the dollar store is an organizing guru’s heaven with all of their $1 baskets and boxes!

Be creative and always remember to organize your space first, and then look for tools to support your system, rather than the other way around.

3. Group items by type and use.

Make things easy to find by grouping them according to type and use rather than just randomly filling your shelves. In our kitchen, we have a baking drawer and a snack drawer, and the shelves in our tiny pantry are categorized as bulk (way up high), bread, dry/canned goods, breakfast/teas and sauces/vinegars/oils.

Grouping things together makes it easier to find what we’re looking for and to put things back in order after the baby empties the whole thing out!

4. Take things out of the package.

If you purchase premade snacks or other bulk processed foods, they often come wrapped together in plastic or packaged in a box. Rather than just putting the whole thing in the pantry, take the plastic off first and, if appropriate, empty the individual servings out of the box. We have a tin that we toss all snack bars and individual serving snacks into rather than keeping boxes and containers in our snack drawer.

Eliminating the extra packaging leaves more space in the pantry, and it also makes it easier to see how much you actually have left of any given item.

5. Rotate your stock.

If you keep a stockpile of food, be sure to rotate your stockpile regularly to be sure that the food in the back doesn’t go to waste. There are shelving systems that make this process easy, or you could just manually rotate and check dates every 4-6 weeks or so. I know I’m guilty of wasting food that’s been forgotten in the back of the pantry, and it really is a waste when we could have used it to stretch our own budget or donated it to someone else in need.

6. Clean it out as you make your grocery list.

For the past year or so, I’ve been cleaning out the pantry and refrigerator as I make my meal plan and grocery list each week, and it makes it so much easier to unload the groceries when I get home. Rotate your stock, make note of any items approaching their expiration date (so that you can plan meals to use them up) and wipe up any spills or crumbs rather than waiting until it gets really messy to clean it up.

7. Keep a pantry inventory & shopping list.

Similarly, we’ve started adding things to our Plan to Eat shopping list as soon as we notice them running low (I started this after I kept forgetting to buy the same ingredient week after week)! Keep a pantry inventory inside your pantry, jot down a list of items to by on a nearby chalk board or make yourself a note on your iPhone. It doesn’t matter how you do it, just that you create a system to keep track of what you need to purchase rather than trying to remember it all in your head. We have enough things to remember day in and day out as it is!

Your pantry can actually be a valuable tool in helping you stretch your grocery budget, and getting organized doesn’t require a ton of space or fancy organizing solutions! Be sure to visit Jessica, Aimee, Shaina, Katie G, Alyssa, Carrie, Katie K, and Tammy for more food storage strategies.

How do you organize your pantry/refrigerator/freezer?