Keeping the Pantry Organized

As I’ve mentioned before, our grocery routine is pretty straightforward. I’ll just pull it straight in from our Meal Planning for Busy Families post from last fall:

Step 1: Get a Flyer
Step 2: Find Sales on Fresh Ingredients
Step 3: Do Some Recipe Research
Step 4: Create a Week-Long Meal Plan
Step 5: Make a Shopping List from the Meal Plan
Step 6: Go Grocery Shopping – And Stick to Your List

Today, I want to focus pretty hard on Step 5: Make a Shopping List from the Meal Plan.

I’m sitting there with a bunch of recipes that make up our meal plan and a fledgling grocery list that has the on-sale items on it. Obviously, I need to add more ingredients for those meals to my list, along with staples that we need for the week.

However, quite a few of those ingredients and staples are already sitting in our pantry and/or refrigerator. Since I don’t want to “double-buy” those things, I need to know exactly what’s in the pantry and/or refrigerator. I don’t want to spend time digging around finding what we have right now and I certainly don’t want to have to do that later, either.

The solution is to keep an organized pantry. However, that’s far easier said than done. Our pantry is currently quite disorganized. Like many people, our food organization comes in waves, as we have periods where things stay organized followed by challenging periods where our pantry organization slips away.

Here’s how we get things organized and how we maintain that organization (most of the time).

First, we’ll do a full pantry cleanout. We’ll remove everything from the pantry and start from scratch. Along the way, we’ll toss everything that’s old and not useful. We usually find a few items that… just need to go.

Once that’s done, we group the things logically. For example, we’ll make a group of all of the spices and another group of all of the baking supplies and another of all of the canned vegetables. You can make up whatever groups you want that are appropriate for your diet – dried pastas, dried beans, and so on.

At that point, we start filling the pantry. We figure out a section for each food grouping and then start a list for that group. As we load the pantry, we make a list of all of the items in that group as we put them into the pantry in the same area.

This takes time. It can take a long time.

I highly recommend using a full sheet for each food grouping in your pantry. Just tape them to the inside of your pantry door. You can use a few whiteboards, too, if you’d prefer.

Once your pantry is loaded up, you can use the lists when assembling grocery lists. I usually just put all ingredients for recipes on my grocery list, then stop by the pantry and cross off any items that we already have on hand.

When we use up an item, we cross it off the list. Similarly, when we put something new in the pantry, we add it to the list. It’s useful to keep a pen taped to the inside of the pantry door (on a string) so you always have a pen to edit the lists.

This leaves us with a current list on our pantry door that we can refer to whenever we assemble a grocery list. You’re essentially spending an hour or two of up-front time in order to save yourself both time and money each week with your grocery list assembly.

Like I said, we tend to be pretty good with this system for a few months, then a chaotic week or two will hit and things will get out of order. When that happens, we usually struggle for a while until we can re-sort the pantry. It’s usually a good idea anyway as we get rid of stale items.

It’s a good system, one that saves us both time and money while it works.

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