Pantry Organization

Avoiding Old Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard

Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard
To fetch her poor dog a bone;
But when she came there
The cupboard was bare,
And so the poor dog had none!

That poor dog!  I have worried about him ever since I was a kid.  If only Mother Hubbard had been a bit more organized.

There is a little Mother Hubbard in all of us, reaching into the cupboard for something we just knew was there – and coming up empty-handed.  I used to conveniently be able to blame it on the children or the teenagers.  What is one to do when they get grown?

The real truth of the matter is that the item might really be there.  That one cup of Karo syrup needed to finish the recipe is most certainly there. After all, there are three half-finished bottles but they are hidden behind the rice, oatmeal, canned soup and dog bones.

Organizing the pantry has its benefits.  It makes it fast to determine what things need replenishing from the store.  It makes it quick to find ingredients for dinner preparation.  An organized pantry also helps prevent other family members from standing in the open door yelling things like “Do we have any popcorn left?”

When you have pushed up your sleeves and pushed pantry organization to the top of your to-do list, then gather a few supplies.  Some handy items to have are a trash bag or two, a box, permanent marker and labels, various size zippered plastic food storage bags, rubber bands, chip clips and small plastic baskets.  There are usually a couple sizes of the baskets for sale at a dollar-type store.

As an organizer, and a mom, I am a big fan of clear plastic jars with snap-on lids.  While I think it is a waste of time to pour every product out of its store container and into a plastic one, I do think it helps in some cases.  By having some items in the plastic containers, I can easily see what has been eaten.  Think how many times you have seen a box and later discovered it was actually empty or gotten into the package and found it had been left open and is stale.  Some of the things I keep in clear plastic jars are cookies, pretzels, chips and crackers.

Gather up your tools above and get started.

Empty the panty.  As you do so, discard into the trash bags anything that you feel is old, stale or actually an empty package.  Into the box, place any food items you bought, or were given as gifts, that you know your family is not going to eat.  That box can be donated to a local food pantry or soup kitchen.

Wipe out your pantry shelves with soapy water.

Think about placement before you start to return items to the shelves.  The most used items in the home pantry are the snack foods.  Begin by choosing a convenient shelf for snack foods.  Place all the snack foods and beverage mixes together on the snack shelf.  Place cookies and chips into clear jars or zippered bags or close with chip clip.  Place a small basket on the shelf to hold additional chip clips and rubber bands. When someone opens a new package, they won’t have to search for a way to close it.  If you have unopened snacks, place then behind the open ones.  This way the open ones will be eaten first.

For children:  If you have young children and there are some things you do not want to them to constantly help themselves to, then you might place the snacks on an adult-height shelf.  Take one of the plastic boxes you purchased and place an assortment of approved children’s snacks, such as granola bars, at a lower level for them.  Likewise, if your children pack their lunches choose a lower shelf and place all the items that they may take in their lunchbox.

Next, choose an area for breakfast items, hot and cold cereals, breakfast bars, teas and coffees.

Gather all the items used for desserts or baking- cake mixes, brownie mix, flour, sugar, baking soda, chocolate chips etc.  Choose a shelf for your baking center.  Usually a high or low shelf as most families do not bake daily.  Use one of the baskets to hold the many small baking items such as muffin tin liners, small bottles of vanilla extract and bags of nuts or chocolate chips.  Place any open bags into a zippered bag or close with a rubber band.

Choose part of a shelf for canned goods. As you stack them, sort them into fruits, vegetables, soups and so on.

Near the canned goods, add any packages or bottles that are part of dinner preparation, such as spaghetti sauce.  Having them near the canned goods helps you decide quickly what is on hand for dinner.  I like to place all my pastas in a basket, all my rice mixes in a basket and then I have other small baskets for things like grits and dried beans.  Pulling out a basket from the back of the cabinet and being able to see all the pasta selections one time is very helpful. Use a small basket to corral packets like gravy and taco seasoning mix.

Add labels.  Part of the problem of organizing is getting it to stay that way.  Once you have it fixed, you can help other family members find things or help them to unpack groceries by labeling the edge of the shelves.  Place simple labels for snacks, kids, breakfast, canned goods and so on the shelf edge.  They will not be seen when the cabinet doors are closed and will not affect the look of the kitchen.

Take out the trash.  Place the donation box on the seat of your car so you remember to drop it off on your next trip of errands.

And as for that poor dog, in my house he has his own section of the pantry.  It has his food and his treats.  I might run out of popcorn but Max always gets his bone.

Lea Schneider

Author Lea Schneider, a columnist for What’s Cooking America, is a freelance writer and organizational expert whose organizing ideas have been published in many magazines including Woman’s Day, Better Homes and Gardens Kitchen and Bath Ideas, Family Circle, Parents Magazine, as well as numerous newspapers and websites.  She is a member of the Association of Food Journalists.

Getting organized is all about living simpler and making things easier.  The bonus is it often leads to saving money . Lea Schneider’s kitchen organizing columns tell you how to organize the many things that relate to kitchens, menus, meals, and special food events.

Check out all of Lea Schneider’s helpful home and kitchen columns at Organizing Kitchens, Pantries, Menus and Meals.


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