Monday, February 4, 2013

3 Steps To Conquer Pantry Mayhem

Kitchen layouts vary, cabinets vary, and where people keep their food varies, but most kitchens have one thing in common: pantry mayhem. Food is notoriously hard to keep track of in the pantry. Whether it's re-buying items that you didn't realize you already had, or finding that the item you need is way past its expiration date, having a well-organized pantry will save you time, money and aggravation. Follow these easy steps to an organized space:

1. Clean - Take everything out of the cabinet. If you have more than one cabinet with food items in it, empty all of them. Wipe down the shelves. I'm always amazed at how messy the food shelves become. How did all of those crumbs get there? And what's so sticky? If you have wire shelving, you are already aware of the aggravation of bottles falling over and small items becoming unbalanced on the wire openings. It's hard to keep things neat if you can't keep them upright. Now is a good time to put something over the shelf surface to smooth it out, especially where bottle are kept. Inexpensive plastic placemats work well.

2. Inventory -  Check expiration dates. I recommend you do this little project before trash day, because you will generate a lot of trash and recycling here. If items are close to their "best by"date, plan on using them right away. Make a list of meals/recipes you can create with these ingredients. As a bonus, you'll have that nagging "What's for dinner?" question handled, at least this week. This is a good time to take inventory and make a shopping list for what you need to complete the meals. Make a note of the fact that you have 12 cans of soup but no crackers. Buy crackers and hold off on the soup for a while. Simple.

3. Organize -  Whenever possible, consolidate open packages. Consider keeping an open container of loose snack bars and granola bars for quick access. You can use a plastic container that is missing its lid (another mystery for another blog post), or a shoe box or basket would work as well. Group like items, such as soups, other canned goods, baking goods, cereals, snacks, etc. Place these items in the cabinets that make the most sense. Snacks and frequently used items should be at eye level if possible. Less frequently used items can go in a lower cabinet. As much as your kitchen allows, group items in a logical way in logical places. Sounds obvious, I know, but you'd be amazed how often this simple concept isn't put into practice.

One note about containers and canisters. They can be a fantastic way to have an organized pantry, but you need to be realistic. If you and your family will keep them filled, go ahead. It's a perfect way to keep items fresh. Sometimes these storage options actually create more headaches and take up more space. In my house, the three cereal containers I have are rarely emptied since the "end of the box" phenomenon is in play. For some reason once a new package is opened in my house, it's rare that the last of the old package will ever be eaten. I have no idea why this is, but you will typically find three mostly-empty cereal containers and three open cereal boxes. It's crazy, I know. Six boxes of cereal may be overkill, but the fact that they all take up so much space is what really makes me nuts. Try to find solutions you can live with and maintain.

That's all there is to it. If you repeat these steps every few months, it will take no time at all to conquer the mayhem and keep your food cabinets under control.

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