As the first step to good kitchen organization, I want to encourage you to organize your kitchen pantry. It can be the difference between preparing healthy meals and unhealthy ones, between a happy cooking experience and a frustrating one, and between a high-speed clean up and a lengthy clean up. Not sure where to begin? Here are seven rules that will teach you how to organize your kitchen pantry so that your time in the kitchen is healthy, happy, and hasty.
Organize Your Kitchen Pantry Rule #1: Group like items
Here are a couple of pictures of our pantry before I organized it. While some of the food items are already organized by type, many of them don’t. It will make it much easier for you if you know exactly where items are kept and it only makes sense to group like items together. There’s no reason for me to have my P90X Results and Recovery Formula on a different shelf than my whey protein. They’re both supplements. They both require my beloved Vitamix. I use them both every day, so I should have grouped them together. Shame on me.
Organize Your Kitchen Pantry Rule #2: Most often used items should be most easily accessible
Again, this sounds like common sense, but we haven’t been doing it. Look at the pictures above. I’m tall, so it’s not hard for me to reach my daily serving of Energy and Endurance Pre-Workout Formula, which is next to the P90X Results and Recovery Formula. But if my wife wants some, she has to get a chair out to stand on. That’s not very considerate of me now is it?
Or check out the shelf above the Saltines. Hard to tell but there are some ice cream cones. Super easy to get to which is great if we ate them everyday. But we rarely eat them and they’re sitting on some prime real estate. Time to move ’em.
So you’ll see to the right that I am following both Organize Your Kitchen Pantry Rules #1 & #2. I’m grouping our “like” items, Shakeology and our other daily supplements, plus the Vitamix, and putting them on the bottom shelf where they’re easy to get to. Win-win.
Organize Your Kitchen Pantry Rule 3: Keep healthy items at eye level
ChaLean Johnson’s excellent strength training program for women ChaLEAN Extreme comes with a “Kitchen Makeover” DVD that’s worth watching. In it, she says something along the lines of:
A Cornell University study reported that 90% of the food we eat we do so mindlessly… it’s placed in front of us. Grocery Stores want us to buy foods that are at eye level. Well, we want to organize like a food marketer… you want what’s most appealing and quickest at eye level.
I think this is especially true in the pantry (vs. the refrigerator) because that’s where high-carb, low-nutrient value foods tend to be stored. And if you have children in the house, all the more important it is to be intentional when you organize your kitchen pantry. So what we did is designate a shelf for the kids. And though they still have to ask before they have any, we put them where if they were hungry, they could see what choices they had and could ask Mommy and Daddy if they could have something. And this leads me to my next point.
Organize Your Kitchen Pantry Rule 4: Keep plenty of healthy, pre-portioned snacks on hand
With the exception of the popcorn (which Mommy and Daddy have to make anyway), all these snacks are pre-portioned, meaning a serving size is already addressed, which saves quite a bit of time (and eliminates potential complaining about Johnny getting more than Sally). Now if we bought chips or pretzels (which we don’t, though we occasionally buy Veggie Straws which frankly, aren’t much better), we could place a serving in individual food baggies. But that’s too much work in my opinion and just one more reason not to buy them to begin with. We could also do this for the nuts and trail mix, but I found a better way. We bought some of these nice Oxo Pop Containers that have air-tight lids, yet are easy for the kids to open. Inside each container we placed a ramekin that is roughly equal to one serving. They can have one scoop of said trail mix and not an almond more. This keeps healthy (and low in sugar), easy to access, portion-controlled options at our disposal.
Organize Your Kitchen Pantry Rule 5: Hide your weaknesses
Better yet, don’t buy them to begin with. But if you must have something, put them where they are hard to get to and where you don’t see them often. This is kind of the inverse of Rule 3. But there’s a reason for it… Out of sight, out of mind. If you look back up at the top left picture, on the top shelf are the candy jars (ironically right next to some supplements). Since I’m nearly 6’1″, these aren’t hard for me to reach. Furthermore, even though they are up high, they are easy to see. While not a huge temptation for me, it can be a temptation none the less. According to the book Mindless Eating, the more often we have to say “no” to food, the more likely our resolve will wear down and we’ll eventually give in. I think depending on the person and the food, this can work the other way around and we’ll build our self-discipline muscles and it can get easier. But the point is not to put yourself in that position to begin with. Again, out of sight, out of mind.
TIP: I’d really encourage you to read Mindless Eating. While I don’t subscribe to all of his viewpoints, there are some fascinating studies on how we eat without thinking, how small things can influence us unknowingly (for instance, you will eat less at a buffet if you’re back is to the buffet line), and what we can do about it. Great read!
Organize Your Kitchen Pantry Rule 6: Don’t feel guilty about throwing away bad-for-you food
Did you watch it? Did you? Okay, as a lover of donuts and one who hates to waste money (which is why I encourage you to get fit financially as you get fit physically), I can relate to George on a number of levels. But I also recognize that healthy is more important to wealthy and I’m not afraid to toss stuff that’s bad for me even if it’s not frugally responsible. When I was done organizing the pantry, what’s pictures below is what got thrown out. Now not all of it was inherently bad, some of it was out of date. But the leftover chips Grandma brought over, the unopened breakfast syrup whose first three ingredients were corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup and water (and zero mention of “natural” flavors), or the sodium and fat-packed Campbells, among other things, need not tempt us any longer. No soup for you!
Organize Your Kitchen Pantry Rule 7: FIFO
The final rule on how to organize your kitchen pantry is the acronym “FIFO”. While I’m a fan of acronyms (see FAN, HALT, and AIM), I can’t take credit for FIFO, which stands for First In, First Out. Technically it’s an accounting term, but professional organizers chant this mantra as a simple way to remember to use your oldest stuff first. So when you’re unpacking your groceries, put the new stuff in the back of the line and this will help prevent waste while also ensuring that you eat the freshest stuff first.
So when it was all said and done, our pantry ended up looking like pictures below.
From top to bottom our groupings are now as follows: Seldom used items and candy jars (can’t see those bad boys!), tea and drink mixes, lunch/dinner carbohydrates, breakfast, sauces and condiments, canned goods and soups, kid shelf, and supplements. We are now following the guidelines outlined above which will make it easier for us to eat healthy, happy meals.
TIP: It’s nearly impossible to achieve the organized “look” you see in catalogs and online. Have you ever noticed that those pictures have like only a dozen item types, but with each item there are like five identical packages of it, and they are all color-coordinated? Sure, it looks good in a magazine, but have fun making dinner out of that pantry. Assuming you want to keep a well-stocked, pantry with a good variety of foods, the only thing that does help is if you have multiple of the same kind of containers, like what we did with the kids’ shelf above. It’s not catalog worthy, but it does clean it up a bit.
Did this take some work? Yes. But getting and staying in shape always does. As they say, “Abs are made in the kitchen.” That’s why we want to make food preparation as easy as we can while still keeping it healthy. So remember these rules on how to organize your kitchen pantry. It may take a little extra time, but your waistline will thank you.